Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that can feed a family a family of four for the low price of only 19 cents.
I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me is… Aaron!
I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that while decaf coffee, zero calorie soda, and lite beer are popular, no one wants a flat beer…
In October 1929, the U.S. stock market crashed and launched the country into the worst economic downturn in its history as of yet… For an entire decade, spending and investment was at an all-time low, which meant unemployment was high and the majority of American families were surviving on next to nothing. It was during this period in time that bare-bones recipes were created. We probably wouldn’t eat most of them today — however, it was these meals that kept America going.
These aren’t the most appetizing of meals, but even so, many of them have been handed down through generations and are still made by those who know of the hardships their parents and grandparents faced throughout the ’30s. The American diet was affected by economic changes. Apart from trying to be more frugal with their spending, the refrigerator was becoming more popular in American homes, impacting the food they consumed.
Across the country, people were looking for ways to cut corners and save money. How would that affect their diet? Several rather revolting creations came into the forefront when the Bureau of Home Economics encouraged substituting. They suggested bland food as a motivation for people to find work so they could afford spices. Leftovers became typical meals thanks to the refrigerator, so citizens learned to cook things that lasted like casseroles. Americans at the time didn’t have a concept of hunger. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that America became nationally conscious of the issue. Soon the attitudes and behaviors of people began to change.
Now tuck your napkin into your collar, because it’s time to dive into the strangest meals to come out of the Depression era.
Our first recipe of the day comes from an unlikely source. You would think the food at the White House would be better than the rest of the country, you’d be quite mistaken. Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady at the time, is well known for her work in feminism as well as her support of the movement surrounding home economics. She wasn’t all words and no action either. She served the same bland food in the White House that the rest of America was eating.
In fact, FDR’s White House gained a reputation among world leaders for serving food that was, by their standards, absolutely horrible. This is because Eleanor Roosevelt took it upon herself to simplify the fare served to the First Family and dignitaries. This was more about image than about cutting domestic costs: Americans wouldn’t want to hear about the elaborate meals served in the White House when they themselves were struggling to find enough to eat every day. Eleanor’s most famous recipe was prune pudding, the cheap ingredient was quickly bought up by the common people and whipped into this presidential “delight.” Prunes were easy to store, widely available, and much less expensive than other fruits, while providing needed nutrients to the Depression-era diet: the fruit is packed with fiber and supplies almost one-third of your daily needs for Vitamin K.
The recipe, as follows, Let prunes stand in water. Boil them. Chop them. Put them back in water and let them simmer. Add sugar and cinnamon and a cornstarch slurry for thickening purposes. Allow to cool fully. Serve in small containers.
According to an adventurous eater who tried the recipe, what they created was jam… it was just a normal prune jam and it took weeks for them to finish because their family wouldn’t touch the stuff. Glowing review!
Aaron had wonderful apple pies as a dessert for his wedding you weren’t invited to, but what if he couldn’t get apples? During the depression many would substitute crackers for apples and make a mock apple pie. Ritz crackers hit the shelves during the great depression in 1934 and printed on the back of the box was a recipe for mock apple pie. During a time when apples were hard to get and often more expensive, innovative cooks would turn to this simple, magical recipe to make a passable apple pie, sans apples. Bakers who have made mock apple pie swear by the all-carb, mock-fruit pastry, with a broken cracker filling (made with no less than 36 crackers) that is infused with a syrup of lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, and cream of tartar, then laid out in a pie crust. (The syrup is made separately before it is poured over the crackers).
RITZ MOCK APPLE PIE
- Makes 10 servings
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1 3/4 cups water
- Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie
- 36 Ritz Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1 3/4 cups)
- Zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Mix sugar and cream of tartar in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in water. Bring to boil on high heat; simmer on low 15 minutes. Stir in zest and juice; cool 30 minutes.
- Heat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out half of pastry on lightly floured surface to 11-inch circle; place in 9-inch pie plate. Place cracker crumbs in crust. Pour sugar syrup over crumbs; top with butter and cinnamon.
- Roll out remaining pastry to 10-inch circle; place over pie. Seal and flute edge. Cut several slits in top crust to permit steam to escape. Place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.
