Tag Archives: History

Victory Lunch Boxes, Part 1: What do I pack?

I think I’ve mentioned before that I live on a very rural ranch. Sometimes when it rains, we get stranded at our house until the roads dry out enough to drive on. That’s my situation right now, and since I can’t go to town for groceries, I’m going to use the upcoming week to write about boxed lunches. I’ll split the topic into three parts. Today I’m writing about what foods a home front housewife should choose to pack. Next, I’ll tell you how she would have packed them. Finally, I’ll give you some menus and recipes for different lunch packing scenarios. Some tips and tricks will be thrown in, too.

Since I know you might be wondering, we have supplies for cooking for ourselves, but not the ingredients necessary for the lunch box recipes. We live in a place where this kind of rain doesn’t happen often. This has been an unusually wet year. The inconvenience of being stranded occasionally is offset by many perks of living where we do, and thanks to modern meteorology we can prepare ahead of time for situations like these.

On to the lunch boxes!

I have a large collection of cook books and pamphlets from the war years. Many of them have entire sections on lunch box packing. In fact, more than one cookbook said that lunch boxes were part of the war program. Since more and more people were working outside the home, well packed lunch boxes were an important part of the day’s nutrition.

I’ve mentioned before that the American government was pushing healthy eating as a way for home front fighters to help win the war. Healthy citizens made for stronger populations, and healthy boys grew up to be strong soldiers. Wartime publications stressed the importance of eating a good lunch during the workday to keep fueled and healthy.

So what would the home front housewife be shopping for?

Most of the cookbooks I have suggest the same types of foods in a lunch box food guide that closely follows government food guidelines. Here’s a typical guide.

  • meat, eggs, poultry, cheese, fish: These can be combined in a main dish, salad, or sandwich.
  • vegetables: At least one serving in sandwich fillings, salads, main dishes, or in relishes.
  • fruit: At least one should be included, but it can be in any form.
  • bread: numerous sources stressed that the breads included should change frequently to provide variety.
  • milk: The lunch box seems to have been a way to help get your daily milk quota in. This was a pint for adults and a quart for children. The milk could be a drink, in a main dish, in a soup, or in a dessert.

Tips for the Home Front Housewife

  • Your Gas Range Cookbook, published by the Wyandotte County Gas Company in 1940, suggested that children’s lunches for school should include a hot dish, milk, fruit, and a surprise for children to look forward to discovering. Their suggested menus include surprises like cookies and hot chocolate.
  • Your Victory Lunch Box, 1943, stressed the importance of variety. Creating variety in textures, color, and flavor helped make lunch box lunches more appealing and less monotonous. Adding color and variety in packing materials was also suggested for an appealing looking lunch.
  • Plan today’s meals with tomorrow’s lunch in mind. This was good advice for both packing a lunch and eating at home, but nearly everything I read about lunches included this as a way to make preparing lunches easier and more economical.
  • Keep in mind how long lunchtime is. Someone with a short lunch period needed foods with little or no prep time. A long lunch period allowed for more complicated meals.
  • Working butter or margarine into a creamy spread with a fork made it easier to handle at lunch time.
  • Include small containers of salt, pepper, and sugar.
  • Keep in mind that some things work better in different forms. For example, a whole tomato packed with some salt often worked better than slices on a sandwich.
  • Fill sandwiches, but avoid overfilling so they are not messy.
  • Canned meats are excellent for lunch box meals.
  • Again, look for variety when shopping. Ease of eating was important, but variety was just as important. For example, breads could be varied. Raisin bread, rye bread, muffins, rolls, cakes–these all counted.
  • Raw vegetables are both refreshing, and provide variety in texture, flavor, and color. You could put them on sandwiches or eat alone.
  • Grinding meats with relish or salad dressing keeps the sandwich moist. Mixing condiments with butter and spreading over bread also helps keep a sandwich from being too dry.
  • Besides milk, other suggested drinks included lemonade, iced tea, fruit juices, and vegetable juice.
  • Don’t forget dessert! Having a sweet treat is a nice way to finish the meal. Muffins, cookies, fruits, carefully packed cakes, and even custards and puddings were good suggestions.
  • Creative packing methods make it possible to take most kinds of foods with you in your lunch box. Don’t feel like sandwiches, while a very handy option, are the only thing you can pack. Hearty soups, meatloaves, salads, and pasta dishes are all possibilities.

