In the farming region where I grew up, a general financial downturn ran throughout the 1920s and continued as the Great Depression beginning in 1930. The severe economic conditions rapidly worsened, slowly diminished in the last years of the 1930s, and ended more or less in the early 1940s. Extreme heat in 1934 and again in 1936 threatened to make farming a losing proposition. My father said that, in 1934, there were only a few glimmers of hope that the economic slump might end but that, by the late 1930s, the country’s overall financial situation had become noticeably less dire. During the era, even farm families that could grow much of their food were mindful of the cost. Recipes for inexpensive meals were widely shared.
My Father with Horses Named Togo and Maud in April of 1930
The Middle of a Long Economic Depression in Rural Indiana
One such recipe, called “dinner in a dish,” was the contribution of Elsie Dowden, who lived in my hometown but who grew up in Bedford. If you like recipes that combine hamburger with other ingredients, you will enjoy Elsie’s dinner in a dish!
I have used Panko instead of bread crumbs with good results, but, if you prefer a larger crumb, dry several slices of bread on trays in a warm kitchen for a day until the bread crumbles into large morsels.
My mother referred to the recipe’s green peppers as “mangoes.” In the 1700s, fruit, such as the mango, and vegetables, such as the green pepper, were pickled to preserve them. People began to call any pickled fruit or vegetable a “mango.” The generic term stuck for the green pepper and was in widespread use as late as my mother’s generation.
Rev. Lowell Morris and Mrs. Morris on July 29, 1937
At the Parsonage in Westville, Indiana
Before They Moved to My Hometown
Near the End of the Great Depression
If you want to reduce the salt in your diet, you can put only 1 tsp of salt in the mixture without a significant loss of saltiness; in fact, I tend to find the recipe’s salt level a bit too much. I have wondered if people who lived through the Great Depression were so accustomed to preserving meat in salt that they felt they needed lots of salt in a hamburger dish.
The directions warn against accidental scrambling of the eggs when adding them to ingredients that have just come from a hot skillet. You don’t have to worry excessively about scrambling the eggs; even if your mixture is too hot, the eggs won’t entirely scramble, and you won’t notice the scrambling.
Incidentally, to “dot with butter” means to shave some cold butter here and there on top of the bread crumbs to flavor them and brown them.
4 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion chopped
2 green peppers sliced
1 pound hamburger
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 cups fresh cut corn
4 medium tomatoes sliced
½ cup dry bread crumbs
Put butter in skillet and lightly fry peppers and onion for 3 minutes. Add meat and blend thoroughly. Add salt and pepper. Remove from fire, let cool just enough that eggs will not scramble when added, stir in eggs, and mix well. Put 1 cup corn in baking dish, then half of meat mixture, then a layer of sliced tomatoes, then another layer of corn, meat, and tomatoes, cover with crumbs, dot with butter, and bake 35 minutes.