Great Depression Cooking: Tomato Bisque

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In May 1933 FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration) was created.

Its main goal was to alleviate household unemployment by creating new unskilled jobs in local and state government. Those jobs were psychologically more beneficial to the unemployed, who wanted any sort of job, for self-esteem, to play the role of male breadwinner. It was completely necessary during the hard times of the Great Depression.

Poor people lacked enough food in the Depression, and farmers had too much. The mismatch was solved by the FERA and WPA programs which aimed to reduce farm surpluses by government purchase and then redistribution of food to the needy.

This way some people got access to fresh produce like fresh tomatoes, turnips, rhubarb and some sorts of seasonal fruit.

Despite the fancy name tomato bisque is just a delicious soup which can be easily made and ingredients don’t cost a ton.

Pro tip: back in the 30s people didn’t have powerful blenders. Instead, housekeepers boiled tomatoes and onions and then used a sieve to pass the ingredients through making a purée. For this recipe, I used my blender to speed up a process but you can do it the old way if you want to 😉

Serving size:

About 6


  • 6 large fresh tomatoes
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1,5 pints of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 0.5 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 pint of whole milk
  • 2 tbsp of flour
  • Chives, salt, and pepper for plaiting


  • 132 Calories
  • 6.9g Fat
  • 13.8 Carbs
  • 2.4g Fiber
  • 4.6g Protein


First, we need to take the skin off of tomatoes. Put them into boiling water for 1 minute, take out and take the skin off. It should come off easily.

Slice the tomatoes and the onion.

For the sieve (the old way).

Slice tomatoes and put them into a kettle with chopped onion, bay leaf, cloves, and water.

Cook until very tender and pass through the sieve.

Blend flour and butter in a pan until smooth, add tomato liquid and stir until boiling.

Cook for 5 minutes, add soda to neutralize the acidity of the tomatoes.

Add warm milk before serving.

For the blender (new way).

Melt the butter at the bottom of a deep pan, fry onion until tender on medium and add tomatoes and flour.

Cook for 2-3 minutes longer, add cloves, bay leaves, and water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, add baking soda and cook for 5-7 minutes longer.

Purée with a blender, add milk, bring to a boil and season to taste.


Pour the soup into the plates and sprinkle with freshly chopped chives and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy!

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