By Devonna Edwards, Columnist
Wartime Rationing 1939-1945
EAT HASH AND LIKE IT! the headline in a 1940s newspaper advertisement for War Saving Stamps depicts a homemaker dishing up supper to her children. “As long as Jack is at war, we’ll eat hash and like it.” Leftovers were the order of the day on the home front.
Rationing was initiated to free up consumer goods for military use and distribution to allied countries overseas. It was also a vital way of limiting the consumption of those commodities that had to be imported into Canada, since merchant shipping cut into naval reserves as well as put lives at risk. While the rationing of certain foods such as coffee, tea, sugar, butter, and meat had a direct impact on what people cooked and ate on the home front, the demand for materials such as metals, fuels, plastics, and rubber affected wartime kitchens, both directly and indirectly. Gasoline was rationed, creating difficulties in transporting even non-rationed foods such as eggs, which had implications for commercial food industries as well as home consumers. Rubber, plastics, fat, and metals were desperately needed for wartime machinery and weapons.
The word ‘Reuse’ and ‘Recycle’ became the catchwords of the war years. The war effort needed every available piece of scrap metal, from brass beds to heavy aluminum and iron pots; people even saved their empty toothpaste and shaving-cream tubes. Newsprint and paper of all kinds were recycled and used in wrapping detonation charges, casing parachute flare charges, and making cartridge wadding. Paperboard cartons made of wastepaper were vital for packing materials shipped overseas. Fat and bones were needed to make glycerin and glue for weapons and airplanes, so Canadians were urged to save their fat dripping, which they did, collecting them in recycled tin cans. Movie theatres in Halifax and Dartmouth offered students free admission in exchange for salvaged fats.
Butter became scarce and when it did become available, shoppers would ‘stock-up’ and this caused ‘rushes’ on butter at grocery stores, despite officials warning against panic buying and hoarding. Margarine was not an option for wartime Canadians because dairy farmers lobbied successfully to keep it banned until the late 1940s when the Canadian Women’s Institute finally convinced the government to allow its sale and manufacture, even then it was bleached white to distinguish it from butter and sold with “Colour buds” that could be kneaded in before using. Wartime cooks often used the trick of rubbing a raw potato over the bottom of the frypan instead of using butter.
The Wartime Prices and Trade Board in Ottawa distributed ration books to over six hundred local ration boards that served every city, town, and hamlet in Canada. A Ration book contained coloured stamps; red was for sugar, green for tea and coffee, orchid for butter, buff for meat, etc. When the stamps were used up, families had to wait until they were issued another book. Sometimes neighbours traded their stamps with each other depending on their needs.
The 75,000 Canadians who lived in remote areas such as the Yukon and the Northwest Territories were exempt from rationing.
Prior to the war, Canadians were used to buying fine imported cheese from Europe. Cheese became expensive and hard to find. The shortage of cheese, however, prompted the development of Quebec’s cheese industry and Canadian Cheddar is now considered one of the finest in the world.
In 1942 the Wartime Trade and Prices Board set weekly meat rations at two pounds per person. Restaurants featured ‘meatless’ Tuesdays and Thursdays and homemakers calculated how to make Sunday’s roast last well into the following week. Timbales, loaves, souffles, croquettes or hash became very popular in wartime kitchens when fillers such as breadcrumbs, crackers, cereals, or pastry, were added to recipes to stretch the servings.
Sugar was rationed so maple syrup, which was not subject to rationing, was commonly used in Atlantic Canada, as were molasses, honey, and corn syrup as a substitute for sugar. Condensed milk was also used as a sweetener.
Alcohol was also rationed and scarce. Halifax liquor stores saw block-long queues of people as alcohol rations continued to decrease and Nova Scotia bootlegger’s profits soared.
Tea and coffee were rationed and Individuals over the age of twelve were entitled to either one ounce of tea or four ounces of coffee per week. Small quantities of coffee or tea could be stretched with milk or juice and perked up with spices and flavouring.
Although bread was delivered in urban areas by horse and buggy (due to gasoline rationing) many wartime homemakers prided themselves on their bread-making skills. Flour was not rationed, and many bread recipes substituted molasses for sugar and bacon drippings for shortening. Women baked round loaves in recycled coffee cans because metal was at a premium during the war.
No More Lobster Please!
The war had far-reaching consequences for the Maritime fishing industry, some five hundred fishing vessels were commandeered by the government and many fishers left their jobs to join the services. Canned salmon and tuna virtually disappeared from the shelves of most grocery stores during the war years, as these were needed for the men and women fighting overseas. Housekeepers were urged to purchase mackerel or flounders, and fresh salmon when available. Fresh lobster was frequently seen on local wartime menus as it was both cheap and widely available, it was common to hear elderly Maritimers complain that they ate so many lobsters during the war years that they could not bear to even look at it today.
Victory Gardens and Canning
Although fresh vegetables were not rationed, Maritime families were encouraged to plant victory gardens to produce enough vegetables for their own use. Vegetables and fruits were near the top of the list in Canada’s “Eat Right to Fight” program, staying healthy was promoted during wartime. In addition to growing their own produce, women were advised to can surplus fruits and vegetables and to store potatoes and other root vegetables in a cool area for winter use. They were also strongly urged to preserve pickles, relishes, chutneys, jams, and jellies, to conserve as much commercially canned fruit and vegetables as possible for the brave men and woman at war. The government added additional sugar allowances as an incentive for this purpose. Many wartime canning recipes substituted molasses for sugar and because metal was at a premium during the war, women often sealed their jars with melted wax instead of lids.
Photo credits to https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Canada_in_World_War_II