Culinary History Collection


Current Editor: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Issue 6 Summer 2004

World War II Foods

by Jo Anne Barton

World War II foods were the topic of discussion at the January meeting of the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection Committee. With Glenn Miller's music as background, members discussed their recollections (or those of family members) of the food changes necessitated by the war.

Food rationing was a major change although it had less impact on committee members who lived in small towns or rural areas. Their families were able to produce a lot of their own food therefore the families were not totally dependent on the commercial food supply.

Rationing was initiated in January 1942 under the auspices of the Office of Price Administration (OPA), an agency established by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Meat, sugar, coffee, processed foods (mostly canned fruits and vegetables), and fats were foods that were rationed. Non food items such as automobile tires, gasoline, motor vehicles, fuel oil, and rubber footwear were other items that were also rationed.

Ration coupons in booklet format were issued for commodities frequently purchased, such as gasoline and sugar. Other books of ration stamps covered categories of foods. Red stamps, for example, could be used for meat, fish, cheese, dairy products, and the like. Blue stamps were exchanged for vegetables, canned fruits, and similar products. Consumers needed ration stamps or coupons as well as money for most purchases. Local ration boards issued certificates for items infrequently needed, such as tires. Two committee members had ration books that had belonged to family members and shared them during the discussion. In addition to being product specific, stamps had to be used in a certain time frame. For example, a news article dated October 31, 1943, advised readers that sugar stamp no. 14 was good for five pounds of sugar through October 31 and that sugar stamp no. 20 in War Ration Book IV would be valid for five pounds of sugar from November 1- January 15.

Committee members remember their parents trading stamps to get the needed commodities - a sugar stamp for a coffee one, etc. Others remembered looking for specific items when the family went shopping.

Something remembered by all was the margarine of the day—a white product that came with a capsule of yellow color to be kneaded into the product to make it look more like butter. Margarine was not a new product as it had been developed in France in 1869 at the behest of Napoleon III, but it was a new product to many American consumers.

Home canners could get additional sugar - the rationale being that canning was a way to keep vital food from going to waste. Having home canned foods available would also make it unnecessary for farm families to buy canned fruit from the commercial packer.

It was difficult to get tin cans, though, so drying emerged as an alternate method for preserving fruits. The Extension Service developed a home dryer and demonstrated its use around the state. One of the stories about Janet Cameron (during her tenure as a home extension agent) is that she took the dehydrator into her motel room each night to continue the drying process she had started during that day's demonstration!

Foods programs focused on sugar-saving desserts, getting the most from meat cuts, and cooking with less fat. Cookbooks and leaflets were developed around these themes. (Some of these are in the Culinary Collection.)

Other recollections included collecting fat drippings and tin foil, as it was called then, to be reused in the war effort. One committee member reflected on her activities at Radford College to support the troops and another committee member has recorded her father's recollections of the war years.

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