11 Awesome Pages from World War II Ration Cookbooks

Ann Farrell
Ann Farrell / Ann Farrell

When you have grandparents that survived the depression it means they saved everything. And while the extended family may have chuckled at the mounds and mounds of string or 20-year-old phone bills from companies that no longer existed, it was hard to complain about old magazines and pamphlets. My grandmother kept a stack of thin cookbooks, oftentimes product tie-ins (“Cooking with Jell-O” and “Cooking with 7-Up” are two winners), but the best were the ones that were dusty with history.

Below are eleven choice images from cookbooks (one branded, the others not) that just recently were sprung from a decades-closed box.

1. "How to Bake By the Ration Book"

A delicious cake in one hand, a page of rationing stamps in the other.

Swans Down cake flour was a product of the Igleheart Brothers Mills of Evanston, Indiana created in 1894. It has since been bought by the Reily Food Company of New Orleans. I never heard of them, but, then again, I've never baked a cake.

At some point during the Second World War, my mother's mother procured this handy guide to baking while dealing with rationing.

2. "Who said 'No cake?' Of course you can have cake!"

Everybody calm down. Those Axis rats haven't taken our cake yet.

Key line to calm a nervous homemaker: “You'll see that some of the methods of mixing are quite different from your usual ones. They're planned that way.”

3. "The Wartime Lunch Box"

“Lunch box carriers are on the increase as America is on the march!”

Scheming to make sure Junior's lunch box is packed with the nutrients he needs to keep our nation strong is no easy task during rationing. Cupcakes are preferable to wedges of pie for the sake of freshness and transport. (Good to know.)

Also, if your hubby is working in a defense plant (and if he isn't in uniform, he better be), know that for security's sake, he may need to take a paper bag! If so, be sure to pack all relishes in a small paper cup and "fasten a paper with a rubber band firmly over top."

4. ABC of Wartime Canning

Well-known Pittsburgh-based recipe columnist and radio personality Josephine Gibson authored more than one ration-centric cookbook during the war. (She also wrote branded cookbooks for Heinz.) ABC of Wartime Canning is an advocacy tract for the importance of canning fruits, vegetables, meat, soups, butter—you name it. It also came with a collection of recipe ideas for the strapped housewife with hungry mouths to feed and bare cupboards.

You'll note that at the bottom it basically says “your ad here.” I believe that the publishers of this pamphlet hoped to make money by selling that space to companies facing the public—shops and banks, perhaps. My guess is that my maternal grandfather, who was something of an entrepreneur in the agricultural field, was solicited with this proof-of-concept book by the publishing company. My grandmother took it off his hands and maybe—who knows—this is where she learned to make those delicious sour pickles I grew up on.

5. "Canning and Preserving for Victory"

“Because much of our farmers' crops this year will be needed by the Armed Forces, and transportation difficulties make it harder for the tiller of the soil to deliver his produce to the commercial canneries, the efforts of millions of American women, just like you, will result in building up an extremely valuable supply of food for the coming winter.”

Making Jelly = Defeating Fascism.

6. "Keeping Your Family Fit in Wartime"

“Men are daily rejected for service with the armed forces because of faulty nutrition and thousands of man-hours are lost on production lines for lack of proper food. It's up to the women of America to change all this.”

You got that ladies? I'll be in the back smoking my pipe if you need me.

7. "Low Point Meat Dishes"

So now we get to the magic. How to make protein-rich foods out of small portions of meat. Apparently putting sawdust in the meatballs isn't an option.

8. "Low on Sugar and Shortening!"

This book claims that some people like pandowdy just as much as pie. Am I one of these people? I don't even know what pandowdy is! Is this something that died with FDR? Anyway, the pandowdy was instrumental in our efforts to beat Tojo, I'm sure of it.

9. "Wartime Substitutions and Helps"

A hundred points for use of the term “oleomargarine.”

10. "Suggested Weekly Market Order (For parents and two children under twelve years)"

“Study the above lists and charts for they will help you plan well balanced menus amid constantly changing conditions that necessitate quick alterations in marketing and eating habits. It is your responsibility, no matter how difficult the task, to see that your husband and children are well fed and happy when they come to the family table.”

I'd just like to say for the record that the 1940s were sexist as hell.

11. "Cookies"

Listen, just because we're not undergoing rationing today, doesn't mean we can't call our kitchens “war kitchens,” right? Cause that sounds totally badass.

Pictures courtesy Ann Farrell.