Thursday, June 26, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 25 - Prune Nut Cake

Far from WWII related, but I just had to
put this little Star Trek Next Gen. reference
in here because this episode was so funny -
not to mention prune related!
Personally, I think prunes get a bad wrap. They're usually associated with the elderly, improving "regular" digestion, and viewed overall with disgust and something to be poked fun at. (see picture at right!)

I am not ashamed to admit that I love prunes. I think they have a wonderfully dark, complex flavor. In fact, they are sometimes used as a substitute for chocolate in recipes. I think everyone should at least try prunes once in their dried form - not necessarily as a glass of prune juice though. That's a whole different experience!

I've seen quite a few 1940s recipes using prunes. They weren't shy about it at all. Prunes were just another dried fruit and were right up there with raisins and other dried fruits. Of course, they were also valued for their health benefits of fiber for the bowels, just like they are today. I think their stigma needs to end, though, because there are many ways to enjoy prunes, including this week's recipe!

This week's ration recipe features the infamous prune in Prune Nut Cake. I've been holding on to this recipe for awhile as I really wanted to try it since I know that prunes aren't very glorified. I found the recipe in McCall's April 1942 magazine. The recipe is part of an ad for Royal Baking Powder. What I find so funny about this recipe is that smack in the middle of the recipe directions is a quick plug by "popular Mrs. Appleby" about how wonderful Royal Baking Powder is. It totally reminds me of Anne of Avonlea and Diana sending in Anne's story with a little plug for "Rollings Reliable Baking Powder" at the end. Haha!

Take a look:

To view an enlarged picture, right click the picture and open in a new tab,
then use the magnifying glass to magnify or Ctrl +.
Sorry that parts of the image are blurry!

I also like how this cake isn't that fancy. It's like your basic coffee cake but with nuts, dried prunes, and a dusting of powdered sugar for the top. That's it. I'd say it would be a nice tea-time snack or a lovely finisher to a fortifying ration-friendly dinner.

The recipe uses butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, sour heavy cream, milk, cake flour, baking powder (sorry, I used Rumford, not Royal!), salt, baking soda, chopped pecans, and chopped prunes.

 Cream the shortening, then combine in the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

 Sift together the dry ingredients, and last mix together the sour heavy cream and stewed prunes.

*A few notes: I had actual heavy cream (low-temp pasteurized) that had soured (it only smelled sour, not bad) that I used, but you can definitely use full-fat sour cream as well. Also, the recipe calls for stewed prunes. Stewing them makes them very soft, but as my prunes were already soft and mushy, I skipped the stewing part. (To stew them, cook them in a little water until they're very soft.)

**June 27, 2014 - Just found a recipe for making stewed prunes in one of the Westinghouse Health For Victory guides (July 1944):
"To Cook: Wash prunes with cold water. To each pound of prunes add 2 cups water and 1/4 tsp. salt. Use a covered utensil. Cook on high heat until steaming, then turn to simmer on lowest position which will maintain steaming. Cook 45 minutes to one hour. Add 1 tablespoon sugar just before removing from heat."

 Add the flour mixture, a few parts at a time, alternating with the prune/cream mixture, mixing well between each addition. This gives the batter a lovely, creamy texture. Fold in the nuts.

 Pour into a greased 8"x8" pan, smoothing the batter flat. Bake at 350º F for about 50 minutes.

Golden and looking delicious!
 After cooling, sift powdered sugar over the top and there you go!

This cake was very tender and has a wonderful texture and taste. I didn't feel the prunes were overpowering at all. Amidst the cake, you get a taste of the prune, the crunch of a nut, and overall it is a very pleasant morsel!

If prunes, really, truly are not your thing, I suppose you could substitute any dried fruit to your liking - blueberries, strawberries, apricots, raisins, dates, figs, etc. Even coconut! Just use the basic cake base and directions and then add the dried fruit that you choose. Keep in mind, though, that if your dried fruit is particularly dried or chewy (except for coconut), you'll need to stew them in some water to soften them up. That way they won't end up as little rocks in your cake.

