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.

Shiny & Brite

DSC06162One of my most favorite traditions of Christmas is decorating two trees in my home with vintage Shiny Brite ornaments.  I jam-pack the trees full and the light they give off shines throughout the room and into the darkness outside the windows. I love the story behind the American company and how the war lent to its success.  Shiny Brite AdShiny Brite Factory III
Shiny Brite Factory

In 1937, Max Eckardt established Shiny Brite ornaments, working with the Corning Glass company to mass-produce machine-blown glass Christmas ornaments. Eckardt had been importing hand-blown glass balls from Germany since 1907, but had the foresight to anticipate a disruption in his supply from the upcoming war. Corning adapted their process for making light bulbs to making clear glass ornaments, which were then shipped to Eckardt’s factories to be decorated by hand. The fact that Shiny Brite ornaments were an American-made product was stressed as a selling point during World War II when Americans turned away from German-made products.

Dating of the ornaments is often facilitated by studying the hook. The first Shiny Brite ornaments had the traditional metal cap and loop, with the hook attached to the loop, from which the ornament was hung from the tree. DSC06153

The first wartime ornaments were made from glass, but were not silvered on the inside. That made them appear very dull, so very quickly they were decorated with a sprig of tinsel on the inside to make them sparkle. As the war effort intensified, even this practice was abandoned because every piece of metal was needed and frivolous use of metal was not patriotic. The metal caps were replaced with a cardboard tab, from which the owner would use yarn or string to hang the ornament.

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Eventually, the clear glass ball had only small stripes of paint for its decoration. Red was the favorite color during the 1940s, with silver and blue tying for second, and green coming in third.  DSC06159

They were packaged in solid brown cardboard boxes, and later enhanced with a cellophane window and featured the words “American Made”.Shiny Brite Box

Following the war, Shiny Brite introduced a line of ornaments with a newly designed metal hook that provided the user with two lengths of hanger. The long hook traveled through the center of the ornament and exited the bottom, whereit attached to the foot of the ornament. This provided the “short” hanger. Unlatched from the bottom, the entire length of the hook was available, allowing the ornament to dangle at a greater distance from the tree limb to which it was attached. This arrangement was designed to allow the ornament to fill sparse areas of a natural tree.

The increasing popularity of the aluminum artificial Christmas tree, first manufactured in 1958, made this hanger device far less attractive to the consumer, as an artificial tree had no gaps to be filled. The added expense of the lengthy hanging wire coupled with the diminishing need caused this feature to be discontinued in 1960.

During its peak, Shiny Brite had four factories in New Jersey. The company’s main office and showroom were located at 45 East 17th Street in New York City. They stopped selling in the 1960’s, and weren’t made at all by the 1970’s.Shiny Brite Name

Shiny Brite’s most popular ornaments have been reissued under the same trademark by Christopher Radko since 2001, but to me there is no comparison for the original. I don’t always have the details of Christmas stories and memories when I come across a surviving box of Shiny Brites at estate sales, but I like to imagine the trees in the homes where they hung at the time from their cardboard tops.

In a time of war, there was hope and a quiet time to hang ornaments on a tree and reflect on the meaning of the season.

(History Sources: Wikipedia, www.goldenglow.org.)

Self-Service

Things have a way of coming around again. By that I mean, grocery delivery as an example. Prior to World War II housewives called in their grocery order to their grocer, who they most certainly knew on a first name basis. The friendly neighborhood grocer would put the order together and have their delivery boys deliver it to the home. Mr. Grocer would likely send a bill at the end of the month.

 

Surely, this type of shopping made the world a lot smaller. Smaller orders, more frequently. And having a personal shopper meant someone knew you and your household very intimately. Imagine having a personal grocer today doing your shopping – they’d know when a baby joined the house, when you adopted a new dog, when you tried the newest diet fad and then went on to the next.

 

An IGA announcement in the April 1943 hometown paper made it clear how grocery shopping during WWII would be forever changed:
“Dear Patron,

 

In order to comply with the recommendations of our government, for the conservation of Manpower, Gasoline and Rubber, we announce the following change in our policy:

 

Beginning Monday, April 19, 1943, we will be on a strict carry-out basis. While this is a direct contribution to our national war effort, it will also permit us to pass along many savings so made. We are sure the change will work no undue hardship and ask your cooperation at this time.

