Waris boiling thousands of miles away, but the family on the home front needs to eat, so what to make for dinner? How about some Ladies’ Aid Salad with Limas Fort McArthur? Or maybe a Victory Vegetable Plate, with some War Cake for dessert?
And what about that old favorite, Spam, which could be served cold in sandwiches or fried with pineapple rings? During World War II, these and other dishes might have been on the menu as homemakers learned creative ways to cope with food shortages and rationing.
"The women during World War II were called Home Front Warriors," says Joanne Lamb Hayes, author of "Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen — World War II and the Way We Cooked."
Her cookbook provides a fascinating look at the generation of women who kept the home fires burning and created some of the comfort foods people still love today, like meatloaf.
But more interesting is the contrast it provides to life on the contemporary home front. Women and men whose spouses are overseas in Iraq and Kuwait don’t have to worry about rations or whether they can get their hands on staples like butter or meat.
During World War II, however, many foods were hard to come by, so creative manufacturers and cooks had to come up with substitutes out of necessity. Knox Spread, for example, was used as a substitute for butter, and though it had a dab of the real stuff in it, it was mostly amixture of unflavored gelatin, water, salt, evaporated milk and food coloring.
Then there was something called Emergency Steak, made of wheat cereal, milk, chopped onion, a little bit of ground beef, salt and pepper. The mixture was formed into the shape of a T-bone steak and fried.
FAMILY COOK HAD TO BE INGENIOUS
One reason for the World WarIIfood shortages: People remembered similar shortages during World War I. When the United States entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American homemakers rushed to markets and grabbed up all the sugar and coffee they could.
They realized these were imported foods, and, with a war raging, imports would become scarce. That sent prices up on the products — when they could be found.
To help control supplies of coffee and sugar, the government stepped in with rationing coupons. As the war progressed, other foods became scarce — meats, fats and milk. Red meat, for example, was being shipped to the troops in Europe.
Eventually, Americans had to deal with 10 rationing programs.
Because of the shortages, putting a meal on the table in the early ’40s was hardly a piece of cake. Homemakers had to play around with a variety of domestic sugar substitutes: molasses, maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk and soda pop. Leftovers from Sunday’s roast became the stuffing for peppers on Tuesday.
Backyard gardens, which were encouraged during World WarI and continued through the Depression, were deemed Victory Gardens in December 1941, and nearly every family had one. Not only did the gardens supplement the diets of homeland families, the produce was sent to feed America’s European allies.
MEMORIES EVOKE PRIDE, PATRIOTISM
It sounds downright disastrous, but some of those who lived through it don’t recall the lack of commodities as hardships at all. They were proud of how their families coped and have fond memories of their efforts.
Lois Hayna of Colorado Springs was a young wife with three babies who lived in Little Rock, Ark., during the war years.
"We always had more things than we needed," she says. "Because we had babies, we would getextra ration coupons. A lot of the food we got we didn’t need for the babies — like the sugar and meat."
Still, everyone was careful with what they had and shared with others if they needed help.
Hayna remembers how bare the shelves were in grocery stores.
"When you walked in, there would be almost nothing on the shelves," she says. "I always went shopping with my babies, and when a store clerk would see I had little children, they would let me know about stuff they were storing in the back. They’d tell me they had some bananas — which you almost never saw — and let me have a couple if I wanted them."
Sherm Connolly, one of the first female soldiers to serve in the war, remembers the sacrifices made at home.
"We were just getting back on our feet after the Depression," says Connolly, a retired lieutenant colonel from Colorado Springs.
"My mother knew how to stretch a piece of meat to feed the five of us. She fed my two brothers, dad and herself on $1 aday.Wehad meat at one meal aday. Itwas cut real thin, and then she’d fill us up on pan gravy. She was frugal."
Edith Jensen of Colorado Springs was a newlywed when her husband, Sig, left to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps, so she went back home to live with her folks in New Rochelle, N.Y. They had enough meat because a family friend was a butcher, she says.
"But when we couldn’t get butter," she says, "we had to use oleo."
Where did the butter go? In her chapter "Butter and Gunpowder," Hayes says the government had another use for butter and other fats: glycerin for explosives. When a pound of fat was saved from meat drippings and trimmings, homemakers would take it to a butcher, who would pay for it with cash or ration stamps.
"Homemakers were told that atablespoon of fat saved each day would make a pound of glycerin a month," Hayes says. "A pound of fat from every home each month would make more than 500 pounds of smokeless powder a year."