Main Dishes

First Monday Menu: Chop Suey and Strawberry Shortcake

After a long April full of deadlines, I am back to blogging with May’s First Monday Menu.

Origin stories are varied, but chop suey seems to have been invented by Chinese Americans in the late 1800s. According to Wikipedia, E.N. Anderson, an anthropologist specializing in Chinese Food, traced chop suey to a similarly named Chinese dish meaning “miscellaneous leftovers”. This fits with the dish’s use during WWII.

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In my research, chop suey pops up everywhere. It’s in cookbooks, magazine articles, and product advertising. All recipes are similar and flexible. I’m assuming it was a popular dish for using up odds and ends in the pantry. The recipe I used today came from a chapter full of suggestions on cooking with meat during shortages and rationing. Numerous recipes using leftovers are suggested, including the chop suey you see here.

I chose this particular recipe because I think it showcases the flexibility of the dish. It’s from What Do We Eat Now? A Guide to Wartime Housekeeping by Helen Robertson, Sarah MacLeod, and Frances Preston. It was published in 1942. It’s a fantastic look at how changes were affecting home front housewives’ daily lives. I am always impressed by the ingenuity and bravery of women facing numerous challenges to running a smooth household.

What Do We Eat Now? suggests using a green salad and a fruit dessert to create a meal. I added a simple salad and strawberry shortcake. My pictures show ranch dressing on the salad. I want to point out that ranch dressing was not invented until the early 1950s, so it’s not technically accurate here. I used frozen strawberries and angel food cake for our strawberry shortcake. A variety of strawberry shortcake recipes existed in early 1940s cookbooks, so home front housewives were definitely serving this dessert during war years, especially if they grew their own strawberries in their Victory Gardens.

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Chop Suey

  • 2 c shredded meat
  • 2 tbsp fat
  • 1 c fresh OR one can mushrooms (optional)
  • 1/4 c sliced onion
  • 2 c shredded celery
  • 1/2 c shredded green pepper
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 can bean sprouts OR 2 c cooked shredded green beans
  • 1 1/2 c sliced uncooked radishes
  • soy sauce

Prepare meat. You may use cooked pork, turkey, veal, beef, chicken, or duck. If there isn’t enough, add a small amount of ham or freshly cooked meat. (Note: You can choose to use all freshly cooked meat, but this recipe was specifically for using leftovers.) Melt fat in pan. Saute onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook over low heat until the vegetables are tender, usually about 6 or 7 minutes. Blend in the flour. Add bean sprouts (or green beans), meat, and radishes. Heat. Season well. Serve over rice or fried noodles.

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Results

I like that this recipe shows how you can use whatever meat you have available and that some of the other ingredients are optional or may be switched out for something else. I think this recipe could be adapted to fit any vegetables you have on hand, as well.

My family was a little uncertain about trying chop suey, but I wanted to test it since I see it in so many different places in my research.  Everyone enjoyed it. Even my toddler loved this one. It was surprisingly flavorful and definitely filling. We used shredded chicken, green beans, and rice, but I think this would be just as good with turkey or beef served over noodles. I make sure all of my kids go to college armed with an arsenal of easy to make recipes. Chop suey will be a useful addition.

Let me know if you try a version of chop suey.

Have a great week!

 

First Monday Menu: Chicken a la King and Sour Cream Cocoa Cake with Mocha Frosting

This month’s menu comes from the 1940 edition of The American Woman’s Cook Book. This is a great cookbook from the beginning of our wartime period. I like comparing cookbooks from 1940 to cookbooks from later in the war years. Most of the later ones include advice and recipes for cooking and entertaining while dealing with rationing and shortages. Many also include recipes and tips for the working woman.

Today’s entree is a recipe many people still make today. We served our chicken a la king over spaghetti. You can also substitute salmon for the chicken.

