Archive for In the Kitchen

Hot in the Kitchen…And Everywhere Else

Summer heat. Thank goodness for air conditioning, right? Can you imagine living without it? Can you imagine a summer road trip without air conditioning in the car?

Although it was invented by Willis Carrier in 1902, air conditioning was not a home feature during WWII. It was used primarily for industrial quality control.

Air conditioning became an attraction during the summer of 1925 when the Rivoli Theater in New York City installed it as an experiment to see if summer receipts would be positively affected by such a posh comfort. Boy, was it ever well received!

Soon, movie theaters across the country were installing air conditioning systems and pulling in crowds that went to the picture show primarily for the comfort of cooled air and a couple hours of relief from summer heat.

But how else did one survive the heat on the homefront during the war?

Building materials were different. Homes built from earthen materials have been proving their worth since Man lived in caves, but how often do we still find new construction of stone or brick? These materials kept heat out.

Buildings were structured differently. Think old-school, literally. Do you ever pass an old schoolhouse (becoming more rare by the day) and notice how different they are compared to modern school buildings? Back when school days were not called for being too hot, they were built of stone or brick with high ceilings, transoms, ceiling fans, and windows that actually opened and let in cross breezes between rooms on the opposite sides of the building.

Homes too, were structured differently. The layout of a typical floor plan had a stacked effect that allowed open stairways that vented heat up. Upper floors were used only at night with the windows open – hopefully with a breeze of cooler temperatures.

Turrets, cupulas, vestibules, or a widow’s walk were not just attractive on the top of a home, but also served the purpose of ventilating the whole house, or acted as a wind catcher no matter direction the wind blew.

Awnings and window hangs were added to shade out the sun. Shade trees were planted on the east and west side of houses to add additional shade.

And let’s not forget the importance of porches. Some were screened on all sides to create a sleeping porch and others simply served as a place to sit out away from the heat inside.

Iceboxes were called on for relief. Some folks shared stories of putting bed sheets or even their underwear in the icebox or freezer to bring the temperature down to comfortable.

Natural pools weren’t for scenic beauty only. You’d find people at creeks, streams, and lakes taking a dip or wringing out towels to wear around their necks while motoring through or working in the garden.

Kitchens were put to use. Summertime meals were no-bake as much as possible. Sandwiches with a variety of spreads, homemade lemonade, fresh from the garden salads and raw vegetables were typical. Cold soups were plain, but welcomed. No-bake desserts were perfected as refrigerator technology and community freezers became more common.

From the July 1943 Health-for-Victory Club Meal Planner, today’s menu:
Breakfast – Orange Juice, Cooked Cereal with Whole Milk, Buttered Whole Wheat Toast, Coffee and Milk

Lunch – Cream Soup of Leftover Vegetables, Egg and Celery Sandwich Filling on Whole Wheat Bread, Apples, Cookies

Dinner – Potatoburgers, Sour Cream Cabbage, Grated Carrot Salad, Soybean Bread – Butter or Fortified Margarine, Sweet Cherries or Apricots, and Buttermilk

Lunchbox for Tomorrow – Cream Soup of Leftover Vegetables, Liver Sandwich Filling on Whole Wheat Bread, Deviled Cheese Sandwich Filling on Bran Bread, Whole Tomato with Salt and an Apple.

A Social Era Ends

Following WWII, air conditioning was a noted amenity of newly constructed suburban homes to many newlywed couples. Adding modern cooling remains a big project to homes built prior to the war. As common as AC has become, most of us can’t imagine living without it and its constant hum in the background. Where winter used to draw us indoors to hibernate, air conditioning in the summer has accomplished the same anti-social act. Instead of sitting on the porch or under a tree with neighbors and iced drinks to cool off, we stay inside only going out to rush from our cooled homes to a cooled car on our way to a cooled store or office to do our day’s chores or errands (usually toting a light sweater in case the building is too cold!). Yes, we are miserable in summer’s heat but maybe we can be miserable together again sometime.

Lessons Learned

One sunny day last summer my neighbor’s daughter, age nine, came to my door on an errand to borrow some sugar or an egg, or something like that.*

 

As I handed off the item she was there to fetch I also wrote out a note to her mother and handed it to her.  She said, “I can’t read that.  In cursive, I can only read my name.”

 

Her statement stayed with me after she ran off and I thought about it throughout the day — and still am as this is almost a year later when I write this. I had heard about The Common Core education standards years ago when in 2013 it was determined cursive was no longer a needed skill to teach in school. It takes too long to teach, especially when increasingly computers, tablets, and phone texting has all but totally replaced every day message delivery.