 

We welcome the opportunity of serving you in our new self-service and carry-out plan. For your convenience, we will arrange to prepare orders on a “will call” or by payment of a small delivery charge. Delivery charges will be made according to the size of the order and paid the City Delivery upon leaving the store.

 

We wish to thank you for your valued patronage.

 

Yours for Victory,

Ramsey’s IGA Store

Ray R. Hildebrandt, Manager

 

The advertisement goes on to state the New Policy:

  1. Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Display.
  2. Shopping made easier – with open shelf displays and self-service push carts.
  • No Delay! Shop quickly or leisurely as you like.
  1. Clerks to help you.
  2. All items plainly marked with prices and points.
  3. Everyday low prices!

 

Store Delivery Rules

What the advertising is describing is the birth of modern grocery shopping. Bulk shopping would come later, to the mind-boggling astonishment of my grandparents’ generation.

 

Were the changes to grocery shopping for the good?  How was manpower, gasoline and rubber saved if instead of a grocer making deliveries switched to all his customers coming to the store individually? What long-term effect did the change have on customer service? Is it convenience that is bringing some people to grocery delivery services like Peadpod and Door-To-Door Organics (two I have used myself)? At a time when homemaking was desperate for convenience, was this an example of contrary change?

 

As I think about the advertisement, I can’t help but think about how the new policy led to modern patterns of consumerism and self-indulgence that leads to obesity. For such a small advertisement in the paper, the results were huge.

Grocery Store - Self Serve

Vintage Lemonade Like Great, Great, Great Grandma Used to Make

Here is a sad fact: the powdered concoctions found in the drink mix aisle labeled as “lemonade” are not real. Not even close. And for anyone who has never had a true and genuine glass of lemonade, I worry that life may pass by without ever having a real, honest-to-goodness glass of genuine lemonade.

 

As I pour myself a second glass of vintage lemonade, I think about what it must have been like when my great-grandmother tasted her first sip of the fake stuff. I bet they thought the fad would never catch on. Certainly people would not be satisfied with the missing flavor of the powder, nor would they ever believe it could be passed off as good.

 

Sadly, convenience won out and we’re likely on to a fourth generation of kids not knowing what lemonade is supposed to taste like.

Kool-Aid® may be considered by soKool-Aid 1940sme to be vintage. Invented in 1927 by Edwin Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska, (more specifically in his mother’s kitchen until 1931 when he moved to Chicago), the mix was introduced in six flavors: cherry, grape, lemon-lime, orange, raspberry and strawberry. The popularity of the drink mix didn’t explode until 1953 when Hastings sold the product to General Mills and “Oh Yeah” Kool-Aid Man® became the spokesperson. Now manufactured in Mexico, the mix is also good for temporarily dying hair to match the fake colors found in the packet.

 

No better, Countrytime Lemonade® was introduced in 1975, by the same parent company as Kool-Aid®. It appealed to many as a more grown-up image for adults who didn’t drink buy their lemonade from a talking pitcher of sugar water.

 

Enough about the fake stuff. Let’s move on to the good stuff. Yes, it takes time. Yes, your counter will end up a sticky mess before you’re through with the straining and pouring. But, you won’t even remember all that once you take your first wonderful sip.

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5 Lemons

1 ¼ Cup White Sugar

1 ¼ Quarts Water (38 ounces)

 

Peel the rinds from the lemons and cut them into ½ inch slices and place in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over them. Let stand for about one hour.

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Bring water to boil in a covered saucepan and then remove from heat. Add sugared rinds to the hot water. Allow this mixture to cool for 20 minutes. Remove rinds.

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Squeeze the lemons into another bowl and then strain to remove seeds.

 

Pour lemon juice into sugar mixture and then pour all into a glass pitcher.

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93 Pounds of Sugar

Twice in a year, Mrs. Ben Prochnow of Markesan, Wisconsin was allowed two large quantity ration certificates for sugar for canning purposes.  On June 13, 1942 Mrs. Prochnow received 39 pounds of sugar and on August 14, 1942 Mrs. Prochnow received 54 pounds of sugar.

Mrs Ben Prochnow

As the policy went, the summer ration was set to each person being allotted one pound of sugar per 4 ½ quarts of fruit, plus an additional one pound for canning of preserves. The fall ration however, mention anxiety on the part of the government (OPA office) that “government is as anxious to have all available fruit canned as it is to conserve sugar. For that reason local boards have been instructed to issue sugar purchase certificates at the second canning sugar registration based entirely upon legitimate requirements of sugar.”  The base calculation would still be one pound of sugar for four quarts of canned fruit. Housewives — in this case, Farmwife, would need to come to the registration point with a worksheet in hand showing her calculations to receive her fair share.