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Chicken a la King

  • 2 c cooked diced chicken
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • green pepper, minced
  • pimiento, cut in thin strips
  • 1 c mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 c chicken stock or milk
  • 1 c sour cream or evaporated milk
  • 4 tsp sherry
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter, add the peppers and mushrooms, and saute until light yellow. Lift out. Blend the flour with the seasoned butter. Add the chicken stock and cook until thickened. Add the chicken, and when it’s hot, add the cream combined with the beaten egg yolks and the mushrooms, pepper, and pimiento. Add the sherry and serve immediately. Don’t cook after adding the egg yolks because the mixture may curdle. You can stand it over hot water if needed. You can also use 1 can of red salmon, boned and skinned.

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Results

This was very filling, but also a bit bland. While we were eating we discussed what we would do differently, and we all agreed the chicken should have been seasoned more. Adding some garlic and using cream of mushroom soup for part of the liquid were other suggestions. I looked up a couple modern versions of this recipe and found that the 1940 recipe and the 2019 recipes were almost identical, so perhaps we are just fans of spicier food in my family. Overall, it was good, but not something I can see myself making again.

Sour Cream Cocoa Cake

  • 1/2 c cocoa
  • 3/4 c boiling water
  • 1/2 c shortening
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 c sifted cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 egg whites

Mix cocoa in boiling water and stir mixture until smooth. Cool. Cream shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add cocoa mixture to creamed mixture. Sift flour, salt, and soda together. Add dry ingredients alternately with cream to the first mixture. Beat until smooth after each addition. Add vanilla. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into pans lined with waxed paper and bake in a moderate oven (350°F) for 30 minutes. Makes 2 (9 in) layers. Spread Mocha Frosting between layers and on top.

Mocha Frosting

  • 1 1/2 tsp Mocha extract or strong coffee
  • 1 c confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3/4 c chopped nuts

Mix the extract or coffee with the sugar and stir into the water, gradually, smoothing out the lumps. After the frosting is spread on the cake, 3/4 c chopped nuts may be sprinkled over the top.

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Results

I feel like this cake was playing an April Fool’s Day joke on us. The top layer broke. The frosting was extra runny and either soaked into the cake or slipped right off the cake stand and onto the counter. We had to make a double batch of the frosting to have enough. It was also fairly time-consuming with lots of steps involved in the cake itself. I was worried about how it’d taste.

I shouldn’t have worried. It was delicious. It was moist and milk chocolatey, and definitely filling. The frosting had a very mild mocha flavor and was more like a glaze than a frosting. The cake was so wonderful, though, that a heavier frosting would have been too much. We’ll definitely make this one again.

I hope the weather has been kind to you this week. Let me know if you try any of these recipes!

 

 

First Monday Menu: Ham Baked with Orange Slices

My husband recently had surgery. His recovery is tough, so we have been hunting for quick and easy meals to cook. I thought I’d find a WWII meal that fits the bill for this month’s First Monday Menu.

The ham recipe I used is from the 1943 cookbook Double-Quick Cooking for Part-time Homemakers by Ida Bailey Allen. I’m fascinated with this cookbook right now. It was aimed at single working women and wives who worked while their husbands were at war. There are menus with quick recipes and detailed instructions for creating the meal as efficiently as possible. The author gives tips for meal planning and avoiding food waste, as well as recipes and menus for every situation you can imagine. There’s even a chapter on gift foods for servicemen. This cookbook is fairly new to my collection and I’m excited to show you more of what’s inside it.

For today, though, let’s get to our meal.

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Ham Baked with Orange Slices

1 lb ham cut in 1/4 in thick slices

1 orange, sliced

Whole cloves

Fine bread crumbs

Place the ham in a baking pan. I was able to get 6 large slices in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Stick two cloves into each slice of orange. Lay these around the ham and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Pour a little bit of orange juice over the ham and bake in a hot oven at 400-425°F for twelve to fifteen minutes.

 

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Before Baking

 

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Fresh From the Oven

Results

Since I was trying to keep things simple and fast, I served corn and fruit salad as sides. Corn is a favorite in my house, and the fruit salad was made with drained canned fruit cocktail, sliced bananas, and whipped topping. The ham was juicy with a mild orange flavor. We tasted the baked orange slices, but the consensus was that they weren’t very tasty. The ham, however, was delicious. I was able to serve 6 people.

