24 Simple Depression-Era Desserts That Actually Are Indulgent

Depression-Era Desserts


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Depression-Era Desserts

Simple Pleasures

It's a good bet that no one would guess that the sublime Sugar Cream Pie traces its roots back to the Depression era. The favorite of many a family is one of countless recipes from that period, a collection often passed down through generations. Back then, simple and readily available ingredients were used to provide something special during some dark days in our country's history. Now, you can turn to these recipes to once again create a bit of sweet relief.

Related: 23 Foods We Miss From the '70s and '80s

Grandma Davidson’s Baked Apple Pudding
Debbie Galbraith/istockphoto

1. Grandma Davidson’s Baked Apple Pudding

Holly Sharp of Ontario shares that her "savvy grandmother whipped up recipes like this homey, cinnamon-scented apple pudding in the Depression years" — and family members continue to use the same recipes today. You only need three apples to create six servings… sound thrifty to us.

Recipe: Taste of Home 

Related: Delicious Diabetic Dessert Recipes Everyone Will Love

Chocolate cake with sprinkles

2. Wacky Cake

The genre known as "wacky" or "crazy" cakes is called as its recipes bypass milk or eggs. But this incarnation is still "moist, dark and delicious," says AllRecipes contributor Mary Knipe. It is, she also shares, "a brainchild of the Depression era when ingenious cooks developed a cake that could be made without expensive and scarce ingredients."

Recipe: AllRecipes

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Sugar Cream Pie

3. Sugar Cream Pie

Taste of Home contributor Laura Kipper of Indiana (no surprise she's from the Hoosier State as this is also often called "Hoosier Cream Pie") says this custard-like splurge is a favorite, especially the one her grandmother made her. We love its ease and creamy coolness.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Prefer to get the one shipped to your door from the Hoosier State instead? Check out 34 Beloved Local Eats That Can Be Shipped to Your Doorstep.

bread pudding

4. Poor Man’s Pudding

This recipe found itself on the table in many a French-Canadian home during the Depression. It's all about the sugar and maple syrup and brown sugar. After all, a little indulgence helps during tough times.

Recipe: A Hippie with a Minivan

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Doughnuts

5. Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Doughnuts

Pennsylvania cook Marlene Reichart shares her family's recipe that taps the humble potato for moistness and a glaze that provides "just the right amount of sweetness."

Recipe: Taste of Home 

New Orleans Bourbon Bread Pudding With Bourbon Sauce

6. Bread Pudding with Nutmeg

During the Depression, you'd think twice before throwing away any leftovers (a practice good in any era, come to think of it). This recipe takes advantage of extra bread. The vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and a vanilla sauce sound pretty indulgent to us.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Ritz Mock Apple Pie

7. Ritz Mock Apple Pie

This recipe, made famous by being featured on the box of Nabisco Ritz crackers for decades, creates an "apple pie" flavor without apples. It's been defying the odds for generations, popular during Depression days when people craved the comfort of apple pie but didn't always have that prime ingredient on hand.

Recipe: Food.com

Depression-Era Hot Milk Cake

8. Depression-Era Hot Milk Cake

Decatur Macpherson shares "grandma's favorite thing to make," is simplicity perfected, adding that "Other cakes — crazy cake, for example — might call for atypical cake ingredients, but hot milk cake is a pretty straightforward cake, calling for all the typical fixin's. It's a perfectly simple and simply perfect cake that holds its own against fancier desserts since it tastes amazing."

Recipe: 12 Tomatoes

Poor Man’s Cake

9. Poor Man’s Cake

Also known simply as Depression Cake, this old-fashioned New England favorite is a spice cake, once again with no surprise here, prepared without butter, milk or eggs. Contemporary bakers will appreciate that it's low in fat but richly flavored thanks to raisins, cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar. The recipe was first published in "Yankee Magazine's Church Suppers and Potluck Dinners."

Recipe: New England Today

Vinegar Pie

10. Vinegar Pie (or Good Lord, I Need A Pie! What’s in the Pantry?)

When seasonal fruit is scarce, "desperation" or "make-do" pies would come into play. Bon Appétit says they have been "part of the American culinary tradition since the beginning of the country, when resourceful farming families put together dessert with whatever they had on hand." The Depression era proved primetime for pies such as blogger Jenni Field's Vinegar Pie, easy to make and, contrary to its name, quite sweet.

Recipe: Pastry Chef Online

Related: 36 Common Substitutes for Cooking and Baking Ingredients

Sponge Cake

11. Sponge Cake

When all you want is simplicity — and maybe a zip of lemon juice — try this straightforward cake, included in Jess Catcher's roundup of Depression-era "budget recipes that are still good enough to eat today."

