A Week of Meals in 1942

Two weeks ago I decided to try out a new blog post format where I inserted my own thoughts and comments into text copied from the wartime edition of the American Woman’s Cookbook. Looking back, I have decided that it wasn’t the most reader-friendly way to present information and I don’t think I’ll do that again. Too much information was crammed in there. I think the post was a little too hard to digest (pun definitely intended) easily. Here is an addendum to that post: a sample week’s worth of meals taken straight from the book. Enjoy!

Sharecropper kitchen
“Corner of Kitchen and Dining Room in Ed Bagget’s House. Sharecropper Kitchen is Screened but Otherwise Open. Near Laurel, Mississippi.” 1939. Image source: Library of Congress.

HOW TO FEED A FAMILY OF FIVE ON $15 PER WEEK

“New taxes and other additional cash outlays that occur in wartime together with definite shortages in many commodities require the sharpest kind of economy. This will be no new experience to the homemaker who has been feeding a family of two adults and three children on $15.00 a week. But for those who must learn to carry on when that figure is new to them, the following pages will help meet the challenge.”

Defense Home kitchen
Kitchen in a new defense home in Bantam, Connecticut. 1942. Image Source: Library of Congress.

“Whims and fancies break down well-laid plans for good nutrition. Everybody must eat all food prepared if there is to be a minimum of waste. This puts upon the homemaker the responsibility of careful selection and good cooking. The test of a good cook is a clean plate. And good cooking means conserving all the food values…minerals and vitamins.”

Buy Carefully

“Buy staples in quantities when permitted. Meats, fruits and vegetables need to be inspected carefully and bought in accordance with the market and the season. The woman who does her own marketing will have all the advantage over the woman who telephones and sends a child. Discriminating judgment at market is what saves money every day. Make a check list in your kitchen and then stick to it. Stay within your food budget every week. A dangerous pitfall is that of overbuying one week in the hope of making it up the next. If there is a little cash left, buy eggs or fruit. Raise a garden and poultry if you can. It will take pressure off the budget.”

A Sample Week’s Meals

Sunday

Breakfast: Grapefruit halves (or berries, rhubarb sauce, slices peaches, plums or pears), prepared cereal, popovers with jelly, milk and coffee.

Dinner: Smoked picnic ham with brown sugar (or honey) and cloves (prepare extra ham to use in Tuesday’s meals), mashed sweet potatoes, buttered green beans, french dressing, whole-wheat bread, and chocolate soufflé (or chocolate pudding or fruit sherbet).

Supper: Rinktum ditty, celery curls, olives, and apples (or any other fresh or canned fruit).

Monday

Breakfast: Prune juice, cooked whole-wheat cereal with shaved maple sugar, cinnamon enriched bread toast, milk and coffee.

Lunch: Creamed eggs and green beans (leftover) served in topped popover shells, old fashioned slaw, oatmeal cookies, and milk shakes.

Dinner: Sautéed liver with tomato sauce, boiled rice, buttered beet greens (spinach, mustard or dandelion greens, turnip or broccoli tops might be used), orange salad (or salad of tomatoes with pineapple or cucumber), enriched bread, bread pudding made with honey, and tea or coffee.

Negro kitchen
“Washington D.C. Kitchen in Negro Home Near Union Station.” 1940. Image source: Library of Congress.

Tuesday

Breakfast: Sliced oranges (or tomato or grapefruit juice), rice waffles, honey or sirup, milk and coffee.

Lunch: Split pea soup (made with picnic bone as flavoring), lettuce whole-wheat sandwiches, soft custard over canned peaches, milk, and tea.

Dinner: Scalloped potato and chopped picnic casserole, buttered beets (or red cabbage in sweet-sour sauce, chopped broccoli with lemon butter), green onions, carrot strips, whole-wheat bread, baked apples stuffed with dates, milk, and coffee.

Wednesday

Breakfast:

Grapefruit juice, corn-meal muffins (or graham gems), jelly, milk, and coffee.

Lunch: Stuffed onions with tomato sauce, cottage cheese salad, enriched bread, rhubarb sauce sweetened with honey, oatmeal cookies, milk and tea.

Dinner: Broiled lamb patties, parsley buttered potatoes, pan-fried parsnips, molded salad of cranberry sauce (canned) chopped celery and apples, whole-wheat bread, butterscotch pudding with nuts, top milk, milk tea or coffee.

Thursday

Breakfast: Apple juice, prepared cereal, french toast, sirup, milk and coffee

Lunch:

Cream of tomato soup (carrot, corn, broccoli, or asparagus may be substituted), peanut butter and bacon sandwiches on rye bread, sweet pickles, thinned butterscotch pudding (leftover) on graham crackers, milk and tea.

Dinner:

Rolled flank steak with stuffing (stuffed beef loaf is a good alternative), baked hubbard squash, salad of grapefruit sections and avocado slices, enriched bread, prune whip (made with egg whites), milk and coffee.

