WWI Collections: Wartime Recipes from the Gellhorn Papers

A card to be hung in the home explaining how and why to conserve different foods, August 1917. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

Looking for some new and unusual recipes to try this fall? You might find some unexpected inspiration in Washington University Archives’ WWI collections. Edna Gellhorn, a civic leader, reformer, and St. Louis native, was very involved in in the Women’s Central Committee on Food Conservation during the war, and her papers contain a wealth of resources that teach homemakers how to cook with unusual ingredients so that more food could be sent to the Allies overseas.

Asking Cooks to Conserve

The card on the right, designed to be hung in private kitchens, explains to citizens which foods they should conserve and why. Food rationing was entirely voluntary in America during WWI, and a strong media campaign of posters, recipe pamphlets, and live cooking and canning demonstrations was largely successful in encouraging Americans to do their part. This card asks homemakers to use less wheat, beef, pork, animal fats, dairy products and sugar and explains what substitutions they can use for each.

Substituting Cheese for Meat

Although some dairy products, like whole milk, cream, and butter, needed to be conserved, cottage cheese was made from sour milk, which might otherwise have been wasted, and citizens were encouraged to use it freely as a substitute for meat proteins. The pamphlet below shares a wide variety of interesting recipes using cottage cheese. Cottage cheese and peanut butter soup, anyone?

A pamphlet from the United States Department of Agriculture, April 15, 1918. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

A page from the pamphlet “Cooking with Cottage Cheese” from the United States Department of Agriculture, April 15, 1918. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

True Patriots Waste Nothing

A big part of the Food Administration’s campaign to conserve food for the troops involved not wasting anything edible. The following flyer urges Missouri residents to use parts of the animal that would normally be thrown out, such as the brains, kidneys, and tongues.

A pamphlet from the Federal Food Administration for Missouri, c. 1918. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

Going Without Sugar

France, Belgium, Italy and England were dealing with dramatically reduced supplies of sugar during the war. To increase the amount of sugar we sent overseas while still preserving enough for local canning efforts, the United States Food Administration urged Americans to use substitutes like honey and corn syrup in their cooking. The following flyer gives a few recipes for popular holiday cranberry dishes made without sugar.

A flyer from the United States Food Administration, October 1918. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

Finding Substitutes for Wheat

Wheat was also in short supply during the war, and citizens were urged to use corn, oat, rye, or barley instead of wheat or white bread for at least one meal a day. The pamphlet below has recipes for cornflour cookies, waffles, cakes, and other popular baked goods.

A pamphlet from the United States Department of Agriculture, August 14, 1918. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

Pickling and Canning

Fresh vegetables and fruits were difficult to ship overseas, and so Americans were encouraged to eat them in abundance to facilitate cutting back on meat and wheat products. Many Americans started “War Gardens” to grow their own fruits and vegetables, and the excess was either pickled or canned. Below are recipes for pickling corn, tomatoes, cabbage, and even fruit. You can also read more about canning efforts during the war in our previous blog post on the Gellhorn Papers.

A pamphlet from the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, August 1917. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

Resources on WWI

Letters from the Gellhorn Papers and other materials from Washington University’s WWI collections are now available digitally through the Missouri Digital Heritage project, “Missouri Over There: Missouri and the Great War,” a project to digitize collections of Missouri’s participation in the First World War. You can check out the project at http://missourioverthere.org/.

Patrons interested in researching more about WWI can also view the library’s WWI Archival Sources finding aid to discover other related University collections.

A pamphlet on Canning from the United States Department of Agriculture, May 1918. Washington University Archives, Edna Gellhorn Papers.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.