When asked what recipes they clip and save, today's family cooks are most likely to reply, "recipes that are good for my family and that I can get on the table in a hurry."
Surprisingly, had you asked the same question in 1943, you would have gotten the same answer. Between 1942 and 1945, American homemakers juggled pretty much the same schedule that we do today -- a long workday, child care, community activities and dinner to prepare. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As American men went off to war after Pearl Harbor, Uncle Sam encouraged women to become "Home-Front Warriors" by entering the work force and participating in programs such as victory gardening, war-bond drives, civil defense and community projects. All that in addition to their prewar responsibilities to their families. When the government asked for their help, they responded immediately.
All over the country, women followed the example of Rosie the Riveter and Wendy the Welder. Some learned to do jobs formerly done by men; others became clerical workers or Red Cross volunteers; and many ran family farms. The number of women in the labor force soared. Although in peacetime, employed women were mostly young and unmarried, during the war, three-quarters of the newly employed women were married and many had young children at home.
At the same time, the importance of diet in maintaining good health became a patriotic issue when many potential inductees could not pass the physical exam to enter the service. The government jumped into action with healthful-eating programs to pull the nation out of the bad habits learned during the Great Depression when having anything to eat seemed good enough. Public-service pamphlets, articles and posters gave the home-front housewife all the advice she needed to work a 10-hour defense-plant shift, meet her community responsibilities and come home to serve a nutritious dinner for her family.
How did she do it? Here are some of the strategies that are just as useful today as they were more than 60 years ago.
* Monday night magic: Sunday dinner was often the biggest meal of the week and could be planned to provide leftovers for the next night's supper. During the war, "Monday Night" in the title of a recipe was a clue that the dish was made with leftovers. Soups, stews, pasta sauces, meat and vegetable patties or loaves, and salads could replay leftovers with a new look and be on the table in short order.
* Head-start ingredients: Wartime cooks canned relishes, sauces, vegetable mixtures and fully seasoned meat and broth combos so they could open a few jars, reheat the mixture and dinner was ready. Today you can buy similar canned or frozen products, combine and heat them and dinner is ready. Add relishes to oil and vinegar for a quick and flavorful salad dressing. Combine frozen vegetable mixtures with refrigerated precooked meat and canned broth for soups and stews. Or add prepared Asian sauces to noodles that have been cooked with a frozen vegetable mixture.
* Two-for-one dinners: Save time by cooking the meat for two different meals in one preparation. During the early '40s, lists of helpful hints always reminded cooks that you could cook the meat for two dinners in the same time and with the same energy that you could cook for one. Cubes of beef, pork or lamb, simmered until tender, could be divided in half and served as meat pie, cobbler or shepherd's pie on one night and as goulash, stroganoff or stew in 10 to 15 minutes on the next. These days when you can get all the meat you want, you could cook enough for four meals, serve one-fourth and freeze the rest in three packets.
* Stuffed stuff: Peppers, zucchini, eggplants, large onions, winter squash or tomatoes made attractive and edible serving containers for mixtures of rice, beans, grains or pasta and a variety of vegetables. The resulting dish was colorful and fun to eat even if there was little or no meat in the mixture. Good home-front cooks knew that stuffing vegetables was an excellent way to disguise leftovers and to get their family to eat more vitamin-rich vegetables.
* Soup suppers: Whether long-simmered and planned for several suppers, or whipped together in minutes from leftovers, soups promised comfort and well-being from the first moment their aromatic vapors lifted the lid of the pot. And, Grandma knew that whatever was left from the evening's meal would be a quick and nutritious lunch to pack in the family's thermoses for the next day at work or school. Milk-based chowders could be made with just vegetables and still offer good flavor and the needed nutrition.
* Secret ingredients: In wartime America, no one was hungry, but the specific foods that people wanted were not always available. When meat was hard to find, homemakers turned to a repertoire of nonmeat proteins to provide the nutrition they knew their families needed.
Evaporated and condensed milk, cheese, eggs, peanut butter and soy products appeared in many recipes as nutritional supplements. Soups, sauces and savory custard dishes were made with evaporated milk and cheese; desserts were enriched with condensed milk and eggs. Soy flour appeared in biscuits, breads and meatloaves, while cooked soybeans were chopped and added to ground meats or to chili.
Although we may not need the concentrated calories of evaporated and condensed milk today, it is still a good nonmeat source of protein, as are cheese and eggs. All are the basis of a variety of quick-cooking dishes. Soy products have now reappeared as elements in a healthful diet, and who would have thought that Grandma's cookbooks would be a good source of some delicious ways to include them in everyday meals.
Joanne Lamb Hayes is the author of "Grandma's Wartime Kitchen: World War II" (St. Martin's Press)
Monday Night Stew
1 teaspoon vegetable oil or solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
2 cups homemade or canned meat or poultry broth
1/4 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups cooked lamb, beef, pork or poultry, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups cooked leftover vegetables or 1 (10-ounce) package frozen mixed vegetables
Heat oil in medium skillet with heat-proof handle. Add onion and saute just until onion begins to brown. Add 1 1/2 cups broth; bring to a boil over high heat.
Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/2 cup broth, flour and pepper. Stir into boiling broth and cook, stirring, until thickened.
Stir in meat and vegetables; return to a boil. Season to taste with salt.
butter or margarine for greasing pan
1 1/4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup soy flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Grease 12-cup muffin pan. Combine all-purpose flour, soy flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl.
Beat together milk and egg in small bowl.
Make well in center of flour mixture. Add milk mixture and oil. Stir just until all dry ingredients have been moistened.
Do not over-beat.
Divide muffin mixture into greased muffin cups.
In preheated 400-degree oven, bake 20 to 25 minutes or until wood pick inserted in center of 1 muffin comes out clean.
Cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove to serving container and serve warm.