Appalachia Appalachian Food

A Make Do Recipe From The Great Depression Years

Am I the only one who’s noticed prices at the grocery store are creeping higher and higher? After buying groceries this week-I decided we should re-visit the make do cooking recipes we were discussing earlier this year.

This past winter was the first time I had today’s recipe. An older lady I so some work for was making it for her supper-she made me try a bite and I was surprised that the mixture was quite tasty. After that another friend told me she was familiar with the dish too. Then low and behold a Blind Pig reader, Ethel, told me the following story about the make do recipe.


Grandma’s Cooking by Ethel Mertz

I was taught to make this dish when I was a bride thirty years ago. My husband lost his job and we moved in with his grandparents shortly after our wedding.

Grandpa was a kind, quiet man. Grandma kicked butt and took names! They were in their late sixties when I met them. Grandpa was retired but still active, Grandma worked nights as a school janitor. They were both raised in the coal fields of West Virginia and knew all about making do. I don’t remember what year they were married, but it seems like Grandma always worked outside the home to help support the family. During the Depression she worked in a little diner in West Virginia where this recipe was on the menu. I don’t remember her calling the dish by any particular name, so it will be interesting to see if other folks had a name for it.
Grandma, like most women of her generation, was an amazing cook. She didn’t need to follow a recipe or measure anything. As a result of Grandma’s cooking style, the following are approximations. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to suit your taste:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 c. diced onion
1 can baked beans
1 T. granulated sugar (I like it sweeter)

Brown the ground beef and onions, drain fat. Add beans and sugar, stir to combine. Heat through. Serve on buns.

Quick, inexpensive and surprisingly tasty, it’s easy to see why this was a hit at the diner. Grandma said she made this at home a lot too, and served it with green beans – to which she always added a dab of bacon fat from the little crock she kept on the back of the stove. It was a fast, economical meal when she was so busy working and raising five children.


The only difference between Ethel’s recipe and my friends-they used pork-n-beans instead of baked beans. Have you ever made or ate this? Did it have a name?



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  • Reply
    B f
    October 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    oh yes i,ve made this recipe with pork and beans /molasses/brn sugar /onion,H B/just about anyway you ever heard of and stretch it with spaghetti or mac, maybe some grated cheese and on a bun
    now that was along time ago when the family was growing , now just me , no sence of wasting time cooking , those were the good old days with everyone home
    have a nice fall weekend

  • Reply
    July 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Sounds like a scaled-back version of Cowboy Beans.

  • Reply
    Kim Campbell
    May 30, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Mmmm, this sounds good! We do Creamed Beef several times a month. Ground beef, milk and flour!

  • Reply
    Caedyn Metz
    May 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Oh and she called it Bean Burger Stew 🙂

  • Reply
    Caedyn Metz
    May 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    My Grandmother used to make this dish with Pork and Beans, she also added diced green peppers. I have it in my cookbook and find it as good today as I did when I was a kid–this and Hamburger Toast are my favorites.

  • Reply
    May 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I’ve never heard of this before, it doesn’t sound too bad.

  • Reply
    janet pressley
    May 14, 2011 at 2:27 am

    Sounds good thrown in with some mac and cheese or a Cheap hotdog like some good Johnsville smoked brats. Nana

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I always served this over buttered white bread. Didn’t know it was a Depression Era Recipe, thought I’d just dreamed it up on my own while my first husband and I were in the USMC during the 70s and were quite literally poor as church mice making a whole $137 per month each. ;o)

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    We’ve made a similar dish with hamburger and pinto beans. One other make do meal my granny used to make was adding the browned hamburger to stewed tomatoes and onion and adding some elbow macaroni. I thought it was really special when my cousins and I got to eat it at Granny’s house. The macaroni helped stretch it out to feed all us grandkids.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    i can see how this might work with kids, but with just one person? i couldn’t eat it all before it spoiled! nothing with meat is ever a moneysaver for me 🙁

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    My husband will eat any left-over meat with a can of pork and beans. It is the say recipe, brown/warm the meat, add the beans, cook for a few minutes.
    With the price of canned goods going up, I am thinking of canning some white beans myself again this year. They are cheap in the fall at the mill near where they are grown, up in the Saginaw (Michigan) valley. I will add some molasses, tomato juice and sugar, and have my own baked beans. I’ll have to wait and see how many cans I have left after I can my veggies. Or maybe a garage sale for more cans?

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I can’t say I’ve made this exact recipe, but similar. And yummmm! I have a freezer full of home grown beef, and need reminders/ideas of tasty meals. Thanks!

