Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How the Old Time Mothers Survived Poverty

Library of Congress:  Family cans their own food, Osage Farms, Missouri, 1939.

There are so many families struggling right now. There is never enough food for even the basics of life. Housewives need encouragement, inspiration and ideas in order to survive on very little.

During the War in the 1940's, Britain's government provided citizens with books to help them obtain skills to manage on very little. These were called: "Wartime cookery" and "Make do and Mend." I understand some of these have been recently re-published.

The other day, I cut out material to make two aprons. While I was ironing all the material I was thinking about the depression-era mothers. They would take scraps of fabric and piece them together for quilts. Or they would make rag-rugs. These women were productive, hardworking and creative. They could take the smallest amount of leftovers, from supper, and come up with something amazing the next day.

With knowledge, ideas and inspiration, these women survived poverty. Currently, in America, we are told, by the government, that a family of 5, earning less than $25,790 is living in poverty (in 2009). It does not take much to be poor in this current age. Housing costs are high, utility bills are outrageous and food costs are rising. Here are some things the Old time mothers did:

1. Water down the milk.

2. If children were allowed to have a soda, they had to share it.

3. If, during a holiday, the family had soda, they would fill the cups with ice and add a little water before pouring the soda. The children never knew what "real" or "straight" soda tasted like until they were grown.

4. Cut up one apple or orange and divide between everyone in the family. Serve on their lunch or supper plate.

5. Sew and mend rips in the clothes. (Are we doing this today?)

6. Make a big pot of soup, then do the housework and laundry. The soup cooks all day - it is an inexpensive meal and goes far. Just serve it with muffins or biscuits.

7. Bake something every other day - muffins, bread, biscuits. Leave this out, wrapped up, on the table or counter. It will help fill everyone up and keep them from snacking on junk or feeling hungry (deprived).

8. When there is nothing to drink, Mother would make tea. Those tea bags were re-used all day long to fill cup after cup. Mother served tea on tea plates and kept the tea bags on those little plates for re-use later in the day.

9. Mother saved jars (we can save spaghetti-sauce jars today) and kept them clean, storing them in the cabinet. When the family would go out, she would fill that jar with cold water so everyone would have something to drink.

As I was doing some hand-sewing yesterday, I thought how important it was to keep busy. I prayed as I sewed. I was keeping busy with the home arts and this soothed my soul. If we mothers of today, could just work hard around our homes, and pray for courage, we could make it on very little. We would also start believing more in miracles and trust God so much more than we do now. So many blessings come to the diligent, brave housewives. May we all be found worthy.


From the Archives -

Familiar Things - Comforted by My Homemaking Tools.

Creating a Heritage - The Bills in the Whitman's Box.

- To find out more about this blog, or Mrs. White, please visit our About page. -

Find Home-keeping Inspiration, in Mrs.White's book - For The Love of Christian Homemaking.  Paperback, 274 pages.


Tracy said...

An inspiring post, Mrs. White! We all need these reminders to be thrifty and economical in these challenging times.

Debra said...

Mrs. White -- what great suggestions, all in one place. And no, I don't tend to mend clothing. I really ought to...

Heidi Mitzelfeldt said...

So many of these things my grandmother did. She was born in 1902 and raised by her Victorian grandmother. A throwback in very changing times.(She was about my age during the war.) Thank you for bringing back some lovely memories of a very dear lady!

Michelle Gibson said...

Excellent list, Mrs. White! I never would have thought to water down the milk - I am going to try that!

Jacque said...

I am happy - and surprised!- to say we do all of these things. We don't drink much milk, but we water down all the drinks for our children.
We also re-use tea bags for hot tea.
We do mend. I also save fabric from older clothes and make skirts, etc. from it.
We always use leftovers and remake it for another meal.
I guess necessity is the mother of frugality too, then...
Thanks for the encouragement. This is a great list, and I wonder what else we can do to cut down. We are in the process of getting rid of things we just don't need. Necessity again.

Be blessed!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this post. I grew up doing all these things, and still do most of them today. I need to do a better job of handing these skills down to my own children though.

Thank you for the reminder!

Joyce Ackley said...

I've heard my mother speak about some of the ideas you mentioned. She was born in 1912, so she was a young woman during the Great Depression.

Do you all know who Clara Cannucciari is? She is 93 years old and has cooking shows on how to cook Depression style. If you google in Cooking with Clara, you'll get many hits and can watch one or more of her cooking videos.
She's quite interesting. Clara now has a book out. You can find many of her recipes and dishes on the internet, however.

It's worth checking out!

Anonymous said...

Great List - it was neat to see that I do some of that already! Thank you for posting this wonderful reminder....
Blessed Day!

Deanna said...

God Bless you, Mrs. White.
Liked this post.

My Dad was raised in a very poor family well below the poverty line. He always said "Soap doesn't cost very much. Just because you're poor doesn't mean you have to be dirty."

Many times his lunches would be a pancake and he wrapped twine around his shoes to hold them together.

I remember adding powdered milk to regular milk to stretch it.

Have a sweet week-end,
d from homehaven

minishoes1 said...

I really liked this post! My mom grew up poor and sometimes they didn't have much to eat but were creative. It makes me appericiate what I have.

Emma B. said...

I love this. I wish more people felt this way. We need to go back to the old ways of doing things. Less waste. More love & family time.

Emma B. said...

