Wednesday, July 28, 2010


You, dear readers, are the most patient blog readers ever.

I admit that the posting frequency has gone downhill in both quantity and quality over the past month. Oh, sure - there's lots of excuses (some even valid): yours truly is still adjusting to a new job and work schedule, it's too hot and our brains are melting, we've been spending lots of time shuttling girls to/from swimming practices and meets, having different gardens in different parts of the city is time-consuming, etc.

That's life, and life is busy.

But during this time when we should be weeding and canning and canning and weeding there is a sudden, unexpected, circumstance that has taken up a generous portion of our time and energy over the last few weeks.

Readers, it looks like we could be putting the Rational Living house up for sale soon.

This was by no means a action that was on our radars a month ago. We bought this house a little over seven years ago and, initially, considered staying here for the rest of our lives. It's a beautiful, 100 year old American Foursquare that managed to escape with its oak trim and staircase intact. It has a huge kitchen, cute yard and a little greenhouse on the property. It's cozy and happy.

As the girls grow certain limitations of the house become apparent; only one full bathroom (remember - we will have two teenage daughters very soon), limited gardening space, no "play/create/make a mess" space. Still, we thought that the earliest we would consider selling/moving would be in two years - after we've had time to get back on our feet following TMOTH's illness but before Sissy starts middle school.

And then a little less than a month ago we got a phone call from TMOTH's parents. A friend of the family's elderly mother just passed away. The family needs to sell the house that they've occupied since the mid-1960s, but want to make sure it goes to a nice family - and preferably one that they know. We got some details on the house: 1930s bungalow, four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, larger backyard. And it's one one and a half blocks from TMOTH's parents (that's a good thing).

So we went and took a tour.

The house is great. There's some fixing-up involved (the last time it was cosmetically renovated was during the U.S. bicentennial), but nothing that would scare us away. It meets all of the items on our "future house" list - both the necessities (bedroom for each girl, at least two full bathrooms) as well was the wants (crafting room, family room, wood-burning fireplace). And since the family still needs to empty the house and doesn't have an interested in doing a bunch of work before selling it, they're willing to deal a bit and drag their feet for a few extra months.

But that means we have to get our house on the market and sold.

In the worst housing market since...well...I don't know when.

We met with a realtor on Friday (also a friend of the family) who was very encouraging about selling the house (and not just because it would be her commission). Of course, now we have a punch list of must-do's with a deadline.

All the while the tomatoes are turning red, the beans are setting on and the canner sits on its shelf, waiting.

Goodness, gracious.

We're a bit overwhelmed.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Historic Recipe: Victory Pancakes!

This recipe is the first recipe that caught my eye in the new (1943) Betty Crocker cookbook. Well, positively caught my eye - there were a few that caught my eye for less-than-appreciative reasons, such as "Jellied Ham Loaf." It's got vegetables and references pancakes and is patriotic - how much more awesome can you get?

A quick glance at the ingredients made it clear that it's basically shredded vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onion, spinach, lettuce) in a modest batter. I'm sure that the vegetables added could be adapted to what is on hand, but for the first go-around I followed the recipe exactly, except I had to add milk for moisture (apparently I had drained too much "juice" out of the shredded vegetables).

Mmm...veggie pancakes cooking on the griddle.

Here's how they looked served with a cheese sauce (the recipe suggested topping the pancakes with cheese sauce and to refuse an opportunity to top something with a cheese sauce is most definitely unpatriotic).

When I first read the recipe I thought these would be more like traditional pancakes, flecked with shredded vegetables. In reality, they are more like croquettes - lots of vegetables held together just enough with a thick batter.

TMOTH and I loved, loved, loved these. Eowyn ate a decent helping and Sissy...well...if you've been reading this blog for a while you can imagine what she thought of the Victory Pancakes.

Regardless, we'll be pulling these into the dinner rotation regularly. It will be an easy, quick dinner that will adapt to whatever excess produce is on hand.


--Rational Mama

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Garlic Harvest

I love garlic harvest time. There is something magical about digging up the earth and finding these hidden gems underneath.

Up the come, and then head to the drying screens to cure.
After a few days the tops are cut off. Then they cure some more.
Eventually the dirt and outer paper layers are removed and then they are ready to store.
Oh, the possibilities!

