Country Kitchen: War Time Foods of Childhood

Country Kitchen: War Time Foods of Childhood

By Mary Emma Allen

Recently I mentioned to a friend that the current conflict brought to mind childhood memories of World War II with blackouts along the Atlantic Coast, rationed food, coupon books, Victory gardens, and an uncle stationed on Guam in the Pacific. She said she hadn't realized those hardships existed in our country.

During the days since Sept. ll and the current war, memories I thought no longer existed have come flooding back. Among these are scarcity of foods such as sugar and meat, butter substitutes coming into vogue, the use of ration books, and Victory gardens grown in many yards.

Since my family lived on a dairy farm and normally planted a garden every year, butchered hogs in winter, and raised chickens for eggs and meat, we didn't fare too badly when it came to our meals.

However, we had to substitute molasses and syrup for sugar in baking. Butter was scarce. (Even though we lived on a dairy farm, we didn't churn butter as my aunt did). So oleo margarine was introduced.

A Butter Substitute

The very first oleo was white, to which we added a packet of coloring. You placed the oleo and coloring into a bowl and stirred and stirred until the yellow was uniform.

Then the oleo in a plastic package was introduced. The little nodule of coloring was inside and had to be squeezed and broken. Then you squished and squished the oleo back and forth inside the plastic until it was colored. This was much more fun than stirring it in a bowl.

Victory Gardens

Families who normally didn't raise a garden began planting vegetables, even if only in a small back yard plot or window garden. Women who had never canned now began to preserve foods.

Since my family had raised a garden for years, we now planted a Victory garden of flowers. To show our patriotic spirit, Mother chose flowers in red, white and blue colors.

Then Father painted a large wooden container white with a blue V in front and back and red stripes along the top. In this we planted more flowers. So for many years, I thought a Victory garden was a flower garden.

Recipes for War Time Foods

Recipes for cakes without eggs and sugar evolved. Variations were made by cooks throughout the country. Many of these recipes originally called for butter, but lard often was substituted. Sometimes the recipes omitted the shortening entirely.

Since white sugar was rationed, brown sugar was more readily available. What recipes do you remember from war time years?

WAR TIME CAKE - Combine in a medium saucepan and boil for 3 minutes: 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup cold water, 1/3 cup lard, (you can substitute shortening),1 cup seedless raisins, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let cool.

Sift together: 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Add to above mixture and bend well.

Pour into greased and floured square or loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, or until cake tests done with inserted pick. You also can bake this on a cookie sheet until tests done. Then cut into squares and serve as cookies.

(C) 2003 Mary Emma Allen

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen has been writing her "Cooking Column" for newspapers and online publications for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. SheÂ’s currently compiling a cookbook/story book, "Tales From a Country Kitchen." Visit her web site for more cooking articles. Contact her at

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