My Mother Could Stretch…and Stretch…a Dime! by Pam Crooks

While reading my sister filly, Phyliss Miranda’s, blog last week on being a frugal housewife, I couldn’t help being thrown back into my childhood and remembering all the countless times my own mother had to be frugal while raising babies that kept coming almost every year.  (To read Phyliss’ blog, click “1800’s Frugal Frontier Housewife”.)

Of course, it’s common knowledge most women settling in the west in the 1800’s had a tough life providing meals and clothing for their families, especially if they were homesteaders living remotely. If they couldn’t sew, knit, cook, bake, butcher stock, tend gardens, and so on, their families suffered. Lazy wasn’t an option! Ditto for women living in barely-settled towns, often with only a single mercantile or two to buy groceries and meat, provided they had working husbands or weren’t widows living on meager savings.

And granted, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, most women lived an easier life while they stayed home with the children and their husbands worked. Many women didn’t drive yet, and even if they did, most likely did not have a second car in the household. Families were larger than they are today. Mothers didn’t have the privilege of running to the grocery store every time an ingredient was missing from her pantry. Grocery stores were small, simply stocked, probably located in the neighborhood and vastly different than the super-markets we have today.

My mother was the iconic mother of the time, just as I described above. Fortunately for us kids, she grew up on her family’s farm and was a great cook, seamstress, and a dynamo when it came to having a clean house.

We lived simply, just like the other families on our street. We didn’t know any better, but we always had three square meals a day.

Here are some of the things she cooked for us:

  • Bologna, often sliced and fried. Bought in big chubs wrapped in red paper, bologna filled our bellies for years. Sometimes, mom would grate the bologna, add a few ingredients, and call it ham salad.
  • Sliced hot dogs. She’d split them in half and fry. Probably a substitute for bologna. If she kept the hot dog whole, I don’t recall her using a hot dog bun until years later. We’d use a slice of bread instead. Hot dog buns were available since the early part of the century, but no doubt she considered the bun an extravagance.
  • Jonathan apples. I barely remember any other fruit in the house but them, bought by the bagful. It was her go-to-snack for us kids. I remember the Jonathans as mushy (and yes, I know they make wonderful pies and crisp!) but to this day, I won’t eat one.  Red Delicious was expensive and purchased only for special occasions, and there weren’t the varieties we have today.
  • Cream of Wheat. I never liked the grainy texture of Cream of Wheat or Coco Wheats, but it sure stuck to our ribs and made for a cheap breakfast. Growing up, I put oatmeal in the same category, but I do like oatmeal now, as long as it’s loaded with nuts, raisins, cinnamon, and milk, none of which, of course, WE had back then!
  • Mayonnaise sandwiches. Except she never bought mayo, but Miracle Whip. Occasionally, we’d have lunch meat (see bologna above), but I loved mayonnaise sandwiches, always on Wonder Bread. At school, we didn’t have cafeterias, chairs or tables to eat lunch.  We sat on the church parking lot, on hard concrete, and never thought twice about it.
  • Powdered milk. Oh, we hated that! She’d try to sneak it on us kids, but we always knew. She’d stretch the powder by using less, which resulted in watery looking milk. Occasionally, she’d mix real milk in, which I suppose helped, but us kids always knew.
  • Chicken fryers. She never bought chicken pieces, which were more expensive, so farm girl that she was, she’d cut up whole chickens herself.  I can’t even count the number of Sundays we had fried chicken for dinner.
  • Jell-O. Who among you didn’t have Jell-O made as salads with shredded carrots and chopped celery, fruit cocktail, or canned pears? 
  • “Eat bread with it.” One of her favorite strategies to stretch the main course.
  • Spaghetti sauce. She never used canned or fresh tomatoes, but used tomato paste and water with the perfect amount of Italian seasonings. My mother’s spaghetti and meatballs (or featherbones) were family favorites, and even my Italian grandmother would have to agree my mother’s sauce was delicious!
  • Velveeta cheese. We never had cheddar, colby, Provolone, or anything like that. Always Velveeta, which we loved. Very versatile and back then, much cheaper than it is today.
  • Graham crackers and leftover frosting. If she made a cake and there was extra frosting, into graham crackers it would go, and it was a favorite cookie of ours.  I made these many times myself, and now my daughters do, too.
  • Kool-Aid. I think sugar must’ve been fairly cheap back then, because we had a lot of Kool-Aid, the powder in a package kind. Never soda pop or even lemonade.
  • Wax paper. She would wrap our sandwiches for school lunches in a sheet of wax paper like a present. Later, wax paper came in sandwich sized sacks that you had to fold at the top. Plastic baggies didn’t come for years later, but even if they were available, she would’ve considered them extravagant.