That looks like a good place to stop for today. Next we’ll look at supplies for packing lunch boxes, tips for hard to pack items, and why having a dedicated lunch box packing station was a good idea.

The images today are from the back of a pamphlet titled “War-time Lunches” from the Philadelphia Electric Company. They show a list of suggestions for thermos dishes, sandwich fillings, and breads to add to your lunch box shopping list.

More posts in this series:

Victory Lunch Boxes, Part 2

What Will I Wear?: Home Front Housewife Edition

For many home front housewives, January was a cold month indeed. Since this month was almost all about January magazine issues, I thought I would show you a couple of images of clothing from a 1941 issue. I’ll then compare those with a 1945 issue. I can imagine a home front housewife pouring over her magazines at the kitchen table after all her chores were done or during a break in the afternoon while she listened to her favorite radio program. Here’s some of what they would have seen.

January 1941

The first issue is Woman’s Home Companion. The date on the one ad is 1940, but the magazine it was in was definitely 1941. Since much of the magazine was still focusing on holiday topics, I imagine the issue was delivered to homes in December.

The first image is an ad for winter boots. I’d wear any of these boots today. I like how they have categorized them into country, town, dress up, and formal boots.

Next is a half ad, half article that shows Companion-Butterick patterns that were available to purchase at local Butterick dealers or by mail order through Woman’s Home Companion. I love the colors, and look at those hats!

The last image is part of an article with suggested Christmas gifts, but I like how it shows options of sweaters, scarves, and slippers that the home front housewife might consider in 1940/41 for her family.

January 1945

I have a January 1945 issue of Woman’s Day. I was not surprised that there were few mentions of clothing. Most of the magazine was filled with articles about how to stretch rationed food or other ways to deal with the war. New clothing was probably not on their minds as much. I was really surprised, though, that the only fashion article in the magazine was about how to buy a new fur coat. There were a couple of ads in the back of the magazine for support girdles, but otherwise, no other fashion. In contrast, the January 1946 issue had several articles about clothing, including one that showed how a tailor made a suit and one that suggested adding material to tighter fitting styles of coats to make them more modern. Neither of these articles would have been published during the war years since fabric was conserved during those years.

February

I have fun plans for February. I have some February magazine issues. I have a few new cookbooks, booklets, and magazines I want to explore, and of course, Valentine’s Day is coming up! Enjoy your last evening in January 2020 and I’ll see you here again Monday for February’s First Monday Menu.

Warm Up with a Good Book

Perhaps you are the type of home front housewife who would rather stay in on a cold winter evening and curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book. I’m here to help. Here are five suggestions based on a January 1945 Woman’s Day book roundup.

A note on finding these books: I’ll let you know at least one place you can find these books if I can. Worldcat.org is a great resource, too. Just type your zipcode and the title in and they’ll provide you with a list of libraries near you that have the book on their shelves.

Just in case you want to follow up your reading with a movie night out, here’s a link to some movie suggestions.

America Unlimited

by Eric Johnston

Eric Johnston was the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce. This book records his thoughts, hopes, aspirations, and beliefs about issues of the early 1940s. Johnston claimed that most Americans shared his views. This would be an interesting look at a political opinion from the war years.

We Live in Alaska

by Constance Helmericks

This book is available used on on Amazon. The author and her husband moved to Alaska in 1941 and explored the Yukon in a homemade canoe. There are a few sequels to their adventure if you find this first one enjoyable.

Watching the World

by Raymond Clapper

Raymond Clapper was a journalist and a radio news analyst and commentator. While covering the war in 1944, an airplane he was riding in collided with another plane during the invasion of the Marshall Islands. After his death, his wife put together some of his best material and told the story of his life in this book.

Cluny Brown

by Margery Sharp

This humerous coming of age story follows a young English woman in 1938 on her adventures after she is sent into service in the countryside. It was made into a movie in 1946. This book is easy to find. It’s even available as an audio book.

