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Revisiting the Great Depression

Out-of-work Chicagoans line up for free coffee and doughnuts at a soup kitchen run by mobster Al Capone during the 1930s.

Out-of-work Chicagoans line up for free coffee and doughnuts at a soup kitchen run by mobster Al Capone during the 1930s.

Have today’s hard times reached the depths of the 1930s? What did people eat during the Great Depression? Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance will revisit the era with “Midwest Eats! Foodways of the Great Depression” Friday through Sunday, April 29 through May 1, at Kendall College School of Culinary Arts on Goose Island.

Events include a Friday dinner replicating the “Relief Banquet” held May 7, 1938, in the Gold Room of Chicago’s Congress Hotel. The original banquet was meant to highlight the straits of those surviving on welfare during the Depression. Kendall’s culinary students will recreate the menu, which showcased a “Typical Chicago Family Relief Budget” made with eight cents of ingredients per meal: carrots, onion, a slice of bread and half an apple. (Today, such a family’s typical dinner might come from the dollar menu at McDonald’s.)

A heartier Saturday lunch — reflecting how imaginative home cooks, food companies and resourceful restaurants stretched 1930s food dollars — will feature “booyah,” a soup-stew from Wisconsin and Minnesota; macaroni and cheese; coleslaw from South Dakota, corn pudding from Illinois; gelatin salad; yeast rolls from Indiana and “harvest cake” from Indiana — mostly made using recipes collected by Greater Midwest Foodway’s Heirloom Recipe competitions. Catherine Lambrecht will discuss highlights of the competitions, held at state fairs.

Other events include panel discussion led by Margaret Rung, director of New Deal Studies at Roosevelt University, with Christopher Robert Reed, James Wolfinger and Bruce Kraig, reviewing events leading to the Great Depression, including the farming crisis and impact of food scarcity on city dwellers; Robert Dirks recounting the history of Illinois’ Steak ’n Shake restaurants; Michael Agnew’s presentation on the rise of massive Midwestern beer breweries and Sunday tours of Maxwell Street Market and the Primrose dairy farm in St. Charles, a living-history museum circa 1933.

Tickets are $100 for all the Friday and Saturday seminars and two meals. Sunday tours are extra and partial packages are also available.