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

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I Beg of You… Don’t Hate History

Let the following numbers sink in and then I’ll explain why they’re horrifying…

(Image: Morguefile.com)

— A mere 20% of American fourth-graders (~10-11 years old) passed a National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. history test with a “proficient” knowledge of their country’s history.

— Only 17% of eighth-graders (~14-15 years old) tested proficient.

— Worst of all, twelfth-graders, seniors in high school ready to go to college and become registered voters at 18 years old, scored a horrendous 12% proficiency (Stephanie Banchero, “Students Stumble Again on the Basics of History,” Online.WSJ.com, June 15, 2011).

I cannot number the times I’ve heard the now familiar statement, “Well, I hated history when I was a kid, but now I’m that I’m older, I’d really like to learn about it.” Followed by, “It’s probably because I didn’t have very good history teachers in school.”

I can’t fix the latter, which is the quagmire of our educational system dictated by politics. I can address the former; indeed I feel I must, so dangerous is this crisis.

I have but one life to give…

(Image: Morguefile.com)

Theoretically, 88% of American seniors know next to nothing about the country that gave birth to them, prospered their parents, allows their freedoms of dissent, and finally freedom to vote (or not to vote, as they wish).

88 per cent devoid of basic U.S. history knowledge! This is abysmal!

To me, as a historian, it is tragic because I love history, and my knowledge of the past lets me see into the future. Yet more fundamentally, I am appalled that our nation knows so little of its glorious, storied, sometimes dark, but often bright history.

It is tragic, too, because history is the fulcrum upon which our freedoms balance. Educationally speaking, math, science, and written word studies give us the means to improve our lot and style of life, but history hovers above, around, and beyond all that. History was passed on by word of mouth long before it was written down; it pre-existed and sustained those other disciplines. You can’t learn math if it is illegal for you to do so. History teaches us what is legal and what is not.

Most importantly, however, history preserves our knowledge of what freedom is. Without that, any dictator can come in and trounce us into submission. Without understanding the history of their struggle for freedom, any people can and will become the servant rather than the master. They no longer value what generations before fought and died to give them. They no longer value the representative government, the checks and balances, the useful traditions that give us identity, freedom of expression, freedom to meet together in peace, and freedom to transact government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath says it this way:

“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Give me your tired, your poor…

To know history is also to learn compassion for those who suffer because so much of human history is suffering. It is to hear the cries of hungry children during the Great Depression, waiting for food that would not come because no food could be bought because no one had money and no jobs were to be found.

It is to hear the weeping of mothers whose sons died at Lexington and Concord, and at Gettysburg and Antietam. It is to see the fire fall from the sky as American soldiers invaded the coast of Normandy and made bombing runs deep into enemy territory over Germany to defeat the Nazis during World War II.

It is the struggle of pioneer families who made the hard, unrelenting trek across the American West to find a better life, full of greater promise and a more abundant future for their children and generations to come.

Learn to love history…

These low scores are simply one of the signs of a greater malaise in America right now. It will take us some doing to get out from under its apathetic and dreary spell.

(Image: Morguefile.com)

I’m prescriptive by nature, and every problem has a solution. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate how history should be taught, and how to find the stories hidden amongst the dates, battles, and personalities than to recommend the following clip of Andy Griffith teaching a history lesson. It is classic and unparalleled. It is how I see history when I read it – full of life, full of great causes, full of heritage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGXCH7zBdc4

In my next post…

I will concentrate on ways to re-invigorate a personal and family love of history with book and magazine recommendations and other ways to make history approachable. Man or woman, parent or child, young or old it is essential to find a way to learn U.S. and World History, and to learn to love it… stay tuned.

– 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

Eating Up World War II

(Image: Morguefile.com)

Could you live on 1 fresh egg every two weeks?

Could you live on 2 oz. of tea every week? How about 4 oz. of meat per week (that’s the size of 1 small steak, by the way), 2 oz. of butter (half a stick), 2 oz. of cheese, and 8 oz. of sugar (yep, just one cup A WEEK!).

These are merely a sample of the ration measurements for a single individual’s food for one week during World War Two in Great Britain. This, combined with the rations of other family members in a household, were the raw ingredients for breakfast and dinner. Lunch was often taken at school or a work cafeteria in order to stretch those portions.

