Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blog? There's a Blog?

Oh, hi.

Hello blog visitor. It's nice to have you visit. I promise we haven't ditched the blog. Really, really promise.

We're still rationing our little hearts away, but just very busy with all the crazy fall stuff that covers us in an avalanche of responsibilities every October: homework projects, Halloween costumes, parties, school conferences, etc.

I'm hoping to get some new content up in the next week or so - a few historic recipes and insights now that we're down to just two months (*gasp*) left of the rationing project.

Oh, dear...that means there's less than two months until Christmas. Yeah, things are going to get even busier around here.

But the blog shall not suffer!

After all, we wouldn't want to disappoint the fabulous readers that have made this journey so interesting and fun. Did you know that an average of 35 to 40 visitors come to the blog each day? No? How 'bout this: the blog averages around 50 page views a day.

Not too long ago the blog had almost 100 page views in a single day.

That just blows my mind. Really. When we started this project and the blog we were hoping that maybe a few (mostly) local folks would join in and provide commentary, questions and insights. Instead, the blog has had over 5,500 visitors and is edging towards 9,000 page views. Visitors have come from all six permanently inhabited continents. How crazy is that?

I can only hope that the next two months (and beyond) will be as thought-provoking and worthy of your attention.

And maybe ya'll can help suggest to us what our life should be like after rationing. Because, frankly, it all looks a bit overwhelming from down here in the trenches.

So grab a chair and a beverage, let us know where you are and what you would do after rationing if you were us.

--Rational Mama

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pledge of the American Housewife

It's been just over a year since we posted the first entry about the rationing project, and our year-long journey will be over in roughly two months and some change. It's time to start thinking about life after rationing.

What do we keep? What do we throw aside? What changes stick and what changes slide away?

We are certain that we want to continuing eating a healthy, ethical diet. What this means has yet to be determined.

In the last post I grumbled about life after rationing c. 1940s. But, as I mentioned, there was a determined group of individuals who encourage Americans to avoid gluttony so that others in poverty abroad could receive our exports. The Famine Emergency Committee put together a pledge to solidify promises against food waste, and it seems like a good place to start for our own post-rationing ideas:

"This is my sincere and voluntary pledge to assist in saving the lives of millions of starvation victims throughout the world."

1. I will do my utmost to conserve any and all foodstuffs which the starving millions of the world need today so desperately.

2. I will buy only the food my family actually needs for its proper nourishment and health.

3. I will neither waste nor hoard...nor discard any article of cooking or in serving...and will ask my family for the fullest possible cooperation.

4. I will be particularly watchful in the use of wheat and cereals...and fats and oils...and will try to make certain that not a scrap of bread is wasted in my home.

5. I will make these little sacrifices gladly...for the sake of those who cannot enjoy my God-given right to live...and an American. [ellipses in original]

How many of us buy that extra bag of lettuce or fruit "just in case" and then watch it rot before it has a chance to be consumed? Or let containers of leftovers mold in the fridge while we do take-out instead?

These are the kinds of things we'll be pondering as we think about life after December 25, 2010.

--Rational Mama

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dropping the Ball

It's been one week since we prematurely ended the U.K. ration portion of our experiment. I've been doing a lot of soul searching since then.

Don't worry; we're still following our U.S. rationing guidelines. It was very easy to fall back into that groove: red points, blue points, etc.

But it feels different this time.

You see, living on U.K. rations was nothing less than hard: each day I had to carefully manage our limited supplies - what fat was available, what would do for breakfasts, and what pantry items were of adequate supply to provide enough dinner for four. The girls were hungry; we were all hungry.

I imagine that, historically, the hardship might have been more manageable if the entire country could commiserate with the shortages and make-do recipes and the hunger (in-between air raids, that is).

