This year, to commemorate the victory gardens of World War I, the World War One in Delco organization is partnering with the Penn State Master Gardeners to bring back victory gardens throughout Delaware County. A few months ago, I spoke with Master Gardener Kathy Pelczarski about how she and other master gardeners are encouraging victory gardens. Today, I thought I’d explore another piece of the story: what people made with the food they grew. I’m feeling adventurous, so I thought I’d even try out an historical recipe and share it with you.
During World War I, the newly created U.S. Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, urged Americans to conserve food so that more could be exported to Europe. Fourteen million Americans signed “pledge cards,” agreeing to observe wheatless Mondays, meatless Tuesdays and porkless Saturdays.
And something parents often urge on their kids–eating everything on their plates–now became an official pledge children signed! The goal was always to cut back so that more food could be sent to the American military and its allies.
As you might expect, this resulted in a number of cookbooks offering advice on how households could be more frugal.
One such cookbook is simply called “War Cook Book,” issued by the Kentucky division of the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense–the group that helped distribute the many pledge cards to encourage patriotic food conversation.
It’s a fascinating document. In it, cooks are “kitchen soldiers” who are commanded to salute their country’s flag as they plan their meals. A preface by Herbert Hoover urges sacrifice by telling readers that “if we are selfish or even careless, we are disloyal, we are the enemy at home.” After providing many recipes–including suggestions for swapping out vegetables for wheat, and directions for cooking organ meats–the cookbook concludes with advice on how to conserve clothes and linens because “soldiers must be clothed first.”
But even more fascinating than the document itself is the woman who wrote most of it.
The cookbook’s main author is Mary E. Sweeny (or sometimes “Sweeney”), a woman with thoughtful, probing eyes and smooth, dark hair. She had two masters degrees but was more interested in applying her studies than in mulling them over in seclusion.
Before the war, Sweeny had spent seven years sharing new agricultural and home economics practices with women who lived in the mountains of Kentucky. Toward the end of the war, she went with her sister to France to serve in the YMCA canteen service, feeding soldiers, and accompanied the army of occupation into Coblenz, Germany. She and her sister were both recognized for bravery under fire.
In between these two roles, Mary Sweeny served as the U.S. Food Administration’s chair of home economics, in charge of educating Americans about how to ration their food, and that’s when she co-wrote the “War Cook Book.”
Here is one of the War Cook Book recipes, for “Victory Salad.” I like how elegant the presentation is, despite its frugality.
- 1 cup cooked carrots
- 1 cup cooked potato
- 1 cup cold cooked peas
- 1 cup cold cooked beans [I used green beans.]
- 4 lettuce leaves
- Whites of two hard boiled eggs, chopped
- Yolks of two hard boiled eggs, forced through a strainer
- Sliced pickles
- Chopped olives
- 2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice.
- 4 tablespoons oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- Add seasonings to the oil, then beat in the vinegar or lemon juice, adding it a little at a time. French dressing may be made in quantities by placing the ingredients in a bottle and shaking well. Although dressing separates in standing it may be combined again by shaking thoroughly each time just before serving.
- [Victory Salad:]
- Marinate with French dressing, either together or separately, 1 cup each cooked carrots, cooked potato, cooked cold peas and cooked [green] beans [I did so for 1 hour.] Arrange on lettuce leaves in 4 sections and cover each one with mayonnaise or cooked dressing [a sweet combination of eggs, honey, vinegar and salt].
- Garnish as desired...
World War I and Food History from The Great Courses Daily podcast