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.” Continue reading “A Week of Meals in 1942”

What’s for Lunch? Victory!

In 1942, the Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago printed a special wartime edition of The American Woman’s Cookbook to prepare American kitchens for World War II. Institute Director and editor Ruth Berolzheimer prepared the popular cookbook’s 5th edition with plenty of new recipes designed to stretch food budgets and use rationed food effectively. “To become a good cook means to gain a knowledge of foods and how they behave, and skill in manipulating them. The recipe by itself, being helpful as it is, will not produce a good product; the human being using the recipe must interpret it and must have skill in handling the materials it prescribes.” Berolzheimer’s book wasn’t just a list of recipes, it was a guide to being an effective cook who could work effectively in any situation. With World War II just entering the American home front, the wartime edition was designed to prepare homemakers (as housewives were then called) for what could be a long war with many shortages and unusual kitchen scenarios.

Total War
From a volunteer training manual from the War Price and Rationing Boards, 1943. Image source: National Archives.

I’ve copied several passages from the “Wartime Cookery” section at the end of the book that shed some light on the changes that typical meals underwent during the war. I’m trying out a new kind of blog post: I’ve written some comments and explanations in blue where I thought something was interesting or could use some context. Hopefully my comments don’t make this post seem too cluttered! Keep in mind that this book was written in 1942 before most food and product rations were announced and before Americans knew how long the war would last.

Ration Book On1
Contents of a typical ration book. Image source: Ames Historical Society.

Continue reading “What’s for Lunch? Victory!”

The Littlest Models: Harry Whittier Frees’ Animal Photography

“Puppies are tractable when rightly understood, but the kitten is the most versatile animal actor, and possesses the greatest variety of appeal.”

Harry Whittier Frees was a Pennsylvania native and creator of novelty animal postcards in the early 1900s. He is best known for his photographs of kittens and puppies dressed up and acting out human scenes.

The Cook
Harry Whittier Frees, “The Cook,” 1914. Photo Credit: Library of Congress.

Continue reading “The Littlest Models: Harry Whittier Frees’ Animal Photography”

Getting to Know the Culture Industry

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Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood” (1937-1938). Image Credit: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

A couple years ago in graduate school at the University of Maryland, I took a course on history and contemporary theory. It was pretty much a combination of philosophy, historical theory, and historiography. A difficult class, but I certainly learned a lot.

One of the projects in the class, as I can remember it, was to design a lecture for undergraduate students about one aspect of historical theory and create an accompanying book list for reading. Given my interest in popular culture and business history, I decided to talk about the “Culture Industry” a theory that came from Frankfurt School historians/theorists in the mid 20th century (see also my blog post on War of the Worlds for more on this theory). I wasn’t able to give this lecture to an actual group of students, but I did film it and post it on Youtube. If you’d like to see the lecture, click here.

A few people commented on the video saying that they’d like to see the slides, so here is a link to my power point: The Culture Industry_presentation.

If you’re interested in learning more, this is my recommended Culture Industry reading list, complete with a variety of primary and secondary sources that explore the commodification of leisure and entertainment from a variety of angles: Continue reading “Getting to Know the Culture Industry”

A Shopkeeper and a Historian

“Whilst in ordinary life every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, our historians have not yet won even this trivial insight. They take every epoch at its word and believe that everything it says and imagines about itself is true.”

-Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, The German Ideology, 1845.

Normally if you ask me which historians have influenced me the most, I would give you a list of scholars like Studs Terkel or Warren Susman who have written fascinating books and found helped me understand history and historical sources in profoundly different ways. But after encountering this quote from Marx and Engels the other day, I have to add an anonymous and imaginary shopkeeper to the top of my list. Continue reading “A Shopkeeper and a Historian”

Mrs. Ella Watson

“My first photograph of [Watson] was unsubtle. I overdid it and posed her. Grant Wood style, before the American flag, a broom in one hand, a mop in the other, staring straight into the camera… I followed her for nearly a month- into her home, her church, and wherever she went.”

“She began to spill out her life’s story. It was a pitiful one. She had struggled alone after her mother had died and her father had been killed by a lynch mob. She had gone through high school, married and become pregnant. Her husband was accidentally shot to death two days before their daughter was born. By the time the daughter was eighteen, she had given birth to two illegitimate children, dying two weeks after the second child’s birth. What’s more, the first child had been stricken with paralysis a year before its mother died.”

Watson_1
Washington, D.C. Government Charwoman. 1942. Library of Congress.
Watson_2
Washington, D.C. Government Charwoman. 1942. Library of Congress.

Continue reading “Mrs. Ella Watson”

“Ask What You Can Do For Your Country:” The History of an Inaugural Sentence

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country.”

A short yet iconic line. I bet you just read it in Kennedy’s voice too (I did). On that cold and gloomy January day, the president broke the ice with a message of hope and excitement that inspired millions of Americans and promised a fresh new start for the country. These words are just the tip of the iceberg, and if we dig a little deeper we can use this short sentence to learn a whole lot more about civics, politics, and the changing role of individual Americans in society from the Civil War to today.

Several decades after the inauguration, Bill Moyers reflected on Kennedy’s inspirational rhetoric and personality: “I remember John Kennedy not so much for what he was or what he wasn’t but for what he empowered in me. We all edit history to give some form to the puzzle of our lives, and I cherish the memory of him for awakening me to a different story for myself. He placed my life in a larger narrative than I could ever have written. In his public voice John Kennedy spoke to my generation of service and sharing; he called us to careers of discovery through lives open to others…It was for us not a trumpet but a bell, sounding in countless individual hearts that one clear note that said: “You matter. You can signify. You can make a difference.” Romantic? Yes, there was a romance to it. But we were not then so callous toward romance.” According to Moyers, what Kennedy brought a new perspective on an American’s individual role in improving their society. To the young Kennedy supporter, this message rang much louder and clearer than anything he had ever heard before.

Kennedy Inaug. 2
Kennedy delivered his famous address on January 21, 1961. Image credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

You may be interested to know that although Kennedy’s inaugural call to action sounded new and different from his political contemporaries, it was actually the result many years worth of experience and thinking. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., eminent historian and special assistant to President Kennedy recalled that: “This thought had lain in Kennedy’s mind for a long time. As far back as 1945 he had noted down in a loose leaf notebook a quotation from Rousseau: “As soon as any man says of the affairs of the state, What does it matter to me? the state may be given up as lost.” In his address accepting the democratic nomination in 1960, he said of the New Frontier, “It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.” On September 5 at Cadillac Square in Detroit, Kennedy departed from his prepared text to say “The new frontier is not what I promise I am going to do for you. The new frontier is what I ask you to do for our country.” He continued to polish the thought in the back of his mind until he was ready to put it in final form for the inaugural address.” Continue reading ““Ask What You Can Do For Your Country:” The History of an Inaugural Sentence”