But in the U.S. things were different. Sure, there were shortages and occasional items were missing from the shelves. But what has become apparent from this (now over nine month) experience is that U.S. rations during WWII were generous compared to our own Allies across the pond. There was enough that the U.S. could help supplement British diets with exports of canned meat, fruit and vegetables. This was because U.S. food production (both private and commercial) skyrocketed during the War. Between Victory Gardens and factories running 24/7 the availability and variety of foods in America during the War made the grocery store shelves in the U.S. look like technicolor versions of heaven to the impoverished abroad.

And at least during this part of the War Americans had their heads and hearts in the right place: in a 1943 poll 62% of American respondents thought that continued rationing after the War would be necessary for a year or two to better control shortages and continue supplying war-torn nations with much needed food. By 1944 that number had risen to 85%; images of starving children in Europe and Asia were finding their way into U.S. media and it was hard to argue with such evidence. In 1945 individuals in Tokyo were getting only half of their official ration allowances (520 calories a day); at the same time over 70% of Americans thought it in the country's best interest to help overseas after the War.

And then something happened: the War actually ended.

As of August 15, 1945 (the day after V-J Day), rationing in the U.S. was over. History. Tired of the cumulative deprivation that was the Great Depression and WWII, Americans were happy to once again experience a lifestyle of abundance and leisure.

By March of 1946 only 59% of Americans favorite a return to rationing in order to send food to the needy in other nations (and that number dropped even further if the receiving nation was in Asia). Persuaded by the manufacturing and farm lobbyists, most Americans began to believe that advances in science and technology would be the way to rescue the international community out of poverty.

Granted, there was a group of citizens and activists that were not happy with this complacency towards the hungry. Pressure from voters and cabinet members lead President Truman to hastily create the Famine Emergency Committee in the spring of 1946. The FEC emphasized the notion that no other country, aside from Canada, could provide the food needed to rescue the rest of the world from starvation. To accomplish this they recommended that Americans return to rationing. When it became clear that neither industry nor the government was interested that option, the FEC recommended that Americans reduce their wheat consumption by 40% and their usage of fats/oils by 20%.

The response was underwhelming. In a 1947 Gallup Poll only 22% said they followed the government's suggestion of meatless Tuesdays (although 38% said they were planning to follow it). Roughly 29% of respondents replied that eating no meat on Tuesdays was "too difficult." Meanwhile, photos of the food wastage transpiring in the U.S. did little to gain sympathy from world communities that were continuing to suffer from drought conditions and the effects of war.

I know what you (the Americans) are thinking: what about the Marshall Plan? We all learned about the wonders of the Marshall Plan in our high school history classes; how it helped build up Europe after the War and created an efficient, sustainable infrastructure. But do you remember that the Marshall Plan wasn't enacted until 1948 - a full three years after WWII ended? And that only 29% of the multi-billion dollar program went to supply food, feed and fertilizers? The rest was spent on factories, buildings, and roads. And since food supplies were tied with politics, the amount of aid sent to Asian countries during this time period was but a small sliver of the amount sent to Europe.

So what am I trying to say? I'm saying that the U.S. blew it. Dropped the ball 100%. We had the chance to raise millions of lives out of poverty (and even prevent innocent deaths), but in the end we chose a nice steak dinner and chocolate cake rather than subject ourselves to modest, manageable rationing program.

And in reality, things really aren't that different today. The U.S., along with Canada, has the fields, the factories and the transportation needed to provide poverty relief both locally and around the globe.

So when this modern mother had to listen to her children's' repeated requests for food because they were genuinely hungry (and not just bored), it was a wake up call. What was a choice for me (living on restricted rations) is someone else's reality. Today.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately one-third of the world is well fed, one-third of the world is underfed, and one-third of the world is starving. Today.

Meanwhile, incidents of childhood and adult obesity in the U.S. are skyrocketing.

The system is broken. I'm not saying that it's an easy fix, or that it will ever be perfect. But something has to be done - locally and internationally.

And you know what? I'm not going to be the one to drop the ball this time.

