Home > Grape Jelly

Grape Jelly

June 27th, 2022 at 04:24 pm

One of my  recent posts I commented about Pinterest and how it makes me try new things. A positive was I found a blog that mentioned some books about eating and living during the Great Depression. My parents lived through that and I remember them talking about how hard it was. As a result, I often have that Great Depression mentality of worrying about the future, reusing stuff, finding resourceful ways, and not wasting food.

Over the weekend I had the oppoortunity to go to the library and checkout a book called "A Square Meal - a culinary history of the Great Depression" by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe. I wasn't sure what it would entail, but discovered it elucidated so many things during that time that I had not been fully aware. 

The book started out before the Depression, in the early 1900s and how things had changed as more of the population decided to leave the rural farm life and head to urban areas. 

Apparently even before the stock market crash, there was a bread line in New York City that was substantial, but the rub was it was open from midnight until 1 a.m. because the area businesses didn't want the line around during business hours.

After the Depression hit, the bread lines were plentiful, but only men went; it was thought it was there might be too many rough men in line for women and children. There were a few places that catered to women and their children, but many women refused to go because it would be an admittance of being not able to take care of themselves and needing a man to protect them.

Many of the cities who offered "relief" or "welfare" would publish the names of those who were on the rolls. I can only imagine what that did to the dignity of so many and probably kept some from applying. 

We often talk about someone having "spring fever" as in acting a certain way. Apparently there was something truly called spring fever: it was when people, when winter was winding down, but before spring was arrived, who no longer could have vegetables or fruit, fresh or canned, and their bodies would get weak and lethargic. This was made even more so when food was hard to come by and people were eating mostly starches to try and survive. 

Under President Herbert Hoover's administration, he wanted states and charities to step up and take care of those who were poor and hungry. Many churches and charities did, but there were so many it was impossible. The government did eventually get involved by hiring "experts" who were to talk about how to feed folks and then someone had the bright idea of giving food based on one's employment: a carpenter should receive more food since his job was far more taxing than that of a store clerk. As a result, so many people starved. Yet, Hoover's administration said the data didn't show that big of a difference in the overall health and that people losing weight was a good thing and the flu numbers weren't as high. Talk about skewing the data!

FDR, when elected, did do many beneficial things, taking charge and having the federal government start programs to feed as well as employ many. But even he and his administration made mistakes, especially withdrawing money too soon and a recession came about. The book was scary and fascinating all at the same time.

My Papa and his family were hard scrabble, yet he would say they never received a government hand out. He said his patches had patches on his overalls. His mom was the one who worked at home, cooking, cleaning, and figuring out how to get by. His father had left and I never knew why. His uncle Alex worked at a local restaurant and other odd jobs. His aunt Dorothy worked various jobs. His grandfather and grandmother lived with them and they moved often. So, all these adults and my father and his little brother trying to scratch out a living. If someone offered them something, they took it; one time a neighbor had a grape arbor and after picking what they wanted, offered the rest of the grapes to my grandmother. She and the boys went to pick them all. She made grape jelly and canned it. 

Papa told me once when I was making grape jelly he was sure it was good, but he didn't want it. He said for many days  after the grape jelly his mom made, that's all they had, bread she had baked and grape jelly for meals. It almost makes me feel guilty when I see the bowl of fruit on my island and my full pantry!

3 Responses to “Grape Jelly”

  1. CB in the City Says:

    Very interesting. My parents lived through the Great Depression, too. I mostly had stories from my mother. She grew up with her aunt, and they had a big garden and a grape arbor! They also had no indoor bathroom, just an outhouse. I remember visiting my great aunt, who was still using the outhouse, and I remember how it smelled. Eeewww!

    My great aunt made the best biscuits I have ever tasted, and I remember sitting on their stoop and eating them with grape jelly, and also with apple butter. So I bet there were apple trees on their property, too.

    It seems my mother did okay during the depression, because of her aunt's resources and skills. She always said it was harder afterwards, when other people had money, but she was still poor. My father, unfortunately, was not a good provider -- but that's a whole 'nother story.

  2. Wink Says:

    It's interesting (to me) that when I was volunteering at the food bank, most of the people who would drive up and receive the food were women, many with their children in the car. I very rarely saw men waiting in line. And sadly, some of the stigma about using a food bank still exists today. The book sounds very interesting, I'll look for it next time I am at the library.

  3. Lots of Ideas Says:

    What a well written lovely recap.

    My mother was also a Depression baby, and my grandmother was a ‘save it, we might need it some day’ person.

    My mother’s eating was definitely influenced by poverty. She thought bread and butter, with a little sugar on it, was a huge treat.
    She was one of four children, but due to a death and ‘hard times’, at one point there were ten children, two under a year, plus her mother and two men to feed. Gram would buy 1/2 pint of oysters, a lot of potatoes and onions, and make ‘oyster stew.’ She told the children .they didn’t like oysters, and gave them all to Grampa (what the uncle ate she never said). All her life, my mother said she knew she didn’t like oysters, her mother told her…

    She loved bread and gravy, celery stew, stuffed peppers - essentially meatless meals.

    If your library has a subscription to, you might find it interesting to read papers from that time from your area.
    During the pandemic, I read the weekly paper from the small Vermont town my grandmother lived in from 1906 to 1925. I started out searching for her and her family members names, which gave me wonderful insight. It actually altered my perception of her life, and made me wish I had asked her way more questions,

    Eventually, I skimmed through most issues - they were usually between 8 and 12 pages. They were incredibly local - who had Sunday dinner at whose house, visitors, trips - and not very organized. The lead up to WWI and how that changed their lives was fascinating.

    Anyway, if you know where your family lived, and their paper is archived, it is interesting to see the world they lived in. Even the ads, maybe especially the ads, tell a story.

    I pay for a subscription and get more than my money’s worth - it ties in to which I pick up and put down sometimes. But I think library’s have access…

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