Recipes from the Homefront
World War I Menus
"Food Will Win the War!" the U.S. Food Administration proclaimed. Instructing the folks at home to cut back on their wheat and meat intake meant more food to fuel the soldiers overseas. But how to make it through those Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays before 1920? Take a stab at these recipes for the experience of WWI at home.
In the trench, you’d be receiving rations of canned meat (including roast beef, corned beef, salmon, and sardines), hard bread, salt, sugar, and coffee, as well as solidified alcohol and cigarettes.
But what about the folks Stateside? Rationing goods on the homefront would famously not begin until World War II, but the Wilson administration and then-United States Food Administration leader Herbert Hoover used a series of wartime propaganda to decrease national consumption of the meat and bread needed to send to the 4 million troops overseas. The resounding slogan at home that “Food Will Win the War” saw the birth of “Meatless Tuesdays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” as American families cut back on using the meat and bread products being sent to soldiers in Europe. They reassured the people at home that “Food Will Win the War.”
To help out the housewife and support the troops, below are some hearty and delicious recipes for surviving meatless and wheatless in America during the Great War. These common dishes in the early twentieth century are adapted from recommended summer menus in Good Housekeeping’s 1914 cookbook The Pure Food Cook Book.
(Full disclosure, I’ve upped the game a bit with some modern twists and ingredients that weren’t common in early 20th century American kitchens, but you’ll get the idea—and a delicious meal.)
This rich and hearty meal was a typical dinner for families living in the early 20th century.
Soup: Cream of Corn
Adapted from James Beard. Serves 6.
- 1 cup cooked corn kernels
- 2 cups chicken broth
- Salt and pepper
- Grated onion
- Green pepper, finely chopped
- 1 cup cream
- 2 egg yolks
Heat the corn kernels in the chicken broth in a medium saucepan. Season with salt, pepper, and a little grated onion or finely chopped green pepper.
In a separate bowl, stir egg yolks into cream. When the corn mixture boils, pour it over the cream and egg mixture in a thin stream, stirring constantly so that the egg does not scramble. Blend well together and season to taste.
Main Course: Classic Pot Roast
Adapted from Cooking Light. Serves 10.
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 (3-pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 (14-ounce) can beef broth
- 1 bay leaf
- Fresh thyme
Preheat oven to 350º. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chuck roast with salt and pepper. Add roast to pan; cook 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove roast from pan. Add onion to pan; sauté 8 minutes or until tender.
Return browned roast to pan. Add the red wine, thyme sprigs, chopped garlic, beef broth, and bay leaf to pan; bring to a simmer. Cover pan and bake at 350° for 2 1/2 hours or until the roast is tender.
Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf from pan; discard. Shred meat with 2 forks. Serve roast with cooking liquid. Garnish with thyme leaves, if desired.
For the perfect mashed potatoes:
Adapted from Martha Stewart. Serves 6.
- 2 pounds russet, Yukon gold, or long white potatoes
- 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Peel and cut potatoes into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water; add 1 tablespoon salt. bring to a simmer. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat cream and butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Drain potatoes and press through a potato ricer into a large bowl (for convenience, you can also beat the potatoes with an electric mixer until the lumps disappear). Stir potatoes until smooth, then add hot butter and cream, stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also include nutmeg, fresh chives, minced garlic, or another favorite seasoning.
For the asparagus:
Melt 1 cup unsalted butter in small saucepan. Bring the melted butter to a boil and set aside to cool. Once the milk solids have risen to the top and the whey has settled to the bottom, skim off the top layer and pour clarified butter into a serving dish, being careful not to include the watery liquid in the bottom of the pan. Serve the drawn butter with fresh steamed or grilled asparagus.
Dessert: Caramel Custard
Adapted from Bon Appetit. Serves 8.
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- ¾ cup plus 4 Tbsp. sugar, divided
- 6 large egg yolks, room temperature
- pinch of kosher salt
- Whipped cream (for serving; optional)
- Flaky sea salt (for serving; optional)
Preheat oven to 300°. Place cream in a medium saucepan; scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and add pod. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
Bring 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil, swirling pan occasionally and brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush, until mixture turns a deep amber color, about 4 minutes; remove caramel from heat.
Remove vanilla pod from cream and slowly add cream to caramel (mixture will bubble vigorously), stirring constantly, until smooth.
