Wednesday, November 30, 2022

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Thanksgiving during the Heart of the Depression
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2022-11-22

            The pandemic has eased most of our travel plans for this holiday season, but inflation still has us concerned about the cost of, well, just about everything.

      Many folks use the holiday as a way to spend time with family and friends.  Good,

and plentiful, food is also the norm on many Thanksgiving tables.  Around here it wasn't fancy or expensive for the fescht-essa (festival meal), just good home-cooked meals.  The company (your family), was the highlight of the day.

      This year, while the group is gathered, take some time to think about your memories of holidays past.  As you look around remember the family patriarchs and matriarchs who once sat at the head of the table.  Take a look at the meal and think about the changes that have occurred since you were a youngster. 

      Today we battle inflation while some quibble about whether or not we're on the eve of, or in a recession.  In 1935 there was no argument that the United States and the rest of the world was in the middle of the Great Depression.  The average annual household income, according to the U.S. archives, was $1,622.

      But the strong folks made due with what they had.  Family first, food second.  It could have been nothing more than a can of soup and a slice of bread as long as the family was together.

      According to several published reports, wild turkeys were overhunted during the 1930s.  The Great Depression was listed as part of the reason.  Overhunting took place here in the Upper Perkiomen Valley as well.  During that time, we were fortunate to have our share of local farmers who helped to supply the holiday dinner guest.

There were quite a few neighborhood or corner grocery stores around here during the Great Depression.  I thought it would be interesting to share a couple of advertisements that appeared a week before Thanksgiving, 1935, while our Nation was in the midst of the economic disaster.

            At the A&P in Pennsburg, you could buy 15 pounds of potatoes for 29 cents or two pounds of fancy creamery butter for 69 cents.  Eggs were .29 cents a dozen and coffee was .15 cents a pound.  Dried beef was .19 cents a pound.  If your grandmother didn't bake it, you could buy a large loaf of bread for .10 cents.  How about mince-meat for that pie?  If your grandmother didn't make it using dandelion wine, she probably picked it up at the Pennsburg's American Store for 19 cents a pound.

            If you were smart enough, you dug up the roots of the dandelion you found in the yard last summer, and planted them in a box of damp sand that you kept in the cellar.  That guaranteed you a crisp salad for Thanksgiving.  If you didn't, you could head to the local store where California iceberg lettuce could be purchased for .10 cents a head.  A fruitcake could be taken home for only .39 cents.  It's probably the same one that's still circulating on everyone's gift rotation to this day.

            The prices back then may "wow" you but remember that the average annual household income was only $1,622

            How do you spend Thanksgiving morning?  Football rivalries were part of many local family traditions in the 1930s.  In the Upper Perkiomen Valley it was East Greenville against Pennsburg in their annual Turkey Day high school football event.  By the way, Pennsburg won 9-0 on a muddy field in 1935.

            Perhaps your Thanksgiving morning started out with a long ride to the home of a favorite relative   Maybe it began with preparing for the guests at your table or you were lucky enough to go on a trip to the City of Brotherly Love to view the Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade spectacle and wave to Santa as he made his appearance.

            Plenty of entertainment could be found on the radio in 1935 as folks gathered around the old home entertainment center.  Shoppers scanned the newspaper ads for Black Friday bargains.  No matter what you did, somebody was in the kitchen preparing to make you, and the rest of the family, very happy.

             The Thanksgiving meal was nothing to shirk.  The wonderful air of freshly baked pies wafting from room to room when you went to bed was topped by the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven when you woke up.  The summer's potatoes, yams, and cabbage brought up from the root or cold cellar tasted as fresh as the day they came from the garden.  If you were fortunate, you enjoyed corn and lima beans from the canning season.  Growing up around here, homemade wasn't a tradition – it was normal.  But even the best farmers and homemakers still needed to visit the local grocery store to pick up an item or two.  In fact, if you didn't raise gobblers, you needed to buy, trade, or hunt for the day's main attraction.

            Today we have several worthy, local eateries offering fine holiday repasts.  They take the sting out of the work involved, and give you more time to enjoy the day.  But let's face it, there's nothing like sharing a home-cooked meal with family and friends.    

            Before I close, I'd like to let you know that on November 15, 1935, six inches of snow blanketed the Upper Perkiomen Valley area.  While we experienced the winter cold over the last few days, at least we didn't have to shovel it.

            So to all, have a warm and happy Thanksgiving holiday.  


 

 

 

 

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