 

On the honor system, women calculated their kitchen work and even though there seemed to be rule of plenty, they still took to other suggestions of stretching canning and preserving rations.

 

Sure-Jell advertised more than twice as many glasses of jelly, jam or marmalade with their product. Touted as “Sensible” and “Patriotic”, who wouldn’t be caught not using it?

Be Patriotic

According to the 1943 Canning for Victory pamphlet, compiled by the Rector’s Guild of the Grace Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin, canning seasons in North Central States looked something like this:

 

 

June: Pineapple, Rhubarb, Strawberries

July: Cherries, Currants, Gooseberries, Huckleberries, Raspberries

August: Blackberries, Peaches, Plums

September: Apples, Crab-apples, Grapes, Peaches, Pears, Quinces

 

Vegetables:

June: Asparagus, Beans, Carrots, Greens, Peas

July: Beans (string), Carrots, Corn, Greens

August: Beans (string), Beans (lima), Beets, Corn, Tomatoes

September: Pumpkin, Tomatoes

 

Fowl:

September: Chicken, Guinea-hen

October: Duck, Grouse, Pheasant, Partridge

November: Duck, Grouse, Partridge, Rabbit, Turkey

December: Duck, Grouse, Partridge, Turkey

 

The pamphlet states that as little as ¼ cup sweeting to 1 ½ cups of water may be used if desired. Fruits may be canned with or without sugar, but the color, flavor and shape of the fruits are better if a little sugar is added. When canned without sugar, no water need be added to juicy fruits as berries, cherries, currants or plums.

 

Backtracking…the difference between jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade? In a nutshell here it is:

 

In jelly, the fruit comes in the form of fruit juice. In jam, the fruit comes in the form of fruit pulp or crushed fruit and is less stiff than jelly as a result. In preserves, the fruit comes in the form of chunks in a syrup or a jam. And finally, in marmalade a fruit preserve is made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits boiled with sugar and water.

surejellstrawberryjam

If we were to imagine what Mrs. Prochnow’s fruit cellar looked like at the end of canning season, with her total 93 pounds of sugar and saying she did not incorporate the advice for stretching her allotment, we would likely see 25 quarts of canned fruits and preserves all lined up on shelves in pretty summer and autumnal tones. More likely, she did use the advice and made smaller batches of pints. Perhaps an entire wall would be lined with 50 various types of fruits. Add it to the vegetables and non-sweet produce and you would see a full room of Mrs. Prochnow’s work. What a sight it must have been. canning

A Memorial Display

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Recently I was lucky enough to visit a traveling museum exhibit at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin featuring WWII Nose Art from bombers and fighter craft of the war.

 

Nose art is a decorative painting on the fuselage of an aircraft, most popular during WIII. The display was salvaged from demolition and is now safely in the hands of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) headquarters in Dallas who have secured designation of the artifacts by the National Trust for Historical Preservation as an official project of Save America’s Treasures.

 

There were practical reasons for nose art. It was important in identifying friendly units. Secondary, the art became a way to express individuality often constrained by the uniformity of the military. And bomber crews, which suffered high casualty rates, often developed strong bonds with the planes they were flying, affectionately decorated them with nose art and believed that the nose art was bringing luck to the planes. And as some of the stories told, frequently the art was a depiction of a sweetheart back home or of a pinup celebrity, or inspired by a popular song of the time. It evoked memories of home and peacetime life.

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Nose art was not officially approved by the military. Regulations were not heavily enforced, especially on the Air Force side, but it has been shown that the farther the planes and crew were from headquarters or from the public eye, the racier the art tended to be. For instance, nudity was more common in nose art on aircraft in the Pacific than on aircraft in Europe. (Cohan, Phil. “Risque Business.” Air and Space, 5 (Apr.-May 1990), p.65)

 

Story boards at each display help the viewer put the art, plane and crew in historical context. Big band music played over the speakers helps to bring the mind along with the eyes to the glory days of the planes.IMG_20160414_125356109_HDR

 

And kudos to the EAA AirMuseum for including in their display a section of artifacts and memorial to those on the Homefront. The tie-in between the art and the lives affected back home brought completion to the display. Beautifully done, we even get to know a little more about some of the riveters that made the planes.IMG_20160414_132227001_HDRIMG_20160414_130650421_HDRFor more information about the museum and display, please click here.

