Review: The Victory Cookbook
Every other weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it’s incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
Sixty-four years ago today, Japan agreed to the terms of surrender during WWII. Ok. Actually it was August 15th in Japan which actually means that it was yesterday in the United States, but cut me a break. A friend brought me this really interesting cookbook from that era that I thought I would write about today. The full title of the book is “The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book: Wartime Edition.”
If your curious about what “Wartime Edition” means for a cookbook, you’re not alone. Luckily the very first page gives a hint. The book is filled with “Victory Substitutes and Economical Recipes for Delicious Wartime Meals.” I don’t know about you, but I love a good victory substitute.
Learning to Victory Cook!
Turns out that cooking during wartime was pretty similar to cooking during peace time. This book, however, basically assumes that you have absolutely no cooking knowledge at all. If you think about it, this is vastly different from cookbooks today. I don’t think I’ve ever opened a cookbook before and saw a definition for boiling water. It’s clear that this near thousand page tome was written with the purpose of being the only book a cook would need to succeed.
Being a Victorious Shopper and Eater!
I’m not kidding when I say that if everyone read and followed the section in this book called “How to Buy Food” we would most likely all be healthier, skinnier, and happier. It’s amazing to me that people had such a solid idea of how to eat healthily sixty years ago and now it seems to be such a struggle.
Here’s a few excerpts:
– “It is desirable to include fruit twice a day. Use fresh fruits in the height of their season.”
– “Be sure to include a generous proportion of cereals made from the whole grain. These contain elements of nutrition that are lost when the outer coat is removed, and also furnish part of the necessary roughage in the diet.”
– “Ordinarily, do not try to serve flesh foods (meat, fish, and poultry) more than once a day. Milk, eggs, and cheese supply a desirable quality of protein…”
It makes eating sounds so simple. It’s such a huge difference (and improvement in my opinion) from the barrage of dietary advise we get these days. It reminds me a lot of the very simple advise in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.
These sections are just part of the first 100 pages of the book which basically could act as a very condensed culinary school. Now, I’ve never been to culinary school so I can’t say that definitively, but let’s just say that these pages are packed full of information. If you think about it, it makes sense. I’m sure printing was not cheap back then and so it was important to pack in as much as possible on each page. Again, this is just so different from the cookbooks of today which have about a recipe per page and 20 point font.
I was really hoping that there would be some really obvious substitutions in this book for “wartime victory substitutions”, but I wasn’t able to really find any. Granted I didn’t read all 1000 pages of the book, but I spend a good afternoon carefully thumbing through it. The only real trend I noticed is that the book mentions more than once that meat doesn’t have to be the star of the show. That could be maybe because meat was in short supply or maybe because they were smarter back then than we are today.
I was hoping to see some crazy substitions like a meatloaf with mushrooms instead of beef (awesome idea), but no. The meat loaf still has meat. In fact all of the meat dishes are meat packed.
What did I learn?
Well, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of recipes in this book. Maybe close to a thousand. Every page has 3 or 4 recipes on it. That is amazing to think about. But, in general, leafing through this book just gave me a distinct reminder of how lucky most Americans are today. Our problem is that we literally have too much food. And one could even make the argument that some of it is too cheap.
Food preservation, menu planning, and shopping know-how was obviously very important sixty years ago because there are so many pages allotted to those subjects. Unfortunately those skills have kind of fallen by the wayside today. So if anything this book really made me pause and think about some of the habits I have with food and how utterly different they must be from what people did sixty years ago.
I’ve reviewed old cookbooks before here and I must say that I really love them. I’m thinking that collecting these old books could be something I would really enjoy.