Ketchup Spaghetti (AKA “Depression Spaghetti”)

January 18th, 2006

Grama Dee grew up during the Great Depression in one of the most poverish towns in Missouri. They raised rabbits and chickens to eat and growing up in such dire straits as she did, she was not one to ever waste food.

Many times I would watch her in disbelief as she scraped the mold off some old bread and eat it with a slab of butter. When she caught my looks of shock and horror, she would roll her eyes at me and say…”Julie Anne, a little mold never hurt anyone.” I begged to differ…but that’s beside the point, because old habits die hard, and for her…wasting food just wasn’t an option. Many times she would scrape our plates clean, and then…when the last spoonful of green beans just could not be eaten…she would save it in an old margerine tub, put it in the refrigerator to be eaten another time.

This used to drive my mom crazy because whenever my grama came over for dinner (which was a few times a week at least), we’d have 20 margerine tubs full of food that NOONE was ever gonna touch. But then Grama Dee would come over again the next day or so, and sure enough…she’d take out that margerine tub full of those 10 green beans and eat them. So nothing ever really did go to waste.

Anyway…one of the most important food memories that I (and everyone in my family) has of my Grama Dee, is her most beloved Depression staple, ketchup spaghetti. From the time I could slurp down a noodle, I’ve been eating it. And it’s my dad and cousin Brian’s favorite food. I’m not kidding, it really is. There are so many memories surrounding this one dish, that they’d be far too many to write here.

But one of the most comical, was the first time my poor brother-in-law, Mark encountered this infamous dish. Now, Mark is 100% Italian (or EYE-TAIL-YUN as Grama Dee used to say) and he was horrified that a spaghetti noodle could be so abused. IN EVERY WAY. But he was a good sport, and for my sister (and our grama) he obliged us all, and tried a bite. After his first gag reflex kicked in…my dad howled with laughter, and my poor grama was never able to convince Mark to eat another bite, no matter how many times she tried.

Yep, true enough, ketchup spaghetti is not for the weak of palette, because unless you were raised on the stuff like I was, I can’t imagine most people would react much different than Mark did. But as gross as it must seem to most, it is the one food I hold dearest to my heart, and will never, EVER tire of eating until the day I die.

So I probably don’t have to tell you that ketchup spaghetti was born out of the Depression because all it required was spaghetti and ketchup and of course, the hillbilly requirement to any dish…BUTTER.

Times were tough, and that’s all I know. My grama used to tell me that when her family did happen to have a few extra pennies, they would fancy it up with some sugar, onion and ground beef. But most of the time, it was just simply noodles and ketchup. While my grama was known to mix it up every once in a while and make it with elbow macaroni, for my purposes here, I’d like to keep it real, and stick with the way she usually made it – with spaghetti noodles. So here it is…(and I’m giving you the fancified version, with the onion and ground beef, and if you’re too poverish for that, then you can just omit those from the recipe)…

KETCHUP SPAGHETTI recipe from Doris Foxworthy

INGREDIENTS: (see photo)
1/2 lb Spaghetti
1 24 oz bottle of Heinz Ketchup
1 lb Ground Beef
1 Medium Onion
1/4 stick Butter
1 Tbsp Sugar
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste


  1. Cut up medium sized onion to a small dice.
  2. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
  3. While the spaghetti is boiling, heat a large skillet over high heat and throw in the diced onion with a little bit of butter.
  4. Saute the onion until it’s just translucent (not brown) and then add the ground beef.
  5. Saute the beef mixture until the meat is cooked through.
  6. Drain the cooked spaghetti and return to pot.
  7. Combine beef mixture and spaghetti.
  8. Squeeze in about 3/4 of the bottle of ketchup until the noodles are good n’ saucy then add the butter, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Heap a pile of noodles on your favorite plate and see what all the fuss is about.

I really, really hope that you like this ketchup spaghetti, but if you don’t? Well, I won’t feel so bad, as you probably only wasted less then $6.

Entry Filed under: comfort foods,hillbilly recipes,main dishes

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. missadroit  |  January 23rd, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    YUM! I can’t imagine that would be bad, but then you understand my obsession with the ketchup. I’ve never had straight up ketchup spaghetti, but my mom (and me too!) adds it to the spaghetti sauce she makes. And I tend to add ketchup on top of my spaghetti.


  • 2. fitballble  |  January 25th, 2006 at 11:43 am

    There is no better food than ketchup spaghetti… although the shells are a fabulous pasta substitute… grandama D could make a feast out of ANYTHING!… and it was always good. This picture is making me crazy hungry!

  • 3. rurocking  |  January 25th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Hi There…

    I’ve been eating Ketchup Spaghetti since I was 4 and I am now 54 and I have it at least once a week. Slightly more simple then you. All I do is boil some spaghetti and fry some ground beef. I serve myself the ground beef in a bowl and put my spaghetti on a place and pour ketchup all over it. Mix it in and voila. My version of ketchup spaghetti.

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