Deeply Rooted

Family Garden

While rummaging through the attic this spring I came across this photo of three women out standing (outstanding) in a garden. It was found in a family album without any details about who they are and where they planted this garden. Based on where the photo was placed in the album, it is a pretty good assumption that this is a Victory Garden – a source of corn, chard, onions, cabbage, time spent with other women, pride and joy.

During World War II, 44 percent of the nation’s produce was grown in home gardens. The Victory Gardens achieved the equivalent amount of produce from all U.S. farms combined. At the end of the war, industrialization took over, families moved to the suburbs to earn paychecks off the farm. Considering the time and attention involved, food became cheaper to buy than grow and our country went from producing 44 percent of its produce in home gardens during WWII to just 2 percent by the early 1990’s. I’m happy to learn from the National Gardening Association that the millennials are joining in large numbers with the die-hard members of past generations to make a comeback on the backyard garden. To their count, 1 in 3 Americans are again growing at least some of their food in their backyard.

This year my Victory Garden is struggling in cold and rain. By farmer folklore, it is important to plant potatoes on Good Friday in order to harvest them on the Fourth of July. With Good Friday being especially early this year and the spring being unusually cold, I couldn’t plant potatoes on time as there was snow on the ground. In the last 30 days, five inches of rain has fallen on my garden plot and temperatures have been averaging 20 degrees colder than normal.

In the roughly four nice days we’ve had so far this spring, I was able to plant a row of bee-loving wildflowers, a row of aphid-hating marigolds,  four rows of peas, two rows of green beans, two rows of heirloom lettuce, one row of beets, a patch of cucumbers, six varieties of tomatoes, and four hills of potatoes. I’m hoping for Victory.

2016 Garden

 

 

Oranges in Your Stocking & Oranges in Your Marmalade

Orange season was getting away from me. Florida and California varieties usually arrive around the second week of November and keep coming through late spring. They’re not great at the extreme ends of the season. February, March and April are the peak months. Late in the season they are likely to be dry, puffy and expensive. Oranges are not a summer fruit.

 

My grandparents and great-grandparents knew what it was like to go three seasons without an orange. And my hunch is that they knew very well the first November oranges weren’t the best and that’s why oranges stuffed in December’s Christmas stockings were considered a wonderful treat. By the time the tradition made it to my generation, my cousins and I didn’t understand it and we didn’t see the sense in using an apple and an orange to take up valuable chocolate space in the stocking.

 

Now knowing that oranges in the winter are the watermelon of summer, things seem very different. Imagine if we weren’t able to go to the grocery store any time of the year whenever we chose to buy oranges and fresh (real) orange juice. Oranges would definitely feel like an exciting gift in December.

 

With prices the lowest of the season, at the time when they are the best-tasting, it was time to buy in bulk even if they were perishable. The WWII answer to perishable bulk was to preserve.

 

Orange Marmalade. Not my favorite, but one of the only peanut butter combinations my husband will eat.

 

In the 1942 Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book, marmalade is described as “similar to jellies in texture with small thin slices or small pieces of the fruit appearing throughout the product. They are usually although not always made of citrus fruits.”

 

An orange marmalade takes 10 medium-sized oranges, 2 large lemons, water and sugar.

 

Here’s the recipe instructions: Wash the fruit thoroughly; cut in quarters, then in very thin slices, discarding all membrane and saving all pulp, rind and juice.

 

Cover with cold water in a heavy kettle; let stand overnight.

 

Cook in the same water until the peel is tender; let stand for 5 to 6 hours.

 

Weigh the whole batch and add an equal weight of sugar.

 

Cook until the sirup gives the jelly test. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.

 

Pour immediately into hot sterilized jars and seal at once.

 

The Jelly Test: As the juice-sugar mixture nears the jellying point test frequently. Dip a spoon into the boiling mass, remove and allow the juice to drip from the side of the spoon. As it nears the jelly stage it will drip from the spoon in two drops ¼ to ½ inch apart; when the jellying point has been reached the two drops will run together and drop off in one sheet or flake.

 

A candy or jelly thermometer may be used instead of the jelly test to determine the jelly stage. At sea level the jellying point is reached at 220° F to 222° F; at higher altitudes it is reached at a lower temperature.

