by Cece Whittaker
Tucked inside the memories of the War years Christmases is the fundamental struggle for resources. Probably most remembered and challenging of those resources at home was that of sugar. As one of the very first food items to be rationed, sugar quickly became a coveted and very protected provision. The Sugar Book, as the ration book was known, contained stamps allotting each person one-half pound of sugar per week. This practice went smoothly at first, but as time went on, while there was no argument that each person was entitled to his or her half-pound, there was no guarantee that the store they visited would have it available to sell. Frustrated with their predicament, home cooks learned to work around the sugar shortage by employing the variety of commercially produced items by manufacturers whose sugar resources were not rationed.
Such items included marshmallows, pudding mixes, gelatin mixes, and condensed milk. Additionally, cooks were successful in their creative use of molasses, honey, and maple syrup, among other sweet liquids. A wonderful resource by Joanne Lamb Hayes, Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen, lists a large collection of actual recipes created in the sugar deprived era.
Rising to the occasion
Among my favorites; Whipped Honey Icing, created by bringing 2/3 cup of honey to a boil, and pouring it over 2 stiffly beaten egg whites, combined with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. (Hayes 2000) Today, this might satisfy both the crowd trying to reduce cholesterol as well as those trying to stay away from sugar. I can only imagine how delicious that might be, perhaps glazing a slice of fresh pound cake!
Ironically, most sources agree that a sweet roll, as my mother calls it, was not at all uncommon for breakfast in those early 1940s. But usually they were more like doughnuts, which, while sweet and wonderful, required very little sugar either in the batter or as a frosting. What I wouldn’t give for a batch of home-made doughnuts in my kitchen today!
Some homemakers found success in creating caramels and other candies by repurposing purchased marshmallows. When chocolate was available, it was also possible to fashion a type of chewy brownie that would later become the preferred type for many across the country.
This year, when I looked at my cannister, filled to the top with white granulated sugar, and my three pounds of butter, neatly stacked inside my refrigerator, along with vanilla, nuts, eggs, milk, and anything else I might possibly need, I felt such gratitude. Writers are rarely creatures of affluence, but in that moment, as I prepared to make my Christmas treats, I felt filled to the brim with riches, and appreciation for the brave and caring men and women who sacrificed everything for us, back during World War II, and still today.
Cece Whittaker is author of The Call to Serve, an upbeat, heartwarming, but researched story of characters in the US and overseas managing the struggles of life during the War Years of the early 1940s. Cece’s Website