Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Soap Box

So...less than a week until we adopt 1945 U.K. rationing standards for two weeks. I've got my shopping lists to rearrange and a different point system to consider and I've got soap on the brain.

Unlike the U.S., things in the U.K. during WWII got so tight as to require soap rationing (to save fats and oils for food). In 1945 (our target year for U.K. rations) each individual was allotted four soap coupons per month (babies were given more), and each coupon could be used to purchase (along with money):

4 oz of hard bar soap (think lye soap)
3 oz of hard toilet soap (equivalent to our modern bath soap)
3 oz soap flakes (used for laundry and general cleaning purposes)
6 oz soap powder (think Vim, similar to Ajax)
6 oz soft soap (a semi-liquid soap similar in consistency to cold creams)
1/2 oz (15 ml) liquid soap (think liquid Castile soap)

As a family of four we will have four coupons per week. Mr. Graham (writer extraordinaire at On the Ration) informed me that if TMOTH's job was the industrial type that required him to get extra dirty then he'd earn extra soup coupons. As much as I like the idea (and smell) of that, I'm not sure that TMOTH's job would apply. Does he get dirty at work? Most definitely. Dirtier than the average 1940s job (think of coal miners and railroad mechanics and such)? Probably not. So, in good faith I'm sticking to four soap coupons per week.

Here's what I've chosen to trade in our first week's coupons for the following:

3 oz hard toilet soap
6 oz soap flakes
1/2 oz (15 ml) liquid soap

The toilet soap is self explanatory. I ordered the soap flakes online and there is enough in the weekly supply to clean two to three loads of laundry (note to self: wash bed linens the week before). The liquid soap will be dissolved into water and put in a sprayer bottle for general cleaning purposes around the kitchen and bath.

I hope this will be sufficient, although I'm already wishing there was another coupon so that I could get some soap powder, too. Maybe I can get some soap powder the second week if the toilet soap looks like it will last.

How would you spend your soap ration coupons?

--Rational Mama

Monday, September 27, 2010

(Kinda) Historic Recipe: Pear Butter

So...what do you do when you have nearly 70 pounds of pears (and some apples)? The first (and easiest) thing we do to extend the harvest is make pear butter.

Now, I'll be honest and tell you right up front that I use my crock pot (slow cooker, for those across the pond). That is a bit anachronistic but serves the same purpose as simmering gently on the stove top for all those hours. Believe me, it is best that I not have something simmering on the stove top for long...I tend to be forgetful and have been known to set timers so that I don't burn or over-boil dinner. I get distracted very easily, as I am usually multitasking (not well, apparently) and do not gauge my time correctly. During one incident (prior to rationing) I was steam-microwaving some green beans and become in some web-based entertainment. Unfortunately, the 14 year old microwave didn't turn itself off after seven minutes but just kept cooking and cooking and cooking. After a total of about 22 minutes I realized what was going on and unplugged the darn thing. The microwave never smelled the same way again.

All this to say: yes, I use my crock pot.

Making pear (or apple) butter is quite simple. First wash, peel and core 5 1/2 to 6 pounds of fruit. This is made easier at the Rational Living household with one of these:
It is a period-appropriate apple peeler/corer/slicer thingy. For lack of a better name it is called Apple Magic in our household - and magic it is (the girls love to operate this thing and many hands make light work). Simply wedge the bottom of the fruit onto the three-prong base and turn the handle. The fruit moves toward the peeling apparatus and on to the coring blade. What you're left with is a coiled, peel-less piece of fruit.
Soak the fruit in lemon water to prevent browning.
Once all your fruit is peeled and cored, chop the fruit into dime-sized pieces. Cuisinarts are a great non-1940s way to accomplish this task quite quickly. Just sayin'.

Combine the chopped fruit with three cups sugar, one tablespoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspon ground cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
If you're using the stove top method the mixture should be brought to a boil in a large pot, then simmer gently for 10 or so hours.

