Good for Your Health, Your Pocketbook and Your Morale*

25 Jul

1943 Victory Garden Poster

1943 Office of War Information poster via Northwestern University Library

It’s been almost too hot to cook around here. Certainly, there are enough fresh summer fruits and veggies to keep me happy and full right now; our garden’s been producing a bumper crop. So, instead of a recipe, let’s begin to ponder gardens during the How to Cook a Wolf/World War II era. This will be the first in a long series because gardening is close to my heart. I imagine everyone has heard of the Victory Garden? On January 22, 1942, just the month after the US entered the war, a gardening advisory committee was appointed to direct victory garden efforts. It was nearly time to plant seeds for spring transplanting.

Home vegetable gardens, properly supervised, are recommended by the Office of Civilian Defense, Washington, D.C., but waste of seed is discouraged, it is pointed out.

The victory garden concept was familiar to many–having been pushed during World War I, first under the name “war gardens” and, at that war’s end, “victory gardens.”

World War I War Garden poster

War Garden poster from Charles Lathrop Pack's The War Garden Victorious, 1919 via University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

A backyard or community garden during WWII would have been a form of insurance. The American public heard stories of starvation in war ravaged Europe and Asia. Fresh food was being funneled toward military uses. And many familiar foods were suddenly rationed. Contrary to my own beliefs about the period, many Americans (particularly those living in urban areas) were not familiar with gardening. Already, processed foods and produce waiting at the market were more popular than home grown. There had to be large scale education campaign regarding what to plant, how to do it, when, and where (more on that later).

Grow Your Own: Be Sure!

1945 poster via UNT Digital Library

Unlike today’s revival of Victory Gardens, they weren’t about sustainability, organic gardening, or eating locally other than by possible default. They were about immediate survival. In fact, other than fallout from leaded gasoline and deteriorating lead paint, if your current backyard garden is contaminated with lead or arsenic, there’s a good chance that the contamination was caused by someone gardening there in the past using chemicals such as the then highly-recommended lead arsenate (but that’s another post).

*Title from a Victory Garden advertisement.


Incredibly Edible

6 Jul

Mary Frances relied heavily on egg recipes in How to Cook a Wolf. Were eggs readily available to the American consumer during World War II? Or did she put all her eggs in one basket?

Image from September 6, 1943 LIFE Magazine via Google Books.

First off, eggs were not rationed in the US during WWII. California, like other locales, did periodically experienced a fluctuation in supply due to the fact that the peak laying season is February-May. Eggs were held in cold storage in an attempt to equalize supply for the rest of the year but, again, shortages of labor, transport, storage space, and chicken feed all came into play. When available, eggs were a good source of protein and could stand in for rationed meat (more on that later). 

Poster: Get the good-- from eggs

1942 US Bureau of Economics poster via Northwestern University Library.

In 1943, 25-30 percent of the country’s egg production was anticipated to be taken for military and Lend-Lease use–much of that in the form of dehydrated eggs. When fresh eggs were not available, the dehydrated form could usually be had for home use though the dried stuff wasn’t that popular. This was in addition to the preservation method popular during World War I in which eggs were put in barrels with “water glass” (aka sodium silicate) which only works if you have a cool place for storage and the end product of which Mary Frances seemed to think was unappealing. 

Advertising dehydrated eggs in the March 8, 1943 issue of LIFE Magazine via Google Books.

Price supports for eggs (the government was required to buy up eggs to ensure prices stayed at 90% of parity when there was a surplus) were deemed necessary so that any fluctuations in consumer demand and prices wouldn’t cause farmers to kill off their laying flocks which would lead to egg shortages in future. Such is the challenge of farming and natural, fresh foods and I do understand why people tend to gravitate toward making processed foods (more things to eat later) even if the processed stuff isn’t so great for the body. In the spring of 1944 there were far too many eggs in circulation leading to a Great Egg Scandal. The government had to purchase 5,000,000 cases spending $100,000,000-$150,000,000 (the total expended included eggs for Lend-Lease as well as the costs of drying, shipping, and storing). That many of these eggs spoiled and that the eggs were not sold at a lower price to consumers, was thought particularly horrible. The glut also led to a sudden uptick in recipes featuring eggs in newspapers and magazines and desperate pleas from the government for housewives to buy an extra dozen and store them in their own refrigerators. 

