If you’re running low on flour or getting tired of feeding your sourdough starter, the National World War I Museum and Memorial has some alternative culinary options for your perusal. The Kansas City institution offers a host of online exhibitions, including one dedicated to the critical role that food played during the Great War. Titled “War Fare: From the Homefront to the Frontlines,” the show includes a list of recipes first published in the 1918 Win the War in the Kitchen cookbook, reports Mike Pomranz for Food & Wine.
Win the War in the Kitchen, published by the newly created United States Food Administration (then headed by future president Herbert Hoover), promoted conservation or substitution of ingredients such as meat, wheat, dairy and sugar, all of which were deemed crucial to sustaining soldiers on the front lines. Messages appealing to citizens’ patriotic duty to support the war effort from home accompanied the recipes—a directive one historian says may inspire Americans amid this time of national solidarity.
“While the COVID-19 and World War I/1918 flu pandemic are fundamentally different situations, they have both resulted in shortages of essential supplies, including food,” Lora Vogt, the museum’s curator of education, tells Food & Wine. “The concept was that a person or family’s choice to skip a tablespoon of sugar at the kitchen table meant that sugar—and its calories—could be used to help a soldier go the extra mile during World War I.”
Now, Vogt adds, “[W]e again have the collective opportunity to reduce usage of scarce items—both for the community at large and particularly for those on the frontline of this crisis.”
Hoover’s Food Administration encouraged substituting ground oats, cornmeal, rice, barley, potato and buckwheat in place of wheat flour, reported Jessica Leigh Hester for NPR in 2016. In Oregon, for example, so-called “war bread” contained 40 percent wheat substitutes, while another known as “victory bread” contained 25 percent.
A May 1918 article in the Oregon Evening Herald declared that patriotism was “now gauged by bread”: In other words, the state’s acting food administrator said, “The man or woman who eats War Bread is 15 per cent more patriotic than the one who eats Victory Bread. It might also be pointed out that the person who eats the 25 per cent bread is 15 per cent LESS patriotic than the one who eats War Bread.”
This appeal to patriotism had a big impact on the war effort: Voluntary conservation of food reduced U.S. domestic food consumption by more than 15 percent, according to the museum. At the same time, the U.S. dramatically increased food production in order to keep ailing British and French soldiers fed. By the harvests of 1918, American food exports had tripled.
Nine highlighted recipes from the Win the War in the Kitchen cookbook are featured online with updated photos and instructions. The meals range from potato bread to apricot and prune marmalade, scalloped cabbage, corn bread, bean and tomato stew, savory rice, poultry with peas, buckwheat chocolate cake, and chocolate fudge frosting.
Though the exhibition includes photos of every page of recipes from the original cookbook, home cooks might want to start with the highlighted recipes, writes Joey Armstrong, a photographer and cook who worked on the list.
He explains, “The recipes in the cookbook are brief, sometimes a little outdated (where would you readily find possum in the 21st [c]entury?) and included instructions that assumed a lot of culinary knowledge from the reader.”
Accompanying the online exhibition and revamped recipes is a series of videos produced in collaboration with American Food Roots. These clips, several of which are embedded here, explore how World War I changed Americans’ eating habits, agriculture and cooking.
Speaking with Food & Wine, Vogt notes that the recipes “absolutely stand the test of time 100 years later.”
In addition to reducing the use of scarce food items, she says, “[T]hey provide some creative, pantry stable substitutes the modern cook may not consider.”
In other culinary-related quarantine news, the New-York Historical Society recently announced the launch of its Recipe of the Week campaign. Each week, the museum and library will share an offering from the Duane Family cookbook collection, which contains handwritten recipes penned between 1840 and 1874. This week’s selection is a Civil War-era lemon cake.
“I never really baked very much before, but there’s something therapeutic, I think, about doing things with your hands,” Louise Mirrer, the organization’s president and chief executive, tells the New York Times’ Amelia Nierenberg. “It just seemed like this would be a really great opportunity to engage people who are at home, thinking about cooking and baking, with history.”