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The meal was very easy to make and easy to clean up after. It was exactly what I was looking for today. I think that this would definitely be a good choice for a homefront housewife during WWII. There’s not much prep required, cooking time is minimal, and a woman could feel good about serving healthy food while still having time to do other things in the evening.

I’m also going to teach my teenagers this recipe. It’s an easy one for someone just learning to cook and a good option for young adults on a budget who are craving a homecooked meal.

Let me know if you try this one.

 

First Monday Menu: Hot Prem/Spam Sandwich and Orange Lily

World War II era magazine advertisers often used recipes featuring their products to entice housewives to buy their brands. I wanted to use a recipe from one of those magazine ads this month. I chose a hot sandwich made with canned meat that looked versatile, quick, and filling. Canned meats were popular because they were not rationed, they lasted a long time, and didn’t need refrigeration. They could also be eaten cold or hot, and they could be added to a variety of recipes. Since you can eat Spam and other meats straight out of the can, it was a handy food for soldiers, too.

This recipe is from a 1942 Prem ad. Prem is still being made, but I couldn’t find it anywhere near me. After some research, I found that Spam would make a good substitute. Does your grocery store have Prem? Have you tried it? I’m curious how it compares to Spam.

The other recipe in this menu is from the 1940 edition of The American Woman’s Cook Book. It is a drink that I think would be refreshing with any meal. Since this menu could also be a breakfast menu, I thought that the juice was a nice option.

Hot Prem/Spam Sandwich

2 eggs

2 tbsp milk

2 tbsp chopped celery

1/2 tbsp green pepper

1/4 tbsp grated onion

salt

pepper

canned meat like Prem or Spam

toast

Beat two eggs slightly. Add milk, celery, green pepper, and onion. Add salt and pepper. Scramble over low heat, stirring constantly. Pan fry 2 slices of Spam or Prem. Serve on slices of toast. Makes 1 sandwich.

Note: This recipe truly only makes one sandwich. It’s easy to increase amounts to make enough for more.

Orange Lily

1/2 cup white grape juice

2 tbsp orange juice

1 tsp sugar

Fill glass half full of shaved ice. Add juices and sugar. Fill with chilled water. The cookbook suggests serving with two straws poked through a thin slice of orange.

Results

I think a lot of people are a bit apprehensive about eating Spam. It honestly is not bad at all. This sandwich was very similar to eating eggs on toast with some sausage or bacon. I added hashbrowns as a side. The meal was very filling. This is a nice choice for breakfast or a quick lunch.

I can definitely see the appeal of canned meats to the home front housewife. When ration points were running low, canned meats could help stretch what a housewife had and could add flavor to meals when food supplies were limited. This meal is a good option for people in a hurry or on a budget, as well. It’s hearty and quick to get on the table.

The Orange Lily drink was delicious. I did have to tweak the recipe a bit for my family’s tastes, though. When you add water and ice, the drink becomes more water than juice. I made a big batch of it in a pitcher and didn’t add any water. We just added ice in the individual glasses and that made it perfect for us. I also found that ice cubes worked better than shaved ice. The shaved ice we tried melted immediately. I also recommend stirring the mixture occasionally so the sugar doesn’t gather at the bottom of your glass or pitcher.

Let me know if you try either of these recipes. Have a great week!

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Victory Lunch Box: Split Pea Soup

One of a home front housewife’s jobs was to pack lunches for her family. Her husband, if not at war, would need a lunch for work. Her children needed packed lunches for school. If she was part of the growing number of women working outside the home, she would need a lunch herself. Of course, packed lunches weren’t the only option Americans had for lunch, but they were a great way to save money, stretch food, and make sure every member of the family had a nutritious meal three times a day.

Many magazines and cookbooks included menus that provided leftovers to be used the following day in a lunch box. This soup could be part of an evening meal and then put in a small vacuum container the next day and tucked next to a sandwich or some fruit in a lunch box. This kind of soup was especially good for lunch boxes because it was hearty and filling. Add some bread and you had a meal that could get you through an afternoon at the factory or at school.