7 exciting ways to use eggs

March 28, 1944 ad appearing in the Berkeley Daily Gazette via Google Books.

The Chair of the National Poultry Defense Committee urged consumers to “take full advantage of the present egg surplus and plan more menus calling for the greater use of eggs, thus encouraging farmers to maintain high production.” And, although the White House Easter Egg Roll had been on hiatus since the war started, the War Food Administration hoped that the Roll would happen in 1944 to use up some of the excess eggs. The White House still wouldn’t agree to waste food but that didn’t keep Thomas E. Dewey, the 1944 Republican candidate for president, from pointing to the surplus as evidence of inefficiencies and corruption in the Roosevelt administration. 

That’s a rambling way of saying yes, eggs were available in the US during World War II.

Basic Foo Yeung

4 Jul

Now that we’ve reached the high temperatures of summer, it’s time to try a recipe that doesn’t heat up the kitchen much. This basic formula can be mixed up with endless variations. It would have been a great way to use up vegetables from one’s Victory Garden (but that’s another post) or make a few eggs stretch into a meal for several people. Find it on page 76 of the 1942 edition of How to Cook a Wolf.

Foo Yeung Ingredients

Foo Yeung

4 eggs, lightly beaten

3 Tablespoons good fat (I used olive oil)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

Lightly brown onion in the oil. Lightly stir remainder of vegetables into eggs and pour over onions. Let brown and firm in the pan, stirring middle portion if necessary. Cut into wedges and serve.

Letting the Foo Yeung brownYou could add diced pork, bamboo shoots, shrimp, rice, diced chicken, almonds, or whatever you’ve got. I added some five spice powder to mine and served it with brown rice. I’ve made many similar dishes over the years and this one is good enough to add to the rotation on a hot summer day.

Foo Yeung with Rice

Liquor is a Luxury

23 Jun

Here’s a quick overview of the availability, from 1942 on, of the two fortified wines–sherry and, particularly, vermouth–used in my last post. Mary Frances was prescient in recommending their use in cocktails because of the possibility of their ongoing domestic production while the harder, distilled liquors would be increasingly difficult to come by.

Luxuries weren’t rationed by the national government but gasoline rationing cut down on the deliveries of nonessential commodities like beer, liquor, and soft drinks. There was a bottle shortage. At the same time, foreign imports were drying up due to the war. And those who’d been frustrated by the repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) less that a decade before took the opportunity presented by World War II to enact tighter local controls on availability of alcohol. Curfews were imposed on businesses selling liquor, and some state-run liquor stores instituted rationing

Distilleries were producing alcohol for the war effort rather than beverages so new stocks of items like whiskey, gin, and the like were not forthcoming. Their output was used in the manufacture of rubber, munitions, anesthetics, and other necessities. By 1944 alcohol production was 400% of any previous year but it wasn’t appearing in bars. One enterprising distillery, Schenley, seemed unwilling to get out of the beverage business during the war even though they were distilling alcohol for the government. In 1942 Schenley diversified its holdings and purchased several California wine company, among them the Roma Wine Company–then the largest winery in the country (but that’s another post). Another of Schenley’s divisions, Dubonnet, makers of vermouth transferred all their operations to the Roma winery in Lodi, California. Vermouth was safe.

1943 Dubonnet Ad

Dubonnet ad from October 25, 1943 LIFE Magazine. Image via Google Books.

But it was still getting harder to have a legal drink when you were out on the town. Bootlegging (still illegal), speakeasies (illegal), and the practice of adulterating liquor stocks (also illegal) to eke out the contents were on the rise. Raids by authorities were commonplace. And due to the short supply of alcohol, it was estimated that by 1944 in California, for instance, 1/4 of the liquor license holders would go out of business.

Fortunately, some liquors were still being produced in the US. It was still possible to distill brandy and rum because the necessary equipment couldn’t easily be converted to war use. And there was always sherry or vermouth.

To the Wolf

20 Jun

It’s still the weekend. Why not have an adult beverage?

Fisher thought it was an excellent idea to have drink or two assuming you’re a “moderate drinker-for pleasure, and not a thirsty unhappy soul who must empty every bottle willy-nilly to drown some worm in the brain” (pg. 225). She offered suggestions on how to save money (keep the wolf at bay): don’t go out to expensive bars, skip the dull cocktail parties, and drink what you like at home with select companions instead.