Note: To prevent crust from over-browning, cover edge with foil near end of baking time, if necessary.
— Ritz Crackers/Nabisco/Kraft Foods
(c) 2009, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio).
According to brave taste testers you wouldn’t immediately know there were no apples in the bake, the pie actually tastes like real apples with a bright tang of sour and nice mellow cinnamon. It turns out the cream of tartar is a magical ingredient, the real chemistry — or alchemy —happens because of the cream of tartar, which is also known as potassium bitartrate. We already use cream of tartar to stabilize egg whites used in making meringue. In analyzing the culinary magic that is mock apple pie, Gizmodo says it is the cream of tartar, which tastes tart and fruity itself, which tricks our tongues and minds into thinking that we’re enjoying apples. Yesterdish further explains that cream of tartar breaks down sucrose into fructose and glucose, so when it cools, the pastry has the texture of pecan pie and the look, and taste, of apple pie. This one I might actually try.
If that doesn’t get your taste buds tingling then this sure will… Vinegar Cobbler. So first off, when I normally research recipes I absolutely abhore the stupid preamble most bakers seem to think they need before they actually tell me the recipe. It doesn’t matter what recipe I’m looking for online, they always start with some drivel about why they made this or what feelings the food brought for the bakers great aunt, I don’t care, just give me ingredients please! But for vinegar cobbler there was no such preamble on any of the recipe pages, this can only mean one thing! This pie brings no good memories to anyone, ever. So here is how you make it… Start with your favorite pie crust recipe and then hold onto your hats for the filling… 1/2 cup white vinegar 1 1/2 cups water 2 1/2 cups sugar, mix then bake. Super easy basic pie that will have your taste buds tingling because of the amount of vinegar. This recipe didn’t die with the Great Depression, unfortunately. Chef Chris Shepherd, who won the James Beard Award, decided to serve Vinegar Cobbler at his restaurant in Houston. Those who have tasted it described it as a salt and vinegar chip custard that makes your mouth tingle.
How many listeners out there have had chipped beef on toast? I had an ex who made the stuff for breakfast a few times a month and I grew to love it, somehow. This is also known as sh*t on a shingle, SOS, same old stuff and many more great appetizing names, which sums up the thoughts of those that had to eat it. In a nutshell, it’s dried beef that’s re-hydrated a bit in a sauce made with flour and butter, and then served on toast. All you need is some milk, butter, flour, dried beef, and some pepper and parsley. It was like a cheap ass version of biscuits and gravy but with cheap meat and a cheap slice of bread. The picture of this food is a bit less than appetizing but I assure you, after a heavy night of drinking this simple meal can make you feel a lot better, just be careful of your sodium levels after.
Not an actual picture of the dish, I just assume it would look like this…
Here is one you might like to try, spaghetti and carrot casserole. Most people like spaghetti and carrots are pretty good too, this seems like it would be hard to mess up. This dish was even promoted by various government agencies like the Bureau of Home Economics, you know home ec, and even touted by First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, as an economic dish. Oh crap, if this is another Roosevelt recipe I may have spoken too soon. According to culinary historians Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe, coauthors of A Square Meal, Depression-era spaghetti was boiled for a good 25 minutes — you know, to make it nice and mushy. As were the boiled carrots, for that matter.
“Then you make white sauce, which was the sauce which is poured over everything for budget meals during the Great Depression. It’s a mixture of milk, flour, salt and either butter or margarine, with maybe a little bit of pepper…You mix all these ingredients into a tray and bake it, and you have a kind of like thick, mushy, bland casserole.”
“Bland is really the operative word here,” Coe continued. “It does not have much flavor, and it wasn’t really supposed to have much flavor. What it was was a vehicle for nutrition and nutrients, but it wasn’t supposed to make you excited about food.”
Pre cooked pie
After baking and chilling
Let’s do another dessert, they seem to be the least stomach churning. Maybe something with a little less flavor, how about a water pie? Yep you heard right, water pie, that’s a good cheap ingredient. According to recipe bloggers “Water Pie is one of those magical recipes that came out of the depression era where cooks with little to nothing figured out how to make delicious dishes for those they love.”