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Split Pea Soup

1 lb split peas (you can also use Navy beans)

2 qt boiling water

ham hock or leftover pieces of ham

3-4 cloves

1 onion

1/2 bay leaf

a piece of red pepper pod

3 1/2 c irradiated evaporated milk

salt to taste

Pick over peas, wash, cover with cold water, and soak overnight. Drain, add the boiling water, ham, cloves, onion, bay leaf, and red paper. Bring to a boil. Cook slowly until the peas are tender. Add milk and salt to taste. Makes about 3 1/4 quarts.

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Results

I used red pepper flakes instead of the red pepper pod. I also only used about half of an onion. We all peppered our individual bowls of soup. I also made the soup one night and then reheated and put it in a small thermos the next day to see how it would be in a lunch box.

The first night the soup was delicious. It was thick and warm and made a filling meal with the addition of bread.  Having had a chance for the flavors to mingle overnight, the second-day soup in the thermos was even better. I added some homemade bread that my teenage daughter baked, and had a satisfying lunch. I think that adding some fruit, a sandwich or a dessert would help anyone get through their afternoon without a need for a snack.

This recipe comes from a 50-page booklet that was specifically written for housewives who needed ideas for packing and planning lunches. It’s from 1943 and is part of a series of “Hook-up” cookbooks. There is a hole in the middle of each page that allows the housewife to hang the booklet at eye level. This helps keep the booklet clean and makes it easier to read the recipe. The picture on the front of the booklet shows the soups packaged for lunch boxes in waxed paper cups.

 

 

 

First Monday Menu: Stuffed Hot Dogs and Gingerbread

Today’s menu comes from the March 24, 1944 issue of The Family Circle. In 1944, the magazine was still a weekly publication distributed at grocery stores across the United States. Each issue included lots of advertisements for products commonly found at the local supermarket, some short fiction, Hollywood news, and lots of recipes. I pulled a menu from this issue and made it last night.

The menu is from an article titled “Julia Lee Wright’s All-Through-The Day Meal Plans”. There are several to choose from, and they are divided into plans for housewives who “stay at home all day” and plans for women “who work and keep house”. The entire day’s meals are planned and several recipes are included. I chose one aimed at a woman who both worked and was a housewife. I wanted to see what WWII era time-saving meals were like.

Here is what Dinner called for:

Stuffed Hot Dogs

Potato Salad (made the night before)

Buttered String Beans

Pickles or Relish Plate of Raw Vegetables

Toast or Toasted French Bread

Hot Gingerbread (packaged mix or combine the ingredients the night before)

Stuffed Hot Dogs

1 1/2 c. dry bread crumbs

1 tbsp finely chopped onion

1/2 c. thinly sliced celery

1 tbsp melted shortening

1/4 c. milk

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp dry mustard

1/8 tsp poultry seasoning

12 hot dogs

6 slices bacon

Combine bread crumbs, onion, celery, melted shortening, and milk in a small mixing bowl. Add seasonings and toss lightly to mix. Slit hot dogs lengthwise on one side and fill cavities with stuffing. Wrap 1/2 slice of bacon around each hot dog and fasten with toothpicks. Bake in a shallow pan at 425° for 20 minutes or until hot dogs are heated and bacon is crisp.

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Mary Jane Gingerbread

The menu didn’t include a recipe for gingerbread, and our local grocery store doesn’t have packaged gingerbread mix, so I found a recipe in Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House Tried and True Recipes. 

1/4 c. butter

1/2 c. sugar

1 beaten egg

1/4 c. molasses

1 c. sifted flour

pinch salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp clove, scant

1/4 tsp nutmeg, scant

1/2 c boiling water

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the beaten egg and molasses. Sift the flour with salt, baking soda, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Mix well. Add the boiling water and mix. Bake in a deep pan 30-40 minutes at 400°. Serve hot with whipped cream.

The recipe also includes notes that suggest cooking this batter in a waffle iron and then using two waffles and whipped cream to make a shortcake.

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Results

We followed the suggested menu. We had buttered green beans. toasted French bread, potato salad, and pickles.

