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Rationing and the Great War Dinner Table – Family Recipe Friday

1918-cookbook-cover-1Food rationing during wartime wasn’t unique to the 1940s.  Ensuring soldiers, refugees, and civilians all had access to basic nutritional goods during modern war periods has a foundation during the Great War, when allied nations such as Great Britain, Canada, France, and Italy, began rationing items such as meat, sugar, wheat, and fats on a large scale.

While food rationing wasn’t a requirement in the United States, United States Food Administration pushed the public toward voluntary rationing to send food abroad where it was greatly needed.  The food administration utilized catchy slogans such as “Meatless Meals”, “Wheatless Wednesdays”, and “Food Will Win the War” to reduce domestic food consumption, which it did by around fifteen percent.

soldiers need

Cookbooks rapidly shifted gears to include provide help and advice for serving up meals for the wartime family dining table.  A great selection of these have been digitized and popping up on popular vintage cookbook Pinterest boards.  These wartime cookbooks layout foods needed for the war effort, and strategies for serving dishes using available materials.  Patriotic housewives and household staff ensured resources needed for for the war effort wasn’t wasted on their family’s dinner plates.  Alternate grains, such as barley and oats were substituted for wheat, while popular beef dishes were set aside for meats such as chicken or fish.  Even cooking fats and sugars could be swapped out to help the doughboys serving on the front lines.

Here are a few suggested titles from the Great War era:

Some recipes from super strange or unusual today, however, they would be an interesting culinary experiment for the centennial.  Here are a few highlights from the books listed above.

War Cook Book for American Women 

War Breads

Twentieth Century Club War Time Cook Book

oatmeal griddle cakes

The Record War-Time Cook Book

nut roast 1  nut roast 2

Meanwhile, in Great Britain

The rationing system set up in Great Britain during the Great War was something of a disaster.  With inflated food prices and panic buying, families with disposable income were able to stockpile packaged goods when war broke out.  This placed working class in a precarious situation and would lead to a severely underfed labor force during the war period.

Great Britain attempted voluntary rationing at the beginning of the war, but would later institute a mandatory rationing system to keep the public fed while the conflict raged continuously on in Europe.  Women kept up with rationing by purchasing ration cookbooks from the period, but they were also using some of the ‘quick and easy’ titles from the period to prep and serve up dishes with labor saving methods.

A few popular British titles from the Great War era include:

One interesting entry from the Win the the War Cookery Book was entitled ‘Fish Sausages’, which seems rather tasty and straight forward.

fish sausages

There’s a fabulous video series online entitled Further Back In Time For Dinner in which one British family explores living and eating their way through five decades of history.  The episode which encapsulates the Great War period is a must watch for anyone interested in domestic life on the British WWI home front.

You can watch the rest of the series here:

Further Back In Time For Dinner The 1900s
Further Back in Time for Dinner The 1910s
Further Back In Time For Dinner The 1920s
Further Back in Time for Dinner The 1930s
Further Back In Time For Dinner The 1940s


As November 11, 2018 marks the centennial for the end of World War I, you have some time to go through a few of these cookbooks, and whip up an Armistice Day feast.  A full on Edwardian tea party probably wouldn’t go amiss as well.  Here’s a toast to the kitchen soldiers of the Great War era!

See you at the library!


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