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‘Midwest Eats’ program to re-create Depression food

Booyah is stew-like mix meats rutabaga.

Booyah is a stew-like mix of meats and rutabaga.

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If you go

“Midwest Eats! Foodways of the Great Depression,” run April 29 and 30 at Kendall College, 900 N. North Branch.

On May 1, there will be tours of Maxwell Street Market and Primrose Farm in St. Charles. Farm tour attendees will learn about wood-fired stove cooking and will prepare a meal of roast chicken and biscuits with side dishes.

Admission is $45 for April 29 and $65 for April 30 ($100 for both days). The Maxwell Street tour is $10, and the farm tour is $40.

For a complete schedule and tickets, go to greatermidwestfood

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Updated: July 19, 2011 12:19AM

Like a hand to glove, the Great Depression touched on timeless characteristics. Sacrifice. Economy. Generosity within community.

Booyah has not necessarily stood this test of time.

The hobo-stewish mix of beef shank, chicken, oxtails, rutabaga and more will be served for lunch April 30 at the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance’s “Midwest Eats! Foodways of the Great Depression.” The program runs through May 1 at Kendall College, 900 N. North Branch (west of Halsted).

At 5 p.m. April 29, the Alliance will re-create the “Eight Cent Menu” served on May 7, 1938 at a “relief banquet” in the Gold Room of the Congress Hotel. Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly and other fancy-pants folks attended the dinner to understand how the other half was living.

A stew of chuck, potatoes, carrots, onions and evaporated milk was figured at eight cents by the Illinois Workers of Cook County.

“This meal was for somebody who was receiving what we call ‘welfare’ today,” said Catherine Lambrecht, founder and vice-president of the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance. “They were trying to show what husbands, wives and two children in Chicago would eat on x amount of dollars per month, which equated to eight cents per meal.”

Lambrecht prepared booyah and eight-cent stew and brought them to our meeting at Won Kow restaurant, 2237 S. Wentworth. The stew was served with two pieces of white bread.

“The real diner only got two half-pieces of bread,” pointed out Chicago food historian Peter Engler.

Lambrecht and Engler wanted to meet at Won Kow because it is one of two remaining restaurants (the Berghoff being the other) in John Drury’s 1931 restaurant guide Dining In Chicago . Drury was a writer for the Chicago Daily News; his book featured more than 200 restaurants.

In the foreword, Carl Sandburg wrote, “Cooking skill and kitchen science has drifted to Chicago from the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and the archipelagoes of the seven seas.”

Of Won Kow, Drury wrote, “It is as Chinese as your laundry slip in cuisine, appointments and clientele, but Americans come here, too, judges, city officials, newspaper people and theatrical folk . . . .”

Lambrecht got the idea for the Depression-themed program after attending a library talk on the Works Progress Administration writers’ project in Highland Park, where she lives.

She also cited the Pat Willard book America Eats! On the Road with the WPA (Bloomsbury, $25.99) as inspiration. In 1935, writers such as Nelson Algren, Ralph Ellison and Eudora Welty hit the road to explore America’s culinary history. Willard used the WPA’s never-published 1935 America Eats! as a template to revisit the sites and the food, which includes a booyah and crackers cook-off in St. Paul, Minn.

“We could do a whole thing on the WPA,” Lambrecht said. “That generation is fading.”

The Depression forced Americans to be resourceful, which is evident in kaleidoscopic recipes from corned beef hash to a bean sandwich served on Boston brown bread that was popular at E.W. Ricks across from the Chicago Theatre.

The “Crown Roast” was a ring of hot dogs made to look festive with cranberries, sauerkraut or a similar condiment in the middle of the ring.

“Ball canning company in Muncie [Ind.] not only sponsored gardens, they allowed gardens on their property. They did mass canning projects,” Lambrecht said. “They made an embossed jar and gave jars to everybody in the community.”

Residents were encouraged to fill the jars with garden produce that could be canned for the winter.

“Nobody had money,” Lambrecht said. “But everybody had a garden. Everybody was willing to can.”

The program also will present 1930s recipes such as corn pudding, harvest cake made with mashed yams (from Indiana) and macaroni and cheese. Lard was a common ingredient back then.

“We’ll have orange cake where they mixed the juice with sugar, then they took the orange and ground it three times through a sausage grinder with some raisins,” Lambrecht said. “You have to have the oven heated and the pans already greased, because you have no time to wait. You add vinegar and baking soda and race it to the oven.”

“Midwest Eats! Foodways of the Great Depression” is timely, given the tough economic times we’ve been through in the last few years.

In St. Paul, Minn., Lambrecht said, “they still have booyah sheds with 50-gallon pots. Someone starts early in the morning and they serve it for four or five dollars. People are trimming back and not eating out.”

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