Depression Era Recycling: Old Pots to Chicken Feeders

Illinois woman remembers recycling in the thirties, turning old pots into egg baskets and chicken feeders.

| Good Old Days

No, Virginia, recycling is nothing new under the sun. We just did it so long, we delightedly forgot about it as soon as we could afford to. Now that it is fashionable again, maybe we need a few pointers.

What did we recycle in the Thirties? Everything we couldn't do without. Pans with holes got those wonderful new gadgets called Mendets - rivets with cork and metal washers. If the holes were too large for that, the item became a scoop, an egg basket, or, if large enough, a clothes hamper or a planter, a vegetable bin or a chicken feeder. Only when imagination gave out did you dare throw it away. Then your neighbor would pick it out of the trash and find a use for it.

Old clothes were patched to desperation, then became braided rugs, quilts, dish cloths, mop rags, or patches for something else. Hopeless stockings and socks lost their feet to cushion stuffing, and their legs became rag dolls, double-layered mittens, stocking caps. Aha! You didn't know why they were called that, did you? Shoes took half-soles as long as there remained enough of the uppers to hold them on. After that, they became thongs, hinges for wooden box lids, knee and elbow patches, tobacco pouches. Hand-me-downs were the rule of the day, unpopular though they were. Cut-downs meant shirts, skirts, and jackets for the small fry. All this is not to mention the popular flour sack, sugar sack, and feed sack. Those items went everywhere in a household. Ripped up, washed, and bleached, they took the place of yard goods for quilt backings, underwear, curtains, dresses, dish towels, shirts, aprons, sheets, pillowcases - you name it and it was made from sacking. They were embroidered, tucked, flounced, ruffled, dyed, stitched, whipped and crocheted around.

A sheet worn in the center was split lengthwise and the outside edges stitched together to form a seam down the middle, then the raw edges hemmed. A sheet too far gone for that treatment, or one subsequently outworn, became bandages, dresser scarves, little folks' underwear, diapers, curtains around recycled orange crates and apple boxes, dust cloths - anything a soft white cloth could be used for.

Sure, tin cans were recycled, too. They made temporary furniture repairs; door stops filled with rocks and covered with scraps of cloth; hassocks when grouped, padded with sock feet or other rags, and bound inside the good part of old overall legs. They made pencil and tool holders, racks for various scatterables, and a wild assortment of toys.

Grease was combined with lye and made into soap. Egg shells, at least in the country, went into chicken feed to extend the oyster shell supply. Table scraps were recycled through hogs, chickens, cats and dogs. Prematurely clabbered milk got cooked into cottage cheese, the whey joining the hog food collection. Stale bread was never thrown out. It made bread pudding, French toast, stuffing, extenders for meats and vegetables, and was often soaked in milk and sweetened for breakfast.

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