Ms. Weatherford also comments that cheese dishes could not be substituted for meat dishes, for cheese was rationed the same as meat. “Cheese was the dairy product most easily shipped abroad and it became more scarce as the war neared an end, because it is a staple of European diets. Additional millions of pounds of milk were shipped to U.S. troops in the new dried milk form. Butter, however, was the rationed dairy product most profoundly missed by Civilians.”
Even as butter became rationed the need for it became greater because all other cooking oils, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil – all imports- virtually disappeared. Fats made glycerin. From glycerin explosives were made. Housewives were urged to save all scraps of fat and take them to their local meat dealer. Some butcher shops offered 2 red ration stamps for every pound of used fats and there were even fat collecting stations.
Sandy’s cooknote: I am at a loss to imagine my mother having any leftover fats to take to the butcher shop. My mother made a lye soap once a year out of leftover fats—a soap somewhat similar to Fels Naptha. We used it for everything, from scrubbings floors to dirty knees. On the other hand, I know that my grandparents butchered a hog once a year, with the help of their sons and daughters in law—the rendered fat from the hog would have produced a fair amount of rendered fat for the entire family to use.
Archie Satterfield, in his book “The Home Front” writes, “The logistics of rationing are almost overwhelming, and the remarkable thing is that it worked at all and went into effect so smoothly and so rapidly. The Office of Price Administration (OPA)…soon established some 5600 ration boards across the nation, which depended largely on volunteer labor to distribute the books of ration coupons each month at local schools. Every family in the nation was registered for ration books, all 130 million of them, and each fiscal year some 40 million pounds of paper were consumed in the forms, coupons, directives and so forth..”. (One such bulletin was titled “Victory Begins at home! Recipes to match your sugar ration” and the sweetener in all of these recipes was corn or maple syrup, sorghum or molasses. Another bulletin was devoted to buying fresh fruits and vegetables for wartime meals and declared “Food will win the War!” More than 5 BILLION forms were printed each year…processed foods were controlled by blue coupons (blue points) and meat, fats, and oils were “red points”. Each consumer was granted an equal basic ration each month.
The coffee program was set up for adults only. Shoe rationing was set up on an interval program as was sugar and coffee, rather than a monthly basis.
“Children of the war years,” writes Archie Satterfield in his book HOME FRONT, AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE WAR YEARS”, published in1981 by Playboy Press, “remember that period as the most exciting years of their lives. They remember collecting shoulder patches, watching war movies in which the allies always won, learning hundreds of new types of planes that constantly flew overhead, reading about new tanks, half-tracks, landing crafts, and seeing these, plus jeeps and artillery, going passed on trains…”
“We remember,” Archie says, “starting each school day by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the pledge of allegiance. We remember when our favorite candy bars disappeared from store shelves and how terrible that new gum, Orbit, tasted when Wrigley’s gum was no longer available. Bananas were hard to come by and ice cream was replaced by orange and vanilla sherbet. We ate spam sandwiches because other meat was rationed more strenuously, and we heard jokes about Spam and meatless Tuesdays…”
He goes on to say, “We earned extra spending money by selling scrap metal, rubber, and paper. Many parents of the period still wonder what happened to that cast-iron skillet or some other prized possession that their children stole to sell for a few cents. Movie theatres often had special matinees for scrap drives. A bundle of newspapers often got us in to watch cartoons, serials and either a western or a war film. Some theatres changed their names. Victory was a popular new name for them….”
Two of my girlfriends, Rosalia and Neva, both a few years older than I, had stronger, deeper impressions of the war – possibly because they were both growing up in Los Angeles while I was in Cincinnati. Neva used to say she was so impressed with the snoods her older sisters wore to work in the aircraft factory, (Lockheed) that she couldn’t wait to grow up and be able to wear a snood. The original intent of a snood was to prevent a woman’s hair from getting tangled up in machinery in the factories—nevertheless, the snood became a popular fashion accessory.
Rosalia was Jewish and was profoundly affected by letters sent to them by European relatives, in desperate need of food and ‘care packages’, writing frantically of the horrors of Hitler’s army and his campaign to destroy all the Jews in Europe.
Per Ms. Weatherford, the women most able to cope with canned goods shortages were those who lived on farms and in small towns, had gardens and preserved their fruits and vegetables. According to a Gallup Poll in 1943, 75% of the women on the home front canned food. “During peak war years,” state Heide and Gilman in “Home Front America” “there were an estimated 20 million victory gardens growing in the United States, producing over one third of the vegetables available in the country…”
So, given that the USA had been embroiled in a long Depression for over a decade prior to the onset of World War II—and now there was rationing and many much needed items being requested from citizens (rubber, newspapers, fats) to assist in the war effort…it all had to be a huge challenge for the average family. For the housewife/mother there were the greatest challenges – how to feed and clothe your family, stay within ration point limitations—and do your part. And how many of these families had husbands and sons off fighting in the war?
