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Depression-Era Baking: Use What You Have

No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “Waste not, want not!” To survive the Great Depression, this mindset was key.

Depression-Era Baking from Out of the Box

Maybe you’re one of those people who keeps a well stocked pantry and refrigerator. You’re prepared to whip up a good meal or dessert at the drop of a hat.

Or, maybe you’re more inclined to open the pantry and sigh because there’s not enough there to bake anything good.

Basic Ingredients: Flour, Sugar, Eggs, Butter, etc.

Depression-Era Baking from Out of the Box

Keeping “staples” in the pantry is key, especially during lean times like the Great Depression. Flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and shortening? These were cheap and easy to use. Best of all, they could serve as a base for dozens of different treats. . .like the following:

I want to give you my list of “must haves” that I try to keep in my pantry at all times. These are my pantry staples:

  • flour (all-purpose, basic)
  • sugar (granulated)
  • sugar (brown, light)
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • salt
  • cornstarch
  • cocoa powder
  • meringue powder
  • vegetable oil
  • shortening
  • instant pudding mixes
  • oats
  • peanut butter
  • chocolate chips
  • cake mixes (white, yellow, devil’s food)
  • spices: cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, cream of tartar

Here are the items that I keep in my refrigerator at all times:

  • butter
  • eggs
  • milk
  • whipping cream
  • extracts
  • pecans

Depression Era Recipes

The following list of recipes are some of the Depression-Era cook’s favorites that can be made with the simple ingredients I listed above:

  • Easy Baking Powder Biscuits: They’re light, they’re fluffy, they’re crisp on the edges and filled with a luscious, tender crumb. These easy baking powder biscuits are everything you would expect…and so much more!
  • Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake: If you love the combination of cinnamon and sugar and you happen to love streusel topping with crunchy toasted pecans, then I’ve got the perfect recipe for you. This Easy Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake is perfect for breakfast. . .or any time of day!
  • Simple White Cake from Scratch: You can make this Simple White Cake Recipe (from scratch). No, really!
  • Cinnamon Sugar Bisquick Cookies: If you want a quick Snickerdoodle-like cookie but you don’t have time to whip up a batch, have I got a recipe for you!
  • Easy Cinnamon Sugar Muffins: If you love the combination of cinnamon and brown sugar and you’re in a hurry, these muffins will be perfect for you. They come together (start to finish) in under 20 minutes. And best of all, they start with a simple white cake mix.
  • Cinnamon Sugar Pound Cake: If you’re in the mood for a buttery cake with luscious swirls of cinnamon and brown sugar, you’ve come to the right place! This moist, delicious pound cake is easy to whip up and the addition of the cinnamon and sugar sends it over the moon!
  • Old-Fashioned Pound Cake: If you’re looking for a classic pound cake to serve at your next get-together, you can stop looking! I’ve got a luscious butter pound cake recipe for you that’s going to thrill and delight your guests and make you proud to serve it!


Depression-Era Baking from Out of the Box
nuts on a table, different kind of nuts

Have a few nuts on hand? Add them to your staples! Turn that flour, sugar, and leavening into any of the following:

  • Cinnamon Streusel Muffins with Pecans: Whether you’re baking for a breakfast treat, an afternoon snack, or even a tasty dessert, these bakery style muffins will hit the spot.
  • German Chocolate Bars: If you love German Chocolate cake but want the ease of a tender, flaky cookie bar, this is the recipe for you! The cookie crust has a light chocolate flavor and the rich gooey filling is loaded with coconut, pecans, and chocolate chips.
  • Pecan Pie Blondies: If you love pecan pie but enjoy the ease of a blondie, you’re going to love this new recipe from Out of the Box Baking!
  • The Perfect Texas Sheet Cake: If you’re looking for a classic sheet cake with rich chocolate cake and luscious chocolate-pecan frosting, you’ve come to the right place. This will be a big hit at your next gathering, and you don’t have to live in Texas to enjoy it!
  • Simple Pecan Pie Bars: If you love the ease of a cookie bar but the luscious richness of pecan pie you’re going to flip over this simple pecan pie bar recipe! It merges both of those worlds into one dreamy bite, loaded with flavor and crunch!


Depression-Era Baking from Out of the Box

Have some chocolate handy to go with those other dry ingredients? Throw in a little butter and you can make:

  • Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake: If you’re looking for a rich, moist cake, loaded with flavor, you’ve come to the right place. This Old Fashioned Chocolate Mayonnaise cake is a southern favorite guaranteed to please everyone on your guest list. 
  • Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Chip Blondies: Have you ever had a hankering for something sweet but couldn’t quite put your finger on what you really wanted? These chocolate chip blondies are perfect for days like that! Not quite a cookie, not quite a brownie, not quite a cookie bar. Gooey, chewy, and crisp on the edges. . .they are (in a word) perfect.
  • Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins: Is there such a thing as a perfect banana chocolate chip muffin recipe out there? The answer, my friends, is a hearty, “Yes!” And you’re about to witness it for yourself!
  • Perfect Easy Brownies from Scratch: The perfect brownies offer the best of all thing things you love. They’re fudgy, chocolate-y, crisp on the edges, and crackly on top. No pressure!