--Rational Mama

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hello, Cabbage, My Old Friend...

...I've come to eat of you again.

Our cabbage hiatus is over. Thursday night we had a nice, Asian-inspired slaw with our dinner.

Welcome back, old friend.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Traitor in Our Midst

It is hot. Hot. Hawt.

For at least the past week the heat index has been at or above 100 degrees. For the next five days or so it promises to be the same. When I walked home from work yesterday the heat index was 107 degrees.

It's hot.

Gone are the glorious days of getting by with only the attic fan. Those were good days - we could run the attic fan for an hour in the morning and let it suck in all the cool air. Usually we could drop the household temperature down to nearly 74 degrees just by running the attic fan for an hour in the morning. Then we would shut the windows and close the curtains. By late afternoon it could be in the lower 90s outside, but the inside temperature of the house would rarely break 80 degrees. And then again in the evening we ran the attic fan for an hour to once again pull outside air in to cool down the house.

But you can only get by with that pattern if the nighttime temperatures drop below 75 degrees and the daytime temperatures and humidity aren't ridiculously high.

Friends, the daytime temperatures and humidity are ridiculously high. It's air conditioning time.

When we first caved in and decided to use air conditioning we agreed that we would keep the thermostat set at 85 degrees; cool enough to not suffer but warm enough to feel like we're still making sacrifices for the rationing program.

In retrospect, that was kinda a bad idea. See, the thermostat is on the main floor but the bedrooms are on the upper floor - and they typically run four to five degrees warmer. This means that we were sweating it out at near 90 degrees some evenings.

Research says that the ideal sleeping temperature is between 65 and 68 degrees. Friends, it is virtually impossible to sleep well at 90 degrees. You toss and turn, rotating body parts to expose to the nearby fan. You are cranky the next day. This is not good.

So we compromised again and decided that while the daytime thermostat temperature would still be set at 85 degrees, the nighttime thermostat temperature would be set at 81 degrees.
This definitely made for a slightly less cranky household. Still a little uncomfortable, but less crabby than before.

In the meantime, we were anxiously awaiting the monthly electricity bill. This summer and last summer started out very similar - a slightly cool May and June, with the exception of one week that was near 100 degrees. This similarity allowed for an apples to apples comparison to determine how much the attic fan was saving us in electricity (and money) during most of that period.

Since we didn't have the attic fan last year we didn't have an efficient way to pull in the nighttime air to cool down the house and avoid running the air conditioner during the day. So the kilowatts used this year should be noticeably lower, since the air conditioner (with it's big compressor and frequent cycles) was used more last year.

The electricity bill finally came this week. The results?

Kilowatts used in mid-June/mid-July 2009: 970 (32.3 per day)
Kilowatts used in mid-June/mid-July 2010: 1008 (32.3 per day)

Aack! Barely a difference - and actually a marginal, statistically insignificant increase! What gives?

True, we've been running floor fans when benefiting from the attic fan, but we still ran some floor fans last year when the air conditioning was on (although not quite as often).

True, the attic fan uses electricity, but surely running the attic fan for two hours a day uses less electricity than having the air conditioner on for 24/7?

Why, oh why, wasn't the electricity bill lower?

Floor by floor we reviewed the electricity being used, eventually ending up in the basement. And there, friends, we found our traitor: the dehumidifier.

Dehumidifier are notorious energy hogs. We knew that when we were shopping for a dehumidifier several year ago and chose an Energy Star model as a result. Unfortunately, even an Energy Star rated dehumidifier can still be an energy hog. And we think ours went a little wild in the last month.

While we were saving electricity by using the attic fan rather than the air conditioner, the result was higher household humidity levels. The higher humidity levels caused the dehumidifier to run more often than if we had instead run the air conditioner (which is, by itself, an effective dehumidifier).

Two steps forward, one step back. It was like we were sabotaged by an often-ignored appliance. Sigh.