--Rational Mama

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Of Pie, Hunger and Nachos

There is so much I want to tell you about living on 1945 U.K. rations.

I want to tell you that with all the limitations and restrictions menu planning gets tricky fast. Our weekly menu for the first week of U.K. rations included:

Friday: Vegetable-Garbanzo Soup with Dumplings
Saturday: Dinner at Friends' House (previous engagement)
Sunday: Roasted Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Fresh Green Beans, Grilled Zucchini and Gravy
Monday: Woolton Pie
Tuesday: Spaghetti Noodles and Homemade Cheese Sauce
Wednesday: Chicken and Dumplings (using the chicken carcass from Sunday)
Thursday: Stir-fried Vegetables and Eggs with Rice

I want to tell you how all these restrictions make for very brief and focused shopping excursions.

I want to tell you that for breakfasts we've been eating yogurt (not rationed but available) and toasted oats and/or oatmeal. On Monday morning I made a batch of (reduced butter and sugar) cinnamon rolls for a special treat, and to literally butter up the girls for the Woolton Pie that evening. For lunches TMOTH and I have been eating leftovers and skimpy chicken sandwiches using leftover meat from Sunday and our very modest mayonnaise rations. We've been keeping the girls' lunches solid (peanut butter and honey sandwiches, crackers, local fruit) since during the War they would have had additional lunch options at school.

I want to tell you that snacking is severely limited on U.K. rations. The general rule is that if you didn't make it then it's not available, and your supplies are almost too tight to make anything. On Sunday I made a homemade granola bar type concoction that was snacked on for several days. Otherwise, snacking has been mostly limited to carrots and the local apples/pears we picked last month.

I want to tell you that I wouldn't want to be on these rations in the dead of winter, with few fresh vegetables available.

I want to tell you that I was finding the transition from one cup of coffee per day to one cup of tea per day very difficult.

I want to tell you that the results of the Woolton Pie were very predictable (Eowyn loved it, Sissy loathed it).

I want to tell you that the soap rations haven't been too terrible and that we managed to stay under our 157 allotted miles for the week.

I want to tell you how hungry we've been. Nearly every night we've needed an evening snack for the girls, and usually for the adults as well. One night we popped popcorn, but had to use lard since the butter and margarine were reserved for other purposes. Another night we made carrot cookies (surprisingly good).

I want to tell you that I was looking forward to making bangers and mash and sharing with you next week's menu and how I "spent" our points...but I don't have to.

Last night, after a very busy day AND night, TMOTH and I found ourselves driving home alone.

"I'm hungry," TMOTH said quietly.

"Me, too." I replied.

I thought about how many times the four of us had said those words over the past six days. I'd heard it from the girls more than once each day we'd been on U.K. rations. I thought about hearing it for another eight days.

And then I said, "Maybe six days is enough."

We had learned our lesson. What the civilians of the United Kingdom dealt with was far beyond the situation handed to the Americans. As Sissy put it, "They [in the U.K.] had only what was needed, but in the U.S. we could also get things we wanted." And that doesn't even include the air raids.

So I want to tell you how last evening we picked the girls up from their grandparents and told them that we were done with U.K. rations. They cheered. They were actually happy to be back on U.S. rations.

And then they told us they were hungry. We all agreed that we wanted cheese. Lots of cheese.

So we went home and had nachos for a bedtime snack.

--Rational Mama

Not So Victorious Gardens

*A garden summary, by TMOTH

Mary, Mary quite contrary. How does your garden grow?

As of last week we are officially done with this year's gardens so it is time to assess how we did. I wish I could say better. Should I start with the excuses now or save those for later?

Sorry, it’s not like me to be so negative but I judge myself more harshly than others and the gardens were one area of the rationing project where more responsibility rested with me. I can’t think of any reason not to say that the amount of produce was disappointing. We knew going in that even with the additional garden space shared by friends (thanks again everyone) we were far short on space recommendations for successful Victory Gardens.

