Frugal Living 

Financial Lessons from Great Depression Cooking Host Clara Cannucciari

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The Great Depression changed an entire generation of Americans. My grandma, who was born in 1913, survived the Great Depression as a young adult, and she carried the thrifty habits that she learned during that time with her for the rest of her life. Well into her 80s she was rewashing aluminum foil and saving baggies for reuse as well as recycling coffee grounds to make another cup of coffee.

Many of us no longer have relatives who survived the Great Depression who are still alive. Their frugal ways often disappear with their passing. However, one man, Christopher Cannucciari, a filmmaker, had the foresight to preserve his grandma’s memories and recipes from the Great Depression.

Great Depression Cooking

The result was first the YouTube show, Great Depression Cooking with Clara Cannucciari and then a book, Clara’s Kitchen. Clara is still alive and well at the age of 97. She began her You Tube shows at the age of 91 and has just recently retired from making any new episodes because, as she says, “I’m pretty damn old.”

Each episode of Great Depression Cooking has two components — Clara cooking and eating a meal she and her family ate during the Great Depression, and Clara reminiscing about her life during those dire years.

Watch a few; I promise you will be hooked. Clara herself is entertaining, and her food, while frugal, looks good. However, what I enjoy most are the economic lessons to be learned through her stories.

Financial Lessons from Clara

Pay off your mortgage. Clara shares that her family didn’t suffer much during the Great Depression because they already had their mortgage paid off. Her father was out of work for six years, but they didn’t have much need for cash because they didn’t have to pay a mortgage. True, they never bought clothes during that time, but she says they were much better off than many others.

Work hard for yourself. Clara’s family fared so well during those tough years because her father grew a huge garden and they had chickens. She said meat was a rare treat, but they had everything they needed with vegetables from the garden and eggs from the chickens.

Barter for what you need. Sometimes Clara’s father would find work, but rather than getting paid, he would barter for a bushel of vegetables. Clara’s mom would can the extra so they would also have food in the winter.

Take advantage of what is free. Winters were understandably difficult for Clara’s family, so they looked forward to the spring when dandelions would begin to grow in the yard so they could have dandelion greens for dinner. Likewise, Clara’s mother saved all of the seeds from the vegetables their garden produced so they would never have to buy seeds to grow their garden in the spring.

There is much to be learned from Clara as her family took frugality to a whole new level because it was necessary for survival. Take a few minutes to watch her videos and try her recipes. Not only will you get to try some delicious new frugal recipes, but you will also inevitably appreciate how rich many of us are now, compared to those who lived during the Great Depression.

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “Financial Lessons from Great Depression Cooking Host Clara Cannucciari”

  1. Clara sounds like a real treasure.

  2. That’s an amazing story – sounds like we could all learn a lot from this family that really found a way to make it work in tough times. I look forward to watching this video!

  3. Shirley says:

    Great article, Melissa, and thank you!

    My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and were also fascinating people with many stories. So many of the frugal things that I automatically do today were passed down from them and then my parents as ‘just the way we do things’.

    I think that if their lifestyle were quickly summarized, it would be
    1) Be honest and work hard,
    2) Share what you can, and
    3) Waste not, want not.

  4. Jeanne says:

    I remember Danny Thomas saying during the depression, they always had enough to eat. His Dad would stand up at the end of the table and said to his children, “ had enough”.

  5. huskervolleyball1 says:

    Fascinating. The thrift mentality is alive and well in Nebraska. The area suffered so during the 30’s that this mentality has been passed to down. What Clara says makes good sense.

  6. Clara is awesome. I tried her hot dog, onions and potatoes dish, but substituted the hot dogs for sausage. It turned out pretty amazing.

  7. LovePrepaid says:

    Good advice for stuff. Although in this day and age, even when you pay off the mortgage, you have property taxes and insurance to pay. You could opt out of the insurance and hope for the best, but they will take the home for failure to pay taxes. Just another way to lose things. You never really own it when you have to constantly pay taxes on it…

    • Fru-gal Lisa says:

      Well, even so, the property taxes are much better than having to pay rent every month and then you still do not have a thing to show for it. Renters indirectly pay their landlords’ property taxes — if his taxes go up, the landlord will raise the rent. They may not get the tax bill, but they’re paying the tax anyway. Homeowners at least own their home at the end of all the monthly payments, despite having to pay the property tax. No one likes property taxes, but they pay for things we need like schools, paved roads and police protection.

