In honour of Remembrance Day a reflection on the food culture of the Second World War years seems appropriate.
A closer look at the food situation may help us appreciate the food values that came out of that era. It is also interesting to compare those values with our current situation and values.
After Canada entered the war in 1939, it became apparent that Canadians had a severe malnutrition problem. There were alarming rates of medical rejections by the Canadian military, and the country’s leading nutritional experts stated that upward of 60 percent of the country was suffering from some form of vitamin and mineral deficiency. This situation was, in some part, due to the crop, food and job scarcities of the 1930s Depression era.
The Canadian government responded in 1941 by launching its first-ever national nutrition education program. At the heart of the nutrition campaign was Canada’s Official Food Rules, a precursor to the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating.
In Wartime Victory Lunches, a 1943 government pamphlet, the rules were stated as:
“Canada’s Official Food Rules,
“These are the minimum daily requirements of the foods necessary to protect health.
“Milk — Adults, one-half pint, children, more than one pint. Some cheese should be added when available.
“Fruits — One serving of tomatoes or a citrus fruit or one serving of tomato or citrus fruit juices and one serving of other fruits, fresh, canned or dried.
“Vegetables — In addition to potatoes (of which one serving is needed daily), two servings of vegetables, preferably leafy green or yellow, and frequently raw.
“Cereals and bread — One serving of a whole-grain cereal and four to six slices of Canada approved bread brown or white.
“Meat, fish — One serving a day of meat, fish or meat substitutes. Liver, heart or kidney once a week.
“Eggs — At least three to four eggs weekly.
“Fish liver oils — These oils are essential for all children. They may also be required by adults.”
The slogan of the Food Rules was straightforward: “Eat right, feel right — Canada needs you strong!”
The most important factor that actually changed the way Canadians shopped for, cooked, and ate food on the home front was the introduction of a universal price freeze starting in December 1941 followed in January 1942 with coupon rationing. The goals of rationing were to reduce hording and profiteering, to conserve protein-and-calorie rich foods such as butter, cheese, milk and eggs for the soldiers, and to reduce costly imports such as sugar, tea and coffee.
Canada also had large commitments to provide food to Britain and other war-ravaged allies, to supply food for the increased army personnel in defence posts such as Newfoundland, and to supply food to convoy and battleships that docked in Canada and for Red Cross parcels for prisoners-of-war.
To meet the demand for food, increased production was encouraged. In 1942 and 1943 agriculture production reached the highest records ever attained, about 40 percent more than in 1938. The ideas of gardening and using local produce were embraced by Canadians. In towns and cities lawns were converted to Victory Gardens.
In 1943, 115 million pounds of vegetables were grown in wartime gardens in communities larger than 1,000 people. This did not include produce grown in smaller communities and in farm gardens.
To preserve the produce and to eliminate waste, Department of Agriculture home economists promoted home canning and other food preservation methods through public demonstrations and publications. Canadians responded, as in 1942 when Canadian women made 527,000 pounds of jam that were sent to Britain in addition to all of the jams that were used in Canada.
More than 200 cookbooks were printed during the war to share menu ideas, substitute ingredients, food-stretching tips and recipes, . The government, food industry, and home economists produced many but the majority of the cookbooks were published by church groups, charities and local community organizations. Readers often submitted their recipes to newspapers and magazines as well.
Fortunately, in the 21st century we do not have food rationing but there are concerns about our poor choices of foods, especially high sugar and processed food that contribute to diet-related illnesses Some have a growing interest in locally produced foods, food preservation and home cooking. Food demonstration are readily available on the internet or TV.
Here are a selection of wartime recipes taken from the pages of The Western Producer:
- 1 c. pearl barley
- 3 c. boiling water
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. bacon dripping
- 2 tbsp. chopped onion
- 1 1/2 c. mushrooms, cut in pieces
- 1 tbsp. chopped parsley
- 1 tsp. spicy meat sauce (chili sauce or hot sauce)
- 1 c. leftover diced meat or stew
- 1/2 c. milk or tomato juice
Wash barley and cook in boiling salted water until tender and water is almost all absorbed, about 30 minutes. Drain.
Melt fat, add onions and cook two minutes. Add mushrooms and parsley, cook until mushrooms are browned slightly. Add spicy meat sauce, meat, barley and milk or juice. Mix well, turn into a baking dish. Bake in a moderately slow oven, 325 F for 30 minutes. Six servings. Nov. 2, 1944.
Baked brown bread
- 1 1/2 c. graham flour
- 1/2 c. enriched white flour
- 1/3 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. soda
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 1/2 c. sour milk
Blend thoroughly the flours, salt and soda; add sugar and mix into batter with milk. Pour into well-greased pan and bake in slow oven (300 F) for about 40 minutes. May 18, 1944.
This was also known as the Canada war cake or a butterless, eggless, milkless cake.
Violet McNaughton, woman’s editor of The Western Producer, encouraged readers to make this cake and to gather other items to fill some of the 130,000 Christmas Ditty Bags needed for distributions to Canadian sailors. A victory cake, sealed in a coffee can, was an essential item for the bags. Sept. 14, 1944.
Boil together for five minutes:
- 1 lb. raisins
- 1/2 lb. currants
- 1/4 lb. peel
- 3/4 c. white sugar
- 3/4 c. brown sugar
- 4 tbsp. shortening
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 c. cold water
- 3 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
Bake in a slow oven f(275 – 325 F) for three hours in one pound coffee tins. Makes three cakes.
When cold, put on lid and seal with adhesive tape or well gummed paper. This cake will keep for one year.
- shredded lettuce
- grated carrots
- chopped onion
- chopped radishes
- diced cucumber
- boiled dressing
Cover bottom of serving platter with shredded lettuce and arrange vegetables in mounds. Drop a tablespoon full of boiled dressing on each mound. Garnish with watercress. July 13, 1944. Source: The Western Producer, 1944; www.bcfoodhistory.ca/wartime-food, www.wartimecanada.ca, Food Is Everybody’s Business published by the Food Conservation Committee, Government of Canada 1944.
We all have family favourite recipes that for reasons of diet, food restrictions or personal preferences we have adapted to meet these needs.
We’re asking our readers to share their adapted family favourite recipes. The contest draw will be made Dec. 2 for a basket of baking ingredients.
Please submit your adapted family favourite recipes, along with your name, address and phone number, to email@example.com or mail:
The Western Producer, Adapted Favourites
1000 – 3530 Millar Avenue
Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.