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Monday, January 29, 2024

Payment in Trade from the 1930s

Baked Cottage Cheese

I mentioned my grandmother's baked cottage cheese in the comments the other day. The recipe itself is part of a larger story from my grandmother's early marriage years in the 1930s and how she obtained some of her foods then. Here's the recipe, first.

Baked cottage cheese was a cheese custard dessert my grandmother made from the 1930s. It was a little like a lean and crustless cheesecake. I don't know precise measurements and am guessing at her process. Her "recipe" card simply reads "cottage cheese, eggs, sugar, lemon peel, milk, enough flour" she either mashed the cottage cheese with a potato masher or pressed/rubbed the cottage cheese with the back of large spoon through a mesh sieve, then beat in eggs, sugar, lemon zest, milk, and a tiny bit of flour (maybe a tablespoon or two). Once blended together, she poured it into a buttered baking dish and baked as you would an egg/milk custard, likely an oven around 325 degrees F, perhaps in a large pan of water to prevent the custard from overcooking. Remove from oven when the center no longer jiggles. 

Payment in Trade

My grandmother and her family really struggled financially during the 30s. My grandfather had been a stockbroker in the 1920s. Well, you can guess how well that turned out for them. 

My grandmother's father was a medical doctor in town at that time, and many of his patients could no longer pay him in cash. One of the ways they paid my great-grandfather was "in trade." Whatever they could offer, he would accept. There was a dairy farmer with a very large family of children who were all patients at one time or another of my great-grandfather. The dairy farmer wasn't taking in as much income in the 30s, either. And yet, he had all of this very perishable inventory that needed to be moved/sold weekly. The dairy farmer and my great-grandfather came to an agreement over payment for medical services. The farmer would pay in trade. For however much the medical services would be billed, my great-grandfather could receive that dollar amount in dairy foods. 

Free Milk, Eggs, Butter, Cottage Cheese, and Bread

My great-grandfather, my great-grandmother, and their remaining children at home didn't need this amount of dairy foods weekly. So my great-grandfather turned the dairy account over to his adult children to divide amongst themselves as they had need. My grandmother's family was able to obtain milk, eggs, butter, and cottage cheese, for no cost, and this went on for a few years. At one point, the farmer's wife began baking and selling bread for additional income. So, bread was added to the list of foods my grandmother's family could receive as part of the trade agreement. These foods became the backbone of many of their meals during the 30s, as my grandmother thought of new and different ways to use what was no-cost to them. The baked cottage cheese was one such recipe.

My Mother's Baked Cottage Cheese Dish

Many, many years later, my mother would make something very similar. In the 1970s, my mother tried the Atkins diet. One of the popular Atkins' recipes at that time was for a cottage cheese faux cheesecake. It called for cottage cheese, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, and artificial sweetener. My mother pureed the ingredients in the pitcher blender, then poured it all into a baking dish and baked till set. It was at this time that she told me about the baked cottage cheese that her own mother would make when she was a girl. 

A decade later, shortly after my mother passed away, my grandmother and step-grandfather offered me a place to live while I went back to school. One evening, my grandmother was setting dishes of cottage cheese with fruit on the table for dessert. The sight of the cottage cheese prompted me to ask my grandmother about the baked cottage cheese. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, talking and laughing about all of the ways she and my grandfather had contrived during the 30s just to keep their heads above water. She also got out her recipe card tin. She gave me the card for Baked Cottage Cheese, as well as a couple of others. And she made baked cottage cheese for dessert later that week. It was actually very good. If one were expecting the richness of cheesecake, they might be disappointed. But for a light dessert, it was really pretty good.

What I found fascinating at the time is many of my grandmother's handwritten recipes were more like a list of ingredients, sometimes with no other instructions, sometimes with very vague instructions. Amounts might be listed as "enough" or "to form a dough," or worse, "to make thick as syrup." She knew what she meant as she wrote these recipes down. I believe she thought only she would ever access these cards and papers and wouldn't need as many specific details, but more of prompts to her memory as she put together meals.

Depression-Era Wedding Luncheon Entree

Another story from this period in my grandmother's life revolved around a wedding luncheon for the daughter of a friend. Wedding receptions were rather modest in comparison to the big do's we hear about today. A popular option was a light luncheon that followed the ceremony. My grandmother's gift to this friend's daughter was providing the main dish for the luncheon. My grandmother bought 2 cans of salmon and ordered bread, eggs, and milk from the dairy (the no-cost items for her). She made a large salmon loaf that she later laughed about, saying, "that loaf was more bread and eggs than anything else." I believe she said the luncheon was for about 50 guests. Two cans of salmon for 50 people -- that's pretty frugal.

Bartering in the 30s

Out of necessity, bartering was a common form of payment between individuals and/or small businesses in the 1930s. Food, medical attention, housing, clothing, furniture, or tools might be offered in exchange for what someone might need. Sometimes, the exchanges were simple transactions, one item or service traded for one needed item or service. Other times, bartering resembled what my great-grandfather worked out with the local dairy farmer. An account was set up that allowed my great-grandfather, or anyone he determined, to "purchase" foods up to the amount of the account balance. This meant that my great-grandfather would not need to take possession of the full dollar amount of perishable foods in one swoop, but instead could spread out these purchases as they could be consumed. 

So, that's the story surrounding my Grandmother's Baked Cottage Cheese. 


  1. I love this story! Cottage cheese has become popular lately--sometimes I have difficulty finding it in stock at Aldi. I think I mentioned the cottage cheese bread recipe I tried last week--I checked out other cottage cheese recipes on the site, and one was for cottage cheese pudding. I wonder if the recipe is similar to your baked cottage cheese. Sounds yummy.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I didn't realize that cottage cheese had become popular again. I remember when it was a dieter's favorite. How are people using it these days? The cottage cheese bread sounds delicious. I have used it in lasagna.

      I'm glad you liked the story.

  2. I have a vague memory of a cottage cheese type of cheesecake. I feel like I made that in my early years of marriage. I doubt my mom made it because she would never have purchased cottage cheese but I know I have eaten this before. Like Kris, I also tried a cottage cheese bread and it was very good. I am planning on making dill rolls using cottage cheese and I researched the recipe and was from Taste of Home. The two breads do contain regular flour so they are not gluten free.

    1. Dill in cottage cheese rolls sounds really good! Let us know how they turn out.

      Cottage cheese (in its original form) was a lifesaver for me with a teen son who was constantly hungry. It appeared as a side dish for supper a LOT. I need to remember to buy some when he's home for visits. I can't believe how much he eats (and yet he never gains weight ..... not a trait that he inherited from me, unfortunately).

    2. Hi Alice,
      Yum, those bread products sound delicious! And thanks for mentioning what site you found the recipes on. I'll check those out.

  3. I am enjoying all of your trips down memory lane, Lili and the historical context you put them in. I love cottage cheese, but have never made it into a custard type dish. But I do use it in place of ricotta sometimes. My husband on the other hand has a problem with the texture of it. I guess that leaves more for me.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I use cottage cheese in place of ricotta, too. I think it makes a good substitute.

      I've been really missing my mother and grandmother in recent months. I suppose these stories and recipes are my way to remember them both.

  4. I'm behind on my blog reading, but just had to comment on this wonderful post. I loved the stories of your family and the baked cottage cheese sounds intriguing - I may have to try it sometime! I can relate to missing your mother and grandmother. Thank you for sharing your memories.

    1. Hi Jo,
      Thank you. I'm glad you've enjoyed my reminiscing. And I'm sorry that you can relate to missing your mother and grandmother. I'm just so grateful for my memories, as I know you are, too.


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