Thousands upon thousands, most of them very young men, hardly more than boys, were drafted into service. (The first military draft went into effect September 16, 1940, for all men between the ages of 21 and 36.)
On a personal level, my mother was eleven years old when the stock market crashed and the USA entered into the Great Depression. In 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed and we entered WW2, my mother was a young married woman of 24, with three young children.
In a book titled “Depression era Recipes” author Patricia Wagner writes, “You can always tell Depression survivors by what they save: first of all money—whenever they can. Then and not necessarily in this order, they save paper bags, bottles, and jars, string, rubber bands…twist ties, newspapers and magazines, any paper that’s blank on one side, coupons, bread bags (they wash them and hang them inside out on the clothesline to dry), seeds from vegetables to grow in the garden next year, leftover food, Cool Whip bowls, and prescription medication containers, all sorts of clothing and anything else they may have a purpose for later..”
I say Amen to all of the above—it could have been written about my mother. Add to it any kind of plastic bag, any kind of envelope (whether used or not), empty lipstick tubes and tinsel from the Christmas tree. The point being, anyone who grew up during the Depression saved everything, out of fear that hard times might come back. And now – now there was a great war to be fought and virtually everything was rationed. What was rationed? Nearly all food products. Cloth, wood, metal, rubber, and leather were rationed so that the armed forced would have enough for their needs. Rationed items included gasoline, tires, shoes, sugar, coffee, meat, some spices, paper, carbon paper,pencils, pens typewriter ribbons—as well as erasers, paperclips and envlelopes!
By the spring of 1941, writes Sylvia Longren, author of “Fashionable Food/Seven Decades of Food Fads”, “shortages due to the stoppage of foreign imports was beginning to make themselves felt. Sage, picked by Greek and Yugoslav goatherders, had disappeared from the market, as had thyme (from France), paprika (from Hungary and Spain) and saffron (also from Spain). Coconut was scarce and olive oil was selling for nine to eleven dollars a gallon”. (Before anyone writes to tell me what a gallon of olive oil sells for today, please remember this was 1941).
Mrs. Longren noted that tongue was a popular meat in the 40s and since it wasn’t rationed and it WAS available, its popularity increased. MFK Fisher made the observation that tongue is more acceptable socially than some of the other functional parts of a beast’s anatomy. Fats of all types were rationed, particularly olive oil and butter, but margarine and salad oils made from American grown seeds and grains like corn and sunflower seeds were cheaper and more widely available.
In 1943, Betty Crocker published a little booklet titled “Your Share”’ which contained 52 menus, 227 recipes and 360 hints-on food buying, meal planning and serving. Betty Crocker suggested using prepared milk powders, serving jam with cheese and crackers after dinner, mixing sour fruits with dried fruits, serving fruits and vegetables naturally rich in sugar, including tapioca in fruit pies to cut tartness, and using canned fruit syrup for beverages and jellied salads. Betty Crocker advised homemakers to vary herbs and vegetables for different taste effects, to use low point meats and to use half Wheaties, oatmeal or bread when making meat loaves (My sister remembered our mother making hamburgers for seven out of one pound of ground beef; the hamburgers were mostly stale bread or cracker crumbs and none of us had the slightest idea what an “all beef patty” tasted like until many years later…no doubt mom took Betty Crocker’s suggestions to heart!)
Betty Crocker also admonished homemakers to save every bit of fat, to cut it from the meat or poultry and then melt it over low heat or in the top of a double boiler You could clarify fats with a raw potato (4 slices of potato to one quart fat)—but if you wanted to be really patriotic, it was recommended that you turn all leftover fats to the butcher for the war effort.
Margot Murphy, in her book “War Time Meals” explained the need for saving oils and fats. For starters, about 15% of America’s oils were coming from the Pacific until the war began. As noted earlier, oils were needed to make glycerin, a basic ingredient of munitions. Prior to WW2, little of this country’s shortening/oils were produced from peanuts or soybean. The war changed all that.
One book which dealt with rationing issues was “Home Canning in Wartime” by Elsie Clarke, published in 1943 by World Publishing Company. Since sugar was rationed, housewives were advised to can with little or no sugar. If you didn’t have a pressure cooker, Ms. Clarke suggested doing what our grandmothers did – preserve food in brine or dehydrate. Sugar substitutes such as corn syrup or honey were also suggested.
Betty Crocker admonished homemakers to use ALL of the vegetable—no throwing away outer leaves, says Betty. Cauliflower leaves were to be cooked in boiling water and eaten. Outer leaves of lettuce could e used in wilted lettuce recipes, stalks of celery could be used for creamed or braised celery while celery leaves could be used in salads or stuffings, soups or stews.