Oh, I could go on and on.  I’m sure you have memories of how you or your mom was frugal decades ago, or even now. How did she save pennies? What was your favorite frugal food?

Let’s chat!


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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

45 thoughts on “My Mother Could Stretch…and Stretch…a Dime! by Pam Crooks”

  1. We had graham crackers and leftover icing, hated my mother’s version of a shepherd’s pie. Kool-aid–I can’t stand the stuff. My mom loved buying canned spaghettios, raviolios, roller coasters, etc… My dad worked second shift, so she made them more of a supper and feed us (two brothers and me) processed crap.

    I feed my kids food I make from scratch instead of processed stuff. I have never made them kool-aid.

    • We never had spaghettios and such as kids so the first time I tried them I couldn’t understand why so many kids loved that stuff. I couldn’t stand the sweet flavor of them!

    • Yes!! Canned spaghettios and raviolios – I think they came later for me, but at the time, they were a treat. Why, I don’t know. I must admit I fed them to my girls a time or two. It was an easy lunch, and they loved it while watching “Sesame Street.” But I would look at that ‘meat’ in the ravioli and wonder “What is that in there?”

      I’m trying not to shudder, but in today’s pandemic, food banks are calling for canned meals like spaghettios for easy meals.

      Love hearing from you this morning, Denise!

  2. Hello Pam- I LOVED THIS BLOG. My mom too, could stretch a dime so small, we never went without. She would scramble eggs and canned salmon (back then salmon was cheap), she also would make the best ham sandwiches, still does today. She never would tell us the secret until 3 years ago. But I had to swear not to tell Trophy (my brother)! Her secret ingredient was Spam, Yep, plain-ole spam mashed up, onions, pickle relish, nature’s season salt.. wall-La!! My brother to this day “will not eat spam“. So the secrets on him.
    Poke salad was another fav, her and my dad would drive back roads looking for it, she would then parboil it twice and put it in the freezer. Of course we would have the fresh batch at supper. She would say “We all need our spring cleaning” ??
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    Love and hugs, TONYA

    • I still laugh that Trophy doesn’t know that it’s Spam in his sandwich!!

    • Interesting about the canned salmon, Tonya! That was something my mother never bought except during Lent, and she would make the expected salmon patties, which were good – but again, adding bread crumbs stretched that little can.

      I was always grossed out when she removed those bones and that gnarly looking salmon skin. Blech!

      And hey, I LOVE Spam!! Funny story about the ham sandwiches!!

      I had to google Poke Salad. That’s something we never had.

      Thanks for reminiscing with me, Tonya!! Love back at ya!

  3. All my mother made was the processed food. Now my paternal grandmother made everything from scratch and since my grandfather worker for the phone company in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s with them we ate what we want never worried about food with them. My mother we never had enough to eat.

    • Good morning, Kim! My dad worked for the phone company most of his adult life, clear up until he retired in the late 90’s. At the time, it was a great company to work for and provided a stable paycheck for families.

      I’m sure most of our grandmothers made everything from scratch. Like yours, my grandmother lived through the depression, and I don’t ever recall her making ANYTHING from a box.

      With one exception – my grandfather would go out and buy us a new package of Pecan Sandies shortbread cookies when we came over to visit. Always a treat for us. When my grandmother did bake cookies, they were the rather bland Italian kind, and us kids didn’t like them much.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kim!

  4. Yes these bring back many memories and I miss my Mom every day! She did cook many things from scratch as her Mom taught her and also never from a recipe!! Just throw it together and taste. Same way I cook and taught my children! Yes to the miracle whip cake too. Still my favorite chocolate cake

    • Howdy, Teresa! I can’t say I cook much without a recipe – some things, yes, but I do depend on my cookbooks and recipe cards for direction. I agree – a good cook who can just throw it together and have it taste delicious is truly a talent. How wonderful that you are passing that skill down to your own children!

      Hmm. Miracle Whip cake. I remember it being the rage many years ago, but it just tasted oily to me, and I didn’t care for it. Maybe it was the way it was made, so I’m happy it’s your favorite!! LOL.

      I miss my mom, too, dear. Hugs and thanks for stopping by!