If you're using the crock pot then add the mixture to the pot and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours. It helps if the lid is tilted slightly to allow extra moisture to escape. I like to start this in the evening before I go to bed and then it's magically done before I go to to work the next day.

Cooking times will vary depending on the moisture content of the fruit.
Once your butter is...butter...you can either place it into small containers and freeze it or process half-pints by water bath method (1/2 inch head space, 10 minutes).


--Rational Mama

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons (or Pears)

If you're a regular reader of this blog then you are definitely aware that the unavailability of local, fresh apples has been the girls' least favorite aspect of rationing so far.

So, this past weekend we burned up some ration miles to visit a nearby u-pick orchard. It is the same orchard from which we hauled home 20 plus pounds of apples last year. Friends, these were the best apples ever. So many varieties, all picked while ripe. I'm not a big fresh apple fan but I happily gobbled an apple a day while we had that stash in the house. In light of the restraints we've had this year our plan was to come home with at least twice as many apples as last year - what we didn't eat fresh we'd can, dehydrate or bake in pies to freeze.
When we arrived at the orchard after our 35 minute drive we noticed that the parking area seemed very, well, quiet. Eerily quiet. Entering the little business shack I happily skipped up to the counter and proclaimed, "We're here to pick apples."

Behind the counter slouched a gray, elderly, and unamused woman. "There aren't any apples," she said.

Say what? I told her I didn't understand.
She then proceeded, in a most disinterested voice, to explain that the orchard was hit by a fungus this year due to the high heat and humidity we had this past summer. Her blue eyes were lackluster and she was very...well...ho hum about the whole thing. As a friend who went to the orchard with us described it: "She is so done with the orchard thing."

I stood, dumbfounded for a few seconds while it all soaked in. I had checked the orchard's website just days before and it had no mention of a crop failure. We had just used up critical miles with the expectation of coming home with bucketfuls of wonderful, crisp, juicy apples. I had pictured the girls, with beaming smiles, rolling around in piles of apples declaring that it was the best day ever.

But there weren't any apples.Seeing my hesitation, the clerk did offer one option: "There's still the Asian pears."
"Yes, we'll pick those," I quickly blurted out. Yes. We would pick Asian pears. This is how the trip would be salvaged.

"But I don't like Asian pears," one of the girls mumbled from behind me. "The ones from the co-op tasted bad."

"These are different," I said, figuratively crossing my fingers behind my back.

Onward we march up the orchard hill, past rows and rows of apple trees. Indeed, something terrible had happened to the apples - most of the trees had lost their leaves and the ground was blanketed in a layer of brown, rotting fruit. The smell was enough make it smell like a college bar on a Sunday morning. A few red fruits still clung to random trees, but we weren't sure if we could pick them.Eventually we found the Asian pears and began picking. There were plenty of pears of a few different varieties and a quick sampling let the girls realize that they did, indeed, like Asian pears. So pick, pick, pick we did.
And as we did we came across other apple trees that looked like they weathered the fungus slightly better than the first trees we passed. When the clerk rode up the hill in her golf cart to check on us we asked her if it was okay to pick the unharmed apples.

"Yes," she said. "But I can't guarantee they're ripe on the inside."

Over the next 40 minutes we continued to pick Asian pears and salvageable apples as we walked our way down the orchard hill. When done, we had roughly 70 pounds of fruit (three-quarters of which was Asian pears).
So instead of apple butter, apples pies and such we'll be processing pear butter, dehydrated pears and pear crisps. Stay tuned for recipes!

--Rational Mama

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rational Interview: Eowyn

This is the second in a series of interviews involving the Rational Living household. For the first interview follow this link.

Today's interview is with Eowyn, an energetic, vegetable-loving seven year old.

RM: Do you have any any idea how long we've been rationing?

E: [Counts on fingers] A little over seven months? I have no clue. [Counts on fingers again] Seven and a half months?

RM: Good counting - it's actually closer to eight and a half months. Have you talked to any of your teachers or friends about rationing?

E: When Ms. L asked if we were doing anything for [Sissy's] birthday - a big cake - I said we were doing rationing so it was just going to be two banana cakes. She seemed to understand.