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The 1942 cookbook goes on to describe the next steps of filling and sealing the glasses: Skim the surface of the jelly and pour immediately into hot sterilized jelly glasses, holding the pot close to the glass while pouring to avoid incorporating air bubbles. Fill the glasses to within 1/8 inch of the top; the jelly shrinks as it cools.

 

Pour a thin layer of melted paraffin immediately over the surface of the jelly. Allow the jelly to cool thoroughly, then cover the glasses and store in a cool place.

 

I used the thermometer method. Actually, I tried both, but the jelly test method left too much room for error. It’s one of those things I feel need to be shown, not read about, to fully understand. The next easiest thing would be to YouTube the jelly test method and watch/listen to a stranger through my computer explain it – I think I’d much rather find someone who learned from their mother or grandmother to show me.

 

All told, for a very short amount of time and for roughly 23¢ a jar (uh-huh!), I will likely not buy marmalade from the store ever again.IMG_20160221_145029298_HDR

Break All Rules…Make Delicious Cakes

“Nation’s Cake-Makers Now “Break All Rules”…Make Delicious Cakes!” – Easy, Speedy, New Softasilk Method uses only one bowl!” Betty Crocker touted the new Softasilk Cake Flour as “Our Dream Come True”.

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To those who may not remember a time when cakes were made by opening a box and adding a minimal number of ingredients, with the most time-consuming part of the ordeal being the time the cake sat in an oven, cake baking originally took much more time, a list of ingredients and more than one bowl. Who had time for such a chore?

 

In its first move towards more convenient baking, General Mills’ Softasilk invention was an “amazement”. There was no longer a need to cream shortening first in its own bowl and beat eggs inside their own bowl to make a good-tasting, fluffy cake.

 

The revolution involved understanding gluten (and you thought gluten was a modern foodie term!) and making it softer, less tough.

 

So, what is the secret? It’s a special kind of flour, cake flour. Basically, it comes down to how much protein is in the flour. This determines whether your dessert is light and cake-like, or thick and bread-like.

Hard wheat produces a high-protein flour usually sold as “bread flour”. Soft wheat produces a low-protein flour usually called “cake flour”. The stuff that’s usually sold as “All-Purpose” flour is a mix of the two. According to my research, Softasilk is all-purpose flour with a touch of cornstarch added, lightening the final product. You can make a fair version from the all-purpose you already have in the pantry by adding 1 tsp. cornstarch to every cup of all-purpose flour called for in the recipe.

 

Back to the advertisement in the Woman’s Day 1943 magazine, homemakers could send for four ‘amazing’ recipes. The recipe included in the magazine was Cocoa Divinity Cake.

 

Cocoa Divinity Cake

Set out all ingredients well ahead to get to room temperature. (Shortening should be soft, not melted.) Pre-heat oven to 350°. Prepare pans (see below). Sift Softasilk before measuring. Measure all ingredients before starting to mix.

 

Sift together into bowl:

2 C sifted Softasilk

*1 ¼ or 1 ½ or 1 ¾ tsp. baking powder

¾ tsp. soda

1 tsp. salt

1 ½ cups sugar

6 tbsp. cocoa

Add:

2/3 cup high grade vegetable shortening

1 cup buttermilk

Mix with electric mixer on slow to medium speed (or beat with spoon) for 2 min. by clock. Scrape bow frequently.

Add:

2 large eggs, unbeaten.

 

Mix with electric mixer 2 more min. (scraping bowl frequently). Pour into two well-greased and floured 8-in. round layer cake pans or one 8 ½-in. sq. cake 45 to 50 min.; in moderate oven (350°).

1 ¼ tsp. double action type (“Clabber Girl,” “Davis,” “Calumet,” “KC,” etc.); or 1 ½ tsp. phosphate type (“Rumford,” “Dr. Price’s,” etc.); or 1 ¾ tsp. tartrate type (“Royal” etc.). For an attractive red color, add ¼ tsp. red vegetable coloring to batter.

 

NOTE: You can rest a moment when mixing by hand. Just count actual mixing time.

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Softasilk cake flour is still sold under the Pillsbury family of baking ingredients.

Christmas Through the War

vintage-christmas-treeSeveral years ago I stumbled upon a book by Jim Benes, titled Chicago Christmas – One Hundred Years of Christmas Memories. It’s a fantastic book recounting the Christmas events and headlines in Chicago from 1900-1999. The book gives us a look into Christmas during World War II.

