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Food lessons from the Great Depression

December 13, 2008 |  6:00 am


Photograph by Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

CHILD OF THE '30s: Pat Box grew up in a large family in Boyle Heights. No one went hungry, but it took ingenuity.

Food lessons from the Great Depression

Today, learning how to cook on a budget is becoming important to more families. In the 1930s, making do was a kitchen art, honed by necessity. Sour grass soup, anyone?

By Mary MacVean

When she was a kid, for a treat Pat Box and her seven siblings got "water cocoa," which is pretty much what it sounds like and nothing special today. But that was in the 1930s, when her father's business was reselling bakers' barrels to coopers, and the family would get first crack at them, scraping the wood for any traces of sugar or cocoa left behind.

With luck, they'd also have rye bread and fresh butter they'd buy on Brooklyn Avenue."It was wonderful," said Box, 87, one afternoon while she gathered with friends at the Claude Pepper Senior Center on La Cienega Boulevard, just north of the 10 Freeway.

At a time when Americans face frightening and disorienting economic uncertainty, the Great Depression provides valuable lessons. For many people, putting a meal on the table without turning to processed or takeout foods is no longer something just for a weekend dinner party but a skill they must learn. People who remember what it was like to eat during the Depression talk about thrift, growing their own, sharing with neighbors and learning to cope with what they had.

Box grew up in Boyle Heights in a time of desperate need, but no one went hungry at her family's house, though it took work and ingenuity.

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