Water Pie is an innovative dessert recipe that originated during the Great Depression. Water Pie relies on just a handful of humble ingredients—not including milk or eggs, items that were carefully rationed during the depression era—to yield an impressive treat.
Astonishingly enough, the star ingredient of this depression-era dessert is, in fact, water. That’s right, just plain old water from the tap will do fine. Beyond that, you only need a few pantry basics to complete the pie. Water, vanilla, flour, sugar, and butter come together in a deep-dish pie shell to form a decadent, creamless custard of sorts. It is said to have a creamy buttery taste, similar to a warm vanilla cookie once it’s chilled and sliced. You start with your basic pie crust and then you’ll pour your water on into it. From there, you’ll drizzle vanilla extract evenly over top of the water, followed by a mixture of flour and sugar. The final touch is five tablespoons of butter placed on top of the water filling. All that’s left to do from here is bake, chill, and serve. This one I have actually thought about trying based on its lack of ingredients and my love of sweets.
Before I reveal the best and greatest meal of the Great Depression I think I need to make you aware of the absolute worst meal of the Great depression, peanut butter stuffed onions. If that didn’t turn your stomach you have no taste. Created by the Bureau of Home Economics, this dish was well-known only for it’s bizarre taste. Baked onions were “improved” with scoops of peanut butter as filling, resulting in a disgusting and much disliked period food. Operating between 1923 and 1962, the bureau supported homemakers through the Great Depression and World War II. They were in charge of disseminating “practical applications of research knowledge” from the USDA, in layman’s terms, they created healthy nutrient rich recipes using cheap ingredients. A big thing to remember is just because the meals were healthy did not mean they were tasty, carrot spaghetti came from these folks too. Well the Peanut Butter Onion was packed with vitamins and minerals, onions are known for being high in vitamin C, a nutrient involved in regulating immune health, collagen production, tissue repair, and iron absorption, while peanut butter is high in protein and sugar, A perfect mix for a high energy meal. To prepare this gross meal you only need to hollow out a white onion and fill with a mixture of peanut butter and stale bread crumbs and then bake until gross and brown, I mean golden brown.
Our final meal for tonight I can guarantee most of you have had, and probably enjoyed, Kraft mac and cheese. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has been around since 1937, but the company didn’t invent the dish — Smithsonian.com reports that the earliest known recipe dates back to 1769 — but Kraft did patent the processed cheese that would ultimately change the game for the company during the Great Depression.
The idea to box the pasta with the processed cheese as an easy dinner (with an incredibly long shelf life and no refrigeration required) came about when Kraft learned of a salesman selling pasta with a packet of Kraft cheese attached with a rubber band. Kraft began marketing the product as Kraft Dinner, with the box promising to feed a family of four for the low price of only 19 cents. Because of its affordability, combined with its ability to feed a family, the product flew off shelves and sold 8 million boxes in the first year. World War II kept the popularity of the product going, due to the food rationing that was in effect. Two boxes of Kraft Dinner could be purchased for one rationing coupon, and scratched an itch as a substitute for unobtainable meat and dairy. Because of this, 80 million boxes were sold in 1943.
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Well, that was… depress…ing. Ha!
But let’s move from the yee-oldie money-troubles to new fangled micro-gravity micro-breweries!
Space, the final frontier. These are the stories of the Starship… station… Mir and ISS. Their continuing mission to explore strange new foods, to seek out new microbial life and new booze, to boldly pass out where no one has passed out before…
I should say, right at the onset, that I intended to make this story about space food but it’s all kind of boring. I’ll toss out some of the more interesting bits then we can move onto the main course–booze!
I think most people are familiar with Tang, a disgusting orange watery Kool-Aid fail, and freeze drying–the process sublimating moisture out of food at very low temperatures. In a nutshell, most of the food provided by NASA to astronauts today is little more than lightweight MREs. Which is good for morale, I assume, given that the other options were… not great. Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space, took some… “food” with him: two servings of pureed and undisclosed “meat” in what are essentially toothpaste tubes. But don’t worry, he also had a tube of chocolate sauce he could squirt onto his runny meat. Yum.
