Scarcity and Abundance: Sharing Our Stories


M. Jane Ross

Have you seen the internet cooking demos of “Clara’s Great Depression Cooking?” Clara is a remarkably spry and sharp 91-year-old Sicilian-American who loves to cook the Depression-era meals she remembers from her youth and to interweave her cooking with stories from the past. Her grandson offered to video her cooking up some of these Depression favorites and after he’d posted several on YouTube, Clara  became an internet cooking sensation, eventually being interviewed on the morning television shows. She now has a DVD out showing her at work in her modest kitchen cooking up such dishes as Poorman’s Meal and Egg Soup.

Clara’s videos got me thinking about SCN’s own contribution to the down-home school of cooking, the Kitchen Table Stories cookbook and anthology of cooking stories. Looking back over the 60 stories contributed by our SCN authors, I realized what recurring and compelling themes there are in the twin poles of scarcity and abundance.

As Clara discovered, there is something about scarcity that sears food memories into our consciousness. Even in the midst of poverty, certain dishes can give us a sense of abundance and comfort, and their aromas and the stories behind them take firm hold of our imagination. In the worst of times, we find for a moment in a skillet of potatoes and eggs or a plate of griddle scones, the very best of times. 

MJ Ross 1999.  At the other end of the spectrum are our sweet memories of true abundance, most often associated in our Story Circle authors’ minds with their grandparents’ farm or a backyard vegetable garden or chicken flock. While the rest of the country suffered Depression-era deprivation, in small pockets of the country close to the land, abundance could be found. In Kitchen Table Stories, Susan Albert recounts her memories of milking her grandfather’s cows and drinking the sweet creamy milk at breakfast, and Marian Haigh shares memories of gathering eggs from Grandma’s chickens to make rich egg noodles. In these stories our authors mirrored the abundance of home-grown food with an abundance of sensory images for us to savor.

What I love most about Clara’s Great Depression Cooking videos is the reaffirmation of the value of the stories of ordinary women and of older women. Clara’s videos have somehow captured the essence of the meaning of cooking and stories for our families and friends. Clara hasn’t yet written a cookbook. Perhaps by the time she writes her Kitchen Table Stories-type cookbook, some of our own Kitchen Table Stories authors will have been inspired by her example to make videos of their cooking or their stories to share with family and friends and maybe even with the world.

Writing Prompt: I wonder, in the new 21st Century Depression and with the new interest in Victory Gardens and backyard chicken flocks, is a new generation forging these same memories of abundance even in the midst of a pervading sense of scarcity? Are we rediscovering some of the unglamorous but delicious recipes of our parents and grandparents and the incredible flavor of real homegrown and home-cooked foods? How are you or your family creating a sense of down-home abundance in tough times?

Check out SCN’s Kitchen Table Stories.

Watch Clara’s Great Depression Cooking videos on YouTube.

2 responses to “Scarcity and Abundance: Sharing Our Stories

  1. “While the rest of the country suffered Depression-era deprivation, in small pockets of the country close to the land, abundance could be found.” Yes, well said.
    I believe, as you do, that navigating the down-turn holds the promise of doing more with less money and a strengthening of core values and resourcefulness.
    Janet Riehl

  2. “captured the essence of the meaning of cooking and stories for our families”
    Lovely. To me there was nothing more meaningful than watching my grandmothers cooking or baking what they loved best. I learned to cook, yes. But what I really learned was the value of making it from scratch and by hand. Something many, many Americans have never done or understood. Perhaps this new economic situation will help many take the time to find what’s been lost.

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