Making Due with what you have has a long history, dating back long before product on demand and modern refridgeration. During the great depression, making the most out of what little they had became almost an artform with virtually no waste and remains a study in frugality and ingenuity even today.
I recall the story of my grandfather, young and travelling far from home to find work and found it picking cotton. He’d pick and fill the long bags they drug through the fields, all day, for a bowl of beans. The last bag he filled that at the end of the day, was used as a mattress on the ground that he pulled behind a billboard.
In the home, mothers stretched what they had, not only to fill bellies but artfully created some semblance of normalcy. Women baked bread and biscuits. If you’ve ever baked or bought real bread, you’d know that it goes bad very quickly. (unlike the scary grocery store bread in my pantry. It’s been there nearly a month and is as soft as the day I bought it and not a speck of mold. I refuse to eat it! It’s not real food and quite frankly, scary.)
Thus, day old bread was used for french toast, bread pudding, crumbs for meatloaf, biscuits and gravy etc. Boiling cornmeal, ground wheat or other grains, made porridge for breakfast, fried as johnny cakes or leftovers, allowed to solidify then sliced and fried. This was served with butter and syrup for breakfast or as a polenta.
I could explore this with you forever, but today, I want to offer one of the ways women provided a bit of normalcy to family life and the dinner table….Mock Pies. The most famous was created by the Ritz cracker company during the depression, Mock Apple Pie. Many of you will have tried it but those who haven’t are always surprised. I, myself, have enjoyed making them for unsuspecting children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and occasional guest. I’m always delighted at their shock when I reveal that their “Apple Pie” had no apples!
Mock Apple Pie
For the crust
2 unbaked pie crusts
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sugar
For the Filling
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups water
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
36 Ritz crackers
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Preheat oven to 425°F. In a medium saucepan combine sugar, water and cream of tartar, whisking until sugar has dissolved. Bring mixture to boil over high heat, whisking occasionally, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 15 minutes or until mixture has reduced to 1 1/2 cups. Stir in zest, juice and vanilla. Set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
2. Roll out crusts. Place bottom crust in pie pan. Pierce the bottom crust all over with a fork. Add crackers. (Roughly break for a chopoed apple look or leave whole for a more sliced apple look.) Pour syrup over crackers and dot with pieces of butter then sprinkle evenly with cinnamon.
3. Beat together egg and milk. Place top crust over pie. Seal and flute the edges and brush with egg wash then sprinkle with sugar. Cut several small slits into the top crust to vent the steam. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. I like to serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Mock Cherry Pie
1 ½ cups cranberries ( cut largest ones in half)
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp flour ½ tsp almond extract
1 cup sugar pinch of salt
½ cup water
Do not leave out the almond flavouring as this gives the pie the flavor of fresh cherries.
Again, pierce the crust with a fork. Put raw cranberries in lower crust. Mixed sugar and flour then sprinkle over the cranberries. Mix extract and water then pour over the berries. (I would dot with butter) Put on top crust and cut slits for steam. Brush crust with egg and milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in hot oven. 350° (?) Until golden brown. 40 – 45 min.
Mock Pecan Pie
1/4 c Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
3/4 c Sugar
3/4 c. dark Corn Syrup
3/4 c Oats
1 c Coconut
1 pie shell
Cream butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs, syrup, and vanilla. Stir in oats and coconut. Pour into the pie shell. Bake at 350° 40-45 min.
serve with whipped cream