  8. Wilma says:

    Great Depression survival ways and recipes were passed down in my family. They kept me going through the rough times. I will check out these YouTube videos.

  9. elloo says:

    I thankfully still have a bunch of family who lived through the Great Depression. They were poor but everyone was poor, so they thought that was normal. My Mom is 90 and still tells these great stories of hard work and thrift. My grandfather grew tobacco in his backyard in the Bronx(!)to save some money to fill his pipe. My father and his friends couldn’t afford sneakers to play stickball, so all the kids cut up old rubber tires and nailed them onto their shoes. Presto…Depression Nikes. These people were the original recyclers and continue their thrifty ways even now. Mom’s kitchen drawers are still stuffed with rubber bands from celery and brocolli, ties from bread bags, stackes of paper bags, plastic bags, and on and on. The part that I am so impressed with is that there was no government support to speak of. No Medicaid, welfare, etc. If there were, my immigrant grandparents were too proud to consider it. They made do and toughed it out. By the end of the week when money was gone, my grandmothers made incredible cheap dinners until the pay envelope came through Fridays. We still make them today. I have picked up most of their traits because well, it was instilled in me at an early age, and it makes sense even today.

    • Linda V says:

      You are fortunate to still have your elderly relatives with you. I am in my 50’s and my sisters and I are the oldest generation in my family. I wish I had paid more attention to what my grandparents and parents were telling me.

  10. Anonymous says:

    We have come so far away from life as it was originally lived by man. How many of us would know how to hunt or gather food, skin animals, make clothing and shoes, thatch a house, trade and barter?

    When you live without funds you learn that Nature has provided everything we need;it remains for us to use those gifts wisely.

  11. Doris says:

    I was born two years before the Great Depression, but I can still remember those following years as I grew up. Things were still tough up into the forties before WWII began, but every one I knew was poor, so we didn’t know the difference. When I think back, it had to be hard on parents watching their kids do without. My father lost his job on the railroad once the depression hit, but we never did without food. We did have a garden and that helped. I remember eating a lot of potato soup and meat was pretty scarce, but there were no complaints. We had some chickens for eggs. When Christmas came, I remember a neighbor giving my brother and me an orange. What a treat that was! Relatives from PA would send a package with a gift for us and that was a big deal, believe me. When I see how children are inundated with so many presents at holiday times, it is shocking.

    When our shoes started getting holes in them, my father would cut cardboard shapes out and put them inside the shoes to hold off having to buy new ones for a while. Clothing was used over and over until we just had to get new ones. I do remember my mother taking old adult coats and making new ones for us, and she also sewed other clothing for us. But our lives were happy even though I am sure our parents had plenty to worry about.

  12. Virginia says:

    The last great generation. They knew how to make do and treated others with respect. Were honest and always tried to do the right thing. I am not saying everyone of that time was good but the majority of the people then believed in God and country and tried to do the best they could with what they had. Its so different now.

    • Anonymous says:

      What a wonderful comment. I myself have seen a decline in values and am so thankful that I grew up with this mindset.
      Honesty is always the best policy and I use the saying “you can’t go wrong doing right”.

  13. Lisa says:

    My grandmother remembered the depression as a lot of fun. Of course, they had a farm with a big garden. Her sisters and their husbands had moved away, but came home once the depression hit hard, They were crammed into a small house with a big pack of kids, often went barefoot and shared clothes. But she says because of the garden, they never went hungry, and everyone they knew was going through the same thing, so it was a shared experience. I’m sure if they’d have been hungry or homeless–or lived next door to someone who was rich–she may have viewed it differently.

