Cooking Up History: ‘Kitchen Klatter’ and Other Resources of Home Economy

During the course of reading a fabulous book called The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyszewski (to learn more please read my post here), the author references and used as source material the databases available to us through the digitizing of many publications from the early 20th century. One such database is called HEARTH – Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, and History – maintained by Cornell University (see link here).

The HEARTH collection encompasses a stunning array of books, journals, and articles on the art of home economy, domestic science, and home making. A treasure trove…if you know how to value it.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

Shooting from the hip: I’m a traditionalist and a sentimentalist, so I find the underappreciated quantity of research and practical information produced by the early 20th century home economists a tragedy. When did we stop valuing the efficient, sanitary, effective, imaginative, joyful making of the home? Have we stopped living in homes? Do we somehow not need to have economic savvy anymore? Is sanitation a thing of the past?

The modern feminist movement has achieved many of its purposes, but unfortunately in many cases it has done so at the expense of and through degrading the contribution and acumen of home makers, “home women” as Przybyszewski puts it, and home economists. This is short sighted, and rather sad. We have suffered for underappreciating the value of women who choose to focus their lives on making a home and raising children.

So what to do? Legislation? Protests? Long social media rants? Um, as if there is any shortage of those things these days.

How about simple appreciation?

Start with a little knowledge. Look into some of the published works of the generation that valued home economics. Find out what savvy they accrued and put it to work!

The HEARTH collection is one place to start, but another is the folksy magazine produced by Leanna Field Driftmier (1886-1976) an Iowa farm wife and educator. She produced a highly popular and long running early radio show on home making topics, and later translated that knowledge to a newsletter-style magazine, Kitchen Klatter.

The Iowa Heritage database preserves many issues of this publication. Take a moment to explore them. Try some of the recipes, and maybe you will find a practical tip or two to make your life a little more efficient and economic! Don’t undervalue these kind of resources in your quest to understand the past. They aren’t flashy, but they help us understand the daily lives of our predecessors in the past.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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One Egg A Week: WW2 Rations and Irrational Over-consumption

Have you ever walked through the supermarket, or the out-of-doors market (if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) and stopped to appreciate just how much food we have access to on a daily basis?

Intellectually we know that there are many places around the globe where food is not so plentiful nor available. Venezuela at the moment is struggling through famine triggered by political unrest and a decade of instability. In other places it is simply the norm to be without. However, to quantify scarcity is sometimes difficult as we stroll the aisles of the supermarket and decide if we want the artisan, “hand-made” (by machines shaped like hands) cumin basil crackers or the tomato pesto anise flavor? Gasp.

Was there a time when the western world had to face food scarcity? You bet! It was called the Second World War. Almost all of the European nations, and beyond, suffered from going without. For much of continental Europe that was a result of having been overrun by hostile armies and subjected to starvation so that food could be shunted back to the German Army. Russians, German citizenry, Italians, the French, the Dutch, Spaniards (who had been going without all through the 1930’s because of a civil war) all faced famine, and the list goes on and on. The British Isles certainly suffered, but theirs was, from the start, superimposed rationing to feed the populace and its soldiery. The Americans, too, ended up with varying degrees of rationing, but certainly not as strict as the British model.

And it is to British rationing that we’re going to turn to help get a sense of personal scale of scarcity. The Ministry of Food was the organization that implemented rationing for the populace at the behest of the British Government. When you look over the requirements you realize how little each individual was allowed, but you also see the care and thought given to maintaining vitamin intake for children (fruits and fruit preserves were to be given to children first to sustain healthy growth). Bread and Vegetables, especially the homegrown variety, were not rationed and people were encouraged to grow their own. For adults, vegetables were the mainstay of nutrition.

What was rationed, and here is where we can begin to appreciate what and how much we have on a daily basis, was meat. Meat was rationed by price, only so much per person per week and then only of what was available and sometimes that was offal, or organ meats…heart, lungs, intestines, etc. So, no hamburgers or juicy steaks every night for a week!

Recipe books of the era recommend stews and pot pies with minimal meat supplemented by plentiful vegetables. My favorite cookbook from this era, incidentally, is a reprint by the Imperial War Museum called, Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954 by Marguerite Patten OBE, 2002. I found it at a wonderful booksale held in the Guildhall in the city of York…a story for another time. This volume presents reprints from government material produced during the war, much of which was the work of a young woman named Marguerite Patten, whose creativity helped inspire home cooks throughout the war.

