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Italian Grandma Survives Depression, Strikes Gold


Depression-era cooking means recession-era profits.

If the boom times have their own celebrities, then so do the busts.

Along with this recession comes Clara Cannucciari, a 93-year-old grandmother and star of Great Depression Cooking, a web series on which she shares recipes and describes, with great charm and humor, how she and her family survived -- gained weight, even -- during the Great Depression.

Clara's mini empire includes a website, a widely followed YouTube (GOOG) show, a DVD, and a Facebook page with more than 2,000 friends. St. Martin's Press plans to publish her cookbook this October, 80 years after the start of the Great Depression.

Behind it all is an entrepreneurial grandson, Chris Cannucciari, 30. The Brooklyn-based director and cinematographer realized his grandmother's stories were especially relevant to people struggling in today's squeezed economic times.

Two years ago Chris first started taping and posting videos of his grandmother preparing the basic Depression-era fare she'd eat as a girl growing up in Chicago. To cook Depression-style, start with a sack of potatoes, a sack of flour, some onions, eggs, tomato sauce, hot dogs, and, occasionally, an affordable cut of meat.

Among the 7 episodes Chris has posted show Clara preparing pasta with peas, egg drop soup and panecotta, which is cooked bread (stale bread revived with a little olive oil, salt and boiling water).

At first, the videos didn't attract much attention. But when the economy worsened, interest in the shows took off. "Now when the New York Times does a piece on recessions or depressions, views spike high," said Chris.

In fact, Clara's lifelong frugality has shaped how he and his wife, photographer Abby Cope, budget their lives and plan for the future. We talked to Chris about his grandmother's influence.

Q: Why did you decide to create the Great Depression Cooking showcase with your grandmother?

A: She's always been such a character. I thought she'd be great. When she was 91, I said I have to videotape you for this family history. You keep saying this is your last year, so let me capture you. My grandmother is a great Italian cook, but I thought her recipes from the Great Depression would be most unique to shoot.
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