So now what do we do? Keeping in mind the seemingly never-ending 100 degree heat wave, we basically have six options:

1. Screw the air conditioner and use only floor fans and the attic fan. Turn off the dehumidifier.
2. Screw the air conditioner and use only floor fans and the attic fan. Change the setting on the dehumidifier so that it does not run as often.
3. Run the air conditioner, but set the thermostat at a higher (80 to 85 degree) temperature. Because having the air conditioner set at a higher temperature means it does not run as often this, in turns, means the household humidity is a little higher. As a result the dehumidifier runs more often.
4. Same as above number 3, but change the setting on the dehumidifier so that it does not run as often.
5. Run the air conditioner, but set the thermostat at a more traditional temperature (78 to 80 degrees). Keep the dehumidifier setting as-is, with the understanding that it will still run frequently, but not as frequently as in the above scenarios.
6. Same as number 5, but adjust the dehumidifier controls so that it does not run as often.

The first two options are basically out since they would most likely result in a complete destruction of the Rational Living household (really, how did people survive the summer in the 1940s without becoming The Incredible Hulk?). I don't like the idea of higher humidity levels in the house, since this is an old house and it can get a good "old house funk" thing going when humidity levels get too high. But we still want to save energy.

So what would you do?

--Rational Mama

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I'm In Love

It's probably apparent to any regular readers of Rational Living that I really love to research and look at historic photographs and print. I mean, I really really love to do that. All those hours turning the dial on the microfilm machine at the State Historical Library looking through the 1943 newspapers? Heaven.
But with my new and improved employment my days off are now exactly the same days that the State Historical Library is closed. Panic!

So I bit the bullet and decided to try my luck with some 1940's books on eBay. Since I'd like to attempt more period-appropriate recipes during these last few months of rationing I started looking at auctions for cookbooks. Now, if there's anything I like just as much as researching it's reading cookbooks. Really. I read cookbooks like other people read novels. Trying to bypass all that bidding crap I went the "Buy It Now" route and purchased this little gem:

It's Your Share: How to prepare appetizing, healthful meals with foods available today, by that faux every woman's woman: Betty Crocker. This cooking booklet was published in 1943 and is a guide specifically addressing cooking during rationing! I love this little booklet - all 53 pages of recipes, tips and patriotism. It even has that pleasant musty old book smell (Why don't they make one of those pine tree car deodorizers in that scent? Think of all the librarians that would buy them!). Of course, our scanner went kaput last week so the images are less than stellar, but you'll have to trust me that this is a great find.

Ponder these inspirational words from the inside cover:

Hail to the women of America! You have taken up your heritage from the brave women of the past. Just as did the women of other wars, you have taken your positions as soldiers on the Home Front. You have been strengthening your country's defenses - as plane watchers - as flyers - as members of the armed forces - as producers, in war plants and homes - and in Red Cross and Civilian Defense activities. The efforts and accomplishments of women today are boundless.

But whatever else you do - you are, first and foremost, homemakers - women with the welfare of your families deepest in your hearts. Now you face a new and more difficult problem in the management of your homes. You must make a little do where there was an abundance before. In spite of sectional problems and shortages, you must prepare satisfying meals out of your share of what there is. You must heed the government request to increase the use of available foods, and save those that are scarce - and, at the same time, safeguard your family's nutrition. Never has there been such an opportunity, and a need, for what American women can contribute.
So, to you women behind the men, behind the guns, we offer this little book, with it's daily helps for wartime meal-planning and cooking. And we salute you all!

Oh, Betty. You salute me? Really, you shouldn't. And you shouldn't negate all my other "boundless" contributions in lieu of my role as homemaker. But I digress.

The booklet contains 226 recipes and while I don't plan to make all of them before the end of the rationing year, I think at least a good dozen will show up over the next few months.

I mean, with such an awesome resource and the personal support of Betty Crocker, how can I not be victorious?

--Rational Mama

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Buffalo Bull

One of the post topics I've had in my head for a while has to do with bison meat.

Living in the central plains, bison meat is so ubiquitous you can buy it at the farmer's market or even in your neighborhood grocery store. Bison meat is leaner than beef and is typically pasture-raised (as opposed to corn-fed cattle). Most bison raised for meat have not been subjected to the antibiotic cycle that is a mainstay of CAFO beef lots.

Better yet, bison meat was not rationed. I have a copy of this great May 1943 grocery ad that lists "buffalo meat," but since the scanner crapped out last week I, unfortunately, do not have an image of it for you. At the least, bison meat was readily available at grocery stores in these parts during WWII rationing.