Even considering our space limitations we had high hopes. Especially for tomatoes, which took up the largest share of space. While I have to admit that I could/should have been more diligent with weeding and watering, I take some solace in the number of other gardeners I heard lamenting this year's tomatoes. I’m no master gardener to explain all of the variables but I also heard some say their tomatoes were great. In fact, one of our borrowed plots had plants that just wouldn’t give up. After suffering with the rest through brutal heat and a long dry spell what thick skinned fruit was on the vine split when the rains finally came. With the help of the late summer rain those plants started growing like crazy and loaded up with fruit all over again. Most of it never got to ripen on the vine. Last week I took what I thought were mature enough to finish on the shelf and pulled out the plants. Even when I finally uprooted the plants last week they were green bushy and still producing flowers and fruit in all stages of maturity.

It was a tough decision to take down those enthusiastic die-hards but I was afraid that we were just robbing nutrients from the soil for tomatoes that would never have a chance to ripen with the shorter days and cooler nights. (Can I really be thinking of frost already?).

Sorry that I don’t have an accurate tally of what we DID get but in general the gardens gave the occasional fresh produce for meals including a variety of greens and broccoli in the spring, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and a small variety of squashes later with basil on demand throughout (still growing). Unfortunately we didn’t get the amount needed to save massive amounts for later.

I won’t go too deep into the excuses I promised earlier but I will leave you with this one insight. Trying to keep up with in four different small gardens in four different locations does not mix well with trying to limit your mileage.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Ribena = Crack

I'm not sure what the general opinion of Ribena is across the pond, but I can tell you that in the Rational Living household Ribena is now a legendary favorite.

Let me provide some background for those state-side readers.

When I was preparing for our two weeks of U.K. rations, I asked Mr. Graham (from On the Ration) if the 4 oz of loose tea per person was per adult only, or if children also received a tea ration. His response: "Your tea is per adult - the children get Ribena squash (blackcurrent cordial) instead."

Now, in the U.S. the term "cordial" is most frequently refers to thick, sweet alcoholic beverages...hence, I thought he was being silly by suggesting that the adults receive tea rations and the children get booze. But, thanks to my friend Google I was set straight.

Ribena is, in fact, a concentrated blackcurrant syrup that is then diluted with water to produce a juice-like beverage. During the War its high vitamin C content helped make it a popular nutritional aid for children in the U.K. (it's true vitamin C content has come under attack in recent years).
I felt very fortunate to find bottles of Ribena at our local grocery store in the "British" section. What else is in the "British" section? Some biscuits, cans of spotted dick (giggle) and those most definitely non-American cans of Heinz beans in tomato sauce. There are some other items as well which, I imagine, the store's ordering manager consider "classically British." Teas, jams, and candies.

Anyhoo...back to Ribena...this stuff is good. It's like liquid candy - or something even more addictive. When I called the girls into the kitchen to try some they were a bit skeptical - with it's dark color I think they thought it would taste like that hideous cough syrup. After a quick taste they promptly downed their glasses and loudly proclaimed that we should buy Ribena even when we aren't rationing. It's good enough that TMOTH and I have found ourselves making small glasses of the stuff for ourselves (shhh! don't tell the girls). Maybe a bottle of Ribena will make it into the girls' Christmas stockings this year...

Oh! Another gem I found in the "British" section was gravy granules. If you're a regular reader of On the Ration then you're familiar with Mr. Graham's semi-frequent mention of gravy granules. We have no such product here in the U.S. - our instant gravy items are typically powdered and consist mostly of corn starch which can (if overused) turn a wonderful gravy base into a brown paste.

