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Food Will Win The War


Baby showers, Easter, church dinners, my niece’s wedding, Fourth of July picnics, a funeral of a friend from church, vacations with family and friends, prayer shawl meetings, festivals (yes, even the Virginia Festival of the Book), Virginia Historical Society staff birthdays, Sunday dinners, and even working Saturdays in the VHS library are some of the reasons I have used my cookbook collection this year. I am blessed to live in a country where food can be found in abundance. My vegetable garden did very poorly this year, and I am grateful that I live close to a grocery store, where I can buy a tomato to supplement my meager homegrown supply! This is so different from the situation Virginians faced during World War I.

During World War I, the United States, even before declaring war, encouraged its citizens to share their bounty with the soldiers and citizens of the Allied Powers in Europe and Great Britain. The United States grew more food than any other country, and it became so important to the cause that Germans attacked ships carrying food along with other war supplies across the Atlantic. After formally declaring war on Germany in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order creating the U. S. Food Administration that August to assure the supply, distribution, and conservation of food during the war. Herbert Hoover was appointed administrator of the Food Administration, and he appealed to the American people’s sense of patriotism when he called upon them to sacrifice through voluntary food rationing and substitutes. He stated in his memoirs that his job was to ask people to “Go back to simple food, simple clothes, simple pleasures. Pray hard, work hard, sleep hard and play hard. Do it all courageously and cheerfully.” By the end of the war, fourteen million Americans (primarily women) joined the Food Administration by signing the membership cards found in their publications.

And these women collected and produced cookbooks:


“The War Cook Book for American Women: Suggestions for Patriotic Service in the Home”

“The War Cook Book for American Women: Suggestions for Patriotic Service in the Home” was issued by the U.S. Food Administration and published in Washington, D.C., in 1917.” It stresses the voluntary component of food rationing by suggesting smaller portions, preparing menus in advance, making food visually appealing, and it recommends general substitutions, such as molasses, honey, and syrups for sugar. It also includes recipes for “War Breads,” which follow the “Fifty-fifty rule” of substituting wheat flour with flour made of rice, barley, or corn meal. (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: D810 W7 H35 1917)


Bedford's War Cook Book

The “Bedford’s War Cookbook” contains “choice recipes contributed by Bedford housewives” and was compiled by the Food Conservation Committee of the Bedford County Federation of Clubs in 1918. It was published as a way to get women to display their patriotism through following the guidelines set forth by the Food Administration. It includes recipes for bread, soup, meat substitutes, vegetables, salads, pickles and sauces, cakes, cookies, puddings, pies, ice creams and sherberts, beverages, candies, preserves, and canning. It even included recipes for soap and insect repellants. (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: TX715 V81 B4)

Warrenton Garden Club Receipts

“Warrenton Garden Club Receipts” was produced with the sanction of the Food Administration of Fauquier County, and its sale price of 25 cents benefited the American Red Cross. The patriotic element of the little cookbook can be seen in the titles of the sections: War Breads, Save Wheat for our Soldiers; Meat Substitute Dishes, Save Meat for our Soldiers and War Cake and Candy, Save Sugar for our Soldiers. (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: TX715 W26)

The Bluegrass Cook Book

“The Bluegrass Cook Book” was written by Minerva Carr Fox in 1904. This African American cookbook was republished in 1918, and Minerva Carr Fox wrote a new preface in which she stated “A time when to save certain kinds of food is to save soldiers . . . the earnest advice of the Food Conservation Commission gives a special importance to the methods of the colored cooks of the South.” In the preface her son, John Fox, Jr., gave “All honor to that turbaned mistress of the Kentucky kitchen—the Kentucky cook. She came to the Blue Grass from Virginia more than a hundred years ago.” The list of contributors to this cookbook includes many Virginia residents. (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: TX715 F73 1918)


War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables

“War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables: The Victory Edition” was published in 1919 by the National War Garden Commission at the end of the war. The preface stressed the importance of continuing food aid to Europe. Charles Lathrop organized in the U.S. National War Garden Commission in March 1917 to encourage the planting of home gardens, later known as victory gardens. More than five million gardens were planted by the end of the war. This comprehensive manual contained information on garden maintenance, seeds, insect prevention, planting instructions, and even a easy-to-read planting table. At the end of World War I, Europeans still needed food from the United States, and 75 percent of American families continued to conserve food. The new motto of the U.S. Food Administration became “Feeding the World.” (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: SB321 N3 1919)

In all of these cookbooks, the most appealing recipe to me is for war candy. Ingredients are simply sweet chocolate, raisins, and vanilla and remind me of the raisinettes that my girlfriend Karen eats at the movies! If you want to try it, the recipe is below, or you can get a sample on the World War I Behind the Scenes tour on Saturday August 30, 2014. There you will see our cookbook collection (as well as the staff kitchen!) and other amazing treasures from World War I.

Recipe for war candy

Recipe for War Candy from the “Warrenton Garden Club War Receipts” book. (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: TX715 W26)

Paulette Schwarting is Director of Technical Services at the Virginia Historical Society.

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