Several months after moving to our farm here in Virginia, I discovered a large old box of magazines from the 40's - 70's in one of the barns on the property; along with many hundreds - I kid you not - perhaps even a thousand or more - canning jars; among other "vintage" items. Stored in boxes, it looked like the people who lived here crammed them in boxes and stored them away in the barns, where they were forgotten for all those years. Until I, the great Vintage Huntress, on a mission to clean out said barns, discovered them. Regular clear glass jars, as well as the old blue ones with intact, perfect zinc and porcelain lids.
Going through the magazines, I discovered the almost all contained old gems of recipes in their fragile, decayed pages. Some called for ingredients like Powdered MSG, "top milk", double acting baking powder, lots of gelatin, meat drippings, etc. They're also full of all those quaint old advertisements, silly romance short stories, old beauty products ads, all those "vintage" images we all recognize. I imagine that those short stories were an excellent way for these war time women to keep their minds off of the horrors that could be facing their loved ones overseas.
But I was also struck by the fact that we ladies today are in a similar pickle to those WW2 housewives. History seems to be repeating itself. Not in terms of wars and political climate, perhaps, but I felt a kinship with the ladies in the pages of one magazine in particular, a 1944 issue of McCall's Magazine. Am I nuts?
I don't think so. Bear with me:
In this July issue of the McCall's magazine, in the "homemaking" section, is an article on fruit preservation entitled "PUT UP FRUIT!" Listing the difficulty in finding commercially packed fruits to buy, due to the Government's shipping most canned fruit to the Armed Forces and "other types of shipments" (humanitarian) - as a very good reason to put up fruits. Basically, if you don't put it up yourself, you aren't going to have any. They were on their own.
Another reason listed to can fruits was the shrinkage of butter or "oleomargarine" supplies, thereby encouraging folks to "eat more bread for the energy we need these days." I guess they figured that bread was inexpensive and filling; and if they couldn't have oleo or butter on it, jam was just as tasty.
Of course, we now know that a lot of bread is bad for you (carbs, starch, sugar, etc.) and we also know that "oleomargarine" is really, really bad for you! But it is the "making do" aspect of the article that caught my attention.
An article entitled "Know Your Jar Lids" gave tips for canning using a 3-piece rubber ring, glass lid, and metal rim; zinc and porcelain lined caps; the lightning style with glass lid, rubber ring, and two metal bails - as well as our modern metal lid and ring style. "CAN MORE IN '44!" the article encouraged in bold lettering.
These ads stress the "war time" importance of saving soap.
This ad for Parkay margarine states in a little info box in the corner: "Keep up your Victory Garden - cultivate carefully, bring to full harvest, pick your crop. Don't waste anything you grow! Preserve fresh and perishable foods by canning, brining, (pickling?) drying, and storing......"
Paper bags were no longer available, so women went shopping with fabric shopping bags they made for themselves. This article showed three or four different ways to create a shopping bag with materials ladies would have had on hand.
These women - women like my Grandmother, who was a WAVE in the Navy at the time - had to figure make what they had stretch, come up with an alternative, or simply go without. When they ran out of something, they didn't just run down to the local grocery for another one - they might have to wait weeks, or even months, for more.
Women today may find they have much in common with those war-time housewives from the 1940's. We find ourselves trying to save, conserve, reuse, or do without - not because of a world war going on, but because of the downturn in the American economy.
The WW2 wartime women learned to be creative with the items they did have, and were happy to give some things up for the war effort. It was a hard time for our country then, as it is a hard time now.... but as in years before, women find a way.
Women took great pride in the food they served giving an attractive presentation, being emotionally fulfilling as well as nutritious and necessary to life. They were taking on a noble task, "keeping on keeping on", "doing their part for the war effort" at home, when around them the whole world was engulfed in turmoil; not so unlike what it is again today.
So this year I plan on having my own "Victory Garden" again; and canning and preserving more than I did last season. I know there are those out there who question the healthiness of canning; but I'd rather can it than waste it; or freeze it.(Using more electricity.) Plus, it's probably healthier than buying it canned from he store. Therefore, I can. (I did about 30 plus quarts of green beans this past season.) And I will use those jars I found in my barn; and think of the woman who put them there; after she had "done her part" and "Canned more in '44".
Don't get me wrong - I enjoy the luxury of being able to run down to the Food Lion and grab a can of baking powder when I run out. I'm not saying you're more of a woman if you deprive yourself. I say GO FOR IT if you run out of something and you have money to replenish and a store that can accommodate you.
But sometimes it is pretty cool to see if you can do without, or use an alternative, or simply not waste.
Well, I hope this was in the very least entertaining for you readers, and for you innocent passers by. If not - oh well. Tune in again next time to hear more ramblings from a cooped up mind. :)