I recall the 40s as a make-do time in American kitchens. During the war , food was not always plentiful, some of it rationed like sugar, butter, meat and cheese. The housewife had to be innovative. Many women, like my mother, went to work for the government during those years, saved kitchen fat in the interest of munitions, served meatless meals, recalibrated recipes for fewer ingredients, and used white oleomargarine for lack of butter.
We still had such kid-friendly delicacies as jello, pudding, Wheaties—the breakfast of Champions—and Pep, that sent us fishing to the bottom of the cereal package for a small button. I remember sending an Ovaltine label and 10 cents to Captain Midnight for a Secret Decoder Ring, that turned my finger green when I wore it.
“Can All You Can”
My mother loved fresh vegetables. Our table overflowed with produce, especially during those summers when my father had a flourishing Victory Garden. But a good season meant work in the kitchen as well as the yard. “Can All You Can” was the war-time slogan and Mama took the call seriously and put up enough tomatoes, beets, green beans, pickles, and chow chow to see us through another Thirty Year War. My favorite was canned, whole-hog sausage balls made by my Virginia relatives. I thought it was the best meat I’d ever eaten.
Foods of the Forties
Despite war-time restrictions, we fared rather well. A typical breakfast included hot or cold cereal, orange juice, toast and eggs. Pancakes and waffles were weekend favorites. I walked home from school for lunch each day—about a 7 minute jaunt. Often awaiting me was a grilled cheese sandwich, bowl of soup, sliced apple, and glass of milk. Or there might be leftovers from the weekend—fried chicken or roast beef. There was nothing more satisfying for a quick lunch than a tuna sandwich or one made from little Vienna sausages or Underwood deviled ham.
I especially enjoyed Taylor’s Ham, a pork roll that’s still sold on the East Coast. Cut from a long, cloth-covered roll, it was fried and served on Wonder bread with a smear of ketchup. . . ahhh. . . . how sweet it was! During a bout of nostalgia, I tried Taylor’s Ham again several years ago, but it wasn’t the same on artisanal bread.
Dinner at Our House
Familiar meals at our dinner table included such comfort foods as chicken pot pie, Spanish rice, porcupine meat balls (made in the pressure cooker), fried chicken, stuffed green peppers, pork roast, beef stew, baked ham, salmon croquettes, roast beef, and chipped beef on toast.
Side dishes that showed up most often were breaded tomatoes, sauerkraut, succotash, iceberg lettuce wedges, corn, fresh green beans and potatoes, cornbread, applesauce, turnip greens, beets, and coleslaw.
Mama only served dessert once a week. It was usually a big, yellow cake made from scratch with chocolate icing, or it might be some recipe she’d read in the newspaper that week. For the duration of the war, she suspended making her wonderful fruitcake for lack of ingredients.
Mama didn’t care for the new convenience products that came along during the post-war era. There was never a cake mix in our kitchen. That was fine with me, but I felt deprived not having hotdog or bologna sandwiches like my friends were enjoying.
When neighbors were flocking to SPAM and Tang and TV dinners, Mama banned them from the premises. I don’t think she would’ve found this Campbell Soup ad nearly as amusing as I think it is. Read it all the way through; it’s very funny.