  5. WOW the memories flooding back , yes I ate a lot of fried bologna sandwiches. My mom could make bologna several different ways and I loved everything she made. Kool-Aid was not only for drinking but she would put in a cup with a freezer stick and I had popsicle. I was raised on cream of wheat and even when my babies were born I never bought baby cereal but they had cream of wheat in a bottle. Spam, hotdogs, potatoes and cheese could make lots of meals . Now I’m hungry for a fried bologna and egg sandwich!!! Thank you for the memories this morning

    • Great to see you here, RoseAnn! Yes!! Those Kool-Aid popsicles! Mom would make those for us, too, using popsicle containers from Tupperware, altho they came later. I don’t remember paper cups and popsicle sticks – that would mean she had to BUY those, which she wouldn’t have done or afforded.

      Interesting about the cream of wheat for your babies. In a bottle? Dumb question – wouldn’t the nipple get clogged?

      Hope you treat yourself to that fried bologna and egg sandwich. You deserve it! LOL.

      Glad you stopped by!

  6. Oh wow, your mother had ways to save! I remember one of my mother’s go-to-meals was creamed tuna served over rice or on toast. Usually rice though so the bread could be saved for other needs. Spaghetti (homemade sauce), and American goulash (known as chili mac to many), and cornbread and beans were also a go-to-meals. I can’t even imagine trying to feed, clothe and provide for 6 kids on a single parent income like we did back then. I often remember having a slice of bread with butter as an afternoon snack when I got home after school to ride me over until supper. My daughter’s would have freaked out if I had even suggested such.

    • Hey, Stephanie!! Great to see you, as always.

      My husband grew up having lots of creamed tuna and chipped beef over toast. His mom was a widow, so she knew how to stretch a meal for 7 kids. They sure went through some lean times.

      And oh, we put butter on everything. A slice of bread and butter was something we had all the time. Literally. Sometimes, we’d put butter on a cracker, too. What a shame it’s frowned on now – we never questioned it, did we? It was GOOD! And it was nothing to go through a loaf of bread a day. Ha!

    • Hello, Debra! Chicken is very versatile, but I was only a white meat girl. To this day, I don’t eat or buy brown meat like thighs or drumsticks, though my girls loved the drumsticks while they were growing up.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I can relate to a lot of these. I grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meat. Bread (especially mayonnaise sandwiches) was a number one way to fill a tummy and I remember lots of hotdogs (on bread) and spaghetti (without meat). We didn’t have to worry about fruit as my grandmother grew huge fields of strawberries and had apple trees, so those things were treats for us. My mother and grandmother both canned lots of stuff too. I still have a problem with chicken soup because I remember my mother making pots of the stuff that we would eat for a week afterwards.

    • Howdy, Janine! Well, heck, I’m jealous you got strawberries!! We rarely did in those early years. Apples, apples, apples.

      Oh, yes, chicken soup every day! Mom would make Vegetable Beef soup, and I didn’t like that much, but those veggies filled us up. And yes, we ate it and ate it. Always glad when that pot was empty!!

      Thanks for joining me!

      • I can relate to the feeling when the pot ran empty of soup. I was definitely ready for something else. My step-father was a factory worker and my mom a waitress, so we were one of those families that either ate what we had or we went without. The strawberries were a treat. My grandmother had a road side fruit stand. I used to like helping her sell them but I often ended up eating a whole basket during the time I sat there.

  8. Loved this blog and my mother must have been a lot like yours. We had a lot of oatmeal and cream of wheat for breakfast and I don’t like this stuff today. We call bologna steak back then because we ate a lot of it for lunch and things and yes it was sliced of of a big roll. I still like a good bologna sandwich. My mother was also a good cook and house keeper. So you reminded me of what my childhood was like.

    • It’s fun to share memories, isn’t it, Quilt Lady? Our childhoods were good ones that I wish kids could experience today. There’s nothing wrong with eating simply or living without so much stuff around that is often wasted and not appreciated. Kids need to go outside and play and use their imaginations.

      Long live bologna!!!

    • Koolaid was.always in our house growing up. My mom would take a big can of Franko American spaghetti and cook up some ground beef and that was our meal. Spam and eggs..spam caserole.i dislike spam to this day as we are ao.much of it. Fried bologna sandwich with mayo was good . But I can not stand miracle whip. Ita not mayonnaise lol

      • Hi, Elaine! I can see how canned spaghetti with hamburger would be a cheap meal and probably not too bad-tasting, either! A real kid food, for sure. Spam gets a bad rep, though. If we don’t think about what’s in it, it’s really good, but what would get me was that gelatin coagulating in the can. Blech.

