Cooking for the times

By Ruth Patchett
Posted 2/27/23

Grocery store shopping can be a real shock. Prices have increased and not just in the egg department. 

Most of us have been told wages have increased significantly, but how many have received …

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Cooking for the times


Grocery store shopping can be a real shock. Prices have increased and not just in the egg department. 

Most of us have been told wages have increased significantly, but how many have received a 50% wage hike in the last year? Not everything has increased by 50%, but several of the items on my recent list had. 

This made me think of ways perhaps we could be saving on our food budget. I dug out an old booklet published in 1942. The “Home Budgets for Victory” booklet was prepared by chief state Home Economist Christine Ryman Pensinger for then Illinois Governor Dwight H. Green during World War II. It is interesting reading, especially for those who enjoy history.

The beginning of the book contains a letter, dated March 4, 1942, from Gov. Green, includes these paragraphs:

“To The Women of Illinois:

“We as a nation are determined that this war, which has been thrust upon us, shall end in our total victory. There shall be no cessation of attack, no shirking in defense, until freedom is re-established for all nations, so that men and women everywhere may again hold their heads erect in a world in which human dignity and human decency prevail.

“Food is vital to this effort. Not only must we feed the millions of men in the lines of attack, but our people must be kept well nourished, because fighting forces can be no stronger than those who support them at home. This means that every Illinois housewife will need to provide her family with an adequate diet, while at the same time she must conserve and save. Your America and mine needs the full co-operation of everyone of us.”

Times have changed since 1942. First, many women today reading this letter might be highly incensed thinking it is not just women who are responsible for the feeding of one’s family. Secondly, it is not just men who serve in our military. What has not changed is that all people still require an adequate diet to be healthy and some of the ideas in this 81-year-old booklet are as appropriate now as they were back then.

The booklet is not just about food preparation, but also contains information on clothing and maintaining clothing so it will last as long as possible. Many of the textiles used during the war were required for military purposes to clothe our troops. Silk hosiery for women was certainly in short supply as silk was needed for parachutes. Some women drew stripes on their legs to make it look like they were wearing stockings.

The booklet offered ways to launder items and suggested saving soap by soaking clothes overnight before washing the next day. It had more than 10 tips for removing stains.

Since iron and steel were necessary for the vital national defense, the booklet encouraged all to keep washing machine parts properly oiled, clean and covered to keep the devices running since there was little chance of obtaining replacement parts.

Clothes dryers were likely not used as suggestions made in the booklet called for hanging out clothes to bleach the whites and help with certain spots. Makes me wonder why all the people who promote saving the planet today aren’t suggesting the use of a clothesline instead of a dryer.

Fortunately, we are not living through those times. We are not using rationing books and when going into stores one finds them filled with abundant food if you want to pay the asking price.

I am not trying to be an alarmist, but who can see the future? Who would have thought COVID would be a problem? I am sure the Ukrainian people are wondering when their war with Russia will end. Knowing how to be economical, when preparing meals is always wise. 

One of the first things the booklet pointed out is to use what you have wisely. So much of the food we buy can be used but is thrown away. Use the small amounts of food you have leftover to make a casserole or soup. While in college we were taught to save juices from cooking vegetables to make gravies, sauces or soups. Don’t allow the good nutrients to go down the drain.

It was suggested back then to keep a jar in the freezer and save vegetable juices for use later in soup broths.

I split time between Brocton and Missouri, so I can see my awesome grandchildren, Annie and Jay, which makes my freezer a fantastic tool, so food items are not wasted. Fresh produce does not last if one plans to be gone for two weeks or more. Mail can be put on hold, but try telling that onions, carrots, celery, spinach or other fresh items.

At Christmas time, I stocked up on several fresh vegetables in Odessa as my son and his wife, who eat an abundance of fresh veggies and fruit, were coming for Christmas. They did not stay long enough to enjoy all I had purchased. I did not want the veggies purchased to go to waste so I chopped up leftover celery, onion, carrots, spinach and cauliflower for a cauliflower soup base. It was frozen for later use. This is a great way to use items in the refrigerator crisper drawer before they are no longer viable to eat.

It does not just have to be a soup base. Use frozen chopped spinach in a fritatta egg bake and use up the frozen pieces of bread you have saved as well. Always save and freeze the last few slices of bread for making homemade breadcrumbs or your own stuffing.

Surely everyone saves and freezes their bananas when they get too ripe. Frozen bananas are so useful for making banana bread but are also perfect for a fruit smoothie.

Something else I have started freezing is prepared orange juice. I pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, then pop out and put into a Ziplock® bag. My grandchildren love frozen orange juice cubes and apple juice cubes.

The frozen cubes make a nice slushy drink. These also are useful in making thick smoothies.

Often it is more economical to buy a bag of lemons or oranges, but what happens if they cannot be used in a timely manner? Freeze the last few limes, lemons or oranges and make sure to zest the skins and freeze that as well. Many recipes call for the zest of these popular citrus fruits, so don’t waste them.

One of the tastiest soups I made recently was from leftover veggies. To make it, I used the cauliflower soup base from my freezer. I added a small package of frozen cooked beef brisket cubes, which my son-in-law who loves to smoke briskets had given me and I froze. The tomatoes for the soup were cooked and frozen from the last of my summer tomato produce. They were perfect for my soup and using them gave me a little extra freezer space.

In addition to the above, I added a couple of potatoes that needed used and a can of mixed vegetables. By adding the mixed vegetables, I did not to need to open an individual can or package of green beans, peas or corn since I was not making a huge pot of soup.

A teaspoon of Better than Bouillon beef flavor was included and simmered in this mixture for a few hours. It felt so good to be using those items I had frozen or needed to use up and the soup was delicious.

A word about Better than Bouillon. When one is trying to economize, spend the extra money on this product. It really makes everything delicious, and it truly is better than average bouillon cubes.

My son and his wife who love to cook gave me a huge jar of it for Christmas. They use it all the time, especially in soups and casseroles and it comes in beef, chicken and vegetable flavor. It does need refrigeration after opening.

Leftover Liver Dumplings, a lunch menu item found in the “Home Budgets for Victory” booklet, is something I have never had to eat thanks to our victorious American and Allied soldiers. Please email me for the recipe, if desired, as it was included in the booklet.

Thank God for all the sacrifices made by our veterans to keep us safe. Thank God for what everyone did at home to support our troops while they were fighting.   

Hopefully, today’s students are being taught to appreciate what their ancestors went through to lead to the lifestyle they enjoy. 

(Ruth Patchett is a resident of rural Brocton, and a part-time resident of Odessa, Mo, a retired teacher and is famous for her pies. Email her at