Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Adventures in Eating by Terri Wangard

    America's entry into World War II led to the necessity of feeding a huge military force overseas. The draft caused an agricultural labor shortage, and import reductions limited the supply of such things as coffee and sugar. Gasoline and tire rationing further limited transport of fresh foods.
    In May of 1942, the Office of Price Administration froze prices to avoid the inflation experienced during World War I. To fairly distribute foods in short supply, rationing was begun. Sugar rationing started in May of 1943. Later food stuffs included coffee, processed foods, red meats, dairy products, and fats.
This cartoon showed that rationing was necessary so each family got its fair share of products in short supply due to military needs or import reductions.
    Rationed items received a point value which changed with the ebb and flow of supply and demand.
Businesses published monthly ration calendars showing the status of categories of items. To prevent hoarding, each ration stamp was good for a designated time and authorized a designated quantity.

Stamps had expiration dates and their worth often changed on a daily basis. Rationed items displayed points and price. Shoppers paid the grocer in stamps as well as cash.
    Foods not rationed included fresh produce, eggs, poultry, fish, and fresh milk. Canned foods were rationed because Japan controlled most of the world's tin, and what the US had was needed by the military. Americans were strongly urged to plant Victory Gardens and can their harvest for the winter months.

If you bought three cans of peas, your allotment of 48 points worth
of canned, dried, and frozen foods was used up for the month.
    Reading wartime letters reveal life with rationing. One wife wrote to her air corps husband, "We've been canning tomatoes almost all day and it's a long job. All I did was skin tomatoes--and more tomatoes! It's a good thing to can though, for if you get them in the stores by the can, you have to use so many ration points."
    Having ration stamps didn't guarantee finding a product. Another wife wrote, "I could not get fresh meat of any kind, but found that Spam fried in butter made a very tasty Easter dinner," and "Meat seems almost non-existent although last Friday, Mrs. Smith and I happened to be in the Piggly Wiggly just as five hams arrived, so we pooled our ration points and bought one together, having it split down length-wise so as to have it evenly divided. Potatoes have entirely disappeared and we are substituting macaroni and rice."
    Newspapers and magazines offered meatless recipes. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner in its familiar blue box soared in popularity as a substitute for meat. Cottage cheese also saw a significant sales increase. Soft cheeses were easier to find than hard cheeses, which shipped well to the troops.
    A wartime cookbook extolled the eagerness of the modern woman to pit her intelligence against the knotty problem of rationing. "She will need to learn not only to prepare all the foods needed in her household, but to raise her own garden and poultry and save every last bit, as has not been done in several generations." All this, while at the same time, she was encouraged to take on a war job.
Even chocolate was scarce,
being an import.
    Give up chocolate? Considering what the troops were sacrificing, including their lives, it was a small concession. What would you have missed?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Twinkie, Twinkie Little Cake

Our trip down memory lane this week takes us to another food that our grandparents might have tasted and can still be found on the grocery shelves today. Hostess Twinkies have been around for eighty-four years, invented on April 6, 1930 in River Forest, Illinois.

Hostess brand named snacks were sold originally in the 1920s by the Continental Bakeries Company. At that time, they sold a product called Hostess Little Shortbread Fingers, which included a strawberry filing in the little cakes. They sound yummy! This product sold well, but was only produced during a couple weeks in June when strawberries were ripe in Illinois.

James Dewar, the vice president of the Chicago plant, wanted to find a use for the Shortbread Fingers baking pans during the rest of the year. He baked some of the shortbread cakes and injected them with banana cream filling and named them Twinkies, a name he came up with when he saw a billboard advertising Twinkle-Toe Shoes. Seems like an odd thing to name something after, but it stuck!

The newly invented snack was an instant hit when it arrived on the shelves. Two Twinkies were sold for a nickel back then, a price even a mother could love. The one big problem they had was that Twinkies had a two day shelf life, so a Hostess truck had to replace the supply every two days. I imagine that they must have been only sold to local stores at that time.

The recipe was later changed to replace the milk, eggs, and butter to have a longer shelf life. This also improved when the snack was sealed in cellophane wrappers. Today Twinkies have a shelf life of twenty-five days.

The banana cream filling was changed to the well-known vanilla crème filling during World War II. The banana shortage caused by the war precipitated this change, but the vanilla filling was well-received by all. Wish I could have tasted the banana flavored Twinkies. They've been vanilla filled most of the time since then.

Twinkies has been a snack in lunch boxes or after school for generations. The only time they haven't been in production was during the last part of 2012 and first half of 2013 when Hostess Company filed for bankruptcy. Apollo Global Management bought up the company in early 2013 allowing Twinkies to return to production by July of that year. Thank goodness for that!