Depression-Era Baking from Out of the Box
Berries on wooden background

If you were fortunately enough to have fruit on hand, you could easily whip up any of the following with just a few basic ingredients:

  • Luscious Lemon Bars: They’re tart, sweet, crisp and creamy. These luscious lemon bars are all of the above. . .and then some!
  • Old-Fashioned Cobbler with Homemade Pie Crust: If you’re looking for a luscious cobbler with that crisp homemade crust you grew up eating, you’ve come to the right place. This easy recipe calls for canned pie filling but a crust so flaky and delicious you’ll swear you’re sitting around grandma’s table eating it.
  • Easy Peach Cobbler: If you’re in the mood for an easy, quick peach cobbler, one loaded with warmth and spice, you’ve come to the right place! 
  • Easy Cherry Almond Bars: This luscious sweet treat has a shortbread base, cherry preserves in the center, and sliced almonds on top. Best of all, it’s incredibly easy to bake!
  • Best Bisquick Cobbler: If you’re looking for the easiest, tastiest cobbler recipe out there, look no further! You’ve found it, folks. This is truly going to knock your socks off and it all starts with two simple cups of Bisquick.
  • Easy Thumbprint Cookies: This is a fun twist on a traditional Thumbprint cookie that uses cherry preserves (or sour cherry spread) in the center of a delicious almond-infused shortbread cookie.

Maybe you don’t have any of those particular fruits available but you happen to have plenty of apples on hand. Consider the following:

Depression-Era Baking from Out of the Box
  • Old Fashioned Apple Fritters: If you love the light, sweet taste of a donut but you’re in the mood for the flavor of apples and cinnamon, this is the recipe for you! These Old Fashioned Apple Fritters are out of this world!
  • Easy Apple Pie with homemade crust: If you love the warm rich flavors of apple and cinnamon and the lovely crisp crunch of a flaky crust, this is the recipe for you! Thanks to the addition of canned apple pie filling this Easy Apple Pie comes together so easily. . .but it tastes like it took hours!
  • Apple Pie Coffee Cake: If you love apple pie but you’re in the mood for a delicious coffee cake, one you would be happy to serve at a breakfast gathering or brunch, have I got a great new recipe for you! This “from scratch” cake is light and luscious and covered in a crisp streusel. 
  • Apple Spice Skillet Cake: Quick, easy, warm, spicy. . .delicious! Enjoy this Apple Spice Cake recipe, y’all!
  • Apple Pie Cobbler with Crescent Rolls: It’s luscious, gooey, chewy, and perfect for fall! But it’s so easy to make you won’t want to wait until then to make it!

No apples? What about bananas?

Depression-Era Baking from Out of the Box

Sometimes I think I buy bananas just to watch them get speckled. No, really. Something draws me to the bananas every time I walk into my store’s produce department. Sure, I’ll eat one of two from the bunch. And then I forget. They get soft.

But here’s the truth: Every time they start ripening up, my mind slips into “What can I bake with these?” gear. And that’s a good thing, right?

Bananas are one of the cheapest fruits around and they’re so versatile. You can use them to make ice cream, pudding, cake, or muffins. You can even make cookies! 

Here are a few of my favorite (inexpensive) banana recipes, starting with my ultimate guide:

What do You Have On Hand?

Back during Depression-Era days, learning to bake with odd ingredients was more than a challenge. . .it was fun! Folks often joke that frugal cooks can whip up “something out of nothing” and that’s usually because the frugal cook keeps staples on hand and uses her imagination to add to them.

Maybe you’re imaginative, too.

No doubt there are ingredients you keep on hand that would be great for baking. Check your fridge and pantry today to see what you come up with. (Oats? Almond flour? Nuts? Cereal? It’s all good for baking!) Then make something out of nothing. You’ll be glad you did!

That’s it for this post, friends! What’s in your cupboard?

About the Author

Janice Thompson is an author, baker, and all-around mischief maker! She has overcome a host of baking catastrophes, including a toppled wedding cake, to learn more about the baking process. Janice has published over 150 books for the Christian market but particularly enjoys writing recipes and baking devotions. To learn more about Janice or to drop her a note, visit her About the Author page.

Baking on a Budget: Low Ingredient Baking - Out of the Box Baking

Friday 21st of October 2022

[…] key here is to have staples that you can add to. I covered this topic in my Use What You Have […]


Tuesday 11th of October 2022

What a great post! I love all of the inspirational ideas!


Wednesday 12th of October 2022

Thank you!

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