Milk was also rationed, 4-6 cups per person, per week. Think of what that meant, if you are a regular consumer of hot chocolate you could have a cup every other day, but you couldn’t get the chocolate. But what if you wanted pudding…that requires milk and, whoops, you just used up your allowance. Or baking, which often requires milk… there it went again. Milk in your tea (which was also rationed, think of that the next time you order a 28 oz glass of sweetened iced tea!)? What do you choose? And yes, you could combine a family’s portion, but how did you refrigerate it until you could use it? Refrigeration wasn’t universal in the 1940’s. Powdered milk was a big bonus, but it wasn’t the same as fresh.

Something to contemplate the next time you see all those gallons of milk lined up in the dairy section as you absentmindedly grab one.

Then were was cheese and butter, 2 oz (yes, two thumbs-size slices worth) of each per person each week! That would give you roughly one small sandwich or two after-dinner cheese chasers or a quick gobble for an afternoon snack…no cheesy, gooey grilled sandwiches to eat four bites of and throw the rest away. And butter, you have to bake with butter, remember? So, cookies, scones, cake…all required major planning and the pooling of amounts between family members (which, in the days of mothers being the main organizer of home was all planned and implemented by mom, kids didn’t get to take their cheese stash to their room and watch it mold).

A lot to think about. Belts were tighter then, and interestingly, mass produced bread was made with 1/2 regular “white” flour and 1/2 whole wheat or whole meal flour. As statistics were compiled during this time period, it was found that the health of the nation actually improved as a result of this austere, but very healthy diet.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

And then we get to eggs, or, I should say, egg. Just one a week, and sometimes just one every two weeks. No high-protein, cheesy, three-egg breakfast omelets, no scrambled eggs, probably few egg dishes at all as these precious few eggs would have gone to work in the weekly baking. Things improved somewhat when powdered eggs were made available from the US, but if you have ever had the misfortune to consume powdered eggs regularly you will realize what a glorious blessing it is to have fresh eggs at all! Let alone the ability to buy 4 dozen at will!

Then there was sugar, and this is killer because I think it is safe to say that we nowadays could be referred to by archaeologists looking back at us from well into the future as the “sugar-eaters”, so much do we consume it in sweets and even in things that should be savory. Sweets were rationed to 12 oz every four weeks. If this was granulated sugar imagine, 12 ounces is just a cup and a half, and the average cookie recipe these days typically calls for 2 cups of sugar, per batch! So for a month you could enjoy the stale remnants of your monthly less-sweet cookie baking binge. But again, even pooled together for a family of four, you would need this sugar mostly for preserving fruits, if you could get them, or making faux-fruit preserves from vegetables…Carrot Marmalade anyone? (quite serious, there was a recipe!).

So, as we step off the nostalgia tour bus, I hope you can use this personal-scale food scarcity overview to get a sense of how blessed you may be. While it is vital to do what we can to help others in need, to not waste what we have, and to share, we also need to take a moment, a deep breath, a bowed head, and thank God for what we have. America has a history of overflowing abundance and it is a very popular mindset right now to try to apologize for that abundance (while gorging on it, it seems), but ungratefulness is not improved by embarrassment or apology. To be grateful is to be grateful. Out of gratefulness flows generosity, while out of embarrassment flows self-consciousness and self-centeredness.

So let’s be grateful for our blessings, look outward and share what we have!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Aye, Leeks IS Good!: Cooking Up History

When you go to Ohio, and you go to Ohio in the summer and you drive through Amish country, you will find a plethora of veggie stands dotting the state and county roads. So, it follows, that you stop and peruse, drawn by the sure knowledge that you will find an assortment of ripe and affordable vegetable abundance. And you are not disappointed.

So, in your haste and joy at finding fresh veggies you come upon a bin of leeks, 4 for 1 dollar. You become ecstatic because, for anyone who has ever been to an American grocery store, you will remember that leeks are not a standard veggie and come with a hefty price tag, considerably more than 4 for 1 dollar. So you buy 4 leeks.

Then you realize. What do I do with…4 leeks?

