Etsy has been my go to for finding vintage gems such as cookbooks. As much as I wish I owned an original 18th century copy of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy, I’m not forking over $1000 plus dollars for it. But, I can afford a 20th century cookbook!
I Found a Vintage 1942 Wartime Cookbook
Behold, The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book: Wartime Edition. It is one of many published editions of the American Woman’s Cookbook, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer (1886 – 1965).
This book possibly hadn’t been used much because I found 1940s to 1950s ads and possibly a magazine page stuck between the pages!
The Betty Crocker ColorVision cake coupon is definitely from 1951, and there is pink cake batter or frosting still on it, showing that someone made this cake. You’re supposed to mix Jello or some other fruit flavored gelatin dessert into a Betty Crocker cake mix. I don’t know about that combination, but maybe I will give it a try one day.
About the Author
Berolzheimer was born “Theresa Ruth Berolzheimer” in Shelbina, Missouri in 1886. Her family would eventually move to Chicago Heights, where she founded the first Hebrew school at the young age of 17. She was very active in her small Jewish community, and would eventually move on to gain a chemical engineering degree at the University of Illinois in 1908. She was the second woman in the school’s history to obtain such an achievement (Kumar, 2015).
Between 1938 to 1949, Berolzheimer was the director and editor of the Culinary Arts Institute, where she edited several books such as 250 Tempting Desserts, Five Hundred Delicious Dishes from Leftovers, Menus for Every Day of the Year, and Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook (Ockerbloom, 2023).
She died in 1965 in Los Angeless, California at the age of 79. Her books are out of print, however, hard copies can still be found on online thrift stores and used book vendors. PDF electronic versions are also available.
The “Victory Binding” edition of her American Woman’s Cook Book is a true historical gem with firsthand information on early to mid 20th century cooking during the World War II era. The American Woman’s Cook Book was first published in 1938, with the “Victory Binding” edition released in 1942.
The “Victory Binding” edition was meant to serve as a wartime cooking guide for women during World War II when resources were scarce. Most provisions rightfully had to be sent to the soldiers overseas, forcing the working class to make do with what was available. Interestingly enough, citizens were encouraged to eat plenty of fish of seafood since, “Free use of fish is a national economy since they live on food not suitable for human consumption. They are a home economy because there is very little waste and they require only a short cooking period,” (Berolzheimer, 1942).
The first thing that caught me off guard about the book was its abundance of color photography. Even though I am well aware that color photography has been around since the beginning of the 20th century in the form of Autochromes, it was not until the 1960s and 70s that color photography was widespread.
It was quite a treat to see a mixture of color and black and white photography in this book, especially since it was published during World War II. The book gives credit to The Carnation Company, which gave Berolzheimer permission to reproduce some of the colored photography in her cookbook.
The book has over 900 pages of culinary material from dietary information to weights and measures to menu planning to recipes. The most interesting piece, however, is one of the chapters at the end of the book called Wartime Cookery.
As Berolzheimer states in this chapter:
Food shortages in this as in all wars will be due to the lack of man power for production, lack of transportation facilities for distribution, and reservation of shippable foods for the armed forces. This war is only complicated by multiplication… the wide scattering of places to which our food supplies must be distributed to feed our own and allied military forces. Many of the imports are in the condiment class and we will learn to do without them for the duration. Some are valuable foods―sugar, bananas, chocolate―and for these we will need to substitute. Among beverages, mate can easily replace Oriental tea.
Besides these fundamental difficulties always associated with wartime, the modern woman in America has become accustomed to foods prepared outside the home to be purchased by her in tin cans. Metal shortages are threatening these supplies and if they become acute, may cut them off altogether.
Since fats and oils are the basis both for soaps and gunpowder as well as for foods, the household will probably be called upon to curtail their use.
On the bright side is the eagerness of the modern woman to put her intelligence against a knotty problem. She will need to learn not only to prepare all the foods needed in her household, but to raise her own garden and poultry and to save every last bit, as has not been done in several generations.
Women in restricted defense areas are apt to have problems quite their own. Along with problems arising from the congestion there will be periods when all transportation facilities will be clogged with defense materials being moved in and out, and everything else will need to wait. Special shortages will develop in these areas that will need to be met,” (Berolzheimer, 1942)
Berolzheimer includes information on how to use every last leftover. She calls this “The Return of the Soup Kettle,” where “practically all leftovers except sweets may go into the soup kettle,” (Berolzheimer, 1942). This helps to use up all fat drippings, extract broth from steak bones, and any leftovers insufficient to feed a family. Personally, I’ve done this after thanksgiving with my Leftover Roast Bird and Dumpling Stew.
Berolzheimer also encourages families to use more perishable meats such as liver, sweetbreads, and other organ meats, “for these parts contain more vitamins than those that we are more accustomed to using and since there is no waste they cost less,” (Berolzheimer, 1942).
Since many households raised their own chickens at the time, poultry could be eaten more frequently. It was also important to save all fats and oils since they not only helped with food preparation, but fats also helped to make soap.
Sugar availability was patchy at best, so honey, corn syrup, maple sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, and sorghum replaced part or all of the sugars in desserts.