I purchased the granules (the label ensures me that the kind I purchased are the "Nation's Favourite Gravy") to use on the gravy I was making with last night's roasted chicken (our special meat purchase for the week). When I first open the package I was alarmed by what appeared to be fish food. Seriously, the granules are gray and look like the pellets used to feed cichlids. Unfortunately, there is no way this product would fly as-is in the U.S. unless it was loaded with artificial dyes. Ugly but true.Anyway, last night I diluted the roast chicken drippings with a little water, added the granules and brought it to a boil. The resulting gravy was a little on the thin side but had a nice flavor and in no way resembled paste. This is all good, since tonight I will use the extra gravy as part of the Woolton Pie I will be making for dinner. Another classic U.K. wartime food, Woolton Pie is a concoction of cooked vegetables, oats and mashed potatoes.

I'm already preparing for Sissy's revolt. Maybe I can appease her with some Ribena?


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mabel's Kindness

Last week we had a supply of apples (some donated) that needed to be made into pies - quickly. I was faced with the dilemma of trying to prepare three pies while simultaneously working full-time, attending war-bond meetings, organizing the next scrap metal drive and providing wholesome, well-rounded meals to my family. What was a rationing mother to do?

Luckily, sweet little Mabel came to the rescue. Gray-haired Mabel lives down the block from us in a dainty white house. Her peonies are always gorgeous and she makes the most delicious caramel popcorn balls for the neighborhood kids at Halloween. Mabel is very active in the war effort, volunteering her time for several community organizations including the Red Cross and her women's church group, which sends care packages oversees to our boys fighting those Nazi monsters.

One day I came home to find Mabel on our doorstep. "I thought you could use these," she said as a simple smile graced her face. In her outstretched arms was a circular tin...and inside the tin (separated by sheets of wax paper) where six beautiful, supple pie crusts! "I heard from little birdies that you were concerned you didn't have time to get everything together to turn those apples into pies."

Behind me I heard Sissy and Eowyn giggle as they ran out to play. Those pie crusts represented an hour of work and several points worth of fat rations. "Mabel," I countered, "This is very generous of you, but..."

"Nonsense!" she interrupted. "You need these more than I do. Besides, you wouldn't need them if you weren't so busy trying to get our boys what they need. And the sooner they can get what they need then the sooner the war will be over." A little glisten coated her pale blue eyes.

How could I say no?

"Thank you," I replied, and we both breathed a little sigh of relief. "But surely I can repay you for this somehow. I have a bit of extra coffee that needs a home." Everyone in the neighborhood knew that a big reason why Mabel was able to do so much was a result of her heavy coffee addiction. Since rationing had begun she'd been forced to reuse coffee grounds, but even that didn't allow her modest coffee ration to last its full five weeks. By week four, out of coffee rations, Mabel was known to be irritable and shaky.

"No thank you, dear," answered Mabel, too proud and honest to accept the trade.

"Well, then..." I postulated, "How about I invite you over for coffee and pie once the pies are made?"

"That sounds like a beautiful plan."

*Based on a true story. Actual events may have included a mad-dash to the grocery store to by anachronistic pre-made pie crusts.

--Rational Mama

Missing Coffee

Tea does our fancy aid,
Repress those vapours which the head invade
And keeps that palace of the soul serene.

--Edmund Waller (17th century English poet)

Yeah, but coffee does it so much better.

--Rational Mama (21st century rationer)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

(Kinda) Historic Recipe: Dried Apple Skins

While processing all those pounds of pears and apples last week (after a fresh fruit dry spell) it seemed a shame to not get everything we could out of the produce. The cores, unfortunately, don't have much purpose unless you're making apple/pear sauce and/or feeding the pigs. We did neither. The peels, however, have possibility - especially since the apple magic makes such nice, even strips of peel with a little fruit on them to boot.

Determined to not let this resource be wasted, I took a pile of peels, drizzled an ever-so-tiny amount of oil on them and dusted them with cinnamon and sugar. I then tossed them in a bowl to coat evenly.
To dry the peels (or anything, for that matter) you can use either an oven or an electric dehydrator. I used both last week and liked the results from the dehydrator better, so I'll pass along those instructions.