The Browns, in their book “MOST FOR YOUR MONEY COOKBOOK” published in 1938 (tail end of the Depression but before the onset of WW2 and rationing) chastised Americans for our wasteful ways and lack of frugality in the kitchen.
“The insular British” wrote the Browns, “who never knew our abundance have always enjoyed frugal meat dishes such as ‘Bubble and Squeak’ and ‘Toad In The Hole’ while the epicurean French go for a dish of lungs, which we throw away. Kidneys, which we also neglect, are almost as much of a fetish with Englishmen as calves’ liver are with us and when Englishmen travel—those who can afford to—they have frozen kidneys shipped out to them even in Egypt….”
“We throw away chicken feet,” the Browns deplore, “while in Europe they’re made into the very best Strassburg aspic we ever tasted…and few of us believe what good Jewish cooks know, that chicken fat spread on bread is even tastier than butter.”
The Browns extol the virtues of stewed lambs’ tails, pig and lambs’ hearts, calves cheeks, jellied conger eels, pickled pigs’ feet, pigs’ ears and pigs’ tails—for which they provide a recipe for smothered pigs’ tails.
MFK Fisher, in “How to cook a wolf” writes, “People who feel that a lamb’s cheek is gross and vulgar when a chop is not, are like the medieval philosophers who argued about such hair-splitting problems as how many angels could dance on the point of a pin…”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Betty Wason in a 1943 cookbook “Cooking Without Cans”, with emphasis on cooking without using commercially canned foods and urged Americans to focus on “end bits” and unrationed items. Says Betty, “Some of the most delectable recipes in the world have been born of just such calamities.
European cooks through succeeding generations of war and the famines that invariably accompany them, have out of ingenuity, skill and daring imagination created such tempting delicacies as oxtail ragout, calf’s head vinaigrette, hogshead cheese, tripe, kidneys in sherry….”
Betty explains that the French dish ESCARGOTS was born of the 1876 Siege of Paris, when starving Parisians could find nothing else to eat but the snails climbing over garden walls and poulet Marengo was said to have been invented by Napoleon’s own chef after the Battle of Marengo when no butter could be found for grilling chicken, so the chicken was thrown into a skillet with oil, instead, along with onions, mushrooms and tomato.
Many of the recipes found in Ms. Wason’s book were collected during her travels in the years 1938-1941 in countries either on the brink of war or already in it, where rationing was far more severe than anything Americans could ever imagine. Betty relates being in occupied Greece where she was forced to remain during the first two months of German occupation and how they made their own salt out of rock crystals, substituted grape dextross for sugar, (when they could get grape dextrose) and substituted dried chick peas for coffee. She says there was virtually no meat but they had meals and some of them were surprisingly good.
One of the recipes that has survived World War II and manages to resurface every so often is something called War Cake; and when there wasn’t a war being fought, it was also known as eggless, milkless, butterless cake, or Economy cake. I suspected—and just found some verification from Wikipedia in Google—that war cake might very well date back to the Civil War.
In a spiral bound book titled “Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930s” author Rita Van Amber claims that eggless, milkless, butterless cake was of Moravian/Czech origin and was so popular in Wisconsin during the Depression, you would have thought it was invented there.
I came across a small red, white, and blue pamphlet published by the Royal Baking Powder Company in 1918. The title is “Best War Time Recipes” and it offers the following Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake recipe:
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cups water
1 cup seeded raisins
2 ounces citron, cut fine*
1/3 cup shortening
½ tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup corn or wheat flour**
1 cup rye or barley flour**
5 tsp baking powder
Boil sugar, water, fruit, shortening, salt and spices together in sauce pan for 3 minutes. When cool, add flour and baking powder which have been sifted together. Mix well. Bake I loaf pan in modern oven*** about 45 minutes.
Sandy’s cooknote: * if you don’t like citron, which I think must be an acquired taste, I would substitute 2 ounces of a candied fruit that you DO like—or add another 2 ounces of raisins. Golden raisins might be a nice substitute. Or maybe dried cranberries.
**I don’t know if you can even BUY corn, rye or barley flour anymore. Suggest using half whole wheat flour and half regular flour.
***A moderate oven would be about 350 degrees.
M.F.K. Fisher also offered a recipe for War Cake in “How to Cook a Wolf” and attributed the recipe to World War I. She remembered liking it so much…and couldn’t remember it ever being called anything more appetizing than WAR CAKE.
To make M.F.K. Fisher’s War Cake you will need:
½ cup shortening (bacon grease can be used because the spices would hide its taste—per MFK)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp other spices…cloves, mace, ginger, etc.
1 cup sugar, brown or white
2 cups flour, white or whole wheat
¼ tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
Sift the flour, soda and baking powder. Put all the other ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Cool thoroughly. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix well. Bake 45 minutes or until done in a greased loaf pan in a 325-350 degree oven.