Delicious Prune Nut Cake!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 24 - Beet Relish

I've been dying to try this ration recipe for Beet Relish ever since my friend Lori gave me a jar to try. I was a little skeptical of beet relish at first. I like beets pretty well, but I'm a die hard dill pickle relish fan. When it comes to condiments I have a hard time branching out. But as it was a ration recipe, I thought I'd at least try it. So, my husband and I tried the gorgeously ruby relish on some good hot dogs. Oh my goodness. It was amazing! Sweet, tangy, earthy. Needless to say, that jar didn't last very long and then I was left dreaming about it, wishing I had some more!

Well, when young beets started coming into season I knew the time had finally come. Hooray! The ladies at the farm where I shop asked what all the beets were for and when I told them, their interest was really peaked, so I promised I'd bring them a jar.

Canning is quite the production, especially in my small, oddly-shaped kitchen, so once I worked up the nerve I just had to go for it. Of course I had to do the canning on the hottest and most humid day of the week in our non-air-conditioned farmhouse, but hey! I got it done!

Home canning of produce was strongly encouraged during WWII. Canning food from your victory garden was a way to save on ration points since store-bought canned fruits and vegetables were expensive as a result of wartime shortages. Canning your own produce meant you spent absolutely none of your ration points for food you could eat all winter long. It was a thrifty idea, except for one thing. Canning equipment was in short supply because of rationed metal. Neighbors and community organizations were encouraged to share their equipment to enable everyone to be able to can their produce. Dehydrating and freezing were also viable means of preserving victory garden harvests, but freezing was limited to those who were within a reasonable distance of a quick freeze locker - a building designed specifically for keeping the community's frozen meats and produce. (This was in the days before our gigantic freezer/fridge combos we use at home today.)*

The recipe I'm using today has been modified for modern canning. A word of caution: Making most ration recipes poses no risk, however I strongly recommend that you do not can food using an original 1940s recipe, or any canning recipe prior to the 1990s for that matter. The science of canning food has progressed and changed over the years and what may have been deemed safe in 1943 (or even by Grandma who swears no one ever died from eating her canned food - sorry Grandma!) may have since been discovered as not being safe at all. So, if you want to try canning, I'd really recommend visiting Ball's canning website or buying a Ball Blue Book to learn more. (There are also lots of other great, modern canning recipe books out there including Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton, The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader, and The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard.)

Okay, on to the ration recipe!

For the brine: apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, mustard seed, celery seed
For the relish: beets, onions, cabbage, celery, sweet red peppers
The recipe is actually pretty simple, it's just time consuming. Put on a good historical drama or have a friend help and you'll be good to go. Expect at least about 4 hours of your day to be taken up by this one recipe. It'll be worth it though!

I used a mixture of red and golden beets. Golden beets are more mild in flavor than red,
but in the end it all turns red from the red beets!
I hope you can appreciate how long it took me to dice all of these vegetables by hand! I think it was about 1 1/2 episodes of watching "The Paradise" on Netflix. Not a bad show, by the way, even if the ending was a bit ambiguous.

That is a lot of diced veg!

The brine heating on the stove.

The diced veg still seemed too big to me, so I pulsed it in the food processor until I got the pieces the size I wanted.
Stirring the veg into the brine

After 20 minutes or so, it's all cooked! You can see that everything has been dyed red from the beets. They're what give the relish that gorgeous ruby color.

Canned and cooling! 

Isn't it pretty?

Gorgeous and delicious!
Now I just have to go out and get some hot dogs...

Beet Relish

This beautiful relish makes a good accompaniment to meat loaves and main-dish casseroles. It's also good on sandwiches or as a salad dressing on assorted greens. (It also tastes awesome on hot dogs!)

