Archive for The Way It Was

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.”

Pitch Black

Has anyone ever told you that carrots are good for your eyes and will help you see better at night?  If you’re like me, you were told this by a parent or grandparent that probably heard it first during World War II. Here’s where it all began…

 

From my hometown newspaper (The Ripon Commonwealth in Ripon, Wisconsin):

 

A test black-out will be made on Friday Evening, September 18, 1942 9:00 to 9:15 o’clock.

 

Air raid wardens are asked to prepare their respective areas for this black-out and see that he following general instructions are carried out:

 

  1. All lights and illumination outside or visible from the outside of any building, either through doors, windows, skylights, or otherwise, shall be immediately put out. Lights inside any building may be kept on or turned on only where no lighting is visible from the outside.
  2. No door, window or other exit shall be opened if the opening of the same will allow light to be visible from the outside.
  3. All lights on any signs or billboard or other similar structure shall be immediately put out.
  4. All street, traffic and beacon lights shall be immediately put out.
  5. All persons, except duly authorized persons, shall immediately leave all streets, squares parks and open spaces and shall proceed to the nearest cover, avoiding the crossing of streets, alleys and other public places as much as possible.
  6. Operators of vehicular traffic shall immediately draw to the side of the highway or street and stop in such a manner and in such a place so as not to double park or obstruct the reasonable use of the highway or street, fire hydrant or police or fire station driveway or other emergency driveway. Extinguish all lights.
  7. No person shall wear any arm band or other insignia issued by the Fond du Lac County Council of Defense unless he shall be entitled to wear the same under the rules and regulations of said Council of Defense.

 

Not common inland as much as coastal areas, black-outs seemed to be one of the scariest realities of nation at war. Pitch black. Everywhere. To avoid aerial landmark detection should a bomber threaten the heartland and major supplier of food, black-out drills were important.

 

Have you ever noticed stop lights have a shield over the top of each light? The addition of the top shields and traffic lights were a result of World War II and the need to minimize the appearance of streets and heavily populated areas to hide from bombers overhead.

Oh, and those carrots? Well, it turns out the rate of accidents and injuries dramatically increased during black out times.  Drivers and pedestrians had a harder time seeing and avoiding each other. It was a problem for sure and one of the safety advisories given by the government that stuck in the mind of my grandmother — eat carrots.  They help you see better in the dark.