War Cake, notes Fisher, can be made in muffin tins and will bake more quickly but in a loaf stays fresh longer.
Sandy’s Cooknote: With regard to using bacon grease in the cake recipe – while I haven’t tried it in a cake recipe, my mother DID make oatmeal raisin cookies with bacon grease, probably during WW2. We ate them but there were five children at the time and we’d eat almost anything put in front of us..unless it was Hasenpfeffer.
Marjorie Mills, author of “COOKING ON A RATION”, published in 1943, offered a recipe for War Cake that offered honey as an ingredient, instead of the scarce and the much needed sugar required for the war effort. To make Marjorie’s WAR cake you will need:
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup honey
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 TBSP vanilla
Cream shortening, add honey, 1/3 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, adding ¼ of the dry mixture, then beat. Add well beaten eggs to mixture, then rest of dry ingredients and vanilla. Bake 1 hr in an 8×8” pan* at 325 degrees. Spread with Honey Nut topping.
(Sandy’s cooknote: *Marjorie doesn’t say so, but I would grease and flour the cake pan beforehand).
To make Honey Nut Topping you will need:
4 TBSP butter or margarine
4 TBSP sugar
4 TBSP sifted flour
4 TBSP honey
½ cup chopped nuts
Cream butter or margarine; add sugar, mixing well. Add flour and honey and beat until well mixed. Add chopped nuts. Spread on cake and put under broiler until topping bubbles. Note that this recipe is made without sugar, although a small amount of sugar is in the Honey Nut Topping.
There are any number of recipes for war Cake, often with slight variations. Somewhere in my travels I’ve also acquired similar recipes called Hard Times Fruit Cake and Canadian War Cake. It has also been referred to as Poor Man’s Cake.
To make Canadian War Cake you will need:
1 package seeded raisins*
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup shortening
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Boil for 3 minutes, then set aside to cool. Add 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in hot water and about 4 level cups of flour. Nuts and citron may be added.
*How many raisins were in a package of raisins in 1940? I’m guessing either one cup or two. Most of the recipes I have found call for one cup of raisins.
I saved a clipping from the L.A. Times “On The War Cake” by Marion Cunningham, one of my favorite cookbook authors, so I’d like to share with you Marion’s version of War Cake:
To make Marion’s War Cake you will need:
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup water
1 cup raisins
¼ cup shortening
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup chopped walnuts
Place brown sugar, water, raisins, shortening, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook gently 5 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool until comfortably warm to touch.
Grease and flour 2 (8×4”) loaf pans. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Add to the cooled sugar mixture, beating until no drifts of flour as visible and batter is smooth. Stir in walnuts. Spread evenly in prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees until wood pick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then turn out on racks to cool completely. Slice very thin when serving. Makes 2 cakes serving 16.
You are no doubt tired of reading about War aka Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake but bear with me for one more recipe. I think this is the ultimate War cake recipe, from WAR TIME MEALS by Margot Murphy. The author adds in a footnote that this and several other recipes in her cookbook were “honorable veterans” of the First World War and were advocated by the United States Food Administration in its leaflets on economy and conservation. To make Ms. Murphy’s WAR cake you will need
1 cup molasses
1 cup corn syrup
1 ½ cups water
1 package raisins
2 tbsp fat
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
3 cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
Boil together for 5 minutes the first 9 ingredients. Cool and add the sifted dry ingredients. Bake in two loaf pans for 45 minutes in a moderate* oven. This cake should be kept several days before using. If desired, 1 cup of oatmeal may be used in place of 7/8 flour.
*Moderate would be 350 degrees.
Note that this recipe does not use any sugar, just molasses and corn syrup which were available, and it uses very little fat.
In the curious synchronicity I encounter from time to time, the other day I found a reference in Google about Jean Anderson’s recipe for War Cake, in her cookbook “Quick Loaves” which I had just purchased. Sure enough, Jean offers a recipe called Spicy Brown Sugar Raisin Cake, which is a takeoff from War Cake. Jean writes that “according to my good friend…Joanne Lamb Hayes, women were baking an eggless cake much like this one during the Civil War. She found an handwritten recipe for this “War Cake” in an early 1900s booklet”. Because it was so popular during WW2, Joanne included the recipe in HER book “Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen”—which I reviewed for you last December in my blog. The recipes are fairly similar to the other war cake recipes I have included in this post – but the most interesting discovery, I thought, was the ingredient of raisins – in both Quick Loaves and Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen –is one pound. One pound is 16 ounces. Sixteen ounces is two cups. So perhaps that is the answer to my question – how many raisins were in a package in WW2. (If you know something different, feel free to write to me!)
And oh, my! That’s it for Hard times (and at times it was hard getting it typed).
Happy Cooking and Happy Cookbook Collecting!
–Sandra Lee Smith