3 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. mustard seed
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 cups finely chopped peeled beets, either raw or cooked (I peeled and cut them raw - less messy)
2 cups finely chopped cabbage
2 cups finely chopped onions
2 cups finely chopped red bell peppers

Bring vinegar, brown sugar, celery seed, mustard seed, salt, and red pepper flakes to a boil in a large non-aluminum saucepan. Stir in beets, cabbage, celery, onions, and bell peppers. Return to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, sterilize jars and prepare equipment for processing relish. When relish has cooked, pack into jars; seal and process 15 minutes in boiling water bath canner. Cool to room temperature. Check seal, label, and store. Use within 1 year.

Makes about 5 pints or 10 half pints.
Recipe from Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb

*Research from Health-For-Victory Club Meal Planning Guide - May 1943

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Defense of the Old-Fashioned

Cicero - "To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child."

Awhile ago, I was having a conversation with my mother on the phone. We were discussing the pros and cons of modern 21st century technologies such as the internet, cell phones & texting, and how our society depends on these technologies so much.

Now I am not anti-modern technology. I may sometimes have daydreams of going to live in a cabin in the woods and live a "pioneer" life for a month away from the modern world, but I don't really want to live that way permanently. My favorite book to pour over as a teenager was Reader Digest's Back to Basics which covers everything you could possibly know about running your own homestead.

I have read with fascination about those who do go back to "simpler times" in their lifestyle and life choices. I admire them for it. One such account that had a big impact on me was Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology about a man and his wife who go to live in an Amish-like community and live without electricity. He writes about his thoughts about our uses of technology and electricity as a society. It is interesting stuff!

However, I do like having so much information available to me at the touch of a button. I enjoy watching movies, and I love how easy it is to do genealogy from the comfort of my own home. I also love how I'm able to do online historical research and that I'm able to blog about my love of history!

I guess my concern is what I see in our current young generation and even with some adults I know. The huge abundance of technology is normal and expected and while Atari is still cool because it's "vintage", the knowledge and use for older things or technologies isn't seen as valid or important. In fact, some think it's best forgotten, because it's old and it's junk and they just don't care. To them the past is irrelevant.

Therefore, I'd like to write in defense of the old-fashioned and why it is so very important.


Drew, Bettina - "The past reminds us of timeless human truths and allows for the perpetuation of cultural traditions that can be nourishing; it contains examples of mistakes to avoid, preserves the memory of alternative ways of doing things, and is the basis for self-understanding..."

For me the biggest allure to antiques and learning about old ways is the connection I feel to those that lived back then. I especially feel this connection by items owned by my ancestors. I have an old pocket watch my great-great-great grandmother Sarah was given by her husband with her name engraved inside. I love knowing that she held the watch. Of course I never met her, but I have that connection with her just the same.

A more recent example is we went out to my husband's grandparents' farm in Montana and his grandmother offered for us to take back some antiques with us. Offering antiques to someone like me who loves antiques was like sending a kid to the candy store and telling them to pick anything they wanted! However, I was very careful in selecting and was happy to be able to bring back items belonging to Erik's great-grandparents like a 1940s electric iron that his great-grandmother bought right after they got electricity at the farm. You bet that was one of the first things she got! I love that her hand held that iron and ironed who knows how many shirts, pants, and dresses with it; the handle gently worn by use. Through these wonderful gifts of the past, for the first time, I feel really connected to my husband's family.


Elton, G.R. - "[W]hat we call history is the mess we call life reduced to some order, pattern, and possibly purpose."

McCullough, David - "History is who we are and why we are the way we are."

I feel I can better see the big picture of the past through the things people used and in turn can see where we got to where we are today. This understanding, I feel, is vital to our societies. We are continually hurtling into the future, but how can we understand the now of where we're at if we don't understand where we came from and how we got to the point that we are?