RM: Did she ask any questions?

E: No, she seemed to understand about rationing.

RM: What about your friends?

E: When I was at theater camp and talking to friends they were like, "Whoa!" and "What?!?" Except O., she seemed to understand - she knew about Victory Gardens.

RM: Really?

E: Yeah, I think she reads American Girl books, and she could know about that stuff from Molly's stories.

RM: What has been the hardest part of rationing so far?

E: Not having some of the foods that I really like when I want them - because they might not be available or be scarce that week.

RM: Any foods in particular?

E: Apples, although when it comes to apple orchard time...

RM: Has anything about rationing been easier than you expected?

E: Yes. At the beginning, when we were drawing sticks [for Mr Bowles' Marketplace Scenario Randomizer] I thought dealing with the scenarios would be hard. But it's not bad, we just move meals to another week if we don't already have the stuff like cottage cheese in the fridge or freezer.

RM: We have only a little more than three months left of rationing, is there anything we should do during that time?

E: Like what? I don't understand.

RM: Like make certain foods or something like that.

E: We should make more pickles [sly grin].

RM: What have you thought about the historic recipes?

E: Well, the Victory Pancakes were okay, and the veggie burgers looked nasty but were good. And the heart was awesome!

RM: What about the jellied ham loaf?

E: Eh, it wasn't the best.


E: Awesome!

RM: So should we eat more SPAM in the next three months?

E: Yes!

RM: Is there anything you are looking forward to doing once rationing is over?

E: Eating more apples - red apples, not the green apples we got from the [CSA bag at the] co-op. And just eating more of the foods we couldn't eat.

RM: What's the first thing you want to eat once rationing is over?

E: Apples, Totino's Pizza. And that macaroni and cheese that comes with the sauce in the pouch.

RM: If someone asked why our family is rationing, what would you tell them?

E: Because my mom used to work at the Historical Society and she knows a lot about WWII rationing and wanted to try it for a year.

RM: Well, that's part of it, but we're also trying to learn something. What do you think we're trying to learn by living on rations?

E: How other people felt during WWII.

RM: Right. And we're also trying to learn what it's like to live with enough...

E: [Interrupting] Rather than too much!

RM: So have you learned something about how people lived during WWII rationing?

E: Yes. It's kinda hard to explain. Some foods like Dorito's weren't invented yet and other foods cost lots of ration points.

RM: Do you think they liked rationing?

E: No.

RM: Do you think they complained about rationing?

E: Yes.

RM: Well, if they didn't like it why did they do it?

E: They wanted to help with part of the War. They wanted the war to be over and for their people to win.

RM: Do you think it was hard work to ration?

E: Yes.

RM: Was it worth it anyway?

E: Yes.

RM: Why is that?

E: Because they wanted to help the War and they ended up winning. Wait - didn't they win?

RM: Yes. So if something is really important, like winning a war, does it sometimes require some extra effort to make it happen?

E: Yes.

RM: Do you think helping the planet is something kind of like that - something really important?

E: Yeah.

RM: What kinds of things might people do to help the planet even though they're inconvenient?

E: Not eat some things that are bad for the Earth. Not use things that take away from the Earth things that it needs. Use things that are good for the Earth - like the soaps we get from [name of store].

RM: Those are good ideas. What about walking more - would that help the planet?

E: Yes, and bicycling so you're not using gasoline for short trips.

RM: All of those things would be better for the Earth, but they could also be inconvenient. Would it be worth it?

E: Yes.

--Rational Mama

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rational Interview: Sissy

Hard to believe it, but we have just slightly more than three months left of the rationing program. This week was our 38th week of rationing which mean that if you equate it's duration with pregnancy then we're at term. Yikes.

It seems like a fine time for some reflection, so I interviewed family members about the rationing program so far. This first installment is an interview with Sissy, a meat-loving, vegetable-hating preteen.

RM: How long do you think we've been rationing?

S: [Counts on fingers] 100 weeks?

RM: Umm...there are only 52 weeks in a year.