        And I agree, mayo can’t be beat, but thank goodness they have the light version these days. Ha! Miracle Whip has its place, but in some foods, it’s gotta be mayo, right?

        Thanks for joining in, Elaine!

  9. That picture of your mom is gorgeous. Such vitality! We had chipped beef over toast, macaroni and sometimes with cheese, peanut butter smeared on bananas, chilli, and lots of bread. You wrote about so many of the same things we ate. I don’t buy Spam to this day. But, once in a while, I’ll smear a tad bit of peanut butter on a banana. Just for old times sake. Memories….how they linger. Loved your blog Pam.

    • Good morning, Kathy. I have to clarify the image is not my mother, although it does look like her, which is why I chose it. She would not have worn a dress to do her housework. LOL.

      Elvis loved peanut butter on bananas, didn’t he? Would you believe I’ve never had it?

      Yes, memories linger and good ones should be treasured. Thanks for chatting!

  10. Wow! So many of us grew up eating the same things. We had a small orchard with a variety of fruit trees so there was always plenty of peaches pears nectarines and plums both fresh and home canned. Lots of plum jelly and homemade applesauce.
    But my mom was known for her scrumptious pancakes (cousins always came to eat breakfast with us on the weekends they loved them so much) and her biscuits oh yum! Her secret….. Bisquick! She also had me pick wild mustard in the spring and she cooked them up as mustard greens. I could never eat them. Her apple pie was the absolute favorite of our whole family. We ate LOTS of pinto beans with fried potatoes back then too.
    Thanks for your article, it brought back many good memories.

    • Hi, Janie! You were so fortunate to have an abundant orchard. I absolutely love making applesauce for my granddarlings, and the first thing I thought of while reading your response was that the fruit in your orchard probably ripened at the same time, which meant a rush of canning and jelly-making. But oh, so satisfying when those jars are lined up on shelves, right?

      Pancakes! Mom used Bisquick, too, and would sometimes give us pancakes for dinner. I’m not a fan of them these days. They just feel heavy in my stomach – but then, they filled us up, right?

      Fried potatoes! A good mention – mom would buy potatoes in big bags. 25 lbs, I think? Mustard greens I’ve never had, but like you, I’m not sure I’d like them.

      So glad you joined me this morning, Janie!

  11. I loved fried bolonga sandwiches! Daddy used to fry hotdogs, and sometimes we’d have them on loaf bread. We had Graham crackers with peanut butter, never leftover icing, probably because there wasn’t leftover icing! I don’t remember Mom cutting chicken up, but I’m sure she did, or had Daddy do it. I remember her using wax paper, and, yes, we had jello! She never used velveeta, though.

    • Ooh, I love graham crackers with peanut butter!! That’s a good one, Trudy. Bologna really did sustain our generation, didn’t it? Was there ever a food more versatile–or cheap? LOL.

      Great to see you here, as always!

  12. I remember all of these. I think our moms knew each other. LOL. I was the oldest of five children and I took my “big sister” very seriously. I loved to cook in the kitchen with mom and sew and clean. Yah, I was a funny girl. We always had a special time in the back yard after our naps. When I stopped taking naps, mom and I would do something together. Woohoo, that was my super special time. Those times lasted until mom got sick and died. For our birthdays, we got to choose our dinner and cake. Mom always had herbs and spices that would liven up foods.

    • Aw, Lori, you and I were alike, too! I was the oldest of 7 children, and our moms depended on us to help out. You weren’t funny at all. Maybe it’s a birth order thing, eh?

      Good mention – birthday cakes. We could choose ours, too, but our range of choices was ver-ry limited. Always a box cake in a 13 x 9 pan. Nothing fancy at all, but because it was ‘ours’, that cake was special on our birthday.

      My mom’s favorite was yellow cake mix with chocolate frosting. We had that alot. Double layer cakes or cakes from scratch were very rare. The one exception was a strawberry cake she’d make for my dad every year on his birthday. That recipe has become a family heirloom.

      Thanks for joining in!

  13. Our mothers were raised to be frugal, weren’t they? We had pot roast every Sunday because it would cook while we were at church. We did have Kraft sliced cheese for our sandwiches but I usually took tuna sandwiches to high school. Guess how my locker smelled. About once every week or two I could go with a friend for a hamburger. That was a treat! We never ate out as a family except when my mom was expecting my brother and had to go to the doctor twenty miles away. After her appointment, we’d go to a little cafe but I thought it was wonderful. What surprises me now is that we had spaghetti from a can. There were four of us and I asked my mom how she managed to make one can feed four people. She added a can of water to stretch it. We had a lettuce and tomato salad with it and probably mashed potatoes. It seems we had mashed potatoes and salad with everything. Thanks for the memories, Pam!