Enjoy Your House Plants

by Dorothy Jenkins and Helen Van Pelt Wilson

This book has chapters on everything from ferns to succulents to orchids. There’s advice on caring for numerous types of indoor plants. I love my house plants, so I’m excited to try to find a copy of this one. I’d like to compare their advice with what is suggested care today.

While you are reading, you might like to munch on some cookies or a slice of coffee spice cake. Stay warm and enjoy your weekend!

First Monday Menu: A Helping of Hamburger

In January 1945, ground beef wasn’t being rationed. Using ready-ground hamburger as a staple in meals was a great way to include meat without resorting to the less appealing but more plentiful organ meats like liver and heart. Ground hamburger was also cheaper than other meats, so it helped keep food costs down. This month’s menu includes a hamburger recipe from the January 1945 issue of Woman’s Day.

Menu

  • Party Hamburgers
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Green Beans
  • Bread Roll
  • Apple pie

Party Hamburgers

  • 1 lb hamburger
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 1/3 c milk
  • 1 tbsp fat
  • Party Sauce

Mix hamburger, salt, pepper, and milk. Form into cakes and brown in fat. Remove cakes to a platter and keep hot.

Party Sauce

  • 1 tbsp fat
  • 1/4 c chopped mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 c water
  • 1/2 c cooking sherry
  • 1/2 c ripe olives, chopped and pitted (we used black)
  • salt and pepper

Cook the mushrooms in the fat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the flour and brown lightly. Add the water gradually, stirring constantly. Cook until mixture is thickened. Add sherry and chopped pitted olives. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat and pour over the hamburger cakes.

Results

It’s funny how sometimes something as simple as a meal made with ground beef can spark a conversation that lasts until dessert is over. We had a lot of thoughts about this menu. While it wasn’t our favorite, it was a hearty, filling meal. The hamburger cakes tasted exactly how you would imagine a hamburger cake to taste. We discussed adding finely chopped onion or garlic next time to add a bit of flavor. The sauce was thick and chunky and tasted great with both the hamburger and the mashed potatoes. I liked the combination of mushrooms and olives and the gravy-like consistency. I could taste the cooking sherry a bit more than I would have liked, but maybe cooking a while longer would fix that. Overall, everyone liked the meal. Enough to have it again? I’m not sure. I’m definitely glad we tried it, though, and I enjoyed the great conversation about 1940s life we had while eating it.

One of the things I liked about this particular menu, was that it was a solid choice for a home front housewife. The green beans and the potatoes were grown in Victory Gardens, and the housewife could easily substitute cooked carrots, squash, or even corn from their garden. The ground beef didn’t use any points, which was helpful. Points could be used for favorite cuts of meat on other nights of the week.

Eating organ meats was encouraged by the government. Large amounts of meat were being shipped to the soldiers overseas. Organ meats, however, were still plentiful in the United States. Magazines of the time period are full of tips and tricks for disguising liver or heart to look and possibly taste more appealing. Using ground beef was much simpler and straightforward–its taste and texture didn’t need masking.

Let me know if you try this menu. The party sauce is versatile. I think it would complement many kinds of meat and would add a nice flavor to vegetable dishes.

Later this week we’ll try out a recipe or two from the January food calendar found in the 1941 issue of Woman’s Home Companion. It’s before the start of the war for the American home front housewife, so we’ll see how folks ate just before food shortages became more widespread and rationing went into effect.

Peter Pan Peanut Butter Frosting

This month, I’m going to be testing recipes in January magazine issues from 1940-1945. I’ve scoured ads and articles to find recipes you can use in your meal planning today, ranging from full menus to yummy desserts.

I’m beginning the month with a Peter Pan Peanut Butter frosting recipe from an advertisement in the January 1945 issue of Woman’s Day. It was a full-page, full-color ad inside the back cover of the magazine.

Peanut butter was originally sold in tin cans with a variety of reclosable lids. Metal shortages due to the war led peanut butter manufacturers to switch to glass jars. In 1988 Peter Pan peanut butter was the first to come in a plastic jar. This ad shows the new glass jars that were being used during the war, and still has the woman portraying Peter Pan in the imagery. Much later the company used Disney’s version of Peter Pan instead.