For all these reasons we have been buying more buffalo meat during the rationing year and that is why I was originally going to post here about this local type of meat. Ideally, I like to buy it from the lady in the ball cap with the white tent at the farmer's market. But when I can't get myself organized I buy it in shrink-wrapped little squares at the grocery store. I figured this was a good alternative if I didn't make it to the farmer's market that week.

Until I got a call a few weeks ago.

The number on the caller ID was a toll-free number that I didn't recognize. I answered the phone and was immediately greeted by an automated message, asking me to stay on the line because grocery store records (thank you, Big Brother) indicated that I had bought ground buffalo recently that, according to the message, was being recalled due to contamination.


The phone call advised that said packages of meat be discarded. "The meat should not be consumed!" the voice in the message warned.

Even worse - the packaged buffalo meat in question had a "sell by" date that preceded the phone call by a good two weeks. Which meant that, if you were lucky, the package of meat was still in your freezer or, most likely, you had already eaten it.

Friends, we had already eaten it.

Luckily, none of us had presented with any food-borne illness symptoms. But man oh man did it once again get me ever so pissed off about how livestock animals are raised, slaughtered and processed in this country.

TMOTH and I had a lengthy discussion following the phone message and came to the family decision that we should have come to long time ago: no more CAFO meat, period.

We're going to phase it out slowly so as to not totally shock our household all at once. First up - no CAFO beef, effective July 2010. In another month we'll no longer allow CAFO chicken. Before the end of the rationing year CAFO pork will be out.

Where does that leave us? Well, fortunately local supplies of non-CAFO beef and chicken are pretty easy to come by. Local non-CAFO pork seems to be in short supply, so we'll have to do our homework on that one. Of course, the price of non-CAFO meat is usually twice the conventional price, so the rationing year pattern of meat for dinner only two to three times per week won't be changing any time soon.

In the meantime, Sissy's request for a taco dinner will have to wait until I can get to the farmer's market to make a purchase from a local supplier that processes their bison meat in small, controlled batches.

Either that or it's bean tacos...and you know how she feels about beans.

--Rational Mama

Friday, July 16, 2010

Six Month Mileage Update (by TMOTH)

I have missed my half way update and was hoping to do some major catching up but to finish all the ideas I have jostling for position in my brain would probably make me more than just a little bit past deadline. So how about we just stick with a single topic for now?

We haven’t talked much about how the gasoline ration has affected our lifestyle and how we are doing with our goals. We don’t have long commutes and are centrally located so we get done what we need to within our established limits fairly easily. I began carpooling about a month before the project started - once the idea was in my head there was no reason to wait until rationing began. Initially, a co-worker who lives a little over a mile further from work than me picked me up and dropped me off on his way to and fro. This saved us about 42 miles a week and helped to fill up our reserves quickly. It also allowed for a few modest out of town trips without running out of fuel.

Then sometime around February this co-worker's car broke down and I started doing the driving. Since then we haven’t been saving the 42 miles but have actually been traveling an additional 15 miles each week to go get him in the morning and drop him off at the end of the day. I really am not bothered by the extra travel because in the grand scheme of things (ya know, reality), we are still keeping one vehicle off of the road so what does it really matter if our miles go up “on paper?"

Actually, for the past three weeks another friend/coworker nearby had a temporary schedule change and was on the same shift as myself and the above coworker and we actually did three cars worth of driving in one car. This past week the temporary car pool buddy drove. This turned out to be a great relief because…we are running short on miles!

The summer schedule of kids activities involves a lot more driving than just to school and back (which is only about 20 miles a week when we didn’t walk). The big hit to the mileage reserve has been swimming practice. This is the girls' first year on a summer swim team and they have practice four times a week. Tuesday and Thursday practices are actually pretty close - it’s the Monday and Wednesday morning practices at the Shawnee County North Aquatic Center that have been adding up. At 13 miles round trip, or 26 miles each week they account for over 10% of our weekly allotment of 193 miles.

Then there are the weekly swim meets, which alternate between home and away pools. The first two away meets were roughly 80 and 130 mile round-trips and required us to use a sizable portion of our mileage reserve. This past week the away meet was schedule in a town 176 miles round-trip from our house (thank you web-based map information). We checked our mileage reserve...enough but not by much. Then we checked the weather the afternoon of the meet - storms were expected an hour before the meet started with a lull just long enough to do some swimming and then followed by another wave of storms - that is IF the forecast was right on. I don’t know about where you live, but around here the storms don’t carry wristwatches.

