Hit Up Your Grandma's Cookbooks for Frugal Cooking Ideas

By Tisha Tolar on 18 March 2009 10 comments

There are many families that share generational cooking traditions as a long standing family tradition. Since there are many families that are also feeling the pinch of the recession while still working hard to keep food on the table, now may be the perfect time to go back and look at grandma's recipes.

Taking an adventure of my own over the weekend, I found many hand-me-down recipes from one family member to another includes basic ingredients and a little bit of elbow grease. Just browsing through some of my personal favorite dishes of all time, it occurred to me that they were some of the best foods I had ever eaten and in reality, very cheap to make. Since I was never the cook of the family, I really had no idea what it took to create the scrumptious concoctions I grew up eating but now that I have my own family who are getting sick of the same old things, it was refreshing to go back in time and find the recipes for some old family favorites.

Perhaps instead of spending time online or paging through magazines to find something new for dinner, find your family recipe books. You may be surprised to learn how your ancestors were able to pull together some hearty meal on a budget even tighter than most of our families face today. Stocking your pantry with basic ingredients leaves you prepared to create nearly any meal for only a few dollars. It also can help you find healthier meals to prepare instead of the expensive, pre-made store bought processed foods.

If you are blessed to still have family members around to consult with, take some time and go over some of the recipe books that have been passed through the generations. Having the opportunity to not only jot down your own recipe cards from loved ones but to also share some family-inspired memories is a gift that will last a lifetime and can mean more than anything when those loved ones are no longer around.

Here is one example of my favorite holiday and any time side dish – filling. It's stick-to-your-ribs delicious and I celebrate my dad every time we eat this dish!

Big Jim's Famous Filling

  • 2 loaves of stale bread
  • 2 cans of chicken broth
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 large carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 small or 1 large onion
  • Butter for saute and additional 4 pats for filling

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9x13 pan. Chop carrots, celery, and onion into small pieces. Saute in enough butter until soft. Let cool. Tear up bread into pieces. Mix bread, broth and eggs into a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix in cooled carrots, celery and onions with bread mixture. Mix well together. (Works best to mix with your hands.). Smooth out mixture into greased pan. Place pats of butter on top of mixture. Place in oven for 30-45 minutes. Enjoy!!


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Guest's picture

I can't wait to try this recipe! Thank you for sharing it.

Guest's picture
Debbie M

Wow, I've never heard this called "filling" before, only "stuffing" and "dressing." A recipe like this is better than store-bought because you can make adjustments such as using whole-grain breads or adjusting the sodium (with low-sodium broth and bread).

Tisha Tolar's picture

Thanks for stopping by! You will understand why it is called "filling" once you eat it for dinner! I hope you'll let me know if you like it! Give a toast to big Jim for me!

Guest's picture

Nice post-- sometimes the old ways are the best ways . . .

Guest's picture

Thanks for the great post, and the recipe. Can't wait to try it. My grandmother used to clip out recipes from newspapers and magazines and then paste them into a notebook. I'll have to ask her if I can see some of her old recipes. I'm also particularly fond of old cookbooks put together by church groups. They always have such a great collection of frugal family-style recipes.

Thanks again,
ShoppingThrifty.com - Ideas for Frugal Living

Guest's picture

What a neat recipe, and a great idea. My father told me his mother would mix stale bread into warmed milk or warmed milk and coffee.

Old cookbooks from the depression era can provide a lot of interesting recipes and reading as well.

Guest's picture

I love to cook and because I'm a student, then I really like things that have multiple uses, or are durable and good, or different. Whenever I go to a garage sale or tag sale or flea market, I love browsing through old cookbooks especially when their original owner(s) earmarked pages or wrote in notes. I think it would be great to get a book that had say 101 Favorite Classic Family Recipes all made from those old family recipes and cookbooks. Don't you? I mean, they were just made differently than the box mixes and prepared and semi-prepared or totally frozen stuff we get today, you know?

Guest's picture

Recognizing we were spending too much of the food budget on prep foods to get classic dishes my grandmother used to make, I finally invested in the re-issuance of the original 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook (the same book grandma used). Although it was the most expensive cookbook I ever bought ($38) it has well paid for itself many times over. Instead of Tuna Helper, tastless mac-n'-cheese, or pricey "cream of" soup you can make it all from scratch using simple butter, flour, salt, pepper (and grated cheese if appropriate). There is NO cream in "cream of" soup! If you ever come across an pre-1950's cookbook from Betty Crocker or another major cookbook publisher at a yard sale, grab it! The 1950's are just before publishers "went commercial" and started altering recipes to state "use a box of X mix" or "open a can of X" (forcing you to buy their overpriced prep products).

Guest's picture

That sounds like a strata recipe. Great dinner/brunch meal. All it takes is stale bread, eggs, some form of liquid (milk or broth) and whatever leftovers you have on hand.

Guest's picture

Just like Mama used to make. Guaranteed. In fact, this is Mom’s old meatloaf recipe. Quick, economical and good: this was always a winner. I must have enjoyed this dish a hundred times while growing up. Mom 89 still makes it. It's been a favorite of her eighteen month old great grandson since he grew teeth enough to chew it.

Mom understood home economics. Her recipe used half a can of mushroom soup, so we could count on another half can recipe in a day or two. If it was Thursday, there’d be tuna casserole on Friday—a mainstay in Catholic households at that time. Otherwise, we might luck out with one of her fabulous mushroom omelets.

1 egg
1/2 can cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 cup oat meal
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly using your hands.

Put the mixture into a loaf pan. Form it into a loaf—not touching the sides of the pan. Bake for 1 hour.

Adapted from The Champagne Taste/Beer Budget Cookbook