One feature of  cooking during the Great Depression, especially in rural areas, was home made kitchen ware.  I especially like the creativity of the flour sifter;

Depression era kitchen ware.
Making do.

Flour reminds me of my husband’s family, who owned Conolly’s flour mill in Goulburn. It’s an unfortunate truth, but they did very well during the Depression, as people ate a lot more bread. Oh dear…and note the comment, ‘The belief that white bread was injurious to healthy had been proved erroneous.

MORE BREAD IN HARD TIMES – GOULBURN. According to Mr. F.A. Bamford, manager for William Conolly Ltd., the prevailing depression is proving something of a blessing in disguise for flourmillers. It had been found, he said, addressing the local Chamber of Commerce, that, owing to the reduction in purchasing power, many people were eating more bread, finding it the cheapest and most satisfying of all foods. Orders received by his firm in recent months showed this. The belief that white bread was injurious to health had been proved erroneous. There was also an increased consumption of wheatmeal. (Goulburn Evening Penny Post 1930)

Wheatmeal porridge was cheap during the Great Depression.
Porridge was cheap.

Kerosene was widely used in Australia for heating and lighting, and the  empty  tins provided the raw material for all manner of makeshift household items, including furniture.  In the photo below, the lids have been used as fronts for a little  kitchen cabinet.

Depression era kitchen featuring kerosine tins
How did they manage without the kerosene tin?

I admire the spirit of this family from New South Wales, who gave a name to their humble shack.  And yes, that’s a kerosene tin in the father’s hand, transformed to a bucket with a wire handle. So useful  for  carting water for washing and cooking.

Depression era family, NSW
A NSW family coping as best they could.

I wonder whether they were fortunate enough to have a kerosene stove?

Kerosene stove.
A three burner.

Cookery competitions remained popular, especially those featuring economical recipes. I’m not too sure about the winning entries in a 1929 Truth newspaper competition.  Offal might be fashionable these days, but I’m not a fan.


Rabbits were eaten so often during the Depression years that it’s a wonder we didn’t manage to wipe them out!  My own family continued to eat them into the fifties and early sixties, though from choice rather than necessity.  My mother made heavenly rabbit stew, and  stuffed baked rabbit wrapped in bacon rashers. But the dish we loved above all else was…..REEDY MARSH PIE.  This was a recipe passed down by word of mouth from my maternal grandmother, who raised a family of ten children in the 1920s and 30’s at Reedy Marsh in Tasmania.

Some years ago  my elderly Aunt Leah sent me her own version.  It was slightly different to my mother’s, which I’m sure  contained peas.

The seasoning for the top that Leah mentions was the best part of  Reedy Marsh Pie. It was fresh breadcrumbs mixed with dried herbs, which became crunchy on top, and soaked with the savoury pie juice underneath.


When it came to  puddings,  anything sweet and rib sticking was welcome in those hard times. Winter puddings in my childhood were not much different, although living on a dairy farm meant we had plenty of butter, so dripping could stay in the crock.

My mother all manner of apple based puddings; apple pie, apple crumble, baked apples etc etc. I still have my grandmother’s old apple corer.

Here is a recipe featuring stale bread or cake. It was published in The Central Queensland Herald in 1932;

DEPRESSION PUDDING – Soak stale crusts of bread or cake in milk or water. Squeeze lightly and add 1/2 cup of currants, 1/2 cup sultanas, 1 teaspoon spice, 1 teaspoon soda, 1 cup sugar, and a little grated lemon peel. Melt and add 2 tablespoons butter or dripping, and essence of vanilla. Put into a well-greased basin and steam 3 hours. Serve with boiled custard. 

Albert, Norman Lindsay’s ‘cut and come again’ pudding, would have been useful in those difficult times.


If there was no internal plumbing, hot water from the kettle poured into a tin dish had to suffice for washing up.

Depression era style of washing the dishes.

Then, everything could be stored away. The doors on the rustic cupboard  pictured below were  made from packing cases.

Depression ers cupbard

A quick clean up of crumbs with the kero tin dust pan and dinner could be served.

Of course men who took the road seeking work had an even more difficult time. Note the kero  tins  fashioned into a windbreak for the fire, and used as ‘domestic’   containers.  No doubt those  pieces  in the foreground would have come in handy for something  too.

Depression era Swaggie cooking dinner
Depression era swaggie cooking dinner.

At commercial eateries, prices plummeted;

Many free meals were provided by charities, right through the Great Depression. The following appeared in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper in April 1936.


For a large number of years we of this institution have specialized in catering for the needs of single unemployed men. During the depression period we have supplied approximately 50,000 meals a year. In the cold days of winter a hot soup meal is provided at 12 noon. This service we hope to resume in the cold days which lie ahead of us. May I appeal to the good folk who have supported us so magnificently in the past for a continuance of their good will during the winter of 1936. On behalf of the committee, David S. Colville, Presbyterian and Scots Church  Joint Mission, Corner Lonsdale and William Streets.


Of course there were a privileged few whose lives were barely touched by economic hardship. This 1931 menu from the palatial Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains shows little sign of restraint. I suspect that for those who sat down to the dinner,  belts may have had to be loosened rather than tightened.

Hydro Majestic Easter Menu

This recipe book was given to me by a friend recently. We have just finished furnishing our new house, so I may need to make Austerity Block Cake.😨

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.