During World War II rationing was just a fact of life. It was no simple thing to create the traditional family holiday. Regardless of social status, economic status, or what your faith traditions were, rationing was the same for all. Food, clothes, shoes, soap, just about everything we take for granted daily life was carefully used, shared, saved or collected. We thought we’d look a bit at how this affected the holiday plans. Inspiring us to perhaps look at how we can change our own outlook on the Holiday Season of 2020.
What, exactly, was rationing and why did government ration essentials? Good question! The answer comes from the National World War 2 Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Rationing involved setting limits on purchasing certain high-demand items. The government issued a number of “points” to each person, even babies, which had to be turned in along with money to purchase goods made with restricted items. In 1943 for example, a pound of bacon cost about 30 cents, but a shopper would also have to turn in seven ration points to buy the meat. These points came in the form of stamps that were distributed to citizens in books throughout the war. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was in charge of this program, but it relied heavily on volunteers to hand out the ration books and explain the system to consumers and merchants. By the end of the war, about 5,600 local rationing boards staffed by over 100,000 citizen volunteers were administering the program.” https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/rationing The rationing program began in 1942, in part to prevent hoarding. (sound familiar?)
Naturally the program wasn’t perfect but it did keep the troops supplied with what they needed and the homefront, while struggling to find alternatives did their bit. I don’t remember hearing any of my relatives who were alive at the time, complain about what they had to do to win the war. I remember hearing one of my aunts say “we just got on with it” referring to the life on the homefront. If they needed to work around the lack of sugar or coffee they did so. I didn’t realize when I was young that some of my favorite things to eat at the holidays came about because of the rationing during World War 2. Then, like now in our current predicament with COVID-19, there are a lot of people learning to think outside the proverbial box with regard to the holidays. One thing is true of the WW2 era cooking and baking, nothing went to waste. For more information on rationing see https://www.history.com/news/food-rationing-in-wartime-america
I will get to the gift giving at another time but first I wanted to toss the blog to my daughter to discuss holiday recipes that were popular during the World War 2 era.
As happened in the Depression, the Christmas holiday was celebrated as a welcome respite from the grim world of the war. But with the shortages and staples like meats and sugar, Christmas looked very very different than it had in the past. What they were able to buy, they made it last for as long as possible. This resulted in what we would consider very odd foods, such as ham salad made with Jello. They did a lot of things with Jello… would’ve been a good time to take out stock!
One of the most popular recipes of course was cake. “War Cake” could be made with the smallest amount of ingredients, and in such a way that nobody would be the wiser. I first uncovered a recipe for war cake in the pages of “My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck”, a historical fiction book by Mary Pope Osborne as part of the Dear America series. Similar to American Girl, these books examined the lives and times of girls in significant points in American history, only aimed at a slightly older audience. This cake is similar to a rich, dark fruitcake, and only requires a handful of ingredients. You can find that recipe here: https://www.food.com/recipe/ww2-war-cake-1881
Another common cake recipe was one that has been enjoyed in my family for generations: Dump cake! A dump cake is a cake made from minimal ingredients, no eggs, no butter, no milk, and turns out SO GOOD. It is my birthday cake of choice (spread with some nice coconut frosting to make German chocolate cake) to this day. You can find that recipe here:
When fruits and vegetables were rationed, folks had to find new ways of getting a square meal, one of which was planting a victory garden. The US government issued several books and pamphlets to help people unaccustomed to gardening learn to provide for themselves. There were local victory garden committees to organize community gardening efforts and share resources. In addition to the nutrition gained from growing food, gardeners got the satisfaction of having grown the food themselves and taking pride in their work. Most of what was on the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas during the war years was grown in victory gardens and canned, pickled or otherwise preserved by dutiful citizens. You can read up on victory gardens in this World War II era handbook:
https://archive.org/details/victorygardensha00mack/page/10/mode/2up?q=1943+victory+gardenFirst Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a great influence and encouragement to the country during the Second World War. She created an entirely new attitude at the White House. A great proponent of what we now call recycling and upcycling. In the people’s house. Nothing was thrown away if it could be used to assist the war effort. No fancy lunches, just basic fare like the rest of America. According to History.com ““Eleanor wasn’t just choosing a cuisine; she was defining her role in the White House, and the food had to deliver the right message,” writes historian Laura Shapiro in the New Yorker. The First Lady wanted her kitchen to be a showcase for American foods and modern American ways of cooking them.” https://www.history.com/news/eleanor-roosevelt-white-house-menu-bad-food In an America where COVID-19 is changing how we Holiday we can certainly look to history for inspiration. For more on Eleanor Roosevelt check out https://www.history.com/topics/first-ladies/eleanor-roosevelt A big thanks to T.k. Wilson and Ian Wilson for their input into this article.
**Opinions expressed on blogs about which I write are the opinion of the blog authors and DO NOT necessarily reflect my own opinion.