This year’s Memorial Day Weekend is going to look a lot different from the barbecue bashes and backyard blow-outs we’re used to. While our party options are limited, MDW is far from cancelled. So, we’re making this holiday one for the books by trading usual burgers and dogs for—wait for it—102-year-old recipes from the World War I era. Yup, you read that right.
We’re taking to the digitized version of Win the War in the Kitchen on The National WWI Museum and Memorial’s website for a throwback menu your guests will love—even if they’re only seeing it over FaceTime.
Why We Love This Idea
Win the War in the Kitchen was published in 1918 by the State Council of Defense. The recipe book was meant to teach Americans (namely women) how to conserve food and reduce food waste during war times. While men were off fighting, women were asked to hold down the fort with their resourceful homemaking and culinary skills.
In fact, the recipe book opens with a letter from none other than President Woodrow Wilson, stating that, “in no direction can [women] so greatly assist as by enlisting in the service of the Food Administration and cheerfully accepting its direction and advice.” It’s 102 years old, so we’ll let “cheerfully accepting” slide…just this once.
Anyway, food conservation was key because it created a surplus of goods to export to soldiers and allies. That notion reminds us a lot of the two-per-person toilet paper limits, tortilla shortages and empty flour aisles we’ve been seeing at the grocery store lately. We’ve already been in conservation mode in quarantine for months, so why not cook like it? The patriotism parallel is just the cherry on top that makes this idea just the ticket for an unconventional Memorial Day Weekend.
The Best WWI-Era Recipes to Make for Memorial Day
There’s a ton to explore in this e-book, from conservation tips to a chapter on fat’s many benefits that starts by declaring “fats are the most precious thing in this war.” (Preach.) But the recipes are the real treasure, covering everything from salad to bread to sweets. Here are our favorites.
1. Potato Salad
Name a more essential picnic side. We’ll wait. It’s really simple, so feel free to spice it up with fresh dill, chopped bacon or hardboiled eggs.
- 2 cups boiled potatoes
- 1 cup celery or cucumbers, diced
- 2 teaspoons parsley or 1 tablespoon green peppers
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- Cut the potatoes into cubes and marinate with French dressing (use store-bought, or this WWI recipe).
- Add the celery or cucumber and mix thoroughly with dressing or mayonnaise.
- Add salt to taste and serve on lettuce leaves.
2. Corn Soup
We