Monday, March 29, 2021

Wartime Cookbook

            People’s diets from one hundred years ago horrify lots of folks today. Pie crusts made with pig lard? Meat for every meal?

One hundred years ago, hybridized wheat hadn’t been introduced. Tinkered with to produce drought-resistant crops requiring less time and fertilizer for robust growth, modern wheat may be to blame for the rise of celiac and gluten sensitivity.

Back then, commercially raised beef cattle weren’t kept in tight quarters and fed a diet of antibiotics that are unhealthy for us. Folks lived long, healthy lives without the obesity we see today.

So what was on the menu one hundred years ago? What was on the shelves of the neighborhood grocery store?

Because America sent a lot of food overseas to the Allies and the army, rationing became necessary. Foods in short supply included wheat, sugar, fats and oils, and meat, especially beef.

In my new book releasing next week, The Storm Breaks Forth, Maren Bloch coordinates a cookbook to help homemakers prepare tasty meals during wheatless and meatless days during World War I. Paging through some of these wartime cookbooks, I noticed many recipes call for lard or a fat other than butter.

Ovens didn’t have the temperature controls we have nowadays. Recipes called for a slow oven (300-325°), a moderate oven (350-375°), or a hot oven (400-450°).

Go into a grocery store today and you’ll find wheat flour. Other types of flour have become more common, found in gluten-free or specialty sections. A wide selection of flours was available one hundred years ago. I found many recipes calling for barley flour, corn flour, buckwheat, rye flour, graham flour, and bran flour.

I’m not going to rush out and purchase pig lard. However, Great-Grandma’s recipes shouldn’t be discarded. Here are samples from the Abingdon War-Food Book published in 1918.


Hoover Cookies

Peanuts (1 pt. before shelling)                        1 c Pettyjohn’s Breakfast Food

½ c fat (other than butter)                               ¼ t grated nutmeg

1 c sugar                                                          1 c wheat flour

1/8 t salt                                                          2 t baking powder

½ lemon or orange (peel and juice)

Shell the peanuts and run peanuts, Pettyjohnn’s, and lemon rind through the meat grinder. Add fat, melted, and then water and lemon juice. Then add gradually sugar, salt, nutmeg, flour, and baking powder sifted together. Mix well and drop into greased pans. Bake in hot over 15-20 minutes.


War Cake


2 c brown sugar                                               1 t cloves, ground

2 c hot water                                                    1 t soda

2 T lard                                                            3 c flour

1 package or less seeded raisins                     1 t salt

1 t cinnamon, ground

Boil all ingredients but the flour, raisins, and soda together for 5 minutes. Cool. When cold, add soda sifted in ½ the flour, and the raisins mixed with the rest of the flour. Bake in a loaf 45 minutes in a slow oven, or in a sheet 30 minutes.



Potato Dumplings


2 or 3 medium potatoes                                    1 T sifted bread crumbs

¼ t mace                                                            1 egg

1 t beef suet chopped fine or the same amount of butter

¼ t salt

Bake the potatoes. Scoop out insides and rub through a sieve. There should be one cupful. When cold, add the other ingredients, and the egg well beaten. Flour the hands. Make into balls and drop into boiling salted water. Simmer for fifteen minutes.



Baked Peanuts

1 c ground peanuts                                          1 egg

2 c mashed potatoes                                        1 t salt

1 small onion chopped fine                             ½ t paprika

Mix and place in a buttered baking dish and bake in a moderate oven half an hour. Serve with or without tomato sauce.


Bean Rarebit


1 c mashed baked beans                                 ½ t salt

1 c grated cheese                                            ¼ t mustard

1 c scalded milk                                             ¼ t paprika

1 egg (may be omitted)

Melt the cheese over hot water; add the seasonings and milk gradually, stirring till smooth; add egg and beans and serve on hot toast or crackers.



Wheatless Cake

1½ c barley flour                                    ¼ t soda

½ c cooked oatmeal                                ½ t baking powder

¼ c sugar                                                3 T cooking oil

¼ c raisins                                               ¼ c molasses

Heat the molasses and fat to boiling point, add soda and combine with other ingredients, previously thoroughly mixed. Bake in muffin tins half an hour.


Bon app├ętit!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Another Family-Inspired Novel

            No one in my direct ancestral line fought in World War I. No one fought in World War II either. My dad’s brother-in-law did, but Dad was too young and his father was no longer young.

The country was united in World War II. Being in service was patriotic. To an extent, the same was true in World War I, but not among German Americans. Anti-German hysteria was high, even in Wisconsin with its high percentage of German immigration.

My father’s family had one hundred percent German ancestry, and they lived in Milwaukee. No one from that time is still living. I can’t ask what their lives were like. Were they threatened by the rabid patriots or did they too scorn those unhappy about fighting their home country? Did they believe American involvement was necessary? Did they sign pledge cards and buy war bonds? Did they know anyone who had yellow paint splashed on their house?

My grandmother, born in 1900, lost her mother as age four and her father at age sixteen, and her oldest sister died in the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. Life was hard enough without a war. My grandfather, a young teen at the time, probably saw his machinist father do war work.

The Storm Breaks Forth releases in two weeks, on April 6.

As I did in my first novel, Friends & Enemies, in The Storm Breaks Forth, I created a family to be proud of. Peter Bloch is the son of German immigrants. His wife Maren is a recent immigrant. She steps way outside her comfort zone to help folks manage with the strict rationing set in place. Peter is a brave soldier who wins high acclaim. Their story is what I wouldn’t mind having in my family tree.

Oh, that photo of Peter Bloch on the cover? He’s my first cousin twice removed, and he’s wearing an army uniform. His name was Herb Zickuhr. I use his name in The Storm Breaks Forth, but for one of Peter’s friends. (Bloch is my paternal grandmother’s name, and Peter is borrowed from one of my grandfather’s uncles.)

Herb died in 1928 at age 29. I thought he may have been gassed in the war, or had lingering problems from a wound. Then I noticed his WWI registration card. It’s dated September 12, 1918. The war ended two months later. He could not have reported to a training camp, trained, traveled to a port city, crossed the ocean by ship, and arrived in time to fight. I do not know why this young farmer died, but it wasn’t war related.

I am left to imagine, what might my family’s story be like if…