by Tara Pederson
My grandparents were all rural Mississippians. My childhood is filled with memories of their sprawling gardens, of them hunting and fishing, of canning and freezing, and things never going to waste.
One grandmother worked as a nurse until retirement. The other stayed home, as did many great aunts cousins etc. They not only tended gardens and kept their houses clean, but also cared for their own and many other children, sewed, took older family and community members to doctor’s appointments, church, to run errands and to sit on porches for the ever important visit…
They cooked for EVERYONE, took the burden of household details off the shoulders of those who worked long hours outside the house, often in manual labor that kept things going for everyone. They were and still are the calendar keepers, coordinators, every day tasker hearts and souls of the house. It never once occurred to me they were “kept”or privileged. They had jobs to do, and in a time when things were stressful, they brought some calm and peace by doing them.
The World War II generation of my youth talked of politics, agriculture, work. They told amusing anecdotes and gossiped about the neighbors, but they never really talked about the days of war rations or of their great depression upbringings. They worked hard to feed and clothe themselves and each other and that was that.
I personally never heard stories of standing in line for canned, boxed and bulk goods, though many of you may have.
I did hear about using flour sacks as clothes and burlap feed sacks to patch pants. Of hand-me-down shoes with paper stuffed in them to fill the holes. Of the thrill of finding a single orange in a Christmas stocking, and of letters from loved ones abroad, in a time when even the diffusion or magnification of the nightly news wasn’t there to give any indication how they may be.
May we never know their daily struggles. But I often think, when the rations wore thin, what did “creative”( i.e. desperate) cooking look like? So many of those canned and cured products we laugh about now were life sustaining for them.
In the interest of perspective and thankfulness I share a couple of Hard Times recipes. Next time they’re out of your favorite things at the grocery store you can either try these on for size or be grateful you don’t have to.
I’ll table those military field rations challenges for a later date.
*Calcutta Rice- (Listed as a meat substitute) Grate 1/4 lb cheese. Combine with 2 cups cooked rice, 2 cups tomatoes, and 1 tsp salt. If available and desired, add diced onion or celery and black pepper). Pour into a baking dish and cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
*Tomato Soup Cake- With a hand or stand mixer, combine 1 cup sugar, 2 tbsp butter, 1 can tomato soup, 1 top baking powder, 1 cup raisins, 1 tsp each cloves and cinnamon and 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour. If available, add 1 cup walnuts. Bake 45 minutes, until cooked through. If available, mix cream cheese and sugar to taste for topping.
*Baked Macaroni Loaf- cook 5 oz dry macaroni according to the package directions. Drain well and transfer to an oiled loaf pan. In a bowl, mix 1.5 cups hot milk and 1 cup cracker crumbs with 2 tbsp each chopped, sautéed green bell pepper and onion. Add 1 cup grated cheese, 1 tsp salt and 3 eggs. Pour milk mixture over macaroni. Bake at 350 degrees, 45-50 minutes, until firm. Allow to cool before turning out of pan and slicing to serve