Watching cooking videos on youtube of an evening (as per usual) is how I discovered an absolute hidden gem. Her name is Clara and she has the most compelling series of youtube videos I have ever seen. I found myself entranced, watching more and more and more of them, determined to find the perfect, depression era recipe.
For someone that has always been intrigued by food history, this epitome of a youtube sensation was absolutely fascinating to me. The experiences she talked about were so real they make you shiver, her manner is so humble and raw, her videos so unpolished and her croaky voice just makes you want to cuddle her. I couldn’t help but think ‘wow, she really lived this’ – and other people clearly share my feelings, she’s had over 2 million views.
But how did Clara get so popular? Why would people want to remember a time of stringency? What is so appealing about the make-do approach to cooking? When you could choose to cook with ingredients that would have seemed a world away to Clara 80 years ago, why would you want to instead make dishes cooked out of necessity in the time of hardship? Here are five reasons I think the appeal of depression-era cookery goes further than we think.
There is a perpetual myth that what people want in every aspect of life is choice. But as psychologists tell us, there is in fact a ‘Choice Paradox.’ An abundance of choice often makes people feel depressed, lonely and insecure. Allowing people to make decisions about what to eat, whilst giving them a bewildering array of choices, information about optimal nutrition and bombardment of food advertising makes it difficult to make the right choices in the end makes people miserable. Limiting food choices without sacrificing health is actually one of the most comforting aspects of this type of cooking and possibly a big reason behinds its allure.
2. Cheap and cheerful
The most obvious reason that depression-era and rationing food blogs have become so popular is because they offer us a very cost-effective way to eat. Looking back in time to see how people cooked in the worst of economic times is useful to see how to eat healthily as well as economically, with nifty tricks of frugal eating. Whether its adding water to milk, lentils to minced meat, or beetroot to chocolate cake to make it go further, tips like this can be incredibly useful if you’re strapped for cash or interested in eating cheaply.
3. Health and well being
During the depression, life-expectancy in America went up by an impressive 6 years. During WWII, the population of England were the healthiest we’ve ever been. Eating a mostly plant and dairy based diet with lots of vegetables, fortified bread and cheap protein sources like eggs, beans and offal, we were fighting fit. In fact we have never and perhaps will never be that healthy again. Eating real, hearty food in simple, creative recipes is a good well to maintain a healthy diet for a whole family. I’m certainly not advocating a return to rationing to solve our obesity crisis, but recipes inspired by this period are good realistic cheap healthy recipes and should certainly not be scoffed at.
4. Family and community
Sometimes there’s nowhere lonelier than eating a sushi box lunch for one at your desk, even if it is a meal more exotic and flavoursome than most people in the early 20th century could have dreamt of. With families eating together less and less there is something appealing in going back to a time when everyone would have been part of a family meal. Recipes like Clara’s are not for the time poor, but her bulk cooking tips are great for those feeding a family or a street.
It would be insensitive of me to hold up hunger as something to aspire to. However it’s clear that when you have less of something, it becomes more appealing. It would be good to appreciated meat and sugar more, and to not expect it with every meal. A little bit of anticipation can make food taste better, as well as reminding us to be grateful for the foods we now take for granted.
So should we stop and look back to diet of our predecessors? Is that the key to health, wealth and happiness? Well, maybe. Maybe we should put away the exotic foods and return the simple fare of old.
Tonight when deciding what you want for dinner, take a moment to remember Clara and what she taught us and maybe let it inform you, or at least be something to ponder.
Sarah’s Thai Noodle Soup
Sometimes the nicest thing in the whole world is coming home to a home cooked meal. Especially if you’re tired or cold or just in need of a cuddle.
I came home the other day in one of these states to be greeted by the best housemates in the world, a cold beer and a bowl of the most delicious Thai Noodle Soup I’ve ever had in my life. It was creamy and fresh and garlicky, gingery and full of crunchy veg. This recipe has quickly become a store cupboard staple and has become something I dream about, along with Bodeans Burnt Ends and Spaghetti Carbonara.
Find below the finest and quickest Thai noodle soup recipe you’ll ever find.
- 4 Small chillies (v. small, probably 1 chilli’s worth)
- 1 tsp Cayenne pepper
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 1 Small onion
- 1 lime (zest and juice)
- 1 tsp dried cumin
- 1 tsp dried coriander
- 1 Bunch of fresh coriander
- 3 tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Fish sauce
- 1 tin Coconut milk
- 1 litre Vegetable stock
- 2 nests Dried egg noodles
- Vegetables (whatever you have, however much you like)
Cook the onion until soft, add the Ginger, Garlic, chilli and spices and cook on a gentle heat adding splashes of coconut milk to keep the paste from Browning too much.
Add vegetables of your choice. (I like mange tout and baby corn but whatever you have in the fridge would be fine) the veg stock and coconut milk.
Cook together for 15 mins adding the noodles to a separate pan of boiling water for the last 5.
Felicity Cloake’s Nut Loaf with Nell’s little adjustments
- 300 g Tinned/packed chestnuts
- 1 Red onion
- 300 g Chestnut mushrooms
- 500 g Cashew nuts
- 150 g Walnuts
- Fresh rosemary
- Fresh thyme
- 150 g Stilton
- 100 g Breadcrumbs
- 1 Egg
- 10 Cabbage leaves
Fry the onion and mushrooms together with butter and garlic until nicely brown. Wait for them to cook then add them to a big bowl and add the breadcrumbs, beaten egg, the nuts (roughly chopped), the crumbled stilton, the herbs and a good amount of seasoning.
Then boil the cabbage leaves for 1 minute each before laying them along the bottom of the dish and up the sides. Add the mixture and fold the cabbage over the top. Bake at 190 degrees for about 45 minutes. Mmm.