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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Killer Pancakes

With Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, or whatever else you choose to call it) just around the corner, I though it would be appropriate to discuss pancakes.  No, I won't be featuring a recipe this week.  Instead, I thought I'd highlight something a little more exciting: explosive powder!  You might be wondering: "What's the correlation between pancakes and explosive powder?"  The answer: "Aunt Jemima".

 "Aunt Jemima", as it was known among operatives, was an explosive powder used by the OSS in WWII.  (The OSS, or Office of Strategic Services, was the precursor to the CIA and existed during the war to gather intelligence and support resistance efforts against the Axis.)  As you might have guessed, the powder was nicknamed based on its resemblance to the ever popular ready-made pancake mix.  It was invented by George Kistiakowsky who was a "soldier-turned-chemist" of Russian descent also know for his work in Los Alamos.

"Aunt Jemima" explosive powder was designed to look and act like flour.  It could be baked and consumed without exploding, although ingesting it was generally not encouraged.  The explosive powder, once perfected, was packaged in flour bags and was easily smuggled to the Chinese resistance fighting the Japanese.

So, as you enjoy your pancakes and beignets this Mardi Gras, you'll have a little something extra to chew on.


Central Intelligence Agency. (2007). "Weapons and spy gear". Retrieved from
Hunt, E. H. & Aunapu, G. (2007). American spy: My secret history in the CIA, Watergate & beyond. Wiley Pub.

O'Donnell, P.K. (2004). Operatives, spies, & saboteurs: The unknown story of the men and women of World War II's OSS. Free Press. 

Wang, A. (2008). In Sputnik's shadow: the President's Science Advisory Committee and Cold War America. Rutgers University Press.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Valor of Lieutinent Vernon Baker

I thought it would be fitting to submit a post in honor of Black History Month.  Sadly, relatively little information exists on African-American service during WWII, although the African-American contribution to the war effort was valiant and note-worthy.  One reason for the scarcity of information is the fact that during WWII the military was still a segregated institution.  In fact, African-Americans were barred from combat service until 1941, and even then, only one all-black Army division saw infantry combat in the European theater.  

92nd Infantry Division Patch
This division was the famed and now celebrated 92nd Infantry Division known as the Buffalo soldiers.  The 92nd was sent into combat for the first time during WWII late in the summer of 1944.  The division landed in Italy and made its way through the country until they encountered German troops in September of the same year.  The Buffalo soldiers continued in their quest to push the Germans farther and farther into Northern Italy.

In late Spring 1945, near Viareggio, Italy, Lt. Vernon Baker of the 370th Regimental Combat Team, 92nd Infantry Division, proved his devotion to his country through an incredible act of valor.  Lt. Baker single-handedly killed 9 Germans in a single day during a siege of an enemy stronghold.  After the attack subsided, Baker retrieved the dog tags of all 19 men killed in his regiment and returned each dog tag to headquarters that evening.

Lt. Vernon Baker
For his service, Lt. Baker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but in 1992 the U.S. Army conducted an investigation into the qualifications outlined for Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.  The Army determined that several African-American servicemen who were eligible to receive the Medal of Honor were initially passed over based on racial discrimination.  Finally, in January 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded Lt. Baker the Medal of Honor - which he should have received decades earlier.


Orso, A. ed. (2008). Armchair reader WWII: Extraordinary facts and stories. Lincolnwood, IL: West Side Publishing

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ration-Era Potato Soup

This past Monday in Central Virginia was a dreary, cold, rainy day - perfect for a bowl of steaming soup.  So I decided to turn to the trusty "ABCs of Wartime Canning" cookbook for a ration-era inspired meal.  I found just what I was looking for under the low-ration points category: Creamy Potato Soup.  Perhaps one of the most enticing aspects of this recipe was that I had everything I needed in my pantry to put the meal together.  Also, this recipe was very budget-friendly and took less than 30 minutes to prep, cook, and serve.  Clearly, you can see that I was quite impressed with all aspects of this culinary experiment.  

The only real prep work involved with the recipe was peeling and thinly slicing five potatoes and an onion.  The rest of the steps involved dumping ingredients in the stock pot and stirring contents together.  If you decide to test this recipe out yourself (which I sincerely hope you will), don't be deceived by the potato to water ratio.  I seriously contemplated adding more water than the recipe called for so that all contents in the pot could be covered.  Thankfully I resisted my urge, and the results came out beautifully.  The potatoes and onions cooked down nicely and made the liquid thick and starchy.  Then the addition of flour and milk further enhanced the creaminess of the soup.  

My only complaint with this recipe was that it was far to bland.  After I tasted the initial results, I liberally added more salt and pepper, and I even threw in some chili powder to kick the flavor up a bit.  The end result was delicious.  This could easily become a go-to meal in our house since it was so easy, cheap, and tasty.