So we had finally reached another point where the Rational Living project had affected our daily decision making. So far during the project year the meager mileage surplus has caused us to delay travel to visit Rational Mama’s family (a 300 mile round-trip), but we're determined to visit them at the end of July and therefore are relying on those surplus miles being available. As a result we decided not to go to the meet.

If not for the rationing project we would have joined many others on the team who went the distance only to find… the storms came like clockwork allowing just enough time for a dandy swim meet. Oh well.

Did we make the right choice? Maybe 176 miles round trip is too far for little swimmers at our level of competition anyway.

How far would you go? How much environmental impact is justified for simply daily activities?


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Historic Recipe (And a Life Lesson): Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting


Have you ever had a recipe that was more than just a recipe? Maybe a recipe with a strong nostalgic correlation, or a recipe that was a defining moment for your taste palate?

When I set out to make chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (both recipes from Grandma's Wartime Baking Book: World War II and the Way We Baked) I started out with the idea that it would be a nice, simple thing to do (and eat) on a day that the girls and I were home while TMOTH was at work.

I mean, what could be easier than cupcakes and frosting?

The recipe for the cupcakes was pretty basic, except that some of the fat came from the (not rationed) peanut butter. The recipe as written was for 12 cupcakes, so I greased up my dozen cup pan and equally poured the batter into each cup.

When they came out of the oven they looked like this:

This was not good. I had not greased the top of the cupcake pan, so I was now confronted with cupcakes which where hermetically sealed by a dome stuck to the pan surface. I had successfully baked cupcakes with built-in safety seals.

After sufficient cooling I used a butter knife to carefully pry the top edges of the cupcakes off the tray and then slid the knife along the outside wall of each cupcake. I then quickly flipped the pan over so the cupcakes could slide out.

It didn't go so well.

Did you know it's possible for a cupcake to be simultaneously moist AND crumbly?

Okay, what to do with this mess? Give up? Start over?

In true WWII homefront style I decided to be flexible and adapt my plan to what was on hand. I decided to press half of the "cupcakes" (I have to use parentheses because at this point I didn't think it was still accurate to refer to them as legitimate cupcakes) into a bowl. My idea was to then spread half of the frosting on this bottom layer, press down the remaining "cupcake" bits on top of this and then spread the top with the remaining frosting.

Now, I'll admit that when I think of frosting I think of something somewhat fluffy and containing only enough adhesive properties to stick to its destined cake. Oh, and most likely loaded with fat. I'm not a big German chocolate cake fan, so the fact that frosting can be a sticky, glue-like mess sometimes escapes my mind. When the frosting consists of sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter heated in a double boiler until it thickens, the frosting is especially sticky. Like, Shelob's web sticky.

So, I didn't so much spread the frosting on the bottom layer but instead poured and coaxed the frosting. I then topped it with the remaining "cupcake" bits and poured the remaining frosting on top.

In the end, it looked like this:

The cake was tasty and sticky but, in my opinion, nothing spectacular. I supposed if you were a 1940s civilian used to lots of sweets then cake of any kind would be something to be quite happy about. As it is, we're not a big sweets house so we usually have plenty of sugar on hand when the mood strikes. No need to beg your neighbor for a sugar ration stamp here.

But what did strike me about this cake was the lesson it reminded me of: that no matter how well you plan and follow directions, sometimes in life you end up with different results than you expected.

Fifteen years ago I was an undergraduate student in anthropology. I had plans to finish my PhD, get a professorship and raise a family while I continued my research.

What a nice, pretty cupcake that would be.

I didn't know that I would hate graduate school (except for the teaching part) and quite early, not have a lot of options for anthropological employment, and start a family sooner than anticipated. I didn't know of all the heartaches we would experience, including TMOTH's cancer.

This life has been one messy cupcake, indeed.

But you know what? Life can be messy and still be good, as long as you're willing to be flexible. I now work in public outreach and children's educational programming and I absolutely love it. Life might require you to think outside of the box at times, or occasionally compromise. But it will usually be worth it and sometimes might be even tastier than you expected.

And as long as you're willing to eat sticky cake instead of cupcakes.