Friday

Breakfast: Grapefruit halves, prepared cereal, poached eggs, toasted bran bread, milk and coffee.

Lunch: Macaroni and cheese, cabbage slaw, rye bread, leftover fruits in gelatin, milk and tea

Dinner: Fish soufflé, baked potatoes, salad of cottage cheese, stuffed prunes, enriched bread, apple betty (made with brown sugar), milk and coffee

Electric Institute kitchen
Electric Institute of Washington test kitchen. Circa 1920-1950. Image source: Library of Congress.

Saturday

Breakfast: Mixed fruit juices (combined leftovers with lemon juice), cooked whole-wheat cereal, butterscotch toast, milk and coffee.

Lunch: Baked potatoes with creamed chipped beef (or baked potatoes with leftover creamed fish topping), celery curls, pickled peaches or pears, fresh home bakes bread, custard sauce over sliced oranges, milk and tea.

Dinner: Eggs scrambled with chopped chives or parsley, salad of shredded lettuce and carrots and chopped sweet pickle, homemade rolls, steamed suet pudding, lemon sauce, and hot chocolate.

 

I’ll end with a few observations:

There is hardly any ‘ethnic’ foods in this menu. All recipes seem to be pretty traditional American type foods. I’m hardly an expert on the history of food in the United States so some of these recipes could have been pretty uncommon for the time though.

A lot of these meals require a lot of preparation time and planning. This cookbook assumes that every family is going to have a housewife at home who has the time to prepare meals. Any home with single parents, working parents, etc. would definitely not have the time to make a lot of these meals.

These are hot meals, and appear to be intended to be eaten at the table. There aren’t very many cold or raw items. I would have expected to see more portable or fast meals (with cold or raw items). Maybe this was because the authors didn’t predict so many people would be working in the military/defense industries? Or maybe these recipes were intended for families who stayed pretty close to home all the time (maybe gas rationing and other transportation changes kept Americans closer to home than before…)

Milk is at the table in every meal. Even though many foods were rationed or missing from the World War II kitchen, this cookbook assumes that milk will always be available.

Leftovers are used strategically later in the week. A clever way to make sure that no food goes to waste and you can buy some food items in bulk.

I was surprised at the large variety of fruits and vegetables that are suggested in this menu. Were there really this many produce options during the war?

Dessert is frequently a significant part of meals. I would have expected a wartime cookbook to suggest that cooks do without dessert to save food and time. If we couldn’t do without it in wartime, then I suppose dessert is truly a staple of the American diet!

Sleeping dog
“Dog Sleeping Under Kitchen Table in Farm Kitchen, Cavalier County, North Dakota.” 1940. Image source: Library of Congress.
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Author: Tyler Stump

Historian and archivist who likes writings about history kinds of things.

2 thoughts on “A Week of Meals in 1942”

  1. Thanks for a great post! As part of a new collection of military and wartime resources, the special collections where I work just acquired a second copy of this cookbook. It’s in much better shape than our previous one-it still has the original box and dust jacket. Thanks to the new collection, I’ve been thinking a lot about World War II cookery again (and wartime cookery in general).

    I like your observation about the lack of raw or cold meals being lacking in the book. Given that there are other publications from the period that DO cover more portable meals to support those working outside the home in defense/industry (i.e. government pubs or corporate sponsored items like “How to Pack Lunch Boxes for War Workers” from Westinghouse), I’m wondering if this book was an attempt to reinforce a need for as much family meals, family time, and “normal life” as a housewife could muster in the face of war? Or is it more a matter of the publishers taking existing home culinary concepts/advice and giving them a wartime angle? I think one could make a case either way, but at the moment, anyway, I might lean toward the latter. Certainly, with an emphasis on growing victory gardens at home, there would have been a push for people to provide their own veggies (which would have been more widely available during previous times). Under rationing, a push to eat leftovers and use every cut of meat was a common theme (whereas in non-wartime, it would be considered “thriftiness” or “economy” for a housewife). And as for dessert–it’s fascinating to see not only that it was so persistent in this and other cookbooks, but how creatively people went about substituting and experimenting to make desserts remain available as part of a “balanced” meal time.

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    1. Hi Kira, glad to hear your thoughts. My copy of this cookbook is old well thumbed through, it looks like its gotten a lot of use over the years! Thanks for sharing your ideas about the portable/non-portable meal question. At first I thought that since the book was published in 1942, the publishers hadn’t experienced the full extent of rationing, drafts, changes in the labor force, and other changes to every-day life in wartime. As a result, they might not have known exactly what to expect for the wartime kitchen. But, its not like these changes were totally unexpected… WWI also saw similar rations and changes in the labor force as more people either left their homes for military service or new jobs in the defense industry. I’m glad that there were other options for the wartime cook like the government/corporate pubs you mentioned!

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