Archive for Food Fighting

Victory in the Garden

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The temperatures have hit frost twice and freezing once now. I took some time a couple of weeks ago to tuck the Victory Garden in for the winter. After pulling out the last of the kale plants and tomatoes, I emptied and carried in the rain barrel and spread the compost bin over the whole thing. The trees cooperated and kindly dropped their leaves on top. Nice and snug.

It wasn’t until very recently when I stumbled upon a March, 1943 Woman’s Day magazine at a used book sale that I realized the correct measurements of a true Victory Garden. The interview with an Office of Information US Department of Agriculture spelled it out clear — 30 x 50 feet for a small garden, done in two plantings.

Pole Snap Beans, Pole Lima Beans, Tomatoes, Chard Lettuce, Beets, Carrots, Turnips, Cabbage, Onions, Radishes, and Spinach in the spring. After harvesting beans, plant three rows of turnips. In late July when lettuce is gone, plant 1/2 row of carrots. After harvesting beets, carrots and turnips, plant two rows of Collards. After harvesting cabbage and onions, plant three rows of beets. When radishes and spinach are gone, plant two rows of beans. Ideally rows should run north to south.

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Did you catch that — ‘small garden’?  My garden measured 30 x 10 feet. And that was a double in size from before the War In My Kitchen project began. I didn’t come nearly as close to the variety of plantings the government requested of me (Peas, Beans, Tomatoes, Kale, Lettuce, Beets, Pumpkins, Potatoes, Cucumbers, Dill). There’s always next year…which is what us gardeners start to think about on the first snowy days in January.

Americans did their part to follow the recommendations of the government. 20 Million Victory Gardens were planted during the war years, accounting for 30%-40% of the demand for vegetables, nearly 10 million tons all planted and harvested by hand, prepped by women in their war kitchens.

From my garden to the canning shelf in my basement, I have preserved Dill Pickles, Pickle Relish, Salsa, V-8 Juice, Spaghetti Sauce, Diced Tomatoes, Apple Pie filling, Applesauce and even a little horseradish (a little goes a long way!).

IMG_20151115_095059967History shows that we were more than willing to turn the farming back over to the farmers at the end of the war. Food shortages remained in 1946 because people stopped gardening and turned to grocery stores. Agriculture was adjusting planting and harvesting techniques learned during the war years and transportation from farm to store were lagging. Boom time was coming and freedom from want was ending, but we had to readjust our planning and producing towards for our own first. Times were changing.

 

Of Course, I Can!

Of Course I Can

At the height of summer, produce from the 20 million Victory Gardens planted yielded 9-10 million tons of harvest. Everything needed to be canned and stored. The average homemaker covering a factory position put in 12 hours, six days a week and still had hours of canning when she got home.

Canning, preserving, processing, “putting up”, was becoming a lost art compared to what was done in the first World War, on farms, and through the 1930’s. The 1940’s home maker was often referring back to instructions and methods used by her grandmother. Canning almost skipped a generation back then; it surely has skipped several generations in present day. Convenience wins out. And, I think some of us are scared off by the warnings about what happens when it’s done wrong.

I turned to my Aunt Carol to teach me the right (safe) way of water bath canning. My mom was there too picking up the routine. The biggest lesson learned was about streamlining the process. An unorganized operation will not work.

Starting out with cucumbers and dill, we went about making dill pickles. Carol’s recipe is from Oscar, her dear friend. We’ve held on tight to Grandma Crook’s Liberty Pickle and Sunshine Pickle recipes, but for our favorite — it’s Oscar’s recipe.

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We lined up a bushel of pickling cucumbers through an Amish neighbor. One bushel weighs 48 pounds and is equal to 16-24 quarts of pickles in jars.

My mom and Carol spent hours scrubbing the cucumbers clean. The jars were sterilized in the dishwasher, the lids and bands were placed in boiling water on the stove, and our canning kettle with water boiling, all waiting.

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On a table, we lined up tubs: one for sugar, one for canning salt, one for alum. We had vinegar, garlic cloves ready, onion chunks, and dill waiting.

Step one: Place two sprigs of dill, one chunk of onion and two cloves of garlic in each jar.

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Step two: Pack the jars as full as possible with the cucumbers.

IMG_20150807_132932020 Step three: Add to each jar 1 T canning salt, 1 T sugar, 1/2 tsp. alum, and 1/2 C white vinegar.

