Food Files from the WPA
The Faro Caudill family eating dinner in their dugout, Pie Town, New Mexico. October 1940. Photo by Russell Lee.

In this photograph by Russell Lee, the Faro Caudill family eats dinner in Pie Town, New Mexico, in October 1940 (Library of Congress). Click image for more info.

In the last years of the 1930s, the last years before interstates and industry turned America into one big, homogenized market, Depression-era writers went out to see what Americans were eating.

They went North, South, East and West. Today, their report reads like a wildly diverse national potluck of very regional, very vivid cuisine.

Spoon bread and burgoo, oyster stew and chicken bog, hush puppies and possum, Johnny cake and hoecake and rabbit and grunion.

This hour, On Point: What we ate before we all ate the same. We’ll read the great American menu — and tuck in.

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Joining us in our studio is Mark Kurlansky, bestselling author of many books, including “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” and “Salt: A World History.” His new anthology is “The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food – from the Lost WPA files.”

Also in our studio is JJ Gonson, a personal chef with a background in short order and home cooking. Boston Magazine named her “Boston’s Best Personal Chef.” She’s founder of Cuisine En Locale, based in Cambridge, Mass., and writes an eponymous blog, where she’s just written about food shopping and economies of scale.

In this video clip, Tom and our guests sample tastes of the ’30s…

Here’s our tasting menu for this hour. These are authentic 1930s dishes taken from Mark Kurlansky’s book.

Plain Maine Chowder
from the recipe of Mabel G. Hall, a Maine historian

– Ingredients: diced salt pork, onions, potatoes, water, salt, a very little bit of milk

Kentucky Wilted Lettuce
“Throughout Kentucky, and particularly in the mountainous area, wilted lettuce is certain to appear on the table of most every household that has a garden.”

– Ingredients: fresh lettuce, fresh green onions, salt, pepper, bacon, bacon grease

Arizona Menudo
from a description of an “Arizona Menudo Party” by J. Del Castillo

– Ingredients: beef tripe, hominy, salt, pepper

Depression Cake (far western U.S.)
from an essay by Michael Kennedy and Edward B. Reynolds, a cake born out of necessity by a woman preparing for a July 4 “picnic, rodeo, and general get-together”
– No eggs, butter, or milk.
– Ingredients: raisin water, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice, bacon drippings, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder.

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