  14. Marcia says:

    I think that if we had a depression now…not a recession, but a real depression…people would be in a panic and we would have to declare a national emergency. People just do not have a clue as what to do in a situation like that. My husband and I both grew up poor by today’s standards but we both had more than enough to eat and shoes on our feet and clothes on our backs. That’s way more than a lot of people had during the Depression.

  15. Ash Greymane says:

    I get a little tired of hearing how worthless “younger” generations are, how much money we waste, how spoiled we are, and how helpless we are. I am a 46 year old Mother; I FULLY appreciate the wisdom I got from my grandmother; however, I also know what it is to make do or do without. In my salad days, I sewed hubby’s old socks together to make rags or we wouldn’t have had any. Fifty cents was extra money, and I too “cut nickels to make quarters” so to speak, and at times went hungry. I would like to point out that minimum standards of today are very different than they were during the Great Depression. If I sent my child to school today with cardboard in his shoes, I would be brought up on neglect charges, no matter how little I earn; I would NOT be praised for my ingenuity! Folks who live within most city limits cannot legally raise chickens, and often do not have room for a garden. It takes two incomes to get by these days, which means Mom or Dad isn’t home to make bread, can, freeze, or dry extra vegetables, even IF they have the tools and storage to do so. The time to sew clothing, coats, blankets, and other linens is simply not there. Appliances, cars, and other tools do not last twenty or thirty years as they used to; and repairs to said items are just as costly as replacing them. The proportionate cost of homes to income is higher as well. It takes more available income to pay off mortgages today than it did then. Childcare is costly, and few average people have any free help at all with this because Grandma, Aunties, cousins and neighbors are also working. If your child misses school, a doctor’s note is required to excuse it: a note from Mom is no longer acceptable in most cases. This means money for a doctor, expensive medicines,and more money gone for missing work. Otherwise, parents will face fines or worse if normal childhood illnesses take too much time from school. There are other costs today that people of that generation did not have: home and health insurance costs, increased income taxes, licensing fees and special taxes for self-employment, mandatory vehicle insurance and licenses, gas costs are higher, and so on. I take nothing from the survivors of that time. The suffering and want so many of them endured was terrible. I asked my Grandmother once what kind of toys she played with as a child. She just gave me a blank look: they didn’t have any. Their experience does not mean people today are wasteful, lazy, and selfish, though. The cultures are completely different and cannot be fairly or equitably compared.

    • Sarah says:

      I love your comments. You hit it right on!! You make so many good points about how it is different now. Is think you should write a book; your comment resonate deeply with me. I have had a bit of life as you (well, more), and sometimes I glorify the past. But the world is so different and families are different. We would not even be communicating without new technology. Good changes have happened and maybe there is a different way to define “surviving in a tough world”. I have 30 something friends and I think they will save the world with their new ideas and takes on things. I think this includes shopping organic at the farmers’ markets but not planting their front yards into vegetable gardens. Grandma should continue working and every child should have good shoes and good daycare. Please keep your thoughts coming. We both honor the past but it is a different world now.

      • Cheryle D says:

        I think the premise for looking at experiences in the Great Depression is 1) it was, arguably, one of the most economically challenging times in our country’s history until now, and 2) consequently, such crises tend to bring out the best and worst in human nature. This forum is to find the good and mimic that. Of course times have changed – in some ways for the better, some not so much. I, too, have enjoyed reading the accounts of relatives surviving the Depression and have my own favorite recollections. However, let’s look to what it teaches, to what we all possess: resourcefulness, creativity, determination. We’re intelligent enough to translate frugality from what that meant in the 1930’s to what that means in 2013. What does that mean to you? Coupon clipping? Garage sales? Carpooling or biking? Dumpster diving? Recycling? Web surfing for bargains? Not eating out?… We have a world of technology at our fingertips and we stand on the shoulders of people before us. I needed a toolshed and didn’t have the money to buy one at Lowe’s or Home Depot. So I drove behind shopping centers and picked up discarded lumber and pallets. I now have a 6’x4’x5′ toolshed that I keep my gardening and yard tools in. I had to give in and buy a plastic corrugated sheet for the roof and a few other pieces but I spent less than $75. ‘Just one example of what we can do.

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