Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Depression Basket

Occasionally, I get a craving for grape juice or barbecue potato chips.  This is a life long craving.  It stems from my childhood of thrifty parents.  These must have been expensive items to purchase when I was a child, because no amount of asking Dad (who did the shopping) to buy them was ever successful.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the times that Dad brought home grape juice or barbecue potato chips.  I had to satisfy my occasional cravings by eating with neighborhood children.

Dad sold meat for Swift & Company for 19 1/2 years prior to going into the insurance business.  After he went into the insurance business, he had to get creative in purchasing inexpensive meat.  He knew all the butchers from his days with Swift.  He would talk to all of them and get the very best price on meat to be found.  If he found a really good deal, he bought in quantity.  I remember one summer he got a deal on chicken, and he filled the freezer.  Mom cooked chicken at least 100 different ways.  She was amazing!  However, the next summer he got a deal on hotdogs -- and then the manager at the insurance company he worked for gave him the unused hot dogs from the company picnic -- that was a different story!  There are only so many things you can do with a hot dog!

Dad bought mayonnaise, mustard, and catsup (ketchup, if you prefer) in gallon jars because it was cheaper that way.  At some point in my childhood, "generic" food became the new grocery store fad.  "Generic" food had a plain white label with black lettering so you didn't know what company put it out.  Some "generic" food was okay, but some of it was just putrid!  Dad found a sale on "generic" tuna fish one day and bought a ton of it.  It tasted like cat food.  Even Mom was shaking her head at him.

The grocery stores would put all the dented cans in a basket somewhere in the store.  Dad called that the depression basket.  He taught us that there is nothing wrong with buying dented cans.  He showed us how to test the cans by pushing on the top and bottom of the cans at the same time.  If there was no movement in the top or bottom, then the seal had not been broken.  However, if you could make the top or bottom of the can move up and down, the seal had been broken, and it was spoiled.  Dad delighted in shopping in the depression basket for bargains.

Occasionally, Dad would find unlabeled cans in the depression basket.  He would save them in the pantry until he had several of them.  Then we would have a "surprise" meal.  He would open all the unlabeled cans, and Mom would try to make a meal from whatever we found.

Coupons were always clipped, and always analyzed to see if the item was really a good deal compared to other cheaper brands.

When my kids were small, we made crock pot macaroni & cheese occasionally.  This happened because Dad would bring me ice chests full of depression basket cheese when they would come to visit from Reno.  We would take a potato peeler, peel the small areas of mold from the cheese, wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze it.  We loved that cheese supply, because cheese was over our budget limit at the time.  Frozen cheese doesn't slice well, but the crumbly cheese still tastes the same on a sandwich.

I'm sipping on the last little bit of grape juice from the three bottles Danny brought home for my craving this week, and I'm thinking about Dad.  Somewhere in heaven there is a depression basket with grape juice and barbecue potato chips.  I hope Dad finds it so that he knows what he missed.  We never went hungry; Dad always could find the bargains.  I hope he now can eat a full Milky Way all by himself without cutting it in pieces and sharing it on a plate.


  1. I just love this story. For the longest time, my wife thought pepperoni pizza always included sliced hot dogs for pepperoni.

  2. Hey, now there's a new way to use hot dogs!

  3. I love this story! I used hot dogs like this with the kids once. They loved it!

  4. You forgot the time Dad got a sale on Poppo Soda Pop!!! We had cases of it stacked in the corner of the kitchen, from floor to ceiling. It was really a bargain! Of course the only flavor was "chocolate" and you burped for hours after drinking a can! Dad was a one of a kind father!

  5. Deb, I left a note on your blog -- great way to use hot dogs!

    Cheri, I thought about the Poppo afterwards! That was some really nasty stuff!