Besides that, I feel there comes a great understanding that comes through valuing old skills and learning to use older technology. We get a really good sense of our ancestors' lives when we wear their clothes and use their tools, read their books and make their recipes. It is one thing to read about the past, to understand mistakes they made and to learn from them, to analyze how they lived their lives, etc. But to attempt to walk parallel with their lives by experiencing work and ideas, wearing clothing and prepare food as they did is to come to a level of understanding that doesn't come with books. (I'm elluding to experimental history which I've discussed before on here.)

Through that learning and experience, hopefully we find, that we cannot judge our ancestors based on today's standards. Wages may have been $1 a week, but money was not valued the same and inflation was different - you have to do some fancy math to figure out the true value of that dollar compared to today's dollar. Not only that, but moral and societal standards were far different and therefore we shouldn't call our ancestors names or point judgemental fingers because as L.P. Hartley said, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." Once we come to that level of understanding about our ancestors and our past, we are better able to fully learn from them and apply that meaning to our lives today.


Powell, Jane. - "... A house comes with responsibilities, and a historic house comes with more responsibilities. We are only the caretakers of these houses, which were here before we owned them and which will be here after we are gone. They contain the wood from the old-growth forests, they are monuments to the skill of those who labored to build them, they represent our cultural heritage. To destroy them, or allow them to be destroyed by neglect, to remove their original fabric in the pointless pursuit of "no maintenance" is profoundly disrespectful both to the trees that gave their lives and to the labor and skill of those who built the houses-with hand tools, I might add."

Proverbs 22:28 - "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set."

We are built on the foundation of our forefathers. To ignore that, I feel, is disrespectful and self-centered. I understand that not everything from our past is rosy, but our ancestors lived and sweated and toiled, made mistakes, discovered and invented. The future generations inherit these great heritage treasures. To take care of that inheritance is to show respect for those that came before us.

Now, I'm not saying to necessarily treasure those asbestos shingles from your 1950s house or every single rusty nail crafted by a blacksmith's hand. But to understand their lives, to appreciate their knowledge and skills, and to learn from them is important. Museums exist to preserve and help us learn from our past. They are in the best positions to care for historical artifacts. But if you have inherited items from your family, have you ever considered that it might be a responsibility for you to learn about why they have been saved to be handed down, to record that, and to care for those items?

I have these pieces of crocheted lace. My mother gave them to me, but over the years neither of us remember who exactly they came from and why they were saved. So, in a sense I've failed my responsibility. (I suppose that is why antique shops exist, which is a good thing, as those forgotten items can be passed on to others who appreciate them for reasons other than their provenance.)

Going back to when we were at my husband's grandparent's farm, among those items we were able to take home was an old camera. To anyone else it would just be a cool, old camera. But learning that it was my husband's great-grandfather's camera and that he was a local historian and took important, rare pictures of a dam break and flood in the 1960s, the meaning and importance behind that camera grew ten-fold. Writing the history down and caring for the camera is a way to show respect for that man's life and his part of our family's personal heritage, not to mention his community's heritage.

In short, our families, our communities, and our nation all have the same responsibility to preserve, protect, and respect our cultural heritages. We are able to connect with our past, learn from it, and then to show respect for those that went before and laid the foundation for our lives. Devaluing or forgetting our past would be a huge disservice to ourselves and our children.

Because to forget our past is to lose ourselves.

**Quotes from the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 23 - Pork Roast Victory Dinner

Front Cover of
Thrifty Cooking for Wartime
I was excited to try a recipe from a new book I acquired recently. It's called Thrifty Cooking for Wartime by Alice B. Winn-Smith published in 1942. The premise of the cookbook is that the author was attempting to fill a void for simple, basic wartime recipes for real housewives. I love her preface, so I'm not going to paraphrase and just put it here:

"With the grim realities of war at our very shores it behooves all Americans to grit their teeth, tighten their belts, and wade into the unpleasant job of cleaning up the mess. In doing this everyone must have a part; and the one to be played by American housewives in their own kitchens is no less important than that of the worker in the munitions plant or the soldier advancing with the tanks. But in order to do her part the housewife, like the soldier, needs a new set of rules.

