The Covered Dish - TOMATO Soup

September 06, 2023

It’s a late-night burn at our abode. Never enough hours in the day to get everything done that’s on my ‘do’ list. I have so many projects going on. The ‘just cleaned’ house looks like a tornado blew through. But….I have been doing my research on food from the depression, and we are off and rolling.

One of the first things I have noticed as I approached this little study is how many of these recipes I make, however; I have no recipe! For those of you who are reading my column for the first time today. I am traveling for a few weeks through foods that were popular during the Great Depression. Black Thursday started on October 24, 1929 which started our ten-year run of the Depression. What caused the stock market crash and the span of ten difficult years?

Slow consumer demand-Mounting consumer debt-Decreased industrial production-Rapid, reckless expansion of the US Stocks Market-A large decline in spending-Inactivity followed by overaction by the Federal Gov’t-Tight money policies adopted by Central Bank of America-Stock Market Crash-Failure of banks- The Smoot Hawley Tariff of 1930, which raised taxes on imported goods.

In order to survive this economic time our great-grandparents had to be creative when it came to cooking. Foods had to be cheap and wholesome. Foods that were rationed were: sugar, coffee, pork, fish, butter, eggs and cheese.
Farmers and those who had access to gardening were fortunate. In my mother’s family they had many supplies because they ran a self-sufficient farm. Truck garden, regular gardens, ponds for fish, cattle, pigs, chickens and a sorghum mill. The picture was totally different for people residing in large cities. For example, in 1931 New York City food lines were serving 85,000 people per day.
My recipe for the depression this week is going to be tomato soup. I grew up on homemade tomato soup. I never had a can of Campbell’s tomato soup until I was 43 years of age! Seriously, the only way I knew to make it was from scratch. Campbells had 5 flavors of soup at that time: Tomato, Chicken, oxtail, vegetable & consommé. Soups and stews were staple meals throughout the depression. In some areas folks were using discarded vegetable tops and peels to help them make a soup with flavor. Many meals had no meat whatsoever.
Spaghetti was made with bacon versus beef because it was cheaper and it lended a great deal of flavor to the sauce. Hot dogs were a huge hit because they were cheap. They were actually in one recipe called ‘Poor Man’s Supper.’ This would have been fried potatoes and onions with diced hot dogs. My dad is going to get a hoot out of this one, because it was one dish he would make for us when I was a young girl. I actually think it was one of his favorites! At least ‘I’ thought so!

Basically, nothing was wasted, Eleanor Roosevelt even got on board providing inexpensive recipes like her prune pudding. Spam became a staple item, those in rural areas were eating wild game.
I can tell this is going to be an interesting subject and each column could probably go on for days! As a child growing up the conversations about the depression, I remember the most was the chatter about ham and beans. In fact, the first time I had them in elementary school, I thought: “Wow, the cooks don’t have much to cook with right now!” Every region, state and country had foods that were unique to their regions. Buttermilk also became a well-used ingredient during this time frame.

OK friends, it’s perfect timing for some old-fashioned tomato soup. Since I first wrote this recipe I have changed/altered the dish so many different times. Sometimes I blend about 1/2 of the soup and leave the rest with pieces of tomato more visible. I enjoy using different spices and herbs to jazz it up. Nothing is more soul-warming than a bowl of tomato soup. I enjoy the soup served with a marble bread grilled cheese sandwich. If there’s no sandwich, I like to add toasted cubes of seasoned marble bread on top of the soup. Ok, OK, here comes the recipe. Simply yours, The Covered Dish.


(14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes with garlic and onions

1 quart of tomatoes or 1 (14.5 oz.) can store bought whole tomatoes

2-3 tablespoons butter

1 pint of milk, (I used 2%)

1 pint of fat free half and half, sure use regular

Dried basil to taste

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup milk, for thickening

3 tablespoons flour

You will be using 2 separate pans to start this soup. Place the quart of tomatoes in a blender and smoothly mix, add about 2/3’s of the diced tomato blend. Blend these smooth. Pour the smooth tomato mixture and the remaining tomato pieces into a saucepan with the basil and pepper. In another saucepan heat 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of half and half, butter and soda. When both saucepans have reached about the same temperature combine the tomatoes into the milk mixture. Stir to blend, add cheese, and mix until smooth. After the soup is thoroughly warm you can whisk the flour into the remaining cup of milk. Add the slurry to the soup and continue with a whisk or spoon until smooth. Do not allow to boil. Don’t leave tomato soup unattended as it can get too hot very very quickly.
Sometimes I add onions and peppers which I have sautéed in a small amount of butter, celery is another good addition. The truth is every time I make tomato soup the recipe is slightly different. Sometimes I don't puree the tomatoes as much and I leave more pieces floating. Do what pleases you the most. Debbie