Episode 9: War Cake & Emergency Steak

Agnes White as Betty Crocker.  

Agnes White as Betty Crocker.  

Grab your ration books, The Feast is heading back to 1945! Find out how the US and Canada got patriotic with its cooking during World War II. This week we'll see how both radio and radar transformed North American food. What did Betty Crocker have to do with the war department? How do you bake a cake without eggs? And why did the Canadian government want people to drink more milk? From war brides to washing machines, get ready for a kitchen revolution on this week's episode. 

Written & Produced by Laura Carlson

Research Assistance by Meghan Kirby

Technical Direction by Mike Portt


The Evolution of Betty Crocker

Betty Crocker, the culinary maven of America, was once one of the most recognized woman in America, second only to the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. But who was she? Created by the Washburn Crosby Company (later General Mills) in Minnesota, Betty Crocker represented a fleet of home economists who developed recipes & offered homemaking advice for the American home cook. Agnes White, one of the home economists at work in the Washburn Co., was selected to be the voice of Betty when the radio show Betty Crocker's Cooking School of the Air was launched in 1924. It quickly became one of the most popular radio programs in America. During WWII, the world of Betty Crocker collided with the War Services Department. Tips and tricks on rationing and other wartime initiatives related to food became a major part of Betty's image. Betty even "authored" a pamphlet called Our Nation's Rations which helped home cooks better use their ration points. 

As a fictional character, Betty could be re-styled to represent the new trends of each passing decade.

As a fictional character, Betty could be re-styled to represent the new trends of each passing decade.

Recipes from Wartime

Emergency Steak as featured on the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air in 1945

Taken from the  Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook  (1950). 

Taken from the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (1950). 

Canadian War Cake

This cake was popular in World War II because it didn't include many rationed ingredients like butter and milk. But the recipe was much older, used during World War I and during the Great Depression. A 1941 edition of Toronto's Globe & Mail newspaper from January 25th marks a new trend of using the recipe during rationing & to raise money for the war effort:  

Recipe for War Cake

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups hot water

2 tbsp shortening

1/2 lb seedless raisins

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cloves

Boil this five minutes & when cold, add three cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in a little warm water. Bake about 45 minutes in a slow oven. 


What will the Kitchen of the Future Look Like?

Beginning in the 1950s, a number of companies began to market new technologies for the home, particularly the kitchen. The introduction of the microwave oven as well as the increasing affordability of refrigerators and many time-saving devices, like the washing machine, allowed many to imagine what other kinds of inventions future decades might bring for the kitchen.

What the 1950s ‘kitchen of the future’ got right (and what was just plain crazy)
Jenny McGrath of Digital Trends provides a well-written analysis at what the 1950s got right (and wrong!) about the potential kitchen of the future. 

GM Frigidaire's Kitchen of the Future (circa 1956)

RCA Whirlpool's Miracle Kitchen (1957)

More on the WWII War Brides of Canada & the US

The Canadian Cookbook for British Brides (1945) was a guide for women adjusting to life in Canadian homes after WWII.

The Canadian Cookbook for British Brides (1945) was a guide for women adjusting to life in Canadian homes after WWII.

The CBC Digital Archives has a great range of videos and stories about the war brides and their arrival and life in Canada. See their site for more.

Newsreel shows ‘A way to a new life’ for war brides (Dec. 1944)

The Kitchen Sisters/Fugitive Waves Podcast: War & Separation: Life on the Homefront during WWII

Another great look at the US during World War II, featuring 4 women’s stories, rare home recorded letters sent overseas to soldiers, archival audio, music and news broadcasts from the era.

Get the episode here. 

More Great Books on Food during World War II

Ian Mosby, Food Will Win the War: The Politics, Culture, and Science of Food on Canada's Home Front (2014)

Susan Marks, Finding Betty  Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food (2005)

Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of War: World War II & The Battle for Food (2012)