    • Hey, Caroline! Wonderful to see you here! We, too, almost never went out to eat, and on payday (we always had to wait for payday!) we might go out to Bronco’s and get a hamburger. I remember they were 10 cents, and oh, so good!!! A real treat, and obviously a memory I treasure because I still remember them to this day!!

      Thanks for chatting, my friend!

  14. So many great responses to your fun blog. I am the odd one because we only had bologna, hot dogs, or other processed foods when the milk check(our family paycheck) came. We kids would joke it must be time for it to come because we had been eating steak, rib roast and other traditionally expensive beef cuts for the last week. Home freezers were a great invention! When the check came mom would go grocery shopping and then we got a few of the fun foods other families ate. We did have Kool-aid in the summer and once in awhile a six pack of mixed soft drink flavors when Mom did her grocery shopping. When the A&W was built we would sometimes drive to town and buy a gallon of root beer for a dollar. That was as close as we got to eating out.

  15. I have to ask, Alice – why did you call your family paycheck a “milk check”?

    And funny that your bologna and hot dogs was something you had to wait for pay day for. For the rest of us, it was the opposite!!

    • We were dairy farmers. Until I was in Jr. High we were paid just once a month by the co-op our milk was shipped to. After that we got paid twice a month which made budgeting much easier for my mom. The plant our milk went to made cheese and butter that was sold primarily in New York City. Our “milkman” picked up our milk and delivered it to the processing plant. He would bring us butter in boxes containing five one pound blocks, individually wrapped, when Mom ordered it. The cost would be deducted from our “milk check”. That brand of butter was not sold in our area and neither was the cheese. Both were very good.

      • My dad would often order a wheel of Lindberger cheese at Christmas time. Just the smell was enough to keep me from eating it but it was highly prized in NYC delicatessens. I hadn’t thought of that for years. Thanks for the memories.

  16. Pam, It sounds like we shared a childhood. So much of what you listed was the same for me. Bologna was a favorite fried. There were 6 children in our family and most of my cousins came from families of 4 or 5 kids. Since we lived in the country, cousins often stayed for the weekend and it wasn’t unusual to have 15 kids plus parents around. To stretch the sandwiches we would run the bologna through the meat grinder and do the same with large dill pickles. Add mustard and mayo, mix, and you had a great sandwich spread. I made it for my children when they were younger and still make it every once in a while for old times sake. I loved Cream Of Wheat but wasn’t a great fan of oatmeal, although I do like it now. I never could and still can’t handle powdered milk. Velveeta has always been a favorite. I can’t believe how expensive it has gotten. Mom would make a large pot roast with potatoes, carrots, onions, and gravy. She made sure there were leftovers. The meat grinder cam out again and the leftover meat and vegetables were ground up and the gravy added. Made a great hash to which I always seasoned with ketchup. She had a rule for desert. If we had cookies, like Oreos, we each got two and that was it. It made us appreciate them. We did not live on a farm, but I learned to cut up a chicken early on. We did have a school cafeteria and ate school lunches most days, seldom bringing our own. We all learned to cook and do other household chores like laundry and ironing, waxing wooden floors, and doing the dishes. Though we may not have appreciated it at the time, it didn’t hurt us and got us ready to be on our own.

    • I forgot about graham crackers and left over crackers. That was such a treat. I have done it with our children and with my Scout troops and 4-H groups. We never did have soda or kool-aid. Milk or water was the drink of the day. We got our milk and eggs from a neighbor. I used to love how the cream would separate out at the top of the bottle.

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

      • For a short while, we got eggs from a farmer friend, and there really is a difference from store bought. The yolks were a deeper color. I agree – seeing that cream was cool!

        Fun to share our memories, Patricia B.!

    • Love your memories, Patricia B.! Our mothers would have gotten along famously! You were lucky to get Oreos – I don’t remember how long they have been around, but always a treat, and yes, we were limited, too. The store bought cookies I remember going back the farthest were the vanilla and chocolate sandwich cookies. They are still available today. We called them cardboard cookies because they were kind of dry and not terribly sweet, which is why Oreos are my favorite store bought cookie to this day. Double-stuffed, of course!

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