Back Cover
Click to englarge
"This book, therefore, is an attempt to set down in concrete and usable form some, though by no means all, of the new rules for wartime cooking. In reality they are not new rules but rather the best and thriftiest of the old ones. Many of the practical suggestions which are given date from previous wars. Some of them, no doubt, were used by those sturdy pioneers in the big old New England kitchens of the Revolutionary War days. One or two definitely have their origin, so far as it can be traced, in our great Civil War. And many of them were used during the First World War by thousands of American women.

"To make these rules for THRIFTY COOKING FOR WARTIME easy to use it seemed best not to create just another cookbook in the regular manner with hundreds of detailed recipes and specific menus. Instead it was planned to give just a few basic recipes in the various fields of cooking which are practical, economical, and easy to change; then, following each basic recipe, to offer a few 'thrifty changes' which will add unlimited variety and meet the emergency by using the foods that are on hand in the cupboard or most readily available in any local market. From these variations and suggestions any woman can adapt her menus to whatever conditions arise. And to the woman who has once started to use this 'basic recipe' principle of planning and preparing her wartime cooking hundreds of other ideas will constantly come. 

"Then like the general on the field of battle, she can follow and apply the rules of the game effectively, to help win this war and make VICTORY - the victory of justice for all - ours." 

~ The Author
Salt Lake City, Utah
March 8, 1942

Isn't that fabulous?! I like the way this woman thinks about food. And it is a totally different take from the Westinghouse Meal Planning Guides. I love how she makes reference to the other wars experienced by Americans and draws out the patriotic and important duty of housewives in the current war of the 40s. I think it's also interesting how she seems to reflect the attitude of the Americans "having to clean up the mess". It's rather shocking in a way to read it straight out like that, but I'm sure many Americans thought that at the time, and in some ways I think that mindset still exists today.

As for the thrifty recipe, I had just bought a pork shoulder, so I wanted to attempt to make a roast of some kind. I have very little experience with roasts and thought I could learn a thing or two from Ms. Winn-Smith. For pork roasts she has you follow the basic beef roast recipe and then suggests some additions for the pork. This time I'm posting the recipe at the beginning so you can get a sense of her style. Just click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Instructions for Beef Pot Roast

Additional instructions for Pork Roast & Thrifty Changes

For the thrifty changes to my pork roast recipe, I decided to add the garlic, onion, apples, and raisins.

First I melted lard in a pot.

Then I coated the ham shoulder in a dusting of flour.

Then I put it in the pot and cooked it on all sides until golden. I also salted and peppered it. I'm always shy about salting meat I can't taste while it's raw, so I didn't end up putting enough on. 

Salted & peppered and nicely browning!

I added the onions and then the water.


Next I added the apples and raisins.

It looked and smelled wonderful! I let it simmer for about 2 hours. I think a crock pot would have served just as well!

The directions say that an hour before the pork is finished cooking, you may add potatoes or root veggies to the pot, so I put in cut up carrots and new potatoes - yellow, red, and purple! Isn't it fun?

Doesn't it look lovely?

A finished bowl of delicious Pork Roast Victory Dinner!
I did attempt to make the gravy from her directions, but it didn't turn out very well at all. It didn't thicken and it seemed too watered down. Maybe 2 cups of water was too much? Gravy from drippings is something I don't excel at just yet. I'll need to try it again. I kept the gravy and think I might simmer it down for a long time.

The pork and veg tasted wonderful though! I was downright proud of my cute little pork roast. :-) A big thanks to Ms. Winn-Smith and her tasty recipe!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 22 - Almond Flan

Almond Flan
Lately, I realized that I’ve been making a lot of American rationing recipes, so I thought I’d show the Brits some love and take this week’s recipe from Victory Cookbook by Margeurite Patten.

