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Southern Tomato Gravy

Teresa is from the Southern state of Alabama. Raising a large family on a small budget, she's learned to cook delicious food efficiently.

This Southern gravy has a wonderful tomato base

This Southern gravy has a wonderful tomato base

Southern Tomato-Based Gravy

Authentic and hearty, tomato gravy is a beloved side dish on any Southerner's table. This is not a tomato sauce. It is actually a gravy to be served with biscuits, flapjacks, or fry bread. It tastes great over grits, rice, and mashed potatoes, too.

Feeding Eight on a Small Budget

My husband and I were like the Brady Bunch: between the two of us, we raised six kids. It is tough to live on only one income, but doing it with six kids to raise and feed is extremely tough. You have to get creative in order to survive.

I decided to take some notes from my grandmothers. I knew they had raised six to nine kids during the Great Depression years. My own mother taught me to cook at an early age.

These women elders repeated this mantra to me: "Fill their stomachs—and then if you can give them a treat, you do it."

What does this mean? When you use flour in a recipe it swells and gives you the sensation that you are full. Flour was often ground at the mill during the Great Depression. Today, we can just go to the local grocery store and buy four- or five-pound bags of it.

How Far Will a Five-Pound Bag of Flour Stretch?

This really depends on how much you use it and in what amount. Using two cups of self-rising flour mixed with milk or water will make enough flapjacks for four people. Then stir up another cup of it to make some gravy to go with the flapjacks will leave those four people pretty full. Let's face it though—eating this daily would become quite boring after the second day.

Changing up the flavor of the gravy every day makes you feel like it is something new. The flour is just the base to start the whole meal.

A five-pound bag of flour translates to roughly 17 cups. It would roughly take the whole bag of flour for me to make the flapjacks. Then I would need part of another bag of flour to make the gravy for one meal to feed my large family. But add tomatoes, onions, and a little sausage to the meal and you will be able to feed eight people for less than $10 a meal.

Raising Your Food

With such a large family, we learned to raise our own food. Instead of planting beautiful flowers, as many others do, we planted tomatoes, cucumbers, leafy greens, and other vegetables. This helped us supplement our grocery budget. We had plenty of hands to help, especially when it was the food they liked.

Green tomato on the vine

Green tomato on the vine

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

15 min

20 min

4 servings (1/2 cup per serving)


  • 1 cup self-rising flour, shifted
  • 1 pint tomatoes, chopped (home-canned or store-bought)
  • 4 tablespoons meat drippings or grease
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups water or milk
Home-canned tomatoes

Home-canned tomatoes


  1. In a cast-iron frying pan or a regular skillet over medium-high heat, make a thick medium to dark brown gravy by using the bacon or sausage drippings.
  2. This gravy is simply made by dusting the meat drippings in the frying pan with sifted self-rising flour. Brown the flour slightly to give it a good color. Vigorously stir the flour mixture to prevent clumping and burning.
  3. Once this is cooked to a thick, almost paste-like consistency, add the crushed canned (jar) of tomatoes. Slowly stir in 1 cup of water to thin the mixture to the desired consistency.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. I think the more black pepper you add, the better. Stir to mix.
  5. If this is still a little pasty or too thick, you can add a little milk or water in slowly as you stir to get the thickness you desire. I prefer mine to be thick and served over a cat head biscuit or over grits.
The finished tomato gravy. Delicious!

The finished tomato gravy. Delicious!

© 2021 Teresa Fikes