Bread wasn’t rationed and neither were vegetables. To take advantage of fresh produce, many wartime Britons grew stupendous gardens – Victory Gardens. Likewise their American cousins dug in and planted – though rationing in the States was not nearly as severe. Vegetables made up a large part of the diet and were the main supply of vitamins and minerals.

The Ministry of Food was the government office in the UK that directed rationing and also provided creative recipes for using limited foods. Taking a turn through a cookbook from that era is a lesson in thinking outside the box. Replacements and substitutions were the order of the day.

Next up… how and what kind of meals did they create on such meager portions? Stay tuned!

(Ration facts courtesy of Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954, Marguerite Patten OBE, Chancellor Press, 2002.)

Putting Up with Food: Canning

I remember jars of preserves on my grandma’s shelves. When I was little and my family would go on our annual cross-country visit to my grandparent’s home in Oregon, I always looked forward to a yummy dish of canned cherries or plums.

Not the kind from the grocery store that swims in high fructose corn syrup. Nope, the good old-fashioned home-canned variety in its own juices, some additional water and a bit of sugar. Best of all in a glass jar instead of a metal can sprayed with plastic.

In a dark, back corner of the house was the pantry in which the jars were stored. By the time I was a youngster grandma was putting up less home canned goods because the stores were filled with affordable options. However, in past years she and many like her put in a great deal of work each year to grow and put up produce.

Great pride was taken in one’s beans, tomatoes, peaches, berries, pickles, and mincemeat, etc. One scene in the movie State Fair typifies this domestic skill and pride. The main character and her mother, Mrs. Frake, are watching a contest at the state fair in which mother’s pickles and mincemeat are up for prizes. As the contestants anxiously wait, more than a few smug looks are shared by the previous year’s winner, until she finds out she lost to Mrs. Frake.

Producing the most delicious home canned goods from one’s own garden was a big deal. Much more of America farmed and lived off the land at that time. People were tied into the earth and very proud of what they could produce. Proud they were of the self-sufficiency of which they were capable.

The next time you reach for a can of peas think about the task of putting food up. Think about what kind of work went into growing, harvesting, cooking and canning those peas so you could buy them at the store. Now, imagine doing all that work yourself! That’s history!

– Amanda Stiver

Ice Cream, We Scream!

Ice cream is an American pastime ubiquitous to a hot, humid summer. And I do mean pastime – in the Midwest, in particular, ice cream stands and brands abound and elicit very strong opinions.

Whether you are a frozen custard or an ice cream purist will determine the store you patronize. National chains compete for attention with the homegrown article – and often lose! On this note, if you are ever in Ohio, visit Granville and try Whit’s – it’s excellent!

Then there are the mad scientists who like to concoct their own homemade varities. Even among this crowd is division. Are you an old-fashioned ice cream maker? Do you only use the rock salt and ice, hand cranked models? Or are you technologically advanced and prefer the self-freezing chamber versions that are electrified?

Frozen, in time

As with all my history quests, I want to know whether, and how, people made things in the past. So, what about ice cream – was it available in the days before electric refrigeration?

Well, if you’ve ever watched Meet Me in St. Louis you will discover that yes, it was, at least according to MGM’s version of the early 20th century. Ice cream was a special treat to be had in the summer, after all, who wants a freezing bowlful of cream in the dead of winter?

Likewise, ice cream and frozen custards were a specialty of the colonial era. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both aficionados of the tasty treat introduced to them by the French. Recipes from this era abound and their decadent sweetness was made possible by the construction of icehouses to store blocks of frozen ice through the summer (Alice Ross, “Ice Cream, a Colonial Delicacy,” Early American Life, June 2010).

Brrrrrr

Hauling ice to be stored was a going business until the dawn of electrical refrigeration. Each winter big blocks of ice had to be cut from frozen lakes, hauled to privately-owned icehouses or stored in a big, partially-subterranean barn. Packed in sawdust or straw, the ice would keep far into the summer.

Ice chips and rock salt were used to drop the temperature of the chamber in which cream, sugar, and fruit or an egg-based custard mixture would freeze. Hearty volunteers turned the handle keeping the ice cream moving in order to freeze evenly.

Finally, after all that work, was the finished product – smooth, homemade ice cream!

This is by far one of most rewarding historical re-enactments that you can pursue today – find a hand-cranked ice cream maker at a garage sale, marshal your ingredients, crank away, and slip into the past via a bowl of ice cream! Chipping the block of ice from a frozen lake and storing it all summer is up to you!

– Amanda Stiver