In the ensuing traversing of your memory you recall a book you once read, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, had a recipe involving leeks and soup. That sounds good! But that recipe was a very healthy one and involved nothing but leeks and water. So back to your collection of cookbooks. Leek and chicken soup (no convenient chicken carcass so that is out), leek and barley soup (no barley), and so on. Leek and potato soup rings a bell from the Joy of Cooking and then something about leeks and quiche with bacon from an Alice Waters cookbook. That and the word pistou reverberating in your head from various other French themed cookbooks. Soup au pistou is a hearty bean and veggie soup from the Provence region of France.

What comes from this fertile mix…leek and potato soup au pistou flavored with turkey ham.

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP AU PISTOU WITH TURKEY HAM

(Note: this is a free-form recipe developed during a free-form culinary adventure, so feel free to adapt)

INGREDIENTS: 4 Leeks – 2 T olive oil – 1 T butter – pinch of dried Thyme to taste – water – 3 medium-large Yukon Gold potatoes – black pepper to taste (freshly ground) – 1/2 regular can of northern beans or pinto beans (rinsed and drained) – 1-2 T of turkey ham diced into tiny squares – powdered chicken soup base

DIRECTIONS: Wash leeks, peel outer skin, cut off about 2 inches above the white part and use only the white part and the slightly green part, discard the rest above. Cut the root end off. Slice carefully in half the long way, then again the long way, then in thirds. I call these leek noodles.

Place leeks in a large soup pot with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 generous pat of butter. Sprinkle with dried thyme (a little) and a dash of black pepper. Saute gently until transparent and soft.

Cut up potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes (with skins on if using Yukon Gold or Red varieties, otherwise skin them). Place into pot with leeks, cover with enough water to just cover potatoes and let them float (the ingredient should be able to swim around a little). Bring to boil. Add 1/2 can of rinsed beans, diced turkey ham, and the powdered chicken soup base (usually 3-4 teaspoons). When the soup reaches a boil, reduce heat to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and just starting to fall apart. Add additional thyme and black pepper to taste just before removing from heat. Also add salt to taste.

Serve!

History…You knew it was coming, right?

And while you are serving, consider the historical connection. Being partly Welsh myself, I find it interesting that the leek is one of the national symbols of Wales. Scotland has the thistle, Ireland the clover, England the rose, and American states usually have a flower as their emblem, so why the leek?

The quote in the title “Aye, leeks is good!” is taken from Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V. So clearly, by the late 16th century, leeks and the Welsh lands were deeply connected.

According to Historic-UK.com the leek was referenced even earlier than Shakespeare’s time. It was the emblem of Wales worn on St. David’s Day. In the fourteenth century the colors of the leek, green and white, were adopted by Welsh archers at the battle of Crecy. And before that, historians surmise, that the medicinal qualities of the leek (because, aye, indeed, leeks is good for you!) coupled with the druidic religion of the Britons led to an affinity for the leek. And before that? Who knows, the druids were a religious class that passed on the wisdom of the “ancients” – which ancients? Good question!

Regardless, leeks are a healthy-for-people relative in the onion family. Try leek soup and see if you develop a taste for them and then you, too, will be able to say, “Aye, leeks is good!”

Keep thinking and cooking history!

– Amanda Stiver

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Like It’s 1943

Among my many books (I collect them, so when I say “many” I mean…more than a hundred, much more) is a gardening tome called the Victory Garden Manual by James H. Burdett. It was produced in 1943, right during the Second World War years. The purpose was to instruct city dwellers in the process and possibilities of developing their urban space into what were called “Victory Gardens.”

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

The victory garden movement was meant to encourage civilians to develop their urban and rural spaces into large scale kitchen gardens. The kind that would keep an average family of four in potatoes, carrots, and turnips all winter long. The idea was to reduce the burden on the domestic vegetable and fruit producers so that their industrial sized haul of produce would be primarily shunted to foodstuffs for the U.S. troops. It was also meant to reduce the oil, coal and gas used to fuel transit of produce from one end of the country to the other.

This effort was so successful that average Americans produced 1/3rd of the annual vegetable crop for consumption during the war years. More importantly, a whole generation of young people grew up knowing how to garden and how to eat locally, keeping their ear to the ground as it were. Knowing how to produce food is invaluable. Even if you only have a small garden, the simple experience of watching a plant grow to maturity and seeing the fruit form gives you insight into the quality of the vegetables and fruits you will be buying at the store or the roadside stand (I recommend the latter, these folks benefit from your business and the product is usually much tastier than the grocery-store variety).

