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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wartime Christmas Ornaments: A Bright Idea

Christmas is in full swing in our household.  I have officially decorated my home for Christmas, most of the gifts have been purchased and wrapped, and the baking frenzy has begun.  So, in keeping with the holiday spirit, I’ve been reading about Christmas during wartime.  I was particularly interested in learning how Christmas d├ęcor changed due to shortages and rationing. 

The saga of Christmas ornaments was especially intriguing. 

I learned that many glass ornaments hanging on American Christmas trees before the outbreak of WWII were handmade by glass blowers in Germany.  (I’m sure you can see where this might be headed…)  After we entered the war in December 1941, the import of German ornaments came to a halt.  Also, many Americans dumped their German-made ornaments as an act of patriotism.  However, thanks to some ingenious American retailers (mainly Woolworth’s and Corning), who introduced the glass Christmas ball, Americans’ Christmas trees were not left bare during the war years.  In addition to the new-fangled ornaments, many Americans made their own ornaments as well.  This was quite the challenge in the midst of homefront shortages, rationing, and patriotic recycling, and, as you might imagine, resources were even scarcer in war-torn Europe. 

I came across an endearing article discussing European holiday shortages in a story about kind-hearted GI’s stationed in England in December 1945.  At that time, post-war England (and post-war everywhere for that matter) was still in the midst of great deprivation.  This particular group of servicemen was determined to throw a decent Christmas party for the children in the town where they were stationed.  However, they had trouble finding ornaments, so the men found old light bulbs, painted them, and hung them on their makeshift Christmas tree for decoration.(Posten, 2009)     

I decided to make my own light-bulb ornaments since I happened to have not one, but two burned out bulbs in my house.  The process was simple as it only required the light bulbs, paint, and a few scraps of yarn to hang the ornament. 

Here they are!

The green one didn't turn quite 
like I had envisioned, 
but you get the idea.
The red one turned out much better.  
I added some glitter for a little extra glitz. 

Here they are together.  How festive!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

- Megan

P.S. You can read more about the GI Christmas party in Ashton-in-Makerfield, England by clicking on the link below.

Posten, B. (2009). Yankee ingenuity throws a party in wartime England. Reading Eagle, Reading: PA. Accessed from

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spry Gingerbread

Since this is my first post in December, I thought it would be appropriate to feature a Christmas-themed ration recipe.  I returned to the Spry cookbook and found a suitable recipe for gingerbread.  In keeping with the spirit of rationing, the recipe called for only a half cup of sugar and relied on molasses as the primary sweetening agent.  (Molasses, along with corn syrup and honey, were often used as substitutes for preciously rationed sugar.)

A ration book with stamps
This reminds me, I haven't given y'all a proper lesson on World War II rationing!  In a nutshell, rationing was a system implemented by the government.  It existed to give all Americans equal access to goods that were in short supply due to the war by limiting the number of certain items people could buy.  Items like food, gasoline, shoes, and clothing were rationed in the U.S. during the war since these things were now needed to feed, dress, and equip our servicemen and women.  Meat, sugar, butter, and canned goods were some of the most heavily rationed food goods, and substitutes for them suddenly became much more popular - think molasses, honey, SPAM, oleo margarine...  Cooks also began adapting their recipes to accommodate rationing limitations - hence, the gingerbread recipe found here.

Back to the recipe. Honestly, as I followed the recipe, I had no idea what to expect of either the taste or form of this supposed future gingerbread.  (I typically think of gingerbread as a cookie shaped like a cute little person, not something you get out of a baking dish.)  If you look at the pictures below, the gingerbread came out with a shape and texture similar to a brownie.  But don't be deceived.  Sadly, no chocolate was harmed in this experiment.  

Although the process was surprising, the results were delicious!
The finished, plated project - lightly dusted with powdered sugar.
My husband, the reluctant guinea pig, takes a tentative first bite...
It's a success!


Recipe taken from: What Shall I Cook Today: 124 thrifty, healthful tested recipes.  Lever Brothers Company, Cambridge: Mass. p. 46.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A GLUTTON for Word Games

 While rummaging through the Game Kit (the same one we used last week), I found a great game with a title appropriate for the week after Thanksgiving: GLUTTON.  Glutton is a simple word game – think Boggle – that only requires the provided word chart, a scrap piece of paper, a writing utensil, and a few spare minutes.