--Rational Mama

Monday, July 12, 2010

Historic Recipe: Spring Casserole

Today's recipe comes from the May 29, 1943 Topeka Daily Capital. It's a simple recipe with on-hand ingredients so I couldn't resist. Here's what you need:
*1 1/2 cups dried macaroni
*1 1/2 cups milk
*1/4 tsp paprika
*1 tsp salt
*1/4 tsp celery seed or celery salt
*1/3 cup cream
*2 cups milk
*1 cup fresh peas, slightly cooked (we used frozen since fresh peas have been long gone)
*3 TB minced fresh parsley
*2 TB minced onion (I used green onion)
*3 TB green pepper, diced
*3 boiled eggs, sliced
*3 TB cream cheese, softened

1. Cook macaroni until al dente (the original newspaper recipe said to cook it for 20 minutes - blah!).
2. Combine flour, paprika, salt and celery seed.
3. Mix together flour mixture and cream in small sauce pan until smooth.
4. Add milk and stir until smooth. Heat over medium heating, stirring constantly, until mixture boils.
5. Reduce to a simmer and stir contents until they thicken (approximately 15 minutes).
6. Add noodles and stir until well mixed.
7. Pour into buttered 8"x8" casserole dish and top with egg slices (you can mix the eggs in, but since the girls are a bit hesitant about boiled eggs I made them easily accessible for removal).
8. Mix cream cheese with green pepper and spread on top of macaroni mixture.
9. Bake at 370 degrees for 20 minutes.

With a side of fresh green beans here's how it turned out:
The verdict: very plain but palatable. Eowyn happily ate her portion (she loves peas), Sissy declined (she "wasn't that hungry," sigh) and TMOTH and I ate hearty helpings with the addition of a fair amount of salt and pepper.

I like this recipe for it's simplicity (meatless, most ingredients are regular kitchen stock) and because it requires very few ration points. If you have fresh (or home preserved) peas the only rationed item required to make this dish would be the cream cheese - of which the amount used represents only around one red ration point.

But I'm afraid it does little more for me than to further my belief that the majority of 1940's cooking can be reduced to "Random Ingredient in a Doctored White Sauce," (click here and here for other examples).

But then, I guess a lot of recipes these days are really like that, too. Just think of how many recipes require a can of cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup - those are just the modern processed versions of a white sauce (albeit with a ton more sodium and preservatives).

But I admit I'm a sucker for cream of chicken and wild rice soup and also that traditional Thanksgiving green bean casserole. What's your favorite version of a "doctored white sauce" recipe?

--Rational Mama

It's Happening...

The summer produce transition is happening.

This past Saturday we harvested the last three heads of broccoli (surprised they made it this far into summer), much basil, a cucumber, over a dozen paste tomatoes (our first tomatoes of the season) and around 25 heads of garlic.

The squash are full of flowers, the beans are climbing and the eggplants are oozing purple baby fruits.

Soon our plates will be both literally and figuratively full!

--Rational Living

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

If the Dog Won't Stay Out of the Cucumber Patch...

...I'm going to have to sternly read him the last two sentences of this April 21, 1943 article from the Topeka Daily Capital.

Seriously, respect the fence, pooch.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Can You Handle the Pressure?

By the 1930s canned goods were so readily available that they were regularly showing up as ingredients in cookbooks. With the emphasis on Victory Gardens and canned goods requiring lots of blue/green ration points there was a whole lotta canning going on during WWII.

At the start of the War 64% of American women canned. In 1943, the peak civilian canning year in the U.S., 75% of American women canned. Of that 11% increase, 8% said they had never canned before the war. While that statistic seems small, it actually represents thousands of women who had to learn the art and science of canning.

Community canning centers were created in larger urban areas and the Office of Civilian Defense and other civic organizations held canning demonstrations and classes to teach those inexperienced women how to properly can produce to maximum nutrition while preventing spoilage. It worked. During WWII the average canning woman had 165 jars of self-preserved food in their larder, half of it representing produce grown by the family.

The following delicious excerpt from an article in the April 22, 1943 Topeka Daily Capitol reports details from one so-called "Canning School."


Bridge Table Chatter Lacking
There was a noticeable lack of light chatter and the bridge table attitude among attendants at the United Victory Canning School in the Municipal Auditorium Wednesday afternoon. Heretofore, an occasion for much sociability and gossip, the school in wartime was transformed into a serious study time.