S: [Laughter] Umm...35 weeks?

RM: Good guess - that's really close. We're currently in our 38th week of rationing. Have you told any of your teachers or friends about the rationing project?

S: Mrs. G knows about it and has read some of the blog.

RM: How did you describe it to her at first?

S: I never really described it to her because when I mentioned it I told her and Ms. M about the blog and they just went to the blog and learned about it. I told them that I didn't like it and that it was something from WWII.

RM: Have you told any friends about rationing?

S: I told T. a little, but every time I say something about it she's like, "What's rationing?" I don't know how to explain it.

RM: What has been the hardest part of rationing for you?

S: No apples [when they're not in season]! And I don't like that there isn't as much stuff to go in our lunches - they're not as good.

RM: Do you mean stuff like the prepackaged cracker sandwiches?

S: Yes, and no Fig Newtons. [ Editor's note: on previous exposure Sissy claimed to not like Fig Newtons; Fig Newtons were available on a limited basis during 1940s rationing]

RM: Is there anything about rationing that has been easier than you anticipated?

S: We don't seem to be eating potatoes as often anymore.

RM: Yeah, we ate a lot of potatoes in the winter.

S: That was forever ago!

RM: What are your thoughts on historic recipes?

S: I don't really like any of them. Every time you say it's a historic recipe night I say to myself: [heaves big sigh].

RM: What about the jellied ham loaf?

S: That was weird but okay.

RM: And the heart kabobs?

S: Blech!

RM: What about SPAM?

S: Yum! Yum! Yum!

RM: Should we eat more SPAM during our last three months of rationing?
S: Yes!

RM: Anything else specific we should do during these last months of rationing?

S: Not that I can think of.

RM: What are you looking forward to doing when we're done rationing?

S: Eating Totino's Pizza and apples. Is the blog going to stop when we're done rationing?

RM: I don't know.
S: You could keep writing about what we're doing since we're NOT rationing.

RM: I'll keep that in mind. So, should Totino's and apples be our first meal after rationing?

S: Yes! The morning after Christmas we should wake up and have apples and Totino's for breakfast! Just kidding - we should have homemade cinnamon rolls instead.

RM: We can do homemade cinnamon rolls during rationing - I've made them a couple of times this past year. We just have to be careful with our sugar and butter rations. If someone asked you why our family is rationing, what would you tell them?

S: Because my mom likes history so we decided to try something from WWII.

RM: Well, that's part of it, but we're also trying to learn what it's like to live on enough - rather than too much. Why would that be important?

S: So we're not being greedy.

RM: Does everyone in the world have enough?

S: No.

RM: How might we help with that?

S: Not eat as much so that they have some, too.

RM: Has rationing taught you anything about how people lived in the 1940s during WWII?

S: It wasn't the best time ever.

RM: Do you think they complained about rationing a lot?

S: Maybe.

RM: So even if they didn't like it, why would they do it?

S: Because before the War they might have had enough, but if they didn't has as much [during the War] then [the extra] could go to the soldiers so they could keep fighting.

RM: Was that the right thing to do?

S: Yes, it was important that the soldiers got good food so they could keep fighting.

RM: Does everyone deserve good food?

S: Yes.

--Rational Mama

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rationing Allies

Okay. The house is officially on the market and life can start to return to normal. Well, normal except for the fact that the house will be in a perpetual state of hyper-cleanliness (while not normal, I do love this feature of the house being for sale). Back to blog!

Friends, I love my husband.

But first, a history lesson.

As complicated as rationing was in the U.S. during WWII there is no doubt that our allies across the pond had it much worse. Not only were U.K. rations much more restrictive and meager, but they experienced more frequent and lasting shortages (not to mention the bombings).

Their period of rationing was also significantly longer than that experienced in the U.S. Whereas U.S. rationing lasted for the better part of three years (roughly 1942 to 1945), rationing in the U.K. lasted a whopping 14 years (1940 to 1954). Of course, that could have been much shorter had the U.S. continued even a modest course of rationing and used the surplus to aid struggling allies in their post-war efforts. But I digress.