Recipe: Little Things

Wet-bottom Shoofly Pie
Wet-bottom Shoofly Pie by Syounan Taji (CC BY-SA)

12. Shoo Fly Pie

When refined sugar wasn't readily available, cooks could still have something sweet thanks to this Amish Country delicacy. Though it dates back to the late-19th century, the pie (sweetened by molasses and brown sugar) was a heartland staple through the Depression era — and continues to find fans today. The Dear Crissy blog, written by an Ohio woman, offers a bit more on both the history of the pie and a travelogue of sorts showing readers the way of life followed by the Amish in her own home state.

Recipe: Dear Crissy

Vinegar Pie

13. Buttermilk Pie

This Southern classic is another no-fruit pie with a delightful custard texture and slight tang. Variations include topping with pecans or drizzling with blackberry syrup.

Recipe: Add a Pinch

Southern Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy

14. Southern Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy

Heather of the SprinkleBakes blog shares stories of her childhood — and the recipe for this twist on a "beloved Southern-style biscuit." The unexpected element, chocolate gravy, actually is "a Depression-era recipe that was most commonly eaten on big flaky biscuits for breakfast or dessert."

Recipe: SprinkleBakes

Chocolate Mayo Cake

15. Chocolate Mayo Cake

Wide Open Eats says that mayonnaise was a common Depression-era substitute: "Our grandparents knew that because mayonnaise was a mix of vegetable oil, vinegar, and egg, it would make the cake tender." Virginia Godd, a contributor to AllRecipes, says, "My mom made this cake while living in the Depression. It is so good, I hope this fills your needs and your memories."

Recipe: AllRecipes

Green Tomato Pie

16. Green Tomato Pie

What sounds like something that might be found in an artisan bake shop today is actually a Depression-era spin that's said to taste more like an apple pie than a savory offering.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Depression-Era Baked Apples

17. Depression-Era Baked Apples

Those fortunate enough to have fresh apples during the Depression might opt to spotlight them in all their sweet glory with this frugal, 30-minute dessert that keeps the fruit front and center.

Recipe: Recipe Lion

Tomato Soup Cake

18. Tomato Soup Cake

Spice things up with this spin on a traditional spice cake. This recipe uses no eggs, butter or milk but canned tomato soup instead with the unexpected ingredient leading to its nickname of "Mystery Cake." Said to have been introduced in the late 1920s and popular well into the Great Depression, this cake can be prepared in either a loaf or cake pan, depending on your aesthetic preference.

Recipe: Premeditated Leftovers

Oat cookies

19. Poor Man’s Cookies

This cookie's name is one chef's interpretation of a recipe shared by a 1930s radio program, a recipe with widespread appeal since eggs, milk or nuts were not needed. "Despite the name, the cookies are rich in taste," says the Taste of Home site.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Grape Pie

20. Grape Pie

Another inventive example of using what's on hand is this recipe sourced from a 1931 book, "The Household Searchlight Recipe Book." The pie recipe finds the baker creating a filling of just grapes, sugar, flour and butter.

Recipe: Bite from the Past

Pressure Cooker: Rice Pudding

21. The Easiest Vintage Style Rice Pudding Recipe

You either love rice pudding… or you don't. For those that do, they might like to know it's been pleasing dessert lovers since the Depression days. Blogger Katie, "The Homespun Hydrangea," shares her easy recipe, with her take paying homage to the ingenuity of a thrifty housewife.

Recipe: The Homespun Hydrangea

Peanut Butter Cookies
Marie C Fields/shutterstock

22. 3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

No flour in a cookie? Not in this recipe. In fact, it's a quick combining of peanut butter, sugar and egg to create sweet treats sure to become a family favorite.

Recipe: Premeditated Leftovers

Old-Fashioned Frozen Fruit Salad

23. Old-Fashioned Frozen Fruit Salad

Mental Floss notes that during the Depression frozen fruit salad, usually featuring canned fruit as its centerpiece, was "served during the holiday season as a special treat." This recipe can be served as a sweet side dish but like ambrosia, we prefer it to end a meal.

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

Water Pie

24. Water Pie

Christy Jordan's Southern Plate shares a recipe that features, perhaps, the quintessential ingredient one always has on hand — water. Yes, tap water. She says it's "one of those magical recipes that came out of the Depression era where cooks with little to nothing figured out how to make delicious dishes for those they love." It's described as having a "creamy buttery taste, similar to a warm vanilla cookie once it's chilled and sliced." Enjoy!

Recipe: Southern Plate