I haven’t had the means or space for a full scale garden in several years, but I still love to cast my mind back to the garden my grandparents grew. They were children of the Great Depression and their grandparents pioneers into the west before them, so “growing your own” wasn’t a leap of logic, but a standard operating procedure. My grandparents used half of their roughly one acre yard to create a substantial and highly productive victory garden. I spent many memorable moments helping dig up potatoes (they come from the ground, by the way, not trees, just thought I would clarify…you never know), picking raspberries, and other produce.

I learned what good soil smelled like, that veggies were supposed to have dirt on them, and that with plants…you have to have patience.

victory garden book for historygal

Image: Amanda Stiver

So, back to The Victory Garden Manual, this lovely little book is a project of it’s era, a red-white-and-blue cover with a big “V” for victory. It has just a few color photographs that look like they might be lithographed, but they are beautifully composed and show off the abundant produce of the test garden. Truly inspiring.

However, I have another favorite gardening book, this one, a reproduction titled, How to Grow Vegetables & Fruits by the Organic Method that was first printed by Rodale Books in 1961. The reproduction print run from 1999 is still widely available and they sport a bright yellow jacket with vintage 1960’s photos of various gardeners and their surplus.

What makes this such a great book is the comprehensive nature of the material. It covers everything from planting to harvest to saving seed and, of course, how to grow a garden with basic knowledge of soil health and structure and without toxic chemicals and pesticides. Great stuff.

I hope this post will be an insightful little nudge to go out and grow something. Anything, from a giant backyard kitchen garden to as small as a few pots here and there (my garden this year). There is an education in growing things. I think we find ourselves more balanced after time in the natural world as we seek to understand the creation and the Creator than we do in the digital creations that seek to obscure reality.

Gardening demands patience, curiosity, and the capacity to deal with loss. These are all vital qualities that help us, when translated into human interaction, to relate to others and to seek to understand them.

So dig in, don’t be afraid to grow! Because you will when you tackle vegetable gardening!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Life goes on… and so does History!

History is like that. One day you can’t get enough of WWII culinary skills, Ancient Greek composting, or the Thirty Years War and the next day… nothing!

Historical curiosity travels in phases. While a particular subject can really never be worn out as an area of study, it can wear out in our minds. We get sick of hearing, reading, or thinking about it. At that point some even give up on history (even us nerdy historian types!).

Fear not! It isn’t necessary!

I will call this (since I’m writing here) the Law of Historical Opposites. It’s actually more of a technique, but “law” sounds more impressive.

Flip your area of interest. Love Prairie Cooking in the American West, but are sick of recipes for Johnny Cakes? Try reading about Native American tribal history or the manners and customs of the American East or of Colonial California!

Have always liked the interminable accounts of the WWII European Front action, but simply need a change – then search out Pacific Front histories or leave WWII altogether and pick a different war. Humans being what they are, there will never be a shortage. Or, the ultimate flip, search out the history of Amish and Mennonite pacifism!

Keep it fresh, and you will always stay curious!

– Amanda Stiver

WWII Rations: Baking a Pudding?

(Image: Morguefile.com)

After reading all about British rationing during World War II I decided to try one of the recipes. This is a side effect of studying culinary history – edible research material!

I thought about trying my hand at green veggies or potato mash, but I deferred to a dessert recipe. I chose ‘Spiced Cottage Pudding with Lemon Sauce’ from Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic  Food and Facts From 1940-1954 by Marguerite Patten OBE.

I only got as far as the ‘Spiced Pudding’ and discovered that ‘pudding’ is one of those English words that has multiple meanings. My impression of pudding is a gooey, chocolaty, semi-liquid that one makes in a pot on the stovetop, but this recipe is more of a bread in the style of ginger-bread. A cake really.

Here is the recipe with my additions and tweaks:

Spiced Cottage Pudding (or in the States – Spice Cake)

-8 oz (1 cup) flour (I used whole wheat) with 4 teaspoons baking powder

-Pinch of salt

-2 tablespoons dried egg (or two fresh eggs)

-3 oz fat (light olive oil)

-3 oz sugar (a measurement also known as a ‘snit!’)

-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

-1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

-1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

-Approximately 1/4 pint (half a cup, or a little less) milk

(I used reconstituted dried milk to get in the spirit of WWII rations, and although being smelly, it incorporated effectively.)