The Mercury astronauts had it good by Russian cosmonaut standards. They got freeze-dried and powdered food packages and compressed cubes of nutrients. Everything the body needs to stay alive and appease The Jetson’s… just don’t eat anything Rosey the Robot gives you, I’m pretty sure she’s with Skynet…
The availability of water stores, eventually even hot-on-demand water, would mean that austronoughts could connect their MRE-like packages to water dispensers and rehydrate their food cubes. Because yes, the poor Mercury crews ate their powdered food … powdered.
These days MREs and other considerations make space-food less terrible but Japan’s sounds the best. Rather than microwave hamburgers or raw pizza made from pre-cooked ingredients, Japan sends sushi, ramen, yokan and rice dishes. Because when you’ve got hot water and uncooked rice, you can do a hell of a lot more than canned borsch.
Anyway, enough of that. Let’s move on to space booze!
So, officially, alcohol is basically banned in space. Apparently there’s some nerd reason for it, something about alcohol breaking the air, water, etc. recyclers and killing everyone. But that’s stupid so we’re going to ignore it.
Early cosmonauts brought the first alcoholic drink to space 1984. On his way to Salyut 7 (a low-Earth orbiting space station used from 1982 to 1991) Igor (or is it eye-gor?) Volk did what, apparently, all good cosmonauts did and following his official weigh-in, immediately fasted and took diuretics to lose some additional weight. How much weight? Approximately the weight of one bottle of cognac, which he hid inside his spacesuit. Space contraband!
According to cosmonaut Alexander Poleshchuk, it was common to hide cognac, vodka, and other high abv alcohols in the lining of their space suits, inside hollowed out books, or behind the rocket’s interior panelling a la Firefly. Once in space it was the practice for them to drink, but never offer any to the Americans NASA set up, because screw them. Eventually, cosmonauts were allowed cognac, vodka, and “ginseng liquor” on the MIR space station for “health reasons” which I assume is code for “if I can’t have a drink I’mma kill one of these freaking Amaracuskies!”
It wasn’t all fun and games though, according to Georgy Grechko drinking in micro-gravity took real effort. In microgravity the smell of wine causes an immediate gag reflex. They tried to find wine that worked in space through tests on the vomit comet… but it didn’t go well.
Of wine, it should be mentioned that there is, or was anyway, Moooooooooooooon-wine. On July 20th, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin drank a wee-bit of wine when he, apparently, took communion on the Moon inside the Lunar Module Eagle out of a chalice that they somehow found reason to bring to the fucking moon. It wasn’t broadcast because of protests against what was seen as a breach of separation of church and state… ah for the good old days eh.
So booze has found its way into space, both intentionally and illegally. Making booze in space is an entirely different story. Making hard alcohol for example is, at this point in history, impossible. First the water consumption would be life threatening, but also because distillation requires that alcohol vapor rise and condense along a still’s pipes but in microgravity there’s no “up” for the steam to rise to.
Without further ado, let’s talk about space beer! Then graduate student Kirsten Sterrett at the nearby University of Colorado wrote her thesis on fermentation in space with support from US “beer” behemoth Coors. I guess they provided the rice and unfiltered rocky mountain spring diphtheria. She sent up the kit needed to make like, one can of beer in a purpose built carboy that looks like a space-made AeroPress. NASA called it a “Fluid Processing Apparatus” which is… accurate, I guess.
So… yeah sugar and yeast work in space… I mean… inside a controlled environment in space. No word yet on space-exposed, Fantastic 4, super yeast yet.
In addition to the trouble of getting beer to space, or making it there, drinking beer in space is a real problem. Because there’s no up “obviously the foam isn’t going to come to a head”, says Jonathan Clark, a former flight surgeon and now the space medicine liaison for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute in Houston, Texas, US. If you look at your phone you’ll see a beer bubble as it happens in space. It’s… weird.