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    my friend raised her kids on this using pork and beans, mine refused to eat it. but i put hamburger in everything and on everything, 1001 ways to strectch burger. i was late, blogger was down for 24 hours.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 11:45 am

    That looks good! Ain’t never had
    hamburger with pork n beans, but
    anything with onions in it I’d
    like it. I have browned hamburger
    and made white gravy and biscuits
    for breakfast.
    Always enjoy Ethel’s stories from
    the Great Generation of folks who
    taught us the blessings of ‘make
    do.’ …Ken

  • Reply
    Mary Jane
    May 13, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I make something similiar that my mother-in-law made to feed 12 kids. She called it Farmer’s Beans. It is browned hamburger meat with (or without) chopped onion and Ranch Style Beans. We usually eat it with macaroni and cheese…one of my husband’s favorite meals. I make cornbread with it.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Sounds like a scaled back version of Cowboy Beans….

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I ate this growing up! I bet my parents still make it. I will have to ask if they have a name for it!

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    May 13, 2011 at 9:05 am

    We had either HB and beans or hotdogs and beans when I was coming up. Now a days with just my husband and me, it’s how we use up leftovers from a cookout.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Have made something similar using pinto beans or pork n beans and adding a can of corn. Either put it on lightbread or over cornbread. The way grocery prices are going up,we need to make food stretch.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    May 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Oh my goodness, I first heard of this (called simply hamburger-and-beans) when I was 18 or so, working at National Bellas Hess. Some co-worker whose name I don’t recall somehow ended up with some grandkids living with her and she had trouble affording groceries; another co-worker told her about this, and I recall the lady coming in the next day saying, “Oh my, those kids ate and ate and ate.”
    One economical dish I loved was creamed macaroni, which was nothing more than macaroni with a white sauce (or cream, if somebody had a milk cow).

  • Reply
    swanson susie
    May 13, 2011 at 8:27 am

    I’ve made something similar to it. It reminds me of the homemade sloppy joes. It is a good dish. My blogger has been down too, since yesterday. Thanks for the post…Susie

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Very tasty. My grandmother told me she also made something called “War Cake” for dessert.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 13, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Yes, I’ve noticed the cost of food going slowly up and up!!!
    I only cook for myself but wonder what in the world folks do to feed a family!
    I’ve never heard of your beef and beans though I find it similar to the chilly beans we used to make. That was ground beef, onions, kidney beans,tomatoes and chili powder.
    Over the years I’ve made a lot of different things with ground beef. It used to be cheap but that is no longer the case.
    I had a friend who made soup with ground beef. I tried it but did not particularly like it. I prefer bones to make a soup stock. Chicken backs or beef bones are both wonderful for soup and cheap. I’m a big soup fan. In this area no beef soup bones were available for many years, now they are in the grocery stores again…..thank goodness.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    May 13, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Hamburger beans, with pork and beans. I remember also as a kid, all of us would try to get the pieces of pork in the pork and beans. LOL
    We also had the ‘hamburger gravy, served over hot biscuits, then biscuits with sorghum and butter for dessert.
    A family favorite at our house was ‘depression spaghetti’. Fry some bacon and onions, add a can of stewed tomatoes, and mix it with cooked spaghetti or macaroni.
    I still fix that those from time to time.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 7:43 am

    My Aunt used to make this all the time when we were kids. I loved it but have never made it myself. I think I will. The price is right & it really fills you up.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 13, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Yep, we made it too when the kids were young. We called it hamburger and beans too sometimes we ate it on toast, always used pork n beans and seasoned it up.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2011 at 7:02 am

    I’m sure I’ve had something like this but not sure what it may have been called.
    PS — Blogger has been down since yesterday, so many of us are blogless right now.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    May 13, 2011 at 6:45 am

    I’ve made this recipe since I was married and raising my children..We had it at least once a week..In the summer I would sometimes add 1/4 cup of chopped green bell pepper. I made salad and mashed potatoes with it..We never served it on buns…but we did make a homemade sloppy joe type mix we served on buns..
    I also made (since my husband missed his Air Force meals), what my husbandcalled “SOS”..hamburger,
    onion-n-gravy on light bread!
    I got the bean recipe from my husbands Mother. We always used pork-n-beans and add a little catsup and brown sugar til it tastes right…
    I have eaten it at potluck dinners made with baked beans…both ways are just as good…Later years I started making it with turkey burger…
    Might make this tonight!
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    May 13, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Me and Mama used to make it but we called it Hamburger and Beans. I love it but don’t make it now because my husband won’t eat the white beans used to make baked beans or pork n beans (he says they are fuzzy?).

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