The women who attended know well the importance of the food crisis which they as housewives must face for the duration. And they were there to learn - to learn food conservation, wartime recipes, how to prepare edibles with the least amount of waste, and the methods of canning whereby they might be sure jar after jar of vegetables and meats would not spoil before used.

Took Notes
Women leaned forward in their chairs to hear the tips and instructions auburn-haired Miss Zella Hal Weyant told them over a public address system.Many carried small paper pads and took notes on her lecture. With deft movements, Miss Weyant, home economist for the Kerr Glass Manufacturing Company, canned fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry in a pressure cooker.

In addition to the cooker method Miss Weyant explained the older method of cold packing now usually termed the hot water bath type of canning. All phases of canning were brought out and will be repeated in today's canning session.

Not a Style Show
Contrary to usual belief so near Easter Sunday, the meeting was not a veritable style show. True, there were well-dressed matrons in attendance - as well as housewives with victory shopping bags over their arms. The conversation during intermission however, ran to Victory gardens and defense on the home front rather than spring hats.

Present was a crowd of approximately 1,100, including not only wives and mothers, but 4-H clubs, businesswomen, junior high school students, and members of Washburn [University] and high school home economics classes. One instructor brought with her a group of ninety-five young homemakers. The crowd was dotted throughout with men and boys.

...Homer Cunningham, genial WIBW radio announcer, was mater of ceremonies during the distribution of the gifts. Fifteen baskets of [donated] foodstuffs, glass fruit jars, canned milk, plants, cereals, salt bread macaroni, floor wax and cloths, yeast, syrup and a set of glasses and pitcher were amount the practical articles given away.

Under the auspices of the Office of Civilian Defense and American Red Cross nutrition executive committee, the school will continue promptly at 1:30 o'clock today in the arena of the auditorium, doors of which will be open at noon.

Miss Weyent is assisted by Miss Elizabeth Lillibridge, home economist of the Gas Service Company.

I love this article for so many reasons. I love how its emphasis on housewives and matrons marginalizes working women. After all, the canning schools mentioned in the article were being held during the work week. The truth is is that many women could not afford either the time or money to can up their own produce. New canning supplies were hard to come by during the War and community canning centers were underutilized.

I also love the somewhat salacious writing: "Women leaned forward in their chairs to hear the tips and instructions of auburn-haired Miss Zella Hale Weyent told them over a public address system." And the serious tone of the conversation on Victory Gardening and NOT spring hats! Intrigue! It almost sounds like a dime-store mystery novel...

"Well, shucks," mumbled the town's one and only police officer, Lieutenant Jones. "Miss Zella," he confided in his raspy drawl, "We need your help. The town pharmacist, Mr. King, has just been found belly up at the soda fountain. It looks like foul play and you're the best detective this town has, for better or for worse. Can you help us?"

Miss Zella paused for a moment, thinking about the peaches she planned to preserve that afternoon. The peaches would have to wait, even if it meant the preserves would be less than perfect. Some things are less than perfect, the auburn-haired Miss Zella told herself - including murder. And with that thought she placed her spring hat on her head with a defined precision and headed towards Sweet Sips, the town soda fountain on Main Street...

Sorry about that, I got carried away. at Rational Living canning is, of course, serious business. We first tackled water bath canning about 12 years ago, and this year there will be plenty of goodies from that method: pickles, jams, beets, and salsa.

But, just like homefront do-gooders we're expanding into pressure canning, thanks to a very generous donation of a pressure canner from a Rational Living friend and reader. Using a pressure canner allows one to preserve non-acidic/non-sugared/non-pickled items, like green beans, meats, and soups. I'm definitely going to get TMOTH's help on this one, since I have a sincere phobia of unintentionally making something explode (chemistry lab was never any fun for me). I think our first try will be with green beans.

So what are your canning plans? Have you ever canned before?

--Rational Mama

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Apparently, Everyone Needs a Heart

I went grocery shopping tonight and passed through the meat department.

The number of beef hearts available has already dropped since Saturday; down from thirteen to five.

Seriously, who is eating this stuff? I mean, the beef heart kabobs were palatable for sure, but I had no idea there would be a demand.

Is there some cultural recipe I'm missing out on?

--Rational Mama