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I love a good cookbook, but I rarely buy them. Check them out from the library? Absolutely! But after I’ve taken them home, drooled over the pictures and copied a recipe or two for later, I’m usually happy to return them. But every once in a while a cookbook comes along that I just have to have, and when I picked up “Grandma’s Wartime Baking Book,” I knew that a copy had to live with me permanently.
This book, and its companion volume, “Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen,” were assembled by editor Joanne Lamb Hayes as she researched the way we cooked in America during World War II. As well as being a cookbook, it includes a fascinating glimpse of wartime on the home front in the chatty recipe descriptions and accompanying chapter text.
Seeing how the recipes are shaped by the emergence of new kitchen technologies, convenience foods and newly common ingredients — not to mention wartime shortages — gives a little down-home insight into the greater picture of this era.
What really made me buy this book, however, is how the enforced creativity of rationing made these recipes remarkably relevant today. “Making do” with what they had on hand means all kind of creative substitutions that make these the perfect recipes to turn to when you’re trying to scrape something together out of the few things left in the cupboard.
Those same clever substitutions mean that this is also a great resource for certain kinds of allergen-free cooking; egg-free and dairy-free was a fact of life! And those wartime mothers, balancing the demands of factory jobs and family life, were just as in need of time-saving recipes as we are, so a lot of these recipes whip up from scratch in next to no time.
Some of the recipes have been slightly updated for today, taking into account modern kitchen hardware and methods, but she also includes a few recipes exactly as she found them. I found these “wartime specials” to be especially fascinating; some sound delicious (blueberry honey cake, anyone?) but others (such as a butterless butter made from evaporated milk, mayonnaise, margarine and gelatin) might be better off staying on the page as mere curiosities!
My most-used recipe has been the jiffy cake, a one-bowl whip-up-in-a-minute yellow cake that is delicious served fresh with berries and whipped cream.
If you’re a cook, or just a history buff who wants to look at the war from a different perspective, this is a cookbook worth checking out.
Genevieve Baillie is the extension services librarian at the Wilson County Public Library.