comscore Older generation’s frugality provides valuable lessons today | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Older generation’s frugality provides valuable lessons today

With so many people out of work during the coronavirus pandemic, Mary Lou Brogan is reminded of growing up during the Great Depression, when her mother found creative ways to stretch a pound of hamburger to feed a family of five on a tight budget. Her mother’s ingenuity also extended to a whole chicken or pot roast, the mainstays of many a home-cooked meal, Brogan said.

The retired teacher, a longtime Honolulu resident born in Kentucky, said she suspects women used to picking up ready-made meals and relying on convenience items to feed their families are now facing the challenge of learning to cook nutritious, inexpensive meals from scratch.

“This has happened before at a different time in the history of our country,” Brogan said, referring to the Depression, which she remembers as a very scary time. “Women have always had to feed their family — cheaply! Food is the big thing; food is everything, now that everybody is sort of camped in.”

Though her concept of the role of women and mothers is markedly traditional, Brogan makes no apologies as she urges today’s women to pick up the mantle: “Hey girls, take a pound of meat and let’s see what we can do with it!”

Just as important as her mom’s home-cooked meals was the way she brought the family closer around the dinner table, and had the kids help in the kitchen. “It was a happy time of family coming together; good conversations about what’s going on in the world … we all participated. She really made a home a home.”

BROGAN SAID her niece is the perfect example of a contemporary career women who normally relies on takeout — now stuck at home with a couple of teenaged boys who have ravenous appetites.

“On top of that, her husband is not working, the kids are driving them crazy, and they need to come up with some recipes.”

Brogan said her niece has been getting easy recipes from her own mother, Brogan’s sister Barbara Vonderheide, who lives in Louisville, Ky. Some are for time-tested dishes made by their mother, Nellie Heck.

Heck gathered the recipes in a scrapbook, “Food for Thought,” which included bits of her philosophy of life, prayers and articles about celebrations. “Wherever you are, be all there … enjoy life,” was her mom’s main motto. Each of Brogan’s sisters has her own handcopied scrapbook.

Some recipes were handed down from Brogan’s German grandmother, and the one most often fixed was called Frikadellen, though they nicknamed it “Frika­delli.” Basically, these were fried meatball patties, stretched with oatmeal or bread dipped in milk.

“Oh, did it taste good!” Brogan said, especially with a gravy made from pan drippings. All you needed to add were fresh vegetables and a starch to round out the meal.

Many hamburger entrees were typically built around “lots of starchy things with just a little bit of meat,” like spaghetti, sloppy Joes or stuffed peppers, for example. Chicken and pot roasts were also the foundation for many meals, as the leftovers could be made into sandwiches, stir-fries, pot pies and casseroles, all nutritious and economical. They required no fancy spices or special cooking gadgets that are now so trendy, she added.

Brogan said she often made these dishes for her two children so they knew what a home-cooked meal was, even when the family lived in a hotel. Her husband was a hotel manager and they lived where he worked. They settled in Hawaii in 1968.


By Mary Lou Brogan

  • 1 Kaiser roll or a slice of white bread
  • Milk to soak bread
  • 1 pound of hamburger (or replace 1/3 of a pound with ground pork)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika or hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste (or celery or garlic salt)
  • Sprinkle Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup flour, for dipping
  • Vegetable oil, for pan-frying
  • >> Gravy:
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Soak roll or bread in bowl of milk 10 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess liquid; crumble bread in large bowl.

Mix in ground meat, onion, parsley, egg, paprika, salt, pepper and Worcestershire until well blended. Shape meat into 5 patties; dip in flour.

Heat oil in skillet over medium. Fry patties in skillet until cooked through; remove from skillet.

>> To make gravy: Using the pan drippings left in skillet, stir in milk, flour and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until blended and thickened. Serves 5.


>> Instead of gravy, make a sauce of 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/2 cup Dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon dry mustard, Top patties with sauce, then bake at 350 degrees 5 to 10 minutes.

>> Brogan’s recipe for Frikadellen, handed down from her grandmother, can be turned into a meatloaf: Bake in a loaf pan at 350 degrees for an hour.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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