Step four: Fill the remaining jar space up to 1/4″ from the rim with water.

Step five: With a damp cloth, trace the rim of each jar and then place a lid on each. Put a band on each, but do not tighten the bands.

Step six: Place jars in the canning kettle, with about 1″ water over the tops of the jars. Let the jars boil in the kettle until the water in the jars start to bubble. About 20-25 minutes.

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Step seven: Take the jars out of the kettle and tighten the band.

As the jars cool, you’ll hear that wonderful “pop” that tells you things are going well. If the jars don’t make that pop, they aren’t sealed and then you have to eat up! You won’t be able to store unsealed pickles for more than two weeks. Ideally, the first jar can be opened after two months of storage, but pace yourself – what you put up in August has to make it until next August!

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I added a couple of jars of horseradish and beets to this picture. We’ll see how that experiment ends the next time I bake a ham. Stay tuned on that!

Beautiful shelves of canned fruits and vegetables were something to be proud of in WWII… and still are!

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Ain’t That the Pits?

Summer is in full swing and with it comes excess of everything we’ll wish we had in the winter — fresh strawberries, raspberries, apricots, and cherries for now.

This morning’s task was pitting the cherries and I was excited to use a tool found at a recent estate sale: the Cherry Pitter or Cherry Stoner. It will answer to either name. Even with a fun new (old) tool, the project did still turn out to be a chore. And a messy one at that (Note to self: Post about aprons!)

I spent the time pitting the cherries thinking about how the tool must have changed over the years and did a little research.

So, here is my tool (note the cherry-stained fingers): IMG_20150719_153327814[1]IMG_20150719_153406378_HDR[1]

 

Another version I did not buy at an estate sale (*sigh*): Cherry PittererAnd one more that I would love to have to close out my cherry pitter collection (*sigh*): Cherry Pitter

I’m thinking about the people and brains over the years working on the problem of pits in cherries (or olives). It’s not one of our most pressing dilemmas; probably never was, but I bet more than once in many kitchens over the years it was a problem that some people took to solving. I think that’s pretty notable.

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What Husky Men Doing Active Work Like Best

February. Three months into the WWII Food Rationing Project. It has certainly been a learning experience. One of the biggest learning curves has been lunch boxes.

Prior to the project, I would set out ten Bento-style lunch boxes on Sunday morning and pre-pack the entire week’s worth of lunches for my husband and me. I made BBQ Chicken Roll-Ups, Macaroni or Potato Salads, Mason-Jar Cheesecake, etc.

With the project, I am following along with the Health for Victory Meal Planning Guide as best I can. The pamphlet is very good at adding lunch box sandwich variety. I have enjoyed adding the Egg Celery Sandwich Filling to my lunch box.

The biggest problem is that homemade bread doesn’t last a whole week. It is difficult to pre-pack the lunches without crunching into a toast sandwich by Wednesday. I continue to experiment with new ideas.

Argosy Magazine, July 1944

Argosy Magazine, July 1944

I got a kick out of February 1944’s article from the Health for Victory Meal Planning Guide, “Things to Remember About Packing a Lunch Box”.  Here is their advice:

What is a good lunch? One place leftover meat usually goes over big is in lunch box sandwiches. But every day, whether or not meat is available, a lunch box should: 1. Nourish – that is it should contain milk or a milk-food; bread; a protein food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese or perhaps baked beans; and fruit or vegetables. 2. It should taste good – a hot food, a sweet, and a tidbit tucked in as a surprise will help appetite appeal. 3. It should carry well – if it doesn’t it may not get eaten!

The work they do makes a big difference. All workers need the same foods but the active worker needs more energy foods – bread particularly – and more fruits and vegetables to help turn that bread into energy. Three substantial sandwiches are none too many for a husky man doing active work – and he’d probably like a piece of pie, too, along with the milk, fruit, and vegetables. One sandwich, plus the other recommended foods, is probably enough for the not-so-active worker…two may be needed by someone who’s moderately active. The night shift worker is apt to have a finicky appetite, so go strong on variety and pack lunches attractively.

Do’s and don’ts to guide you! Do use mixed fillings of several ingredients, moistened with dressing, rather than always slices of lunch meats. Include something crisp in the filling – celery, pickles, chopped pepper, shredded lettuce, relish, sliced cucumber, for instance.

Do keep sandwiches moist. Heavy waxed paper is the secret.

