Bacon Grease (or, 1929 redux)

First posted on 5 March 2007. With the news of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, not to mention all that has followed it, I thought it was a fitting time to repost this. We may all need the information. It’s a poor substitute for We the People having, in our greed and stupidity, trashed all the safeguards from the 1930s that were designed to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again, but at this point, it’s the best I can do.


Back in the days when I was young and people actually sat down to breakfast, my mother would go through the same ritual every time that bacon and eggs was on the menu. She would cook the bacon in the cast-iron fry pan, and then drain off most of the fat into a tin can, which she would later (after the fat had cooled) cover and store in the cupboard. The eggs she cooked in the leftover grease.

One day, it occurred to me to ask why she did this. I had never seen her do anything with these cans of fat, and we had a larder full of shortening and vegetable oil, and a refrigerator full of butter. And why didn’t we have margarine in the house? I thought it was supposed to be better for you.

She pointed out that the bacon grease had once been their only significant source of fat for cooking. Back when she was my age, in the thirties. When the Great Depression ruled the world. When the New England admonition to “make it do, or do without” was essential to survival, and “throw away” was the eighth deadly sin. She remembered the traditions of save and reuse, and held to them, because you never know.

The butter was a concession. During the Depression and the subsequent World War, butter was unavailable. What there was was margarine, an unpalatable vegetable pâté, white and pallid. Now she could have butter, and she would have it.

When she and her siblings were born, the Twenties were still roaring. The stock markets were up, politicians were proclaiming a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, and businesses were luxuriating in cheap labor thanks to a decade of pro-business administrations and policies.

Then, the markets collapsed. Not all at once. Not even in America. There was the triggering slide, but then the indices teetered in neutral for a few days, while pundits and politicians proclaimed the fundamental soundness of the economy and the certainty of a rebound, any day now. Kinda like today …

It didn’t happen. The slide became an avalanche, then a calamity, then the global disaster that was the Great Depression. Already strapped working-class people became destitute, all the more so because the President, an economic conservative – and, ironically, a man who had made his name leading humanitarian aid programs! – refused to commit major Federal resources to poverty relief, not until after it was way too late. Eventually, a quarter of the American workforce was unemployed, and many of those men and women were living in communities of cardboard boxes that bore their President’s name.

I think I’d better go home and ask my mother how to store bacon grease.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. i think you should ask her

    how to knit and sew
    how to make jam
    how to put up vegetables you grow
    how to make split pea soup with a ham bone
    how to turn cuffs and collars
    how to make frosting
    how to make rugs
    and how to get stains out of synthetics…

    cuz she knows…
    she taught me

  2. My Mum always would talk to us about waste. She grew up during the Depression as well and made us aware not to take more than we needed.

    Lets hope we don’t have a repeat of the “Dirty Thirties”

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