 I love word games!  Scrabble, Boggle, word searches, crossword puzzles…  I live for NPR’s Puzzle Master segment on Sunday mornings.   And, that is why I am ashamed to say that I only came up with 18 food related words in 5 minutes, and I even cheated to get there.  That’s right.  I sheepishly recorded singular and plural forms of the same words whenever an “s” was nearby!  You know, pea becomes peas, and so forth…

So here’s my challenge: try “Glutton” for yourself.   Give yourself a 3- or 5- minute time limit, and let me know how you did.  I’ll post the answer sheet next week for you to check your answers! 

Here’s how you play:
1. Start with any letter in the chart.

2. Try to spell as many words related to food, drink, and seasonings in the allotted time by connecting adjacent letters.  Record your answers to count later.

3. You may move in any direction to connect letters (up, down, side-to-side, or diagonally), and you may repeat any letter as often as you’d like. 

4.  Have fun!  Play with friends if you're competitive, or enjoy the brain-teaser in solitude.

Good luck!

P.S. Be sure to tune in next week for a Christmas-themed ration-era recipe!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Squad Squat: Game Kit for Men and Women in the Service

This week I thought I’d provide you with an idea for some family fun to enjoy this Thanksgiving in the form of a 1940s game.  The game is called Squad Squat.  Beware: it requires quite a feat of flexibility; therefore, I would recommend playing this game before gorging on turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing!

This game, and 24 others, came in a package from the Leister Game Co. based in Toledo, Ohio called “Game Kit for Men and Women in the Service”.  It was generously donated to the Memorial’s archives by a local couple a few weeks ago.  While there is no publication date available on the games, based on the attire of those in the illustrations, it may be safely assumed that this set was manufactured sometime in the 1940s.  The great thing about the games in this set is that they require very few materials to play.  Everything that my family used to play was found easily around the house or in a pants pocket.

As a quick aside, the Leister Game Company is still operating today and according to its website, it started in 1933 out of the basement of Reginald S. Leister.  Leister Game Company is best known for its golfer games and novelties, but they do produce other types of games and gags as well ( accessed November 23, 2011).

So, here’s how you play Squad Squat:
  1. Draw or create a line on the floor.
  2. Assign each player a token or game piece.  (We used a penny, dime, paperclip, wood screw, and safety pin).
  3. Taking turns, each player should step up to the line and squat down while reaching his or her arm through his or her legs to place the token as far out from the line as possible.
  4. The person whose token is farthest from the line wins!

My family members were great sports and graciously agreed to demonstrate squad squat to have their slightly awkward and embarrassing poses forever immortalized in the blogosphere.  I don’t know that squad squat will become an annual family tradition, but this year it did provide us with some hilariously awkward family fun.

Step up to the line...

While squatting, reach your arm through your legs...

Place the token as far out from the line as possible.

The person who's token is farthest from the line wins!

Hope you enjoy and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spry Honey Rolls

Cover of the Spry Cookbook
This week I experimented with my first ration-era recipe: Honey Rolls.  I found the recipe in the Spry shortening product cookbook, and I must say the results were delicious!  Now, it's true that shortening and other fats (like butter) were rationed, but keep in mind that this from a product cookbook, so every recipe in the pamphlet includes shortening.  Aside from the few tablespoons of shortening, the rest of the recipe is ration stamp friendly!

One of the most delightful things about this recipe was its simplicity.  Prep maybe took 15-20 minutes which included rolling out the biscuit dough, melting the topping, and preheating the oven!  And shortening was the only item called for that I didn't already have stocked in my cabinet.  (On a side note, the Lever Brothers - yes, the soap company - stopped producing Spry shortening sometime in the 1960s, so I just used Crisco instead).

My lovely, floured counter, perfect for rolling out the biscuit dough.

Mmmmm. Hot honey rolls fresh out of the oven!

Here's the finished product!  The taste reminded me of monkey bread.  We'll definitely make these again sometime soon! 

 Here's a copy of the recipe to try on your own: 

And here's the recipe for the dough (baking powder biscuits):

Recipe taken from: What Shall I Cook Today: 124 thrifty, healthful tested recipes.  Lever Brothers Company, Cambridge: Mass. p. 39-40.