She includes a few mixed drink recipes. The following is from page 226 of the 1942 How to Cook a Wolf. The recipe makes 4 drinks and is similar to a bamboo cocktail but I couldn’t find another recipe just like it. I don’t know if this is a Mary Frances creation or a popular drink in the 1940s.

Half and Half Cocktail

1/2 cup dry vermouth

1/2 cup dry sherry

1/2 lemon


dash of angostura bitters, if desired (I didn’t so desire)

Pour vermouth and sherry over ice in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon juice and bitters (if using). Stir and strain into martini glasses. Top each drink with a twist of lemon peel.

Half and Half Cocktail

This won’t be my new favorite drink but it’s not bad. If you try it, let me know what you think.

Spicing It Up

17 Jun

The last two How to Cook a Wolf recipes I’ve tried have relied heavily on spices for flavoring or masking other flavors (bacon grease anyone?). So, what about spice availability at the time of the book’s publication?

1943 McCormick Ad

This ad for McCormick spice appeared in the Nov. 29, 1943 Pittsburgh Press. Image from Google Books.

With the majority of the spice islands under Japanese control by early 1942 and major interruptions in shipping due to enemy activity or ships allocated to other uses than carrying spices, it was harder to get these important flavorings to America. To stretch out supplies, on May 8, 1942 the War Production Board put restrictions on wholesale delivery of seven spices. They weren’t rationed per se but it was estimated that the restrictions would cut retail sales by 50%.

Spice Ad, 1919

A 1919 ad shows the long-time importance of products from the Dutch East Indies to US interests. From Simmons Spice Mill, July 1919 via Google Books.

The restricted spices were white pepper, allspice (often known as pimento), cinnamon (usually cassia, instead), cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and mace. Black pepper wasn’t restricted because there was supposedly a two-year supply already in the US but its delivery was “rolled-back” to 1941 rates.

I found great spice statistics from a publication compiled by the US Census Bureau called Foreign Commerce and Navigation of the United States for the Calendar Year 1940. All of the numbers detailed below are from that publication.

US Department of Commerce Foreign Commerce and Navigation of the United States, 1940

From Foreign Commerce and Navigation of the United States, 1940 via Google Books

In the 1940 calendar year–the last full year before the US joined in combat–the US imported a total of 1,471,316 lbs of unground cinnamon. Most of that came from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but other major producers were British India, British Malaya (now part of Malaysia), the Netherlands Indies (aka the Dutch East Indies and now Indonesia), and Madagascar. The US was actually importing more cassia than cinnamon and the majority of unground cassia imports (totaling 12,021,435 lbs) came from China and the Netherlands Indies. Other major producers were French Indochina and Hong Kong.

5,431,333 pounds of unground cloves were imported into the US in 1940. Most of that came from British East Africa (Zanzibar, mainly) with the Netherlands Indies and Madagascar making up the majority of the remainder.

Of unground nutmeg there were 6,402,683 lbs imported into the US–most from the British West Indies (including Trinidad and Tobago) and the Netherlands Indies. Another big supplier was British India.

1,215,956 pounds of unground mace arrived in the United States with 1,174,374 lbs of that from the Netherlands Indies and the remainder coming from the British West Indies including Trinidad and Tobago.

White pepper imports totalled 4,970,931 lbs with well over 4 million of those pounds from (you guessed it!) the Netherlands Indies. The negligible remainder was from British Malaya, the UK, and Ecuador. By comparison, 15,836,959 pounds of black pepper was imported during the same period. The vast majority of that also came from the Netherland Indies.

2,889,541 pounds of unground ginger root (not candied or preserved) came into the US as well. China and Jamaica were the biggest producers but Cuba, British India, Hong Kong, Japan, Haiti, and British West Africa also played their part.

2,606,501 pounds of allspice (aka pimento) arrived in the US in 1940. It came from Jamaica, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Yep, most of those countries were occupied or unable to ship spices anymore. If they could ship, there were torpedoes.

I’m all for a locavore diet for most things but I prefer to have my chocolate (but that’s another post) and my spices if at all possible. Those don’t grow around here. And, in 1942 and 1943, certainly, an herb garden for flavoring must have grown in importance with fears that the war would limit deliveries of spices for an unknown period. Who wants to eat bland food?

