I found this little treasure in the “free books” box outside a local used bookstore. It’s a paperback Pocket Book first published in 1942. My copy is a 10th printing from 1945. The back cover boasts 1300 recipes in “a complete and completely reliable cook book for a very little money” and highlights “sugar-sparing ideas” to address the wartime sugar-rationing situation. In some areas, sugar continued to be rationed up to 1947, two years after the end of the war. Could you imagine what would happen in North America today if we suddenly had to ration sugar? People would be stockpiling Oreos and soda pop like there was no tomorrow.
During WWII, the government determined certain food costs and ration books were issued for each family member. The homemaker had to plan meals around the total pool of ration stamps for her family. Rationed supplies included beef, sugar, cheese, butter, coffee, raisins, prunes, liquor, and non-food items such as shoes, tires, bicycles, and even typewriters, among other things. Families were encouraged to plant “victory gardens” to supply their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs while the nation concentrated on feeding its troops. The Victory Cookbook, published in the US, is typical of the effort to teach wartime homemakers to stretch their meals, make substitutions, reduce wastefulness, and economize as much as possible.
Because less perishible items (solid cuts of meat, hard cheeses, etc.) were preferred for shipping to troops worldwide, civilians were encouraged to use the more perishible foods (such as organ meats) for home cooking. The Pocket Cook Book ensures that liver is “a prize package of minerals and of all the vitamins” and suggests it be served at least once a week. There are less than a dozen liver recipes in the book, along with a handful more for delicacies such as sweetbreads, kidneys, tripe, and so forth. However, whole chapters are devoted to candies, cookies, cakes, and desserts. I know what I’d spend my ration stamps on.
This little book is chock full of useful tidbits. Chapter 6 “Hints for Successful Cake Baking” has the same kind of advice I’ve heard time and again from skilled bakers like Martha Stewart and Alton Brown and the Cook’s Illustrated folks. There’s even a chapter on leftovers (something few cookbooks talk about these days) that lists specific recipes to help you use up leftover turkey, bread, veggies, and even those extra egg whites.
Chapter 9 is handy for “those dark moments when the kitchen cash box is almost empty and inspiration for appetizing economy dishes seems to have fled forever” offering a recipe list to help your “food-buying pennies stretch further than ever they stretched before.” Wouldn’t it be nice to go to the grocery store and be able to pay for something with pennies?
One of numerous budget-friendly dishes, the “Thrift Special” recipe actually sounds rather tasty and adoreable. Little nests of mashed potatoes are baked in a hot oven until browned, then filled with a creamy cheese sauce containing chopped ham, diced cooked carrots, and cooked peas. How sweet is that? I also stumbled upon a recipe called Eggs-In-A-Frame which is the twin sister for my own Egg in a Basket. And of course there are a few recipes using the humble hot dog, one disgused as Luncheon Salad combining potato balls, carrot balls, sliced weenies, and a combo of French Dressing and mayo, served on a bed of chicory. Why specifically chicory, I don’t know, and I’m not sure how one balls a carrot, either. Of course, if this recipe fails, there’s always the Vienna Sausage Shortcake. The very idea gives me heartburn.
There isn’t anything terribly exotic about the book’s contents, and many of the recipes are quite traditional (Steamed Brown Bread, Refrigerator Rolls, Divinity Fudge). I think what I like about the recipes most is their utter simplicity. Many require only a few ingredients and not a lot of fuss, and there is plenty of room for tweaking flavours and textures. What’s more, the book is refreshing and inspiring, despite being nearly 65 years old. And there aren’t even any pictures! Everything old seems new again. Cheese Fondue wasn’t invented in the ’70s, and Martha Stewart wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of baking her bacon. I think I’m going to have fun with this cookbook.