Do include their favorites as often as possible. Men vote for ham or peanut butter sandwiches, cake rather than cookies. Apples and bananas are their favorite fruits.

Do include a hot food – soup, cocoa or other hot drink, meat stew or baked beans – they’re always welcome.

Don’t skimp on the butter or fortified margarine – spread it clear to the edges of the bread. They think they don’t like margarine? Try blending two teaspoons of prepared mustard to each quarter pound of margarine. It adds interest!

Don’t get in a rut. Vary the sandwich fillings, the drinks. Fill a jar with a pudding one day, a salad the next. There’s nothing more dreary than “sameness” day after day.

——–

So there you have it. The right way to pack a lunch box for your “husky man doing active work” and even your “night shift worker apt to have a finicky appetite”.

My errors: I’ve never packed a drink for my husband. I’ve never packed milk or a milk-food for my husband (he saw cheese underneath a microscope in the eighth grade and has never touched it since). I can’t imagine my husband eating three sandwiches for lunch in addition to all the other requirements. Maybe he’s not “husky” enough, but I do think he does active work.

Saran Wrap didn’t quite hit the market during WWII. The story is interesting in reference to ‘scary things we wrapped our food in’. The a lab technician at Dow Chemical Company invented Polyvinylidene Chloride (PVdC) by mistake while developing a dry-cleaning product in 1933. The product was useful to protect US fighter planes and automobile upholstery from the elements. Once Dow eliminated its green hue and offensive odor in 1942, they fused layers into woven mesh to make ventilating insoles for canvas jungle combat boots. As an honor to his wife and daughter, the inventor (John Reilly) named the product Saran (a combination of Sarah and Ann). In 1949, the product became very popular as a food preservation wrap. It wasn’t until recent years and much debate about the safety of PVdC that Saran Wrap is now made from ordinary polyethylene.

Given the controversy of environmental and health hazards contained in plastics, I’m still a fan of storing/wrapping foods in glass, butcher paper and wax paper. To me, it sounds better. One of the lessons I’m learning in this project is that 9 out of 10 times, convenience isn’t always a good thing. Plastics of any kind are a convenience and I think we will be paying a huge price for their use in the future.

For now, I’ll go back to lunch box packing. I’m glad to now know what men like: ham and peanut butter sandwiches, cake, apples, and bananas. So noted.

Aw Snap, Crackle & Pop

Over and over I hear people refer to the good ‘ol days when life was more simple. Six weeks into the WWII Food Ration Project I have to ask, “Simple how?”

Meal planning was not simple. Getting food was not simple. Baking and cooking food was not simple (even with a few of my improvised modern takes). Every step of the meal in the meal planners require planning ahead and remembering to do something a day ahead of time.

But then again, there are Rice Krispie Treats.

Rice KrispiesIn 1928 Kellogg’s Rice Krispies started appearing on grocery store shelves. They were a big hit. People loved the noise their cereal made. It wasn’t until 1933 when the character named Snap was added. We know all three of the elves, but I bet you didn’t know they actually started out as gnomes. Snap was joined by Crackle and Pop in 1941. rice-krispies_2

As the story goes, in 1939 two Home Economics employees of Kellogg’s were tasked with coming up with a fundraiser for Camp Fire Girls. Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day (the employees) relied on the reputation of Kelloggs being good to its employees during the lean times of the Great Depression. The company never laid anyone off (back then…sadly, that’s not the story from the recent recession). They knew if they came up with a good tasting bake sale item, the community would respond.

Who could imagine back then that we’d still be holding good ol’ Rice Krispie Treats so dear as our go-to bake sale recipe?

With only three ingredients – Rice Krispies, Marshmallows (or Fluff to make it vegetarian), and butter, there is no easier treat. And even better, you can’t get it wrong. If it doesn’t come together gooey enough, add marshmallows. If it’s a mess on the stove top, add butter.

The end result is sweet goodness, without added sugar, in little time and ready to eat almost as soon as the burner is turned off.

Simple basics. Good stuff.

What the Blanc?

The December 1943 Health For Victory Meal Planning Guidebook was adamant that I not make any changes or substitutions to the menus they had printed. Our balanced nutrition and health was at stake. But for days ahead of December 18th, there it sat on the menu plan — Blanc Mange. Blanc Mange? I had never heard of Blanc Mange. I don’t know why; it seems like it’s a popular dessert recipe and through a Google image search, it looks very pretty. But, I didn’t know what to do with a Blanc Mange.