Herb Garden

Image from the May 15, 1942 Spartanburg Herald via Google Books.

As it turns out, spices were usually available for the home kitchen–probably because a lot of use can be had from a relatively small volume–but for industry it was another story. Delivery quotas changed frequently.  And, the chemists got busy formulating extracts and imitation flavors to keep American palates happy (more on that later).

Rice is Nice

14 Jun

After my failure at getting an edible dessert with my last recipe trial, I still wanted something sweet. I’m afraid all the ingredients in the war cake were a loss because we could not bring ourselves to eat it after the initial nibble. I’m sure that in a real ration situation we would’ve choked it down. Glad we don’t have to.

Can I screw up rice pudding? We’ll see. The recipe for same is on page 203 of the 1942 edition (as always) of How to Cook A Wolf.

Rice Pudding Ingredients

The ingredients...there's too much milk in this picture.

Rice and Spice

2 eggs, separated

2 cups milk

3/4 cup raisins

1 1/4 cups cooked rice

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg, ginger, & salt

1 Tablespoon powdered sugar

Add 2 tablespoons of the milk to the egg yolks and beat until smooth. Put the remainder of the milk and the raisins in a double boiler. Heat over simmering water for 15 minutes until the raisins are soft.

In the double boiler

In the double boiler

Add the rice and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in egg yolks, brown sugar, salt, and spices. Cook for 2-3 more minutes, stirring frequently. Pour mixture into oven-safe serving dish.

Beat egg whites with the powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.

Stiff Peaks

Mt. Egg White

Spread over pudding. Bake on the lowest shelf of a 425 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until meringue is lightly browned. Serve cold.

Browned Meringue

I’m pretty sure I just made a sweet rice soup with weird meringue islands in it unless miracle thickening powers can be attributed to the refrigerator. But, it’s chilling now and I’ll update this after the taste test in the morning.


It did thicken up. Tastes pretty good…maybe a bit too sweet. Although it makes the dessert more attractive for company (the brown sugar and spices make it a bit “greige”), I don’t think the meringue is necessary. Also, I should have waited to add the meringue until the pudding had cooled.

Chew the Fat

10 Jun

After my disgusting little experiment in baking with bacon grease, I thought I’d do a little background research on fat availability during the time period. Butter was rationed starting on March 29, 1943 as was shortening and other fats (but that’s another post). So, baking and the usual food habits had to be modified. Some turned to bacon fat, if they could get it, for their cooking needs.

Americans were also asked to save any fat that they could no longer use for cooking and turn it in to help with the war effort. For 1943, the collection goal was 200 million pounds of waste fat. By 1944, to increase participation, each pound of fat turned in was worth 2 meat ration points–a very popular transaction, indeed. People could take their container of fat to their market or butcher for redemption. The collected fats were used for soap and glycerine manufacture. Glycerine, of course, could  be made into dynamite and gunpowder (nitroglycerine). Pre-war, sufficient US supply of glycerin had come from soap manufacture but the increased need coupled with the decreased supply of palm/vegetable oil from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the Philippines–suppliers blocked by the war in the Pacific–caused the government to issue the call for saving fat.

Save Every Drop of Oil or Fat Poster

1942 US Bureau of Home Economics Poster via Northwestern University Library

According to one of the “Munitions for Kitchens” informational cartoons about the issue, once pound of fat could be used to make “enough glycerine to send a shell screaming toward an invasion objective,”  “enough dynamite to blow up a bridge,” “three cellophane bags,” or “10 rounds from a 50-calibre airplane cannon.”

Save Waste Fats Poster

Henry Koerner 1943 Office of War Information Poster via the National Archives (NARA)

I can imagine complying with this salvage drive–especially if I had a refrigerator at the time. Keeping a pound of fat in the house without refrigeration and without air conditioning in the summer would make it go rancid way too fast. And, rancid fat wasn’t wanted.

Today, the interest in biodiesel has some people collecting waste fat from fast food eateries, for example. And I learned (okay, my naiveté is showing again…where have I been?) that Sacramento has its very own plant, Sacramento Rendering Company, in business since 1913 (formerly Sacramento Reduction and Tallow Works). I bet they were involved with waste fat pick-up during World War II. Will have to find out about that. Their business still provides material for manufacturing of soap, paints, cosmetics, lubricants, candles, animal feed, and biofuel. Truly, I’ve never thought much about rendering or grease collection before this post (who does?) but it’s definitely a great recycling opportunity and a “green” business, in today’s parlance. Plus keeping the grease out of the sewer system can only be a good thing.