Not to be snubbed, Dutch researchers have suggested a flexible membrane inside a keg that would allow gas and liquid to be mixed and separated as needed to dispense beer. Space-keg! It was not approved for use.
The other problem of space-beer is that, with no where for the gas to escape to, you’ll drink all the carbonation in the solution. Which any freshmen doing their first keg stand will tell you is a real problem. Additionally, with no up, the gas doesn’t collect or disperse from your stomach causing nightmarish beer-burps. So terrible in fact NASA gave them the name “wet burps.”
“That’s one of the reasons why we don’t have carbonated beverages on the space menu,” NASA spokesperson William Jeffs told New Scientist. Apparently MIR used to stock Pepsi, but that also causes Rick-like wet burps getting all over everyone.
All that said, beer uhhh, finds a way.
There have been a handful of trial-and-error style attempts to make low carbonation beer. Most are successful because making flat beer is super easy. Unfortunately, it tastes like ass.
In 2014 Eugene, Or, based brewery Ninkasi started the Ninkasi Space Program… which was basically just a marketing campaign, but they did buy a truck-trailer sized rocket. Unfortunately, the first launch landed some 9 miles from the desired location causing the rocket and yeast to be lost in the Nevada desert for 27 days, very much killing the yeast. For their second flight they had some help from Denver-based UP Aerospace, because rocket science is, you know, rocket science. The second flight reached 77.3 miles above Earth with six vials of yeast onboard.
Having recovered the yeast which spent about four minutes in microgravity, they brewed Ground Control* and Imperial Stout with hazelnuts, star anise, cocoa nibs, and Apollo, Bravo, and Comet hops and, of course, the space yeast those other ingredients completely mask.
There are actually a lot of brewers and sciencers trying to make “the first space beer” and a big portion of that is how you define having made space beer. Surely the crew who did Kirsten’s science made beer in space. Coors, Ninkasi, 4 Pines Beer in Australia, Sapporo, and Bell’s Brewery have shot elements of their beers into space. InBev, parent company of Anheuser-Busch announced their intent to make the first brewery on Mars at SXSW. They’ve also sent barley seeds into space, both to test space-based germination, but also to use the grown barley in their beers. The goal is to “compare malt to controls produced on the ground to identify morphological and genetic alterations caused by microgravity.” Unfortunately, Mars’s soil contains high levels of perchlorates which cause thyroid problems in humans. So there’s that to figure out.
Sadly, because shooting stuff into space is a real chore Sapporo’s Space Barley beer is $110 a six pack because getting the ingredients to space costs around 10k per pound. I mentioned 4 Pines, they’re partnering with Saber Astronautics to make the first commercially available, fully space-brewed, beer. The beer is called Vostok, after Yuri’s 1961 space ship. They’re currently working on solving the “how do you drink in space without a straw” problem and the solution is… if you look at for you phones… weird.
The basic ideal is that, through a series of springs, tubes, and nozzles, create a beer bottle that allows you to drink more or less normally in microgravity. Check out the YouTube video if you want to see it in action. So far they’ve spent $250,000 of Indiegogo money and expect the final product to be a million dollar beer… literally.
Closing things out, a quote from James Watt, co-founder of the Scottish “punk” beer company BrewDog, about space-Budweiser: “It’s not so bad if it means it leaves this planet.”
*1: Ground Control Stats:
Style: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout Brewed with Oregon Hazelnuts, Star Anise, Cocoa Nibs, and Ale Yeast Sent Into Space
- Available: November 2017
- ABV: 10%
- IBU: 50
- OG: 1100
- Malt: 2-Row Pale, Black, Chocolate, Munich, Crystal, Honey, Special Roast, Peated
- Hops: Apollo, Bravo, Comet
- Packaging: 22oz. Bottles, Draft
- Distribution: Alaska; Alberta; Arizona; California; Colorado; Idaho; Maryland; Nevada; New York; Oregon; Utah; Washington; Virginia; Vancouver, British Columbia; and select retailers across the country.
I’m Shea, and this week I learned the term domestic housewife implies that there are feral housewives.
I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.
Find out more about the show, social links, and contact information at InterestingIfTrue.com.
Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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