Instructions: Mix the flour and baking powder with the salt and dried egg. Mix the fat in well. Add the sugar with the spices; mix to a stiff consistency with the milk (you may not end up using all the milk). Turn into a greased pan about 8×6 inches (the cake will rise moderately, like gingerbread). Bake in the center of a moderately hot (350° F) oven for 30 minutes. Cut in squares and serve hot.

> The result was a nice firm, if slightly dry cake with a lovely spicy flavor. This tasty cake, along with a dollop of whipped cream, would go well with coffee or tea.

Interestingly, the amount of sugar in this cake is far less than what we normally see in recipes. So much so, that you might mistake it for a snack cake rather than a full-blown dessert. However, remembering back to the 8 oz a week ration of sugar per person, you can see why recipes of that time were spare with the sugar. Sugar was as rare as diamonds!

There you have it – a recipe for history!

– Amanda Stiver

WWII: Fed Up on Feeble Rations

Limited food rations in Britain during World War II meant a lot of creativity in the kitchen. If you didn’t have eggs, which are essential in baking, you had to learn to use dehydrated powdered egg in your recipes. If you didn’t have milk, you have to make do with powdered milk – called household milk then.

Fortunately flour wasn’t rationed during the war, but being wasteful just wasn’t an option, so you were careful with the amounts you did have.

By the book

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954, by Marguerite Patten, is a compilation of three separate books about the Kitchen Front in WWII Britain. Each contains menus, cooking tips, and recipes from those years as provided by the British government to help cooks be more inventive with their meager rations.

I find these kind of historic resources fascinating because they provide a trip back in time, but also because they are still immediately applicable. Most all of the recipes in Marguerite Patten’s book are doable today. They may not be to our modern day taste, a taste, however, that is often sullied by overindulgence.

Having great material resources is good, but it can lead to wastefulness. Economics being what they are means that we are in for some particularly nasty inflation in the US, so looking back at a time when people carefully eked out meals with what they had on hand is as relevant as can be!

What did they eat?

Tooling through the recipes I find great emphasis on vegetables. They were mostly home grown, thus cheap, and un-rationed, thus available. The government didn’t ration these foods because of their immense nutritional value and so they encouraged people to eat them daily, in large portions.

Expectant mothers and children were given special supplies of oranges for Vitamin-C and cod-live-oil for Vitamin-D and essential oils. However, everyone else had to scrounge for vitamins via their vegetables.

Green, leafy vegetables were encouraged daily as well as a serving of raw vegetables. Sound familiar? This same type of advice is encouraged by current nutritional experts. More so because those raw vegetables contain enzymes that are essential for proper digestion.

Spuds

(Image: Morguefile.com)

Potatoes play a prominent role in the cook book. As the government material of the time said, they could be grown in England, preferably at home, and thus needed no transportation or importation – freeing up ships to transport supplies to the military forces overseas. They provided glucose and rounded out meals of small portions of meat (which was heavily rationed) and servings of vegetables.

Even pastry for desserts came to be made partially of potato mash. There was no job too big for the humble potato to complete!

Technique

For vegetables, so highly encouraged, cooks were instructed to prepare them by steam boiling. Not with the fancy steamer contraptions we have today, but with a small amount of water in the base of the kettle, just enough to boil into steam when the lid was added and thus cook the veggies.

This technique had the effect of keeping the cooked vegetables appetizing, avoiding the heavily boiled mush that was common. Also it required less cooking time and conserved fuels such as coal that were in short supply. Stoves at that time were wood, coal or oil powered, not electric or gas fed like we have today. Infrastructure wasn’t yet that advanced.

Steam boiling also kept some of the vitamin content intact. Certain vitamins are sensitive to heat and are diluted by water, thus over-cooking leads to depleted nutrient value. Minimal cooking preserved the water-soluble vitamins. Likewise, cooks were encouraged to save the cooking water for soups and other dishes – thereby consuming the rest of the precious vitamins and minerals.

This, by the way, is a fantastic tip for our lives today. Saving vegetable water doesn’t take much time and provides better nutrition. Likewise, pasta water can be used as a soup base because it contains starch and acts as a thickener.

So, go ahead, cook a little history today and standby for more on this topic soon…

– Amanda Stiver