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Blanc Mang on a Glass Platter, as Wikipedia describes it.

First I used the excuse that I did not own a mold and therefore, could not venture into the world of Mange. Next, after I came across an old tin mold at a thrift shop for 25¢, the excuse was my husband’s reaction to the suggestion of eating Blanc Mange. “Blanc Mange? Mange, like our dog’s Mange?” Certainly not.

Finally, it was just time to make the Blanc Mange. 1 3/4 c. scalded milk, 3 T cornstarch, 1/4 c. sugar, 2 egg whites, beaten stiff (if desired), 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 c. cold milk and 1 tsp. vanilla.

I didn’t know — did I desire 2 egg whites, beaten stiff? I become overwhelmed when a recipe makes me choose ingredients. Why the options? Without the egg whites the recipe sounded a lot like my Great Grandma Crook’s Cornstarch Pudding recipe, which I absolutely love.

The egg whites were added. A cocoa syrup recipe was also given, as another option. And as the Blanc Mange chilled in its antique mold in the refrigerator I couldn’t help check it every 10 minutes. Blanc Mange. Hmmmm, Blanc Mange. What will it be?

I was happy to see the concoction leave the mold in one piece. We tried it with Soybean Chile, Tossed Vegetable Salad and Rye Bread – just as we were instructed.

Mystery recipes are interesting things. And, even more interesting when they are recipes dating back 70+ years. I asked my husband to describe what it tasted like, since I couldn’t find the right words to describe it. There was nothing about the taste. And, honestly, the appearance wasn’t all that appealing either.

His word?  “Blanc.”

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Blanc Mange for beginners like me.

How To Make Ice Scream

I knew it was coming. After two weeks of Peanut Butter Prune Sandwiches for lunch, Brussel Sprouts for Christmas dinner and the total deal breaker – Pickled Beets, my husband uttered the phrase, “This WWII thing is getting old.” In other words, it was time to get out the big guns and make him a believer again.

For that, I turned to (cue the heavenly light descending from the clouds and angel chorus) Ice Cream. Forget about what you think is ice cream, the rock hard chunk of bland imitation frozen milk bought from a store in a cardboard or — gasp! — plastic bucket. We’re talking real ice cream. Ice. Cream.

The 250 Luscious Refrigerator Desserts  cookbook edited by Ruth Berolzheimer (the Boss of WWII food) was published in 1941 and had to have been state of the art in recipes, Lusciousconsidering freezers were still not a common home appliance. To make ice cream one would be using the “freezing tray” of their refrigerator. What I gather is that someone determined the coldest part of the refrigerator and insulated it in a way that dropped the temperature cold enough to semi-freeze some types of food.

Among the luscious refrigerator desserts in the booklet are many types of ice cream flavors: Banana Pecan, Honey, Butter Pecan, Chocolate, Caramel, Fruity, Chocolate Chip, Coffee Malted, Orange Pekoe Tea, Prune, Peach, Raisin, Raspberry, Eggnog, New York, Apricot, Cherry, Coffee, Coffee Rum, Maple Nut, Orange, Peppermint Stick, Pistachio and Strawberry. What a minute — Prune?

I went for the basic Vanilla recipe. I used no special equipment or rock salt or anything else that has stopped me from pulling off this feat in the past. I vaguely remember making ice cream out of snow in 4-H as a kid; what I remember most is the shaking, shaking, shaking part of it. This recipe requires no such effort.

Ready? Here it is:

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup heavy cream

Blend milk, water and vanilla thoroughly, pour into freezing tray of refrigerator and freeze until ice crystals form around sides of pan. Whip cream until stiff enough to hold a soft peak, fold into milk mixture and freeze. When half frozen scrape mixture from sides and bottom of tray, beat until smooth but not melted and freeze until firm.

That’s it. And if that sounds easy enough, wait — I goofed up the recipe and made it even easier for you:

Blend the ingredients all together without reading that you were supposed to wait to add the milk. Beat it with a mixer hoping it will whip up. After three minutes of hoping and wishing, pour it into a plastic tray (like the skinny kind that comes with the refrigeratorRefrigerator Bin – they are narrow and you know they fit perfectly into the shape of your shelves). Leave it in the freezer for about thirty minutes while you walk the dog. Pull it out of the freezer and pour it into a bowl hoping you can still whip it up into soft peaks after it has chilled a bit. Become a little bit sad and worried about it turning out and just dump it back into the plastic tray and put it in the freezer. Wait three hours – or two hours if you’re like me and that’s all you can take. Scoop out and enjoy like you’ve never enjoyed ice cream before. For added assurance that my hubby would be okay another week into this project, I whipped up a Chocolate Sauce for topping from the Meal Planner I have been using all along.

