There was a lot happening in 1918, both in the United States and around the world. It was nearing the end of the First World War, which had been going on since July 28th, 1914, and only ended on November 11th, 1918. People were fighting for their health, their country, and their own rights. The United States was dealing with events such as the 1918 Influenza epidemic, which infected about one-third of the world’s population. The influenza epidemic spread throughout France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, the United States, and many others, bringing the already very low life expectancy even lower. The 1910s were not the time to be alive. Throughout the 1910s the highest life expectancy for men was 53 and the lowest was 36. Meaning, when the flu epidemic arrived, it dropped the life expectancy in the U.S. even more, decreasing it by 12 years. The United States was also entering its women’s rights era, as they were allowing certain women the right to vote.
Speaking of women, I would like to focus on them because this article is primarily about wartime recipes; and, honestly, who was most likely to be working with this recipe? With most men leaving for war, women had to pick up responsibilities men previously had. You saw a lot more women joining the workforce and getting out into society. They also had to change the way they did tasks that they might have previously been doing, for example, canning more items, avoiding the use of some food items, and potentially growing their own food. This new way of life aided in the debut of propaganda posters in World War 1. Everything around the United States citizens who lived from 1914 to 1918 talked about how they could help their country in the war. Foods that the United States really wanted to save were wheats, meats, fats, and sugars. Foods that were encouraged to eat were items such as corn, oats, rye, fish, beans, potatoes, baked boiled, and broiled foods.
The food you would commonly see in households during the 1910s would be items such as bacon, canned salmon, ham, eggs, butter, cheese, milk, corn meal, rice, potatoes, onions, beans, prunes, raisins, coffee, sugar, and many more. Before the war began, the United States economy was in a recession, but as the war started, we quickly got over that recession and you started to see the cost of food increase over the years. Items were not only increasing in the United States but also in our neighboring country, Canada. The increase in prices was more dramatic in Canada than it was here. Looking at the picture to the right shows the Monthly Labor Review’s average retail prices of the principal food articles by the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics from 1913 to November 1918. In the picture, you can see the cost of pretty much every item increase. I have chosen to focus on the average in Massachusetts because the author we will soon talk about is from Massachusetts.
Throughout many recipes written in this time, you will see how the ingredients will reflect the time. We will specifically be looking into Two Hundred and Seventy-Five War-Time Recipes written by Carolyn Putnam Webber. Webber has organized it into sections that look at what the government is asking people to use less. What I mean by this, is that her first section is all about using less wheat flour. She offers suggestions on other types of flours and also educated people on what to look for when searching for a proper substitution. Her second section is on using fewer portions of meat, especially beef, and pork. The third section is on the release of fats, the fourth section is on fewer sugars, and lastly, the fifth section is on practical conservation. In chapter 13, page 36 of her book, Webber has a recipe called “Salmon with peanuts”. To make this recipe you would need: 1 cup white sauce, 1 can salmon, ½ cup peanuts, and cracker crumbs or breadcrumbs. To start this meal in a greased baking dish place layers as followed: crumbs, peanuts, sauce with salmon, and peanuts, crumbs. A mixture of bread and may be used but all breadcrumbs are more soggy. Bake until brown in a moderate oven. Season the white sauce well and add 2 tbsp fat to the top crumbs.
Her recipe does not sound the most appetizing now, but it is a great reflection of the time it was written in. The year 1918 was a time of war and people had to be frugal and specifically were encouraged to be frugal with what they spent and what they ate. In Webber’s recipe, you can see her using exactly that. The government heavily encouraged the use of more fish, so this recipe is using canned salmon. By using bread crumbs and cracker crumbs it allowed families to use every bit of existing food that they already had in their homes. The white sauce she has listed is a combination of cooking oil, flour, milk, and salt. With a minimal recipe, it does cover some important food groups; it covers carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. With trying to be conservative with ingredients, having carbs and proteins are really important. Carbohydrates will turn to sugars and provide the body with energy to function during the day, which is extremely important while you are taking on extra duties while your husband or father is at war. Both the salmon and the peanuts count as protein in this recipe. The salmon is the main protein, while the peanuts are a fun and subtle addition of protein and flavor to the recipe. Maximizing the protein will aid in preserving food because proteins are what “fill you up”.
I would also like to bring attention to how non-labor intensive Webber’s recipe is. Besides making the white sauce, all you must do is layer the 4 ingredients in a baking dish and put it in the oven. There is no need to constantly stir, flip after every few minutes, or cook every ingredient before putting it all together. This recipe simply just needs to be put in the oven. Even with the white sauce, to make it, all you are doing is add milk, flour, salt, and cooking oil to a pan until combined. This whole recipe would not take long to prepare or to cook. Non-time consuming recipes were ideal in this wartime. With the war going on, women had a lot more on their plates. With husbands and fathers away, not only did women have to continue cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children, a lot of women had to get out of the work force; busy days did not allow for much time to be wasted.
We do not know much about Carolyn Putnam Webber, but from what we can tell she comes across as a progressive woman. Webber was Born June 3rd, 1882 in Bedford, Massachusetts; to parents Mary A. Putnam and Wallace G. Webber. She was raised in Bedford, and Bedford really help her get her start in life.
She started her career as a dietitian and lecturer but rather quickly became an author. She had written multiple books; Tried and True: 500 recipes with Practical Culinary Suggestions (1909), The Sentinel Book on Automatic Cooking (1915), and an informational book about gas services with recipes. The book that brought her the most success was the book that we talked about above Two Hundred and Seventy Five War Time Recipes published through the Bedford Print Shop in 1918.
Webber was very passionate about being helpful during the war and she did help in the best way she knew how; through cooking. Two quotes from Carolyn Putnam Webber were “At this critical time, our nation is called upon to supply food for her men in service…as well as the people at home. Joined in the world war, we have a duty towards our allies, and many labor and transportation problems add to the seriousness of the situation”. She offers her knowledge on recipes that promote conservation instead of deprivation. “A person’s best asset is a well nourished body, and a nation’s asset is a healthy people”. Webber found it important that people know that conservation does not mean going without or avoiding necessities.
- “PRICES AND COST OF LIVING.” Monthly Labor Review, vol. 8, no. 1, 1919, pp. 88–114. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41827486. Accessed 11 Dec. 2022.
- Tunc, Tanfer Emin. “Less Sugar, More Warships: Food as American Propaganda in the First World War.” War in History, vol. 19, no. 2, 2012, pp. 193–216. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26098429. Accessed 11 Dec. 2022.
- Pearl, Raymond, and Magdalen H. Burger. “Retail Prices of Food During 1917 and 1918.” Publications of the American Statistical Association, vol. 16, no. 127, 1919, pp. 411–39. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2964812. Accessed 11 Dec. 2022.