Whisk egg yolks, salt, and remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl. Slowly stream in caramel, whisking constantly.
Divide custard among ramekins and place in a kitchen towel–lined large baking dish or roasting pan. Fill pan with water to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake until custard is just set but still jiggly in the center, 60–70 minutes. Remove ramekins from baking dish; place on a wire rack and let cool. Chill puddings, uncovered, at least 3 hours. Puddings can be made 2 days ahead; cover and keep chilled.
For serving: Beat 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 1 tablespoon sugar until soft peaks form (can be done with an electric mixer or a whisk). Top puddings with whipped cream and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
For a meatless meal, we’ve gone for a light supper menu that makes the most of fresh fish and summer produce.
Main Dish: Cedar-Planked Salmon
Recipe adapted from Coastal Living. Serves 6.
- 1 untreated cedar or alder plank
- 1 (1 1/2-pound) salmon fillet
- 3 tablespoons salmon rub:
- 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- Lemon slices
- Green onions
Soak cedar plank in water at least 30 minutes.
Combine brown sugar through black pepper in small bowl. Remove pin bones from salmon, if necessary, and coat fish evenly with rub. Cover with plastic wrap or foil, and chill until ready to grill.
Drain plank, and grill over medium-high heat (350° to 400°) for 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Remove from grill. Place salmon, skin side down, on heated side of plank. Top with lemon slices.
Place planked salmon on grill, cover, and grill 20 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. (Check occasionally to make sure edges of plank don’t ignite.) Garnish, if desired, with green onions.
Side Dishes: Fried Summer Squash and Corn on the Cob
To make Southern deep-fried squash:
Adapted from the Food Network. Serves 8.
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1/2 cup whole buttermilk
- 3 large eggs
- 2 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
- 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
In a large Dutch oven, pour the oil to a depth of 2 inches; heat to 365 degrees F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs until smooth. Add the squash and zucchini, tossing gently to coat; let stand for 30 minutes. Drain the squash, discarding the buttermilk mixture.
In a shallow dish, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper, to taste. Dredge the squash and zucchini in the mixture to coat.
Fry the squash, in batches, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.
For the corn:
Remove the husks and silk from 8 fresh ears of corn. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the corn, simmering five to ten minutes until corn is tender.
Dessert: Peach Pie
Recipe adapted from Southern Living. Serves 8.
- 1 1/3 cups cold butter
- 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice-cold water
- 8 large fresh, firm, ripe peaches (about 4 lb.)
- 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Cut 1 1/3 cups butter into small cubes, and chill 15 minutes. Stir together 4 cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture resembles small peas. Gradually stir in 1/2 cup ice water with a fork, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened and dough begins to form a ball and leaves sides of bowl, adding more ice water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, if necessary. Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap; press and shape dough into 2 flat disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap, and chill 30 minutes to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 425º. Place 1 dough disk on a lightly floured surface; sprinkle dough lightly with flour. Roll dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Starting at 1 edge of dough, wrap dough around a rolling pin. Place rolling pin over a 9-inch pie plate, and unroll dough over pie plate. Press dough into pie plate.
Roll remaining dough disk to about 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.
Peel peaches, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices; cut slices in half. Stir together brown sugar, next 3 ingredients, and remaining 1/4 cup flour in a bowl; add peaches, stirring to coat. Immediately spoon peach mixture into piecrust in pie plate, and dot with 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter. (Do not make mixture ahead or it will become too juicy.)
Carefully place remaining piecrust over filling; press edges of crusts together to seal. Cut off excess crust, and reserve. Crimp edges of pie. If desired, reroll excess crust to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 3-inch leaves using a knife. Brush top of pie with beaten egg; top with leaves. Brush leaves with egg; sprinkle with 1 1/2 Tbsp. granulated sugar. Cut 4 to 5 slits in top of pie for steam to escape. (NOTE: to make a lattice crust, cut the crust into strips with a pastry wheel and replace whole crust with dough strips in a lattice design. Brush with eggs and sprinkle with sugar. Omit slits in top of pie.)
Freeze pie 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a jelly-roll pan in oven 10 minutes. Place pie on hot jelly-roll pan.
Bake at 425° on lower oven rack 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°; bake 40 minutes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning, and bake 25 more minutes or until juices are thick and bubbly (juices will bubble through top). Transfer to a wire rack; cool 2 hours before serving.