The hot dogs are good but greasy. They remind me a bit of a Chicago dog. Be prepared for greasiness, though. I might make these again without the bacon, or make the bacon separately so there’s not so much grease. The stuffing is really tasty and makes hot dogs a little more interesting than just eating them on a bun with ketchup or mustard.

The gingerbread is the star of this menu. I love this recipe. The gingerbread is springy and spicy. We added some homemade whipped cream and served the gingerbread while it was still warm. It was perfect. The recipe is also quick and easy. You might have everything on hand to make it without making a trip to the store. This would be a pleasantly surprising after school snack or dessert.

The article states that working and managing a home means that you need meals that are quick to prepare while also remaining healthy and nutritious. Remember, the home front housewife was fighting a battle in her kitchen to keep American citizens healthy and able to do their part for the war effort. Quick didn’t mean she could slack on her war duty.

This menu is pretty fast to prepare. Stuffing and wrapping the hot dogs did take some time. The menu points out places where a housewife can prepare for tomorrow’s meal today. That adds extra work at night, but you can do it after the evening meal is over. That means that while you have a lot of work in the kitchen at night, a working housewife can still get dinner on the table at a reasonable time. I do want to note that the menu also calls for the morning’s meal to be partially prepared the night before, as well. That’s quite a bit of work before bed to prepare for tomorrow, but maybe it evens out over the week. If maintaining a specific meal time is important to a family, these menu plans will sure help that happen.

The pink bowls are 1956 Fire-King pink Swirl. They are pretty and delicate and offer a great way to showcase a delicious dessert.

 

Advertising Recipes: Lunch Boxes

I went through my collection of vintage magazines and found several ads that were aimed at the home front housewife in charge of packing lunches during rationing. A few of these ads also included recipes, and I thought they might be a fun way to continue our discussion about packed lunches this month. Today I chose ads that showcase sandwich spreads that added protein, a punch of flavor, and helped stretch rationed foods like butter.

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The first ad for today was in the April 14, 1944 issue of The Family Circle. I’m having a bit of trouble finding any information about Beverly Peanut Butter or the Table Products Company, but I’ll keep searching and update if I can. I liked the illustration in this advertisement. Notice the style of lunch boxes. One man has a vacuum bottle, possibly a Thermos, and the other man has a glass bottle with a straw. Beverly Peanut Butter’s marketing folks also made sure that the ad included that the peanuts were only from the United States and that the product was jarred fresh. Housewives were encouraged to keep their home front fighters and future soldiers healthy, so the ad mentioned that the peanut butter has protein and vitamins A and B1.

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This French’s Mustard ad from the August 1943 issue of Woman’s Day was all about packing lunches for hard-working men. Again, you can see the flip-top lidded lunch box, and a small insulated bottle that perhaps held a warm soup.

Butter was rationed in the United States beginning in March of 1943. The French’s advertisement included a recipe that would help stretch a housewife’s sandwich butter. Since it also mentioned that French’s is “especially delicious with meat or cheese,” we decided to have the mustard-butter as an addition to a ham sandwich. We’ve never tried this combo before.

French’s Mustard-Butter

Blend 2 tbsp of mustard into 4 tbsp of softened butter or margarine.

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Results

We used butter for our spread. Most of the testers like mustard. I like it in small amounts, so I was curious to see what the addition of butter would do to the bite that mustard usually has.

I toasted the bread and I spread a moderate amount of the mustard-butter on one slice. I topped that with a slice of ham and some Swiss cheese.

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I was pleasantly surprised. The butter made the mustard less sharp. You could also taste the butter in addition to the mustard. I had thought the butter flavor would be lost due to the fact that mustard is definitely the strongest flavor. The mixture was creamy and easy to spread. It would be an interesting addition to your condiments, and it could also act as a fun conversation starter when you have guests.

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I’m glad we tried this, and I’ll be adding more recipes from ads in the future. I’ve also added some images to my 1940s lunch boxes board on Pinterest.

Do you use this mix of butter and mustard on your sandwiches? Do you know anything about Beverly Peanut Butter? Leave me a comment below.