Seriously, folks. If you’ve ever had Coldstone Ice Cream, this is IMG_20141229_193910603[1]even better.

Next up I will be making the Peppermint Stick flavor since wasting anything is not allowed in 1943 and those broken candy canes from Christmas have to be used somehow. All I will do is omit the vanilla and add the crushed candy cane after the ice cream takes its second beating.

So there you have it — how to make your husband chill on a WWII food project.

 

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.

The WWII Food Ration Project is now at two weeks. No one is starving, though we have had a couple of interesting meals and recipes that were on the slate according to the December 1943 “Health for Victory Club” guide that didn’t make it to the table. One of those is Blanc Mange…more on that another day.

I’d rather talk about what is working. Every now and then over the past few years I have tried to make bread. Homemade bread – and the smell of it – is a glorious thing! For a day. And by day two you have a brick. Case in point, the beautiful Rustic Bread I made in experimentation stage working up to the project.

Rustic Bread - Thunk!

Rustic Bread – Thunk!

After day two of Rustic Bread we were no longer able to get a knife through it. My husband went to the back yard to toss it to the wild ducks. As he tells it, the bread skipped off the bank of the creek, hit the frozen ice, make a THUNK that echoed through the entire subdivision, putting a hole in the ice and sunk to the bottom. “Did you use a rock in that bread?”

Bread and “fortified butter or margarine” appear on nearly every single meal plan. Every interview I conducted for this project reported moms making bread every day. Sure, they were probably using up the loaf before it could transform to a backyard ice barge, but for my family of two – it just wasn’t happening. The 1943 book gave a recipe for Soya Bread, made out of soybean flour. I can find soybean flour, the only problem is that a four-cup bag costs the price of three loaves of bread.

Bread

Easy Sandwich Bread – Yum!

As a long-time fan of America’s Test Kitchen on PBS and their accompanying magazine Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated, I dug out the January/February 2014 issue with Easy Sandwich Bread. Advertised as “a tasty, even crumb and a tender crust,

requiring minimal kneading and no shaping, in less than 2 hours”, I tried it out. Cue the Hallelujah chorus angels. Not only did it require very little work (no bread machine, not even a stand mixer), it is now on day four and still edible. Day four!  That means I can use this as our daily bread but only need to bake it twice a week.

Now, if only butter wasn’t so heavily rationed.

Math is Hard.

I’m tardy on my weekly update post because I’ve been crunching numbers and cross-referencing several charts to try to understand how many shopping points I have left for the month of December.

In December 1943, every person (including children) was allowed 48 points per month of red stamps and blue stamps. Red stamps allowed meat. Blue stamps allowed canned and processed foods. Fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, flours, and milk did not cost points. They were viewed as necessary and if you could get your hands on them, as much as you could eat — by all means, eat. For my experiment, at this point, I am aware of seasonal selections and trying to avoid fresh fruits and ration-book-four-insidevegetables not from the U.S., but not ready to conquer the regional seasonal rules just yet.

Given the red and blue points, there were additional time frames to use each points as the month passed. For example, according to the upcoming January 2, 1944 chart I wilOPA-Ration-Stamp-Chartl only be able to use Green Stamps G, H, and J.  Right now I don’t know where the Green Stamps come in and I don’t know how long from January 2, 1944 to when I can redeem the mystery Green Stamps. …sigh…

Okay, back to my math homework. If I were not limited by which letter of the alphabet stamp I could use and just calculating what I have purchased in the last two weeks, I have 12 Red (meat) Points and 52 Blue (canned/processed) Points remaining.

A quick view of my refrigerator and freezer makes me think my husband and I will be well-fed through the rest of the month. I’m not too worried about the menu. But, I do admit that watching the sugar bowl shrink does cause anxiety. Hoarding is not allowed in the government rules; those who did not use up the previous week’s sugar ration were not supposed to get in line for the present week’s ration. I have become very aware of every tablespoon of sugar going into the recipes I’m making and there is a growing feeling of scarcity all the time. I have a theory that the feeling stayed with my grandparents’ generation for their lifetime when it came to anything that could – or should – be salvaged and saved.