 

In the context of The War In My Kitchen, I’m feeling very concerned about the extinction of family recipes. For one reason, while some home-delivery cooking programs like Hello Fresh® and Blue Apron® are bringing cooking back to the home, they are making it almost too easy. It is real food, and in many cases good food, but with it magically showing up at the door, we’re not learning about where food really comes from.  Not even from a grocery store anymore, are kids to think cabbage grows in a FedEx® truck?

 

Second, the corporate recipes are coming printed on glossy card stock in color with lots and lots of how-to pictures through the steps. We’re missing lessons handed down from family members actually showing the techniques and family way of doing the steps.

 

Third, the saddest to me is that we are losing the hand-written — cursive — recipe card with ingredient stains on a scrap of paper or index card. These cards appear to be written in code to someone younger than fifth or sixth grade.

 

Maybe one day it will become in fashion again to learn old-fashioned cooking and baking using the “retro” system of recipes written in cursive; I hope so anyway.

 

If we move too far beyond the current generation of not learning cursive, the recipes will fade and become lost. Sure, we can take the time to transcribe the hand-written recipes to computer and print them out or store them on a flash drive, but we lose something in translation when we stop reading the recipe written in the hand of a great-grandmother or great-aunt who learned very well the core lessons of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

 

 

* Yes, even though I live in the very modern suburbs of Chicago, I insist on old-fashioned treatment from my neighbors where we indeed pass pantry items over the fence or share recipe details. We need to get back to this sort of living and I plan to share some advice that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt shared with me (and others) very soon.

Christmas 1943

What was Christmas like during the war?

 

For a peek, I turned to the December 1943 issue of Woman’s Day Magazine.

 

“Santa Claus’ bag is still bursting with goodies for Christmas stockings after three years of war. There are enough pecans, peanuts, walnuts, and filberts to fill the stocking feet, but not any of our favorite imported holiday brazil nuts, pistachios, and cashews. More raw materials than last year have been made available for the manufacture of novelty candies, clear candy figures, and hardtack for Christmas.”

 

“Fewer chocolates are on the shelves for civilians since candy makers are manufacturing more 5-cent bars in order to reach more people. The greater part of the familiar candy-bar brands are being sold to soldiers, sailors and marines, while the newer brands, made in place of the ordinary chocolates, find themselves on the 3-for-10 counters.

 

The rich chocolates, however, that are made especially for the Christmas trade are as numerous as last year, but their boxes are more economically designed and wear no cellophane.”

 

A Christmas ham tradition remained strong during the war. Famers produced in record as their part in fighting the war, seeing their honor duty to keep our troops and Allies fed, and to keep everyone on the home front content. 127 million pigs were raised for slaughter in 1943; a 6% increase above their goal for the year. This is nearly 5 million more pigs raised than in 1942. Today, an average of 117 million pigs are slaughtered each year (2009).

 

Do you remember the tradition of stringing popcorn for decorating the tree? How about popcorn balls? In 1943, it was announced that there would not be enough popcorn supply for decorative and eating purposes. “Although the popcorn crop is larger than prewar times, it is lower than last year’s – and more people want to buy it. Corn syrup supplies for making popcorn balls are average; honey, a little above. And you might try puffed wheat balls for variety.”

 

“Good news comes in an orange skin. Christmas will usher in the big crops of oranges from Florida and California which are estimated to be ten per cent larger than the 1942-1943 crop. Tangerines, at the height of their season during the holidays, will be only slightly less plentiful than during the second war-Christmas. There are enough lemons for everyone to haul all the lemon-pie filling he might long for. Candied orange, lemon and grapefruit peel are plentiful.”

 

“There are few canned cranberries for holiday dinners. But now, as in November, there are fresh berries on most markets.”

 

“We have as many turkeys ready for the oven on Christmas day as were available last year. And there is a big market of roasting chickens, but no capons – they require too much feed for wartime production. Geese and ducks and guinea hens are plentiful in most farming districts.”

Kitchen Work Efficiency

Americans on the home front wanted to know what they could do at home to do their part in winning the war. The mantra, “Waste Nothing” was always the short answer. Waste nothing meant efficiency of every possible resource and thing, including time and human energy.

 

Efficient home making was the goal in homes across America during WWII. In a Woman’s Day magazine ad during winter of 1943, extensive testing is described that proves the Old Dutch Cleanser with Seisomtite is more economical and efficient than any other brand.

Advertisement for Old Dutch Cleanser published in 1943.

