Her first recipe—Pasta with Peas—would likely give your average urbane foodie hives, as would her knife skills, but Clara, who started making these videos when she was 93, takes obvious the great depression essays in the outcome. Her filmmaker grandson Christopher Cannucciari wisely kept Clara in her own kitchen, rather than relocating her to a more sanitized kitchen set. Her plastic paper towel holder, linoleum lined cabinets, and teapot-shaped spoon rest kept things real for several years worth of step-by-step, low budget, mostly vegetarian recipes. Her fruit-and-gingham ceramic salt and pepper shakers remained consistent throughout.
How many television chefs can you name who would allow the camera crew to film the stained tinfoil lining the bottom of their ovens? Nonagenarian Clara apparently had nothing to hide. Each episode includes a couple of anecdotes about life during the Great Depression, the period in which she learned to cook from her thrifty Italian mother. She initially disliked being filmed, agreeing to the first episode only because that was grandson Christopher’s price for shooting a pre-need funeral portrait she desired. She turned out to be a natural.
To what did she attribute her youthful appearance? How to avoid another Great Depression? But for the younger generation it’s bad. In the worst case scenario, she counsels sticking together, and not wishing for too much. The Depression, as we’ve mentioned, was not fun, but she got through it, and so, she implies, would you. The series can be enjoyed on the strength of Clara’s personality alone, but Great Depression Cooking has a lot to offer college students, undiscovered artists, and other fledgling chefs. The tight belts of the Great Depression did not preclude the occasional treat like holiday biscotti or Italian Ice.
Those on a lean Thanksgiving budget might consider making Clara’s Poor Man’s Feast: lentils and rice, thinly sliced fried steak, plain salad and bread. Right up until her final, touching appearance below at the age of 96, her hands were nimble enough to shell almonds, purchased that way to save money, though cracking also put her in a holiday mood. You can watch all of Clara’s video’s on the Great Depression Cooking channel. Or find Seasons 1 and 2 below. Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She recently co-authored a comic about epilepsy with her 18-year-old daughter. We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads.
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