Great Depression Dinner Party

Great Depression Dinner Party

I’ve been researching the Great Depression for a while now (Holistic Personal Finance and Signature Wardrobe Planning are based on this research). And having recently watched The Roosevelts I reckon it’s time for a Great Depression Dinner Party!


While a lot of people did go hungry, we’ll offer a simple two-course depression-era menu of the sort that unemployed working class people may have eaten. I’ll give the quantities for a filling meal, but if you’d like to give your guests a real taste of the depression, cut the quantities in half and let them leave hungry.

Or leave as is, and take it as frugal entertaining for a budget friendly dinner party!


And tempting as it is to only offer water, we’ll match the drinks as usual.


Today’s photo shows an inner-city Melbourne slum. Going by this and other photos in the series, the walls and floor were probably unfinished so the house would have been dirty – both from the cooking fires and tracked in from outside. There may have been some newspaper or some such stuffed in cracks in the walls and ceiling to keep the weather out. You might have sold your furniture and knick-knacks so you could buy food. So take as much as possible out of your dining area, and leave your table uncovered (unless it’s a very good quality table in which case you need to protect it).

Dress Code

Rags and worn out clothing. In the modern era, you might like to take steps to preserve your modesty and to keep warm/cool depending on your climate. Shoes optional.

Dinner Planning

As always, six guests invited to arrive 6.30 for 7.00 pm.

6:30 Apéritif: Peanuts and Beer

You wouldn’t have had an apéritif before dinner, but we’ll go with beer and peanuts while we wait for everyone else to arrive.

7.00 Main: Beef Stew with more beer (or red wine if you want to be fancy)

As you would most likely be cooking over an open fire or small stove, with only one or maybe two pots, you’d be making a slow-cooked stew, most likely beef. As spices were rare and expensive, something quite plain.

Chuck 1 kg (2 lb) diced beef, 1 chopped onion, ½ head of chopped celery, 6 chopped potatoes, 6 sliced carrots, 2 bay leaves, 600 ml (1 pint) stock in your crock pot and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours (or 4 – 6 on high). If that’s a bit bland for you, add your favourite herbs and spices to taste; just remember that the flavour will intensify over time.

Or double the liquid and simmer over a low heat for up to three hours. Add more liquid if it looks too dry.

Serve with LOTS of bread to sop up the juices.

8.00 Dessert: Fruit Pie and ice cream (with a rich dessert wine like Muscat)

Without an oven or reliable refrigeration, many people made “stove top” puddings like custard, tapioca or steamed puddings. But they may also have eaten a plain piece fresh fruit like an apple or banana, and many people bought lollies (sweets, candy) or prepared desserts (cakes or pies) as well.

This is a special occasion, so let’s buy a fruit pie. Ice cream was available at the time, (though you probably would have eaten it in a cone) so it isn’t cheating to eat it with your pie.

If you’re not happy about not making dessert…

Bearing in mind we’re looking at the depression-era, aside from the previously mentioned kitchen limitations, your health wouldn’t be good (nutritional deficiencies of iron, calcium, and vitamin A). Not only that, you’d have been been permanently exhausted from stress and worry.

9.00 Cheese with Coffee and Port

Cheese was not an urban thing during the depression (that would be the lack of refrigeration). So you can either end the Depression at this point and get some nice cheese and a port/brandy to go with it, or buy the cheapest cheese and crackers you can and skip the booze


9.00 am prepare the stew to slow cook on low heat

1.00 pm  prepare the stew to slow cook on high heat

4.00 prepare the stew to cook on the stove/hob

6.30 guests arrive!

7.00 serve the stew

8.00 serve pie and ice cream

9.00 serve coffee

mealtime photo c. 1935 by F. Oswald Barnett (1883-1972). From the F. Oswald Barnett Collection, State Library of Victoria

For more information about dinner parties, see the Stress Free Dinner Parties page.

Stress Free Dinner Parties

Cooking for friends and family can be as terrifying as organising an international peace summit.

Stress Free Dinner Parties offers a simple step-by-step plan for getting it all done. So you can relax and enjoy the party too.

Discover how to enjoy the process, and the night. Buy now:

Stress Free Dinner Parties

Just a little reminder, you can read other relevant posts on the Holistic Personal Finance page.

Holistic Personal Finance

Advice on managing wealth usually means sacrificing things that make life worthwhile.

Holistic Personal Finance shows you how to manage your money according to the life you want – you can enjoy lattes, lunches with friends, and a prosperous tomorrow.

Discover how to enjoy your life while saving for the future. Buy now:

Holistic Personal Finance

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