Distribute the peels in single layers on dehydrator trays, being sure to not overlap the pieces too frequently. Set the temperature to 135 degrees and let the dehydrator run for five hours or so (time will depend on how much moisture is present in the peels).

When the skins are done they will be crispy like apple chips!
Most electric ovens will only go as low as 175 degrees, so if you use the oven watch the peels carefully so that they don't burn.

Trial and error last week also informed me that apple skins produce a much better product with this method. The girls did not like the pear skins, which were chewier after dehydration.

Time permitting, we might make some applesauce next week and put all the apple to good use. We love applesauce but it is not allowed on UK rations and on US rations it basically costs one blue/green ration point per once. With only 48 blue/green points per week it's quite a luxury!

--Rational Mama

Friday, October 1, 2010

U.K. Ration Day!

Hello to all! Today is the day we start living on 1945 U.K. rations for the next two weeks!

A previous post outlined some of the rations and restrictions which were, unfortunately, a little squishy. Since I didn't have access to many first-hand sources I was making a sort of U.K. ration hodge-podge - a little 1943, a little 1945, etc.

Luckily, the ever so kind Mr. Graham (from On the Ration) set me straight. So, here's a rundown of our rations for the first week.

Standard Weekly U.K. Rations for Family of Four (1945)
8 oz preserves/syrup/treacle (Hagrid's favorite) (We have blueberry preserves)
32 oz sweets (We've gone with 27 oz sugar and 5 oz hard candy)
One pound bacon or ham (bacon this week)
32 oz butter/margarine/lard (We have 16 oz butter, 8 oz margarine and 8 oz lard...shudder)
8 oz cheese (Cheddar)
4 eggs (Drats! I can't find egg powder in this town!)
1.80 gallons fresh milk
milk powder - enough to make .6 gallons of milk
8 oz loose tea (no coffee or soda allowed)
Ribena concentrate for the girls (Our local grocery store had Ribena, Mr. Graham!)
2 cans concentrated orange juice
$8.32 for meat ration (Our antibiotic-free whole chicken was $8.30)

The monetary ration for meat was historically for red meat only, but to stay in line with our rationing year we will also include pork and poultry as part of this ration due to their current widespread availability (as compared with WWII).

There is also a standard ration of cod liver oil that I will not be subjecting the family to (I'm afraid Sissy would never speak to me again).

Then we have 24 points per week to use on tinned and dried foods. This is how we spent ours for the first week:

2 pounds oatmeal (8 pts)
1 pound dried beans - garbanzos (4 pts)
1 pound pasta (4 pts)
1/2 pound rice (1 pt)
1 pint condensed milk (2 pts)
1 fl oz olive oil (1 pt)
4 oz mayonaisse (4 pts)

Of course, local fresh produce and whole-grain breads are ration-free.

Soap rations are outlined in a previous post.

And then there's the gasoline rations...Under U.S. rations (and with a little 2010 math) our family is allowed 193 miles per week combined for both of our vehicles. Mr. Graham shared that gasoline rations varied during the war, with civilian rations of gasoline not being an option for a good portion of the war. He did related that if TMOTH's employment correlated with a wartime industry (which it would) then in early 1945 he would be allowed 9 gallons of gasoline per week which, using our 2010 math, would equate to 157 gallons per week.

Our weekly average has been closer to 180 miles per week, so we will definitely have to rethink our trips.

Of course, no appliance or clothing purchases are allowed and eating outside the home (restaurants, etc.) will only be permitted at two different (previously scheduled) family occasions during the two week period.

So there's the basics! Last night we went through the cupboards and refrigerator, storing away tempting items that are not allowed on U.K. rations. It was like removing all the hametz out of a house for Passover. Good bye crackers, gratuitous amounts of packaged cereal and cheese. Today we have nice, sparse shelves and a simple vegetable and dumpling soup.

We'll see how this goes.

--Rational Mama