Great Depression Cooking features the spry, still-brown-haired-90-something-year-old Clara cooking- pasta with peas, egg drop soup, cooked bread, and more, all while recounting brief snippets of her memories of the Great Depression. Shot by her grandson, Christopher Cannucciari (the Grandson/Grandmother duo is a common ingredient in online cooking shows) the results are surprisingly subtle.
Originally released in 2007, the web series is still a reminder of the dark undertones of our own unruly present, but gives way to a lightness of blue-collar food porn served up by a host who knows no pretension.
Clara’s recollections include neighborhood whiskey brewing, which led to the ‘smell of yeast all over the town,’ and cooking carb-heavy (pasta, potatoes) because that’s what they could afford, but for the most part her anecdotes about the depression are very brief: ‘The depressions (sic) was very bad…We always had potatoes ‘cause that’s what we could afford…we got fat, from eating all those potatoes.’
Episode 3’s “Poorman’s Meal,” a potatoes-onion-hot dog mix, concludes with Clara’s grandson and a few of his friends (mid-20s, I’d say) chowing down and thanking ‘Nana.’ It’s a genuine family moment, and as with the entirety of the series, it’s completely without sensations.
The only music in the series comes from the brief theme song. Otherwise, the only sounds we hear are of Clara’s minimal, matter-of-fact food and depression patter (she repeats the word ‘potato’ multiple times in her old Italian-Chicagoan accent), and the sizzle of the stove.
Clara was born in Chicago to Sicilian parents and dropped out of high school her sophomore year to work in a factory, followed by filling Twinkies and then secretarial work. These are the memories that fuel her comforting, kitchen-side yarn spinning. If only my grandmother was this chill.
Clara wears her age well and never seems to overdo it. It’s as though she doesn’t want to bore herself any more than her audience. In ‘Sicilian Fig Cookies,’ her granddaughter and friend pepper her for stories about Depression-era Christmases. As Clara shares her anecdotes, she laughs easily at her own stories without guilt or melodrama. The youngsters become the lackeys, as the cookies pose the most challenging set of tasks of all her recipes.
That the CBS Evening News did a short piece on Clara and Great Depression Cooking last month might mean it’s time to move on from the phenomenon, but not before soaking up an episode or two. Check it out at GreatDepressionCooking.com.