More News–and War Food News!

So, this summer has clearly gotten away from me. Due to impending space limitations, I was working on moving the blog to a new site, hosted by the library. That came with some delays and the new blog isn’t ready to go yet. Then, as I mentioned in June, we moved to some new systems in May. As usual, things got done, but not the things I intended. Then suddenly, it was the first week of class. As a matter of fact, I just taught my first session of the semester to a food history class! Which then reminded me I need to get back to blogging (it’s also my week to post on Special Collections’ other blog!). There’s still space for more pictures here, though, and I’ll be doing my best to get back into routine while I sort out other details for the new blog site in the background. So, a couple more updates and then a new item to share!

First: We have a new website! Our address is still https://spec.lib.vt.edu/, but you may notice an updated look. We are still working on many parts of the site and expect to be migrating some content for a while yet–either to the site or other tools we have in Special Collections. We appreciate your patience while we do so–it may mean some things are a little harder to find, but it will be worth it in the end! In the interim, if you’re looking for something, contact us and ask! We’re here to help.

Second: Colleagues are trying to plant dangerous ideas in my mind and I may be exploring a new medium to talk about one or two aspects of food history in the near future. Stay tuned for more on that.

Third: There’s going to a Peacock Harper Culinary History Friends Committee event here at Newman Library in October. More information will be forthcoming, but for now, consider marking your calendars for Friday, October 4th, at 5pm, especially if you like tomatoes!

Okay, on to new stuff!

Ta-da! Earlier this summer, we purchased this poster (close ups coming). It’s a World War I baker recruitment poster, c.1917:

Wanted! 500 Bakers for the U. S. Army (also 100 cooks) If you can bake bread Uncle Same wants you–if you can’t bake bread, Uncle Sam will teach you how in a Government School. A bakery company consists of 61 men so that you and your “pals” can join the same unit and bake and break bread together. Enlist for the war-bakers pay $33 to $45 per month Ages 18 to 45 Cooks pay $36 per month with clothing, food, quarters and medical attention.

We haven’t done a lot of research into this item just yet, but I love the visuals of it and wanted to share. We had a World War I and food exhibit up in the spring and this seems a good continuation of that theme. (And I was just talking about food and wartime in the class session earlier!)

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Saving, Sharing, and Propaganda: Advice for Children from the U. S. Food Administration

Just this week, I finished working my way through a new collection of materials we received relating to military and wartime food and cookery. The majority of the collection is published items that will be cataloged, but it also included a selection of ephemera in the form of menus, corporate sponsored pamphlets, two handwritten recipes, two ration books, and a rather interesting photograph album of the Yokota Air Base Commissary from the 1960s. On the whole, materials in the collection date from the 1880s (Civil War reunion event menus) to the 1960s. The published items date from the 1890s to the 1990s. The manuscript materials are primarily World War II-era, but I’ve been thinking about World War I lately. There have been a number of projects and efforts on campus to document VPI involvement in WWI (and some more to come), which led me to WWI food and cookery. Either later this fall or sometime next year, I’m already concocting ideas for a small WWI-food themed exhibit in our display cases.

In the meantime: Food Saving and Sharing: Telling How the Older Children of America May Help Save from Famine Their Comrades in Allied Lands Across the Sea,  prepared under the direction of the United States Food Administration in coöperation with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Education, published in 1918.

This book was basically the result of a call for the United States Food Administration (USFA, so I don’t have to type that every time!) to create book for public school use “which will promote the program of food conservation.” Food Saving and Sharing is sometimes referred to as a text book and it certainly has the education element to it. In addition, it includes, photographs, illustrations, and a fair number of little rhymes and sayings to reinforce its ideas.

Shortly after the title page, there’s a brief introduction from Herbert Hoover:

To the Girls and Boys of America:

Now that the terrible war is over, you must be glad that you helped to win it by saving food for our soldiers and our unhappy friends across the sea. But our work of feeding hungry people is not to be greater than it has ever been…To save the world from famine will be a greater task than any of us can imagine, but we can do it if each of us does all he can. I am counting on you…

Later, in World War II, we will see the theme and motto of “Victory!” It was used as a motivation for home gardens, increased self-sufficiency, rationing, and a variety of other food and domestic practices. While World War I didn’t have so clean or simple a motto, this book is a great example of the kind of propaganda (a word that shouldn’t necessarily have a negative context here) that was common during this time, especially from government agencies like the USFA. About two-thirds of the book is spent educating readers on food and nutrition. The last third is about efforts during the war, why they need to continue, and what else young people can do to help. There are a couple of pages on the Garden City movement and the School Garden Army (both of which I’ve come across recently and need to read up on!), organizations designed to promote involvement by school-age children in war efforts and to give them a way to affect change.

Cornell’s Albert R. Mann Library has a nice short overview of the Food Administration that includes the following:

“Food Will Win the War” became the slogan and the Food Administration’s widely disseminated posters, articles, workshops and educational material resulted in a 15% reduction in domestic food consumption without rationing. This meant that in a 12-month period of 1918-1919, this country furnished 18,500,000 tons of food to the Allies.

I can certainly see the appeal of such a book at the end of 1918 and we know that the U.S. did continue its efforts well into 1919 to great success. Efforts like those of the USFA would also be extremely influential in another twenty years when World War II began.

The full version of this book is available online.

I know I didn’t actually talk about or feature the new Military & Wartime Cookery Collection (Ms2017-029), but we will come back to it. For now, you can see the finding aid online (the guide includes a list of the related publications).

