My grandpa is easily one of my favorite people on the planet. The man is 83-years-old, and he’s lived a good, full life. I honestly learned more about him recently than I’ve ever known before. He’s visiting from out-of-town, and my brother, sister and I fired question after question toward him about his past. He didn’t hold anything back when he answered; the stories just flowed out of him. I could have listened to him tell stories for days.
Born in 1929, my grandpa lived through the Great Depression. The funny thing is — he didn’t even realize there was a depression at the time. His family was poor, but he honestly didn’t know the difference. He was just a kid growing up like he thought everyone else did. We asked him more and more questions about the Great Depression, and it was very clear that one of the things he remembered most was the food they ate back then.
Even though they were poor, my grandpa says he never went hungry. He told us that his family would walk three-miles to the welfare office every week to get food. They were usually given potatoes, cabbage and onions. That means most of their meals were very simple. One of his favorite treats was a raw onion sandwich. His mom would simply take two pieces of rye bread, lather on some lard, add a thick cut of raw onion and turn it all into a sandwich. He says that’s why he still loves onions today.
I’m a fan of onions too, so the idea of a raw onion sandwich peaked my interest. Not only would it be good to try, it would also give me a quick glimpse into my grandpa’s past. It would allow me to taste something similar to what he tasted more than 70 years ago as a little boy in during the Great Depression. So, I decided to give a raw onion sandwich a shot.
This is what you need…
Raw Onion Sandwich Recipe
Two slices of rye bread
Butter or mayonnaise (I’m not sure lard is readily available anymore)
One sliced onion
Like I mentioned, coat the rye bread with butter or mayonnaise, throw the sliced onion between the two slices of bread and consume. That’s the simplest form of raw onion sandwiches, and the way my grandpa ate them as a kid. You can easily get more creative than that. I’ve seen other recipes call for salt and pepper, and one recipe that uses peanut butter instead of mayonnaise or regular butter. I might need to give that a shot sometime.
As you can imagine, my grandpa’s raw onion sandwich recipe tastes like raw onions, butter and rye bread. It’s pretty darn simple, but it tasted much better than I thought it would. I liked it enough that I made another raw onion sandwich after I finished the first one. With that said, I probably won’t be making one again anytime soon. There are too many options nowadays with much more flavor, and I don’t really eat much bread. Not to mention, I’m still trying to get the onion taste out of my mouth.
I’m so thankful my grandpa was willing to take us back in time with his stories of the Great Depression. You could see the light on his face as he reflected back to his younger days, speaking of his parents and the community he grew up in near Chicago. His stories encouraged me to step out of my box to try something different, and it might sound weird, but a raw onion sandwich allowed me to connect with my grandpa on a different level. And although I didn’t share the experience with him personally, it’s a moment I can hold on to forever (and relive again and again in the future).
Have you ever tried a raw onion sandwich? What did you think? Have your parents or grandparents shared their stories from the Great Depression? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Don’t forget to also check out http://allaroundtim.com for more fun recipes!
P.S. I want to tell you a few other stories that my grandpa shared about food during the Great Depression.
He told us about how his mother would go to the creek every Sunday. She would stand in the water, dig her hands under the rocks and pull up crawfish after crawfish. He said she would do it for hours; so long that her fingers were bleeding by the end of the day. They would take the crawfish home, boil them up (he can remember the sound of them fighting to stay alive in the hot water) and eat them once they turned red.
My grandpa also shared a story of how the men in the community would put large nets in the trees. They would then sprinkle bird seed in the trees to lure in the sparrows. Once there were enough birds over the net, the men would pull a string and capture all the sparrows. They’d take them home, pluck the feathers and boil the birds for dinner.
There was one other memory my grandpa shared. He can remember people digging through the dirt to find dandelion stems. Instead of lettuce, they would use dandelion stems for salad. I’ve never tasted a dandelion stem, so that might be next on my list.
It’s amazing to hear what a hunting and gathering society it was during the Great Depression. I should have assumed that (you need to do whatever you can to stay alive), but I never really thought about it. My grandpa says after everyone collected their food, they would have community dinners. If you worked to get the food, then you and your family got to eat that night.
My grandpa’s stories make me feel fortunate that I’ve never had to go hungry. I’ve always been able to afford a snack when I want one. I’m also thankful I had an opportunity to hear my grandpa’s stories about the Great Depression. It helped me learn about him and a period of history I’ve always been interested in. I hope you enjoyed the stories, too.