This frosting recipe is one of two listed in the lower-right corner. The company, like so many others at the time, offered a recipe booklet by mail. I managed to find a copy of this booklet and it should arrive next week. I can’t wait to share it with you when it gets here!

Until then, here’s a recipe to use with that jar of peanut butter you have in your pantry.

Peter Pan Frosting

  • 1/2 c Peter Pan Peanut Butter
  • 1/2 c butter or margarine
  • 1 c confectioner’s sugar

Cream the peanut butter and butter together. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar. Cream until light and fluffy. Use on white, spice, or chocolate cake. Makes enough for 24 cupcakes.

Results

The frosting is really soft and smooth. I found that putting it in the refrigerator for a while helped keep it from becoming too soft to use. It does taste like a sweeter version of peanut butter, so peanut butter fans with a sweet tooth will definitely ask for seconds. We used white cake cupcakes, but I think this frosting would be amazing on chocolate cake.

What is your favorite way to use peanut butter?

Soldiers’ Christmas Boxes: Soft Ginger-Date Jumbles

In 1942, the folks in the Good Housekeeping kitchens spent quite a bit of time finding recipes that would work in a Christmas box for soldiers serving their country. The December issue included an article with the resulting recipes and some tips for packing goodies up to mail.

Here are a few:

  • Allow plenty of time for your package to get to its destination. The article mentions several times that only stateside servicemen should be getting boxes of treats. The government actually asked for packages to be free from perishable items when shipping overseas. Even so, transportation of vital military supplies was given higher priority over gift boxes, so a home front housewife needed to prepare for the box to take twice as long as usual to arrive.
  • Plan on the box arriving before or after Christmas Day. The armed forces provided good holiday meals to soldiers and getting a box of goodies before or after would extend the celebration.
  • Plan with friends and loved ones before shipping. Arranging for boxes to arrive every few days instead of all at once also extended the joy of the holidays.
  • Organize a cookie making club. Sharing cookies with others sending off boxes added variety to box contents.
  • Weigh and Measure! Servicemen could only receive packages under 70 pounds and with a combined length and width of under 100 inches.
  • Add a homey touch to boxes by lining the lids and any divider edges with pretty pantry-shelf paper, and by wrapping smaller boxes of treats with ribbon.
  • Address packages carefully and mark them with “Perishable–Handle with Care”.

I chose one recipe to test, and we are going to try them fresh, then seal some up the way they suggest to see how they taste in a week. I wondered how these foods would last and what they would taste like when they got to their recipient. We are also going to put some in a modern airtight container to see if that makes a difference. I’ll let you know how they taste in an update.

Until then, try these Soft Ginger-Date Jumbles.

Soft Ginger-Date Jumbles

  • 1/2 c and 2 tbsp shortening
  • 1/2 c brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 c dark molasses
  • 1/2 c boiling water
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 c sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp mixed cake spice or cinnamon
  • 2 c pitted dates, cut up

Work shortening with the back of a spoon until it’s fluffy and creamy. Add brown sugar gradually while continuing to work with a spoon until light. Add eggs and blend. Mix the ginger with molasses and then add it to the shortening mixture. Stir in the boiling water. Sift together the dry ingredients, and then add to the sugar mixture. Add the dates and mix the mixture well. Cover and refrigerate for two hours.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls onto a greased or oiled cookie sheet about 2.5 inches apart. Bake in a moderately hot oven at 400° F for 10-12 minutes. Makes 2 dozen cookies. You can keep the dough in the refrigerator and bake cookies as needed. You can also substitute raisins for the dates or leave the dates out entirely.

Results

These cookies had mixed reactions at my house. My husband and I loved them, but some of my kids thought they were “just ok”. My 2-year-old devoured them. The cookies were very soft and cake-like. The dates added nice flavor and texture. They had a milder molasses flavor than other similar cookies I’ve tried. I’m really curious to see if they keep their soft cakiness after a week. Look for an update soon!

Happy New Year!