I shared this on facebook because I think it's awesome :)

sylvia said...

i'm currently trying to work just an academic year schedule without taking extra work during the semester break and summer. i have found that by being extremely frugal during the months i do work, i don't need to take the extra. i try to pay a little ahead on the utility bills every month so the summer is prepaid. this year i canceled the television [satellite] for the summer, no penalty to start and stop. i may not even let it start up again in september, have not missed it.

one thing i need to try harder to make part of my regular life is baking bread. i bake everything else, but haven't mastered that yet. since i wear a college provided uniform, i need very little in the way of clothes, a huge savings. and my job includes one meal a day, so i try to make that my main meal of the day with a large salad. then i am happy with a lighter supper.

i also found a wonderful spot in the river near where i live to swim, picnic, watch the beauty of God's creation, for the cost of just driving a few miles. bought a good quality but old bicycle and learned to bike at my old age of 58. and realized that walking is free, except for the cost of a good pair of shoes. and gardening/yard work is cheaper than any gym membership.

i loved your post, i love all your posts! and appreciate the reminder that we all need to make do, use it up, use it over, and do without.

blessing to you and your family, i include you in my prayers and hope your health is improving.

Jaime Lynn said...

Great post! My husband works for a ministry and we have a 5 month old daughter. We would be considered as living under the poverty line but we have never been in want of anything. We lead a very simple, quiet life and are thankful for what we have and use everything that God has provided in a way that would show a good example of stewardship. God bless you and your home.

SisterTipster said...

Wow~I knew about the war time creativity, as I saw this stuff in my great grandmother and mother who taught me, but NEVER thought about it much, really. You are soo right that with some hard work and skill we can make it in almost any economy. I'd venture that we are still so incredibly blessed. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to link to your thrifty posts on Thriving With No Green$ which is my thrift blog I write. I believe my readers would enjoy your posts. Let me know ;-)) AND thanks for the encouragement! The temptation and angst over black fri was getting to me~I HAVE enough because HE IS ENOUGH!
Thanks again!

Angel said...

Very good advice. Thanks for sharing! :)

Jayleen said...

i realy like the part about mending everything and i try to do my best work even though i just started mending and shawns mend clothing are good for work (he works in the bush)
do you have a food bank near you? this is how i am able to put food on the table
do you garden? last year i just had a tomato 2 tomato plant and green chives as at the time i was living in a basement when i planted them it was so nice to have those tomatoes for salads and burritos
do you buy in bulk? i usually do when i can afford it and then the rest i get from the food bank we rarely eat meat we usually eat beans we do eat canned fish once a week mixed in kraft dinner

Cassidy said...

This was very encouraging and brought much help to me. Thank you so much for this post. You are a dear blessing. I would love to call you my friend.

Smiles, Cass

Dree said...

Actually, I do all of these things. Only we don't drink milk (cooking only) and don't keep soda in the house (it's a treat).

I have been very frustrated with trying to mend my younger son's torn uniform pants knees. Always the left knee, of course :) MY mom used to use the iron on patches, but I find they don't work on the knee. I have started turning the pants into shorts, but he goes through them sooooo fast.

Calzones are another great meal to make form leftovers, and they pack into lunches fabulously!

Interesting post :)

lisa said...

calzones ? would a member please post her recipe :-)

I do about the things listed. I also redo & remake items for sale at our local craft area. many people appricate the old ways , but either don;t know how , or dont have someone to teach them ..

my dad always said mom cooked better when she was OUT of groceries :-


bon said...

I am this way ... already. I must. We must. There's no other way around it. When I drive my car to the grocery store I am a criminal for I cannot afford car insurance. It is truly sad. However, my home is haven and when people come over they are in awe that life exists the way it does for us. It's the economy. There is no "recession". That's just another word for "depression" that exists at the lower end of the class spectrum. The world outside my home does not understand many things. Their hurried, frustrated and exasperated minds simply cannot fathom that I am not "lazy" or "complacent" about anything. I am stuck .. stuck in a world I didn't choose. The very world that expects so much of me has, simultaneously, subjected me to oppression. Now, I don't want to leave it. I say good-bye to yesterday and that "world" of vanity, endless circles to nowhere and chaotic worthlessness. Love, patience, integrity, honesty, sincerity and fingering the dandelions on a cool afternoon are oh-so important to me nowadays.

Dottie said...

I found this blog through a pin on pinterest. I'm always looking for new ways to save money. I think about my father when I see some of these things. He was very frugal, and often brought things home that he'd found, and use them in ingenious ways. Thank you for this post.

patty said...

Dear Mrs. White,
Although I loved this entire post, I have been contemplating a certain message..."if we could just work around our homes"...can you just imagine how little we'd spend because we weren't wasting gas by popping into stores being enticed by things we didn't need?! I, for one, am going to take that seriously and go ONLY when I NEED to go and only to those places where I honestly do have business to take care of.
GOD BLESS YOU for being such a blessing, especially at a time when we all could use the encouragement.

Unknown said...

It's always nice to know to how folks in the past dealt with their difficulties, because we know that, if they survived - quite nicely, even - so can we!

Thanks for the great points!

Rachel said...

These women were so practical! I'm very glad that I can mend my husband's uniforms when he needs me to!

Mrs. Laura Lane said...

I'm making baby bibs today for my gift box. I am using leftover material from some dresses I made for myself last year and a couple of years ago. Some will be yellow with purple flowers. Others will be black with little red cherries.

Last night I bought peanut butter, bread, 5 $1 microwave burritos for lunches, a quart of milk, some navy beans and a small sliced ham quarter. That will make three lunches— pbj, burritos, and ham sandwiches. It will make one dinner— navy beans with ham bits and onions. That's all I will need for the rest of the week. By the weekend, I will thaw out some meat from the freezer and buy milk and veggies or harvest something from the garden.

Be blessed.... This has been very interesting to read your blog from the beginning. When I finish, I think I may go back to 2007 and read my own from the beginning. I definitely need to go back and read all of my thrifty and frugal posts!

Karen aka Trouper, Tripper, Jomo said...

This is a wonderful post. I love it. Thank you!!