The book begins with a table of contents, a directory for the illustrations and photographs included, and (in some versions) a dedication to General Douglas MacArthur, a prominent World War I and World War II military leader. My copy does not contain the dedication to MacArthur.
Unfortunately, the table of contents for the illustrations and photographs are somewhat confusing to read. It can be tricky to match up the pictures with the recipe, especially when the recipe descriptions poorly match up. For example, some recipes are described in the photographs as being “snowballs,” but there aren’t any descriptions to explain what kind they are.
Ahead, there are chapters for menu making, state of the art tools such as stand mixers, cooking and baking basics, and even how to set a table. The book presents quite a bit of information meant to cater to the fancy, at best.
There are tabs featured on the book to make it easier to find your desired recipe. By the time you reach the end, you get to a chapter called “How to Feed a Family of Five on $15.00 Per Week. Boy, do I wish we could do that today!
“New taxes and other additional cash outlays that occur wartime together with definite shortages in many commodities require the sharpest kind of economy. This will be no new experience to the homemaker who has been feeding a family of two adults and three children on $15.00 per week. But for those who must learn to carry on when that figure is new to them, the following pages will help meet the challenge.
Whims and fancies break down well-laid plans for good nutrition. Everybody must eat all good prepared if there is to be a minimum of waste. This puts upon the homemaker the responsibility for careful selection and good cooking. The test of a good cook is the clean plate. And good cooking means conserving all the food values… minerals and vitamins.” (Berolzheimer, 1942).
Berolzheimer is very thorough in this chapter. She discusses how to buy carefully, buy for nutrition over taste, and how to menu plan to eliminate waste. These would have been invaluable skills in in wartime America, and especially in wartime Europe.
Upon taking a close look at the menu plans, they are rather well assembled with most dishes complete with a protein, carb, and fiber. She even provides alternative dishes to accommodate food shortages. For example, meat loaf could be substituted with ham loaf, veal loaf, or even jellied veal―although, I think I’d pass on the jellied stuff.
Another interesting detail is that breakfast, lunch, and dinner usually had some kind of sweet component or dessert to go with it! Your breakfast might be sliced oranges with soft boiled eggs with a cinnamon roll! Lunch might be rolled lamb shoulder roast with potatoes and buttered peas with an apple celery salad, but graham cracker cream cake would be served for dessert. I was shocked at how much incredible filling a lot of these items are.
Reading through this cookbook put quite a few things into perspective for me. I learned about the variety of ingredients available at the time, how cookbooks from this era pushed households to use ingredient substitutes such as shortening over butter, and how much attention was placed into saving ingredients and supplies for soldiers.
I was able to observe how many types of ingredients were available in the 1940s. It was quite interesting to see the different varieties of sugar (such as maple sugar and sorghum) as well as how plentiful and inexpensive fish was at the time, and did not need to be rationed. These ingredients are on the luxury scale in the 2020s.
World War II required Americans to use ration cards and stamps to obtain essential foods for their households. The menu plans in Berolzheimer’s cookbook are well planned and balanced despite the food shortages and rationing at the time. Reading the cookbook made me wonder if there are ways I can reduce my own food waste using rationing tips and menus from this book.
I also love how the photos and illustrations present the foods in modest ways; there is no fancy cake decorating or perfect photography, and most items look very “homemade” despite this cookbook coming from a culinary school. Sometimes we try too hard today to make food artistically presentable―I am very guilty of this as well. The “proper” way to ice a cake was to just spread the dark icing on in an even way. Et Voila!
Lastly, there was an air of humbleness to the book. Unlike The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, The American Woman’s Cookbook does not berate its audience, but comes across as a versatile guide to genuinely help households manage their meals and feed their families. The book addresses nutrition, how to avoid indigestion, how to feed a family when money is tight, and offers a list of ingredient and meal substitutions.
The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book receives a 5/5
As I stated in my post on Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, I am unlikely to rate a piece of history or primary source as anything under a 5/5 because I am not necessarily reviewing the contents and functionality of the book, but rather its significance to us as a historical primary source.
The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book deserves its high score mainly because it is a wonderful document that provides a glimpse into World War II American kitchens. I was also able to test some of the recipes, such as the White Mountain Cake and Boiled Frosting, and although I would personally make some adjustments to improve taste and texture, the recipes replicate well and can be made in our 21st century kitchens without having to adjust measurements.
More Posts Like This
Berolzheimer, R., (1942). The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cookbook. Consolidated Book Publishes, Inc., Chicago Illinois.
Geni, A MyHeritage Company, (2022). Theresa Ruth Berolzheimer. Retrieved from https://www.geni.com/people/Theresa-Berolzheimer/6000000042530642727
Kumar, H., (2015). Ruth Berolzheimer. Open Library Internet Archive. Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org/authors/OL1655503A/Ruth_Berolzheimer
Maddison, S., (2020). WWII Propaganda: How Images of Women Made the Difference. Toledo Library. Retrieved from https://www.toledolibrary.org/blog/wwii-propaganda-how-images-of-women-made-the-difference
Ockerbloom, J. M., (2023). Online Books by Ruth Berolzheimer. The Online Books Page. Retrieved from https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Berolzheimer%2C%20Ruth%2C%201886%2D1965