What is your first memory of eating this delicious snack?

Information taken from Delish - History of Snack Foods

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Music of World War II

    The federal government desired a song that boosted morale during a long, costly war. Various committees formed, but they failed to find one. Why? Civilians and soldiers alike didn't want a song that reminded them of the war. Military personnel experienced enough fighting and its accompanying horrors. They didn't need a song pointing out the glory of their endeavors. They wanted songs of romance, songs reminding them of the homes they had left behind.
    The first year of the war saw defeat after defeat as America struggled to find its war footing. Two songs did emerge featuring the American can-do spirit and upbeat outlooks. The first, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," was inspired by a Navy chaplain who passed shells to the gunners aboard a ship during the Pearl Harbor attack. What was fact and what was myth regarding Captain William A. Maguire's utterance (or was it Captain Howell M. Forgy?) didn't matter. The song was a bright light in the dark days of 1942.
    Later that year, "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer," about a bomber crew returning to base with a badly damaged plane, enjoyed considerable success. The heroic crew stood for the nation, hitting the target at considerable cost but not giving up.
    Composers wrote plenty of songs with martial themes or encouraging bond sales, but listeners tuned them out and they seldom saw any success. Big name entertainers like Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Dinah Shore included bond songs in their repertoires, but audiences came to hear their latest hits.
    The Andrews Sisters scored perhaps their biggest hit with "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B)." Despite a military theme, it boasted a catchy, rollicking beat, tongue twisting lyrics, and a lighthearted outlook that pushed thoughts of the draft and fighting to the background.
    1942 saw America fully involved in the war. Prolific songwriter Irving Berlin dusted off a song he'd composed in 1918 at the close of World War I. "God Bless America," sung by Kate Smith, became one of the most inspiring, and lasting, songs of World War II. Another song with lasting appeal was "White Christmas." Bing Crosby first sang Berlin's song on his Kraft Music Hall radio show on December 25, 1941, but it didn't take off until it came out in the movie Holiday Inn in 1942. Written in 1940 and not intended as a war song, the wistful longing of the singer for Christmas as he used to know it struck a cord with audiences home and away, and became an endearing Christmas standard.

    What people wanted, both home and abroad, were "slush" songs, sentimental tunes of girlfriends and wives, home and family. Many songs of 1942 and 1943 refer to the war only as the basis for loneliness and saying good-bye. Poignant songs like "I'll Be Seeing You," "Somebody's Thinking of You Tonight," and "I'll Walk Alone."
    The American-penned "(There'll Be Blue Birds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" achieved hit status, sung by numerous vocalists including England's popular songbird Vera Lynn. The image of birds flying free again in peace touched a nerve, and it played throughout the war, despite the curious fact that bluebirds will not be flying over England, where they are not indigenous.
    Humorous songs found ready acceptance. Spike Jones and his band, the City Slickers, burst on the scene with "Der Fuehrer's Face," a satire on Hitler based on a 1942 Disney cartoon, Donald Duck in Nutzi Land. Johnny Mercer used humor and innuendo in his songs like "I'm Doing It for Defense" and "Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate the Positive."
    British soldiers liked a song they heard the Germans broadcast to their troops. They asked for English lyrics, which the Germans inadvertently provided in their propaganda broadcasts. Marlene Dietrich, a German-born, naturalized American, established "Lili Marlene" as a wartime favorite among Americans.
    Irving Berlin's Broadway play This Is the Army, Mister Jones of 1942 proved so successful it toured Army bases until war's end. Songs included "Oh! How I hate to Get Up in the Morning" and "This Is the Army, Mister Jones." Al all-star cast was assembled for a movie version. Together, they raised millions for the war effort.
    June of 1942 saw the American Federation of Musicians order a strike that barred musicians from recording. For over a year, until the autumn of 1943, only the government-run program of V-Discs (V for victory) for servicemen was allowed to use instrumentation. A cappella songs proliferated. "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer" came out at this time in several versions. The recording by the Song Spinners claimed the top spot. I have this recording, and I never noticed the lack of instruments until I learned of the strike.

V-Discs were for servicemen and women, and were not available on the homefront.

    Best Picture of 1943, Casablanca was one of the best movies to come out of World War II. It's song, "As Time Goes By," spent 41 weeks on the hit charts, the most popular version being Rudy Vallee's. It did not qualify for Best Song in the Academy Awards because it was written in 1931.
    No song emerged as the song of World War II, despite the efforts of government officials and various composers. Romantic songs won the people's choice.
    Do you have a favorite World War II song?