War Cake

7 Jun

Time for something sweet. From page 194 of the 1942 edition of How to Cook a Wolf, I give you the aptly titled War Cake.

War Cake

1/2 cup shortening or bacon grease
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon other spices…cloves, mace, ginger…
1 cup chopped raisins or other dried fruit…prunes, figs… (I was lazy and just used raisins and didn’t even chop ’em)
1 cup sugar, brown or white (I used brown)
1 cup water
2 cups flour, white or whole wheat (I used 1 cup of white and 1 cup of white whole wheat because all this white flour stuff is NOT GOOD)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder

Sift dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, & baking powder). Put remaining ingredients in sauce pan and bring to a boil.

Melting the bacon fat

Melting the bacon fat

Cook 5 minutes then let cool completely.

Boiling the web ingredients

Boil the "wet" ingredients

Mix in dry ingredients. Bake for 45 minutes at 325 degrees in a greased loaf pan.

Feeling daring, I followed the directions on page 22 for collecting bacon drippings: “pour…into a metal container and then pour water over it. The burned food particles will sink into the water, and the fat will rise as it cools and be clean and easy to lift into another cup or bowl.” Certainly, this is nothing new; I just haven’t done it before. The congealed fat was mostly a pure white color with a decided eau de bacon about it.  It took an entire package of bacon (don’t worry, we ate it over a period of several meals) to get a scant half cup and I probably should have strained it a little better as directed in this article. But, yes, I used bacon grease in this recipe and (so far) have lived to tell the tale though I had absolutely no desire to lick the bowl.

Baked War Cake

All Done

I’ll update when I try it. It’s too hot right now and I’m not hungry anyway.

Update: Well, it’s edible. Barely. Can’t say it tastes that great. There’s an underlying bacon-y flavor that isn’t altogether pleasant. If anyone else tries this, let me know what you think.

I Like Potahto

4 Jun

“It is easy to think of potatoes, and fortunately for men who have not much money it is easy to think of them with a certain safety. Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear, in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace.”

How to Cook a Wolf, 1942, pg. 152.

From LIFE Magazine, March 9, 1942, page 51 via Google Books

Here’s another food facts post brought on by my last recipe attempt which featured the potato. According to Michael Pollan in his excellent The Botany of Desire, the potato was responsible for eliminating scurvy in Europe and, along with milk, will provide all the nutrition a person needs. Mary Frances, too, understood the importance of potatoes and dedicated an entire chapter (“How to Pray for Peace”)  to them and other starches.

War Garden Potato Cartoon, 1918

1918 War Garden Cartoon from The National War Garden Commission's "The War Garden Guyed," page 15 via Google Books

Those who had endured the Great War (which Mary Frances did) would have remembered the desperate potato shortage in Europe and the threatened shortage in the United States caused by bad weather, shipping difficulties, the need to feed soldiers, fear, and food-hoarding. The importance of the potato, then, in World War II (if only to reduce the fear of future starvation), must have been immense.

Potatoes store well, are relatively easy to grow and cook, and were not rationed in the United States during WWII. The US government identified the spud as an essential commodity and potato production here at home was increased. The large-scale processing of dehydrated potatoes also took off during the war with 33 million pounds being supplied to the military by one company alone during the years 1942-1945.  Interestingly, the United States was also receiving potatoes from other countries in Reverse Lend-Lease foodstuffs. In the 1942-1943 fiscal year American soldiers received 9,150,000 lbs. of potatoes from New Zealand, 29,762,00 lbs. from Australia, and more (exact numbers not found) from the UK.

Dehydrated, Natural, and Sliced Potatoes, 1943

Photograph by Ann Rosener from the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress), 1943.

With the importance of the potato, I am starting to understand why the draconian fertilizing and pesticide regimes were developed and thought necessary (more on that later). But, if I’m eating a potato today, I’m going organic.

Further Reading on Potatoes:

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. New York: Random House, 2001. See particularly Chapter 4: “Desire: Control/Plant: The Potato.”

Salaman, Redcliff N. & J.G. Hawkes. The History and Social Influence of the Potato. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.