I decided on Almond Flan amongst the many British recipes I have bookmarked. I’ve always wanted to make a flan, but just by looking at the ingredients I knew it wasn’t going to be anything like those rich, creamy custardy flans I've had at Mexican restaurants. In fact, I was surprised to find out that all flans are not created equal (as found on wikipedia... *sigh*) :
Flan is an open pastry or sponge cake containing a sweet or savoury filling. A typical flan of this sort is round, with shortcrust pastry. It is similar to a custard tart or a South African melktert.[1]
British savoury flans may have diverged from the Spanish and French custard flans (also known as crème caramel) in the Middle Ages.
How interesting! I had no idea. :-)

One thing I've noticed in the differences between British and American ration recipes is that the British recipes are definitely based off a smaller variety of staples. This would make sense with it being a smaller body of land and that it’s an island at the mercy of what it could import. Once imports were cut off, they had to live off what they grew. This would lead to much plainer food staples. I realize that the culture is different as well and I think traditional British food is plainer in nature to begin with. But I have found that I don’t have to go out and buy ingredients for the British recipes nearly as much as the American ones. Just an interesting comparison. Making this flan put me in mind of this as its ingredients are fairly simple, but the dish itself is quite delicious and satisfying.

The recipe calls for semolina and through research I learned that semolina is usually made from wheat, but it is sometimes made from corn (think grits). Semolina can also be ground finer to make flour for making breads or pastas too. I didn’t have any wheat semolina, so I used a coarse cornmeal instead.

Weighing my ingredients
Before I even started I had to go and measure everything as the recipe only had the ingredients by weight. I'm always happy to use my vintage postal scale! I penciled in the measured amounts for you in the recipe below, but you'll have to keep in mind that it is fairly humid here and had rained the day before. So, my flour was probably heavier than normal and therefore I needed less of it. I don't think the differences are huge enough to make a difference, but I felt I should mention it.

Ingredients: flour, baking powder, shortening, salt, & water for crust.
Filling: Baking powder, flour, sugar, semolina (I used coarse cornmeal), reconstituted egg, almond extract, raspberry jam, shortening

The recipe starts out with making the pie crust - basic flour, salt, shortening, and water with the interesting addition of baking powder.

Prepared pie crust

Once the pie crust dough was made, rolled, and put into a pie plate, I spread jam on the bottom – in my case I used raspberry jam, but you can use whatever jam you have on hand. I think apricot or blackberry would be nice too.

Raspberry jam spread on the bottom

Next I made the filling using the reconstituted egg, semolina, flour, almond extract, and milk/water combination. I love that they actually suggest that you can water down the milk. I do that all the time to stretch my milk further when using it in recipes! (Not to drink, though.)

Reconstituted egg, creamed butter & sugar, almond extract

After adding the dry ingredients and mixing well, I poured the filling into the raspberry-covered pie crust and set it in the 375ºF oven. The recipe says to set it at 350º and cook for 35 minutes, but I set it at 375º and cooked it for 20 because I had an appointment I had to get to. It actually baked quite well, though the crust was more done than I like.

Raw flan with filling poured over the raspberry jam
You can see where my daughter took the liberty of sampling
the pie crust before it went into the oven. haha!
Once we got back from our appointment, the flan had cooled nicely and the kids and I tried a slice. It was delicious! The flavors were distinct, but delicate. The semolina had risen to the top to make a sort of soft crust and the milk, eggs, and raspberry jam had mingled to make a nice custardy filling in the middle. And it wasn’t too sweet either. It’s just the sort of pie that would go perfectly with a milky cup of tea. Yum! My son had several helpings as did I and my husband. My daughter wasn’t a fan, but she’s rather picky anyway. I’d say it was a success!

Another wonderful thing about this dessert or tea time snack is that once cooled, the slices are very sturdy and can be eaten in your hand – something that would have been perfect for a lunch to take to your wartime job.

Almond Flan - Wartime British style!

Give it a try and enjoy a lovely British wartime snack!

Look at those lovely layers!