Army Cooking 101: The 1917 Edition

Earlier this month, it was the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entrance into World War I. While we don’t have a huge selection of culinary history materials relating to World War I (yet), over the last year or so, I have been on the lookout for items representing World War I and II culinary culture. Historically, though, we have previously acquired some items and I thought this week we might look at one of them.

Extracts from Manual for Army Cooks was published in July 1917. Given the title, it wasn’t too hard to trace the origins of the content. After all, earlier in 1917, the Government Printing Office produced the Manual for Army Cooks, 1916 (Document No. 564). The Extracts from Manual for Army Cooks is Document No. 564a. (Phew, sometimes you need an easy mystery to solve!) We don’t currently have a copy of the larger manual, which is 270 pages, but our extracted version is 116 pages of useful content. If you’re an army cook or looking to feed 100 men, that is…

Extracts from Manual for Army Cooks is a little bit different from the other World War materials we have in the culinary history collecting area. Most of those items and collections focus on what was or could be done at home to help the war effort: rationing/cooking under rationing conditions, Victory gardening, cookery that made use every scrap of food, or home activities that supported the war. The manual does touch on some of these ideas–the recipes include meat scrap and leftovers–but the major focus in on organization through structure, menus, and strict tracking of foods. It also talks about setting up kitchens in different kinds of locations, even on a railroad car! Of course, the reality of war-time experience likely differed greatly from the practical, planned manual, but a publication like this can give us some insight in the expectation of military efficiency in feeding a literal army.


On another World War I note, through the middle of May, Newman Library is hosting an exhibit on several VPI students who served in World War I. This display is an excerpt from a larger, on-going, multi-semester project that included the use of Special Collections materials. You can find out more about the exhibit, the project, and these students through the project’s website: http://vpiworldwarone.lib.vt.edu/.

Food History in the News (#1): Bread Substitutions in War-time

Recent conversations with students and a book I finished not too long ago have given me a case of “substitution” on the brain. In other words, during World War I and II, what was taking the place of standard ingredients, or even processes, that were rationed or needed elsewhere (sugar, flour, meat, and even alcohol)? So, I was delighted by a recent story from NPR’s “The Salt” about just this topic: Save The Fleet, Eat Less Wheat: The Patriotic History Of Ditching Bread.” It’s a quick read, but definitely worth it!

Corn: The War Edition

I realized that while I’ve written a bit about World War II and food/food substitutions for victory, I haven’t really shared as much about World War I and food. I did post about bread and World War I earlier this year, but this unobtrusive little volume struck me this morning (not literally, of course, though falling books can sometimes be a danger in this job). It’s The Corn Cook Book [War Edition] written by Elizabeth O. Hiller and published in 1918.

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I image you can guess what kinds of recipes this book has. (If you said anything but “corn,” I’d be shocked.) It’s primarily corn meal, but there are a few items that use actual corn kernels, too. I’ve included the preface, along with some sample pages, since it gives a nice introduction to this particular edition and to the cause it supports.

One of the things I like about this item is the advice at the bottom of each page. It starts at the bottom of the introduction, which features specific directions on how to do things like mix, stir, beat, cut and fold, as well as notes on how to measure. This note reads: “IMPORTANT–The foregoing instructions must be carefully followed; the ingredients called for in the recipes must be used, to insure success in the finished product. Each recipe in this Corn Cook Book has been carefully tested by an expect–a graduated teacher in household economics.” The rest of the book contains the same advice about skim milk and butter substitute. I wish there was a little bit of something else, but we can’t say Hiller wasn’t consistent.

I’ve done a little research and it actually appears this might have been the only edition of The Corn Cook Book–in other words, there doesn’t seem to have been a non-war edition. Hiller wrote a number of books in the first 20 years of the 20th century, primarily calendar or 365-day type meal planning cookbooks.

If you’d like to see the full version our feature text this week, you can check it out on the Internet Archive. Today is graduation, so our summer is about to kick off. Special Collections may not have as many students in the reading room, but we’ll be here and we’ll have plenty of visitors. We encourage you to be one of them!

Victory Bread?

Sometimes, as you may well know, I find feature items for the blog while looking for other items. I was hunting the shelves for a few publications (I wanted to scan images for the next 2-3 weeks and see if I can get ahead!), when I found Victory Breads for One Hundred: Suitable for Hotels, Boarding Houses, Institutions, published in 1918. We’re used to seeing “victory”-inspired books and pamphlets relating to food in World War II, but not nearly as many from World War I. It practically jumped off the shelf at me!

This pamphlet may not look like much on the surface, but it has a great deal to say about a food staple during the war. The United States Food Administration (USFA) was a World War I-era federal agency focused on the administration of allies’ food reserves. In this case, the emphasis is on saving wheat and wheat flour, with a goal of cutting wheat use by 20%. The first two pages talk about the overall plan, the reasoning behind it, and the potential wheat substitutes or additions you might see in flour. About 1/3 of the recipes are for breads containing an 80/20 mix. The rest are made up of quick bread and muffin recipes of a 50/50 wheat-substitute blend. In wartime or not, there’s no reason you can’t try something different when you’re making bread, so think about one of these recipes next time you’re in the mood for a homemade loaf (or 50!).

If you’re interested in the USFA, you can learn a more on the National Archives website. If you prefer visual appeal, the site also features from posters from the USFA, too, encouraging both patriotism and food savings. Meanwhile, you can probably find me wandering the stacks in search of whatever else we might have on World War I, the USFA, and food for “Victory!”