Advertisement for Old Dutch Cleanser published in 1943.

It ‘cleans your bathtub 34 more times than any other leading cleanser’, ‘your sink 69 more times’, ‘your favorite pan (which they describe as a 2-quart aluminum pan) 77 more times’, ‘your washbowl 97 more times’, and ‘your broiler pan 48 more times’.

 

The ad goes on to say ‘you should get one can for the bathroom, one for the kitchen and another for the laundry to save steps.’  This is not a bad idea! I have located a cleaning supply kit on each floor on my home — the upstairs, main level, and basement level. Having all that I need without pulling it out and lugging things up or down stairs is actually a huge time-saver and nearly half the battle when it comes to just starting the project of cleaning an area.

 

WWII had everyone thinking about highest possible efficiency. By the time the war ended and between 1946 and 1949, the University of Illinois School of Architecture Small Homes Council-Building Research studies introduced the world to their “work triangle” design study. The work triangle continues to serve as a standard of good kitchen design. The sink, stove, and refrigerator serve as the cornerstones of the triangle that make it possible to reduce wasted steps in time-motion studies originated for industrial applications in the late 1800’s studied by Frederick Winslow Taylor.

 

The kitchen work triangle principle:

  • No leg of the triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet.
  • The sum of all three sides of the triangle should be between 13 feet and 26 feet.
  • Cabinets or other obstacles should not intersect any leg of the triangle by more than 12 inches.
  • If possible, there should be no major traffic flow through the triangle.
  • A full-height obstacle, such as a tall cabinet, should not come between any two points of the triangle.

 

Besides the work triangle itself, there are several rules of thumb to consider when planning a kitchen:

  • As measured between counter tops and cabinets or appliances, work aisles should be no less than 42 inches for one cook, or 48 inches for multiple cooks.
  • A sink should have a clear counter area of at least 24 inches on one side, and at least 18 inches on the other side.
  • A refrigerator should have a clear counter area of at least 15 inches on the handle side; or the same on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator; or the same area on a counter no more than 48 inches across from the refrigerator.
  • A stove or cook top should have a clear 15 inches area on one side, and at least 12 inches on the other side.
  • At least 36 inches of food preparation area should be located next to the sink.
  • In a seating area where no traffic passes behind the diner, allow 32 inches from the wall to the edge of the table or counter; if traffic passes behind the diner, allow 44 inches.
My kitchen.

My kitchen.

So, how efficiently designed is my kitchen?

  • No leg of the triangle should be less than 4 feet or more than 9 feet: I have two triangle legs that measure 44”, falling short by 4” to be efficiently designed.
  • The sum of all three sides of the triangle should be between 13 feet and 26 feet: My sum of legs is 158”, a mere two inches above the appropriate distance.
  • Cabinets or other obstacles should not intersect any leg of the triangle by more than 12 inches: No problems here.
  • If possible, there should be no major traffic flow through the triangle: No problems here.
  • A full-height obstacle, such as a tall cabinet, should not come between any two points of the triangle: No problems here.
  • As measured between counter tops and cabinets or appliances, work aisles should be no less than 42 inches for one cook, or 48 inches for multiple cooks: My aisles are 44”.
  • A sink should have a clear counter area of at least 24 inches on one side, and at least 18 inches on the other side: My sink has 18” exactly and 40” of counter space.
  • A refrigerator should have a clear counter area of at least 15 inches on the handle side; or the same on either side of a side-by-side refrigerator; or the same area on a counter no more than 48 inches across from the refrigerator: My counter on the handle side is 41”. My other counter, outside of the triangle is 36”. Being outside of the triangle, it hardly ever gets used! Now I know why.
  • A stove or cook top should have a clear 15 inches area on one side, and at least 12 inches on the other side: My counter tops on each side of the stove are 44” and 52”.
  • At least 36 inches of food preparation area should be located next to the sink: I have 39” of food prep area on the right side of the sink. Space inside the triangle is used often. The area outside of the triangle is not used very much at all and clutter accumulates there. 
  • In a seating area where no traffic passes behind the diner, allow 32 inches from the wall to the edge of the table or counter; if traffic passes behind the diner, allow 44 inches: Two counter top chairs are well within the 44” rule. When we moved into our home, there was an area set aside for a table between the counter and patio door area. It had a low-hanging lamp above the table area and was in the path of the pantry closet and patio door. No wonder it had to go! It felt extremely jarring to sit there. It’s math!! The math explains it all!
My kitchen's work triangle.

My kitchen’s work triangle.