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Published Oct. 31, 2008

I looked up an old friend the other day, a favorite spaghetti sauce recipe given to my mother as a young woman in art school.

It was presented to her, typed, from the mother of a boy in her class. It is the best spaghetti sauce I have ever tasted, yet its ingredients, which total less than $10, provide lessons in frugality.

With talk lately of the Great Depression, it got me to thinking about homemaking during that era, the province largely of women who managed to spin straw into gold with little or no money.

Nearly 80 years ago, packaged and frozen foods didn't exist; nor did expensive out-of-season fruits and vegetables. My great-grandmothers kept gardens and canned the summer's bounty in mason jars.

My maternal grandmother practiced thrift long after the Great Depression years had passed.

Her home was charming without glitz. She kept the same well-chosen furnishings and appliances throughout her life, repairing things when they broke.

My grandfather, a dentist, came home every day for lunch. He never invested in the stock market. He tended and mowed the yard himself and kept a basement full of supplies collected free and never wasted: rubber bands, jars, tinfoil. He washed the windows with newspapers and a mixture of ammonia and water.

There were no Swiffers or automatic shower scrubbers. Cleaning supplies were limited to the essentials like Babo and furniture paste; people used rags and didn't run through rolls of Bounty towels bought in multiple at the nearest Sam's Club.

As I cook my penny-saving spaghetti sauce tonight, I will think of my grandparents, great-grandparents and great-aunts who stretched a few dollars a long, long way.

I'm glad I paid attention. Who would have thought these lessons in frugal living might actually come in handy someday?

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at