 

1941: Christmas fell 18 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. People were still in shock of the attack and only beginning to realize what itmeant for the U.S. to be engaged in war with Japan and Germany. Off the west coast, Japanese submarines were shelling and torpedoing American freighters, within sight of the coast. People were in a panic to move inland and mass transit towards the safety of the Midwest was in high demand.

 

People were learning how to ‘black out’ their homes and businesses to prevent air raids. If lights on the ground could not be seen from the air, bombers may not see towns and cities as a target. Interestingly, a Police Captain from Chicago came up with the solution of how to safely keep traffic lights burning, but block them from the air. He suggested installing caps above the lights on the lights. The caps remain today, and I’ve often wondered why!

 

1942: Outdoor Christmas light displays were allowed, but they were subject to emergency blackout orders. The War Production Board asked that such lighting be eliminated entirely across the country.

 

It was a record cold Christmas. Heating oil was being rationed and fear of shortages was causing panic. Federal Price Administrator Leon Henderson allowed thirteen states to move up the start of the next rationing period by two weeks, easing some worry.

 

Newspapers all over the country ran columns and columns of the names of hometown heroes earning promotions or being injured. There was heavy fighting in Russia and American fliers were “expressing amazement at the amount of punishment their sturdy B-17s could take and keep flying”.

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Benes shared the story of one family in Blue Island, IL. A mother of eight was in the hospital and in dire straits to the point she had told her children Santa had been killed in the war. The local Kiwanis Club decided to play Santa in order to change the message.

 

The top song of the season was White Christmas by Bing Crosby, newly recorded. Another favorite song was Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere.

 

1943: Chicago’s temperature reached forty-six degrees on Christmas. It was a holiday off for many plant workers. It was a special day to not work…New Year’s Day a week later was a normal working day for the war effort.

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On board Great Lakes Station in Chicago, sixty-six thousand sailors and WAVES were stationed and enjoyed a Christmas dinner: 10,000 mince pies, 35,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, and 61,000 pounds of turkey. Of course, this meant a shortage of such on the civilian tables.

 

If you could find a turkey to buy, it would cost 50¢ a pound (equivalent of $6.68 in 2015).

 

 

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1944: A cold and snowy Christmas left slippery sidewalks and roadways. The Battle of the Bulge waged in Europe, Hitler’s last-ditch offensive. Sadly, news surfaced on Christmas Day that orchestra leader Major Glenn Miller had been missing since December 15th when his plane disappeared between England and Paris.

 

Turkey, still scarce, cost 49¢ a pound (equivalent of $6.72 in 2015), cranberry sauce was 20¢ for a sixteen-ounce can plus forty blue ration points (equivalent of $2.70 in 2015).

 

Under the tree little boys may have found metal trucks, electric football or baseball games. Little girls may have found baby dolls with their own suitcases, bottles, and changes of clothes. The dolls drank and wet (cost $1.98 then, $26.70 today’s equivalent).

 

1945: “This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayedfor through long and awful years,” declared President Harry Truman as he lit the national tree on Christmas Eve. “In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Price of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country – in the world – today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount,” he told a nationwide radio audience.

 

Many homes were reunited for Christmas. …but only if they could get a train home! In Los Angeles 1,900 soldiers were being held aboard their ship because staging camps were filled. Another 75,000 soldiers were nearing the coast. Forty-five thousand men were awaiting trains in San Francisco, 27,000 in Los Angeles, 17,000 in Se34890335eb8a43c4a229e7e637d0c479attle, 4,500 in Portland. An additional 110,700 were expected to arrive on the West Coast within the following week. 94% of eastbound passengers from the west coast to Chicago were military personnel. Schedules went to the wind and special train routes were called in, but there was no way to accommodate all of the soldiers returning home. Police officers were called in to stop riots, Governor Dwight Green called up five hundred Illinois reservists and more than one hundred jeeps and trucks to help shuttle servicemen out of the area.

 

Among the rail passengers who passed through Chicago in the days before Christmas was Col. Jimmy Stewart. He was on his way to Pennsylvania to spend the holiday with his mother. Stewart told reporters that after he received his air force discharge in February, he planned to start work on a new picture: It’s a Wonderful Life.

 

(Photos of the Sears Wish Book, years 1942-1943. Found on www.wishbookweb.net)

Find Jim Benes’ book here.

 

 

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