There's been some recent attention drawn to WWII rations in the U.K. by the reality TV show "The 1940s House" (you really should watch it if you haven't) and by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. There are also several examples of modern folks trying out the U.K. ration program (my favorite, of course, is On the Ration).

So it only seems fair that during our own year-long rationing program we honor those allies who had it much worse than us. I mean seriously honor them - not just go with a "Look, I made a Woolten Pie" kinda thing. Which is why a few weeks back I suggested to TMOTH that we give U.K. WWII rations a try for two weeks (one week seemed to easy).

And without much hesitation at all he said, "Okay."

Friends, I love my husband.

So from October 1st to October 15th we will be living on WWII civilian rations from the U.K. What will our rations be for that two week period? Well, just like the U.S., the U.K. rations changed a bit during the course of the War. What we will be following are roughly c. 1945 rations; not the lowest of the low but they're slim enough to make me a little nervous.

Now, I'm at the mercy of Internet sources for this list so please, readers in far distant lands, chime in if I've made any mistakes (Mr. Graham - I need your wisdom!).

Weekly Rations For a Family of Four

Basic Rations
8 oz preserves
8 oz sweets
32 oz sugar
16 oz bacon/ham
16 oz margarine
8 oz loose tea
8 oz butter
8 oz lard
4 oz cheese
4 eggs
4 liters fresh milk (for the girls)
Enough milk power to make 4.8 pints


The meat ration fluctuated during the War but the figure I've found for 1942 was each person was allowed 1s,2d per week to purchase beef and/or pork. According to the inflation calculator, that would equate to 2.16 pounds today (sorry, my keyboard doesn't have the symbol for British pounds). Under the current exchange rate ($1.00 = .6417 pounds), that would equate to $3.36 per person, per week...or $13.44 per week to buy pork and/or beef for the family.

Fish was not rationed, nor were sausages - but sausages were hard to come by at times.

Tinned Foods, Biscuits, Cereals and Misc.

These items were rationed on a point system and for our two week period we are allowed a total of 12 points. Mr. Graham was nice enough to post a run-down of point values on his blog.


Yes, even soap was rationed in the U.K. during the War. This includes soap for washing dishes, clothes, household areas and humans. We have four coupons per week to use on soap, and each coupon can buy one of the following:

4 oz hard bar soap

3 oz toilet (scented) soap

1/2 oz liquid soap

6 oz soft soap

3 oz soap flakes

6 oz soap powder

I've found an on-line source from which I can purchase soap flakes, so I'll be ordering them soon.


I find references to fuel (both heating and petrol) being rationed in the U.K. during the War, but I can't find any specific information. Can anyone help with this?

Of course, we won't be able to use any of our current cabinet or fuel tank contents during this two week period. It just wouldn't be fair to supplement our U.K. rations with U.S. rations.

We've haven't really laid this out for the girls yet, since the household has been a bit berserk in the rush to get it everything done before it went on the market. Maybe we'll allow them a few days of normalcy before we pop this on them.

And maybe I'll promise them my share of the sweets to get them through it.

--Rational Mama

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An Edible Mystery

We're still plugging away at house projects and rationing, and eating our sandwiches and Ramen...not much cooking going on. Things should start slowing down next week and hopefully the posting here will be more frequent and interesting.

In the meantime, I thought you might like to ponder this Double-Mix ad from a 1943 edition of the Topeka Daily Capital.

Apparently, Double-Mix is a butter extender; at 16 red points per pound butter is definitely one of the most price-expensive rationed items. But what, really, is Double-Mix?

Gelatin? Xanthum Gum? Petroleum Jelly?

Clearly it is something magical, having the ability to double the amount of butter with a little simple cookery. It also, apparently, allows one to have a disembodied, floating head. And hopefully it is something that even today we'd recognize as safe to eat.

I'm sure this worked well for situations where one wanted to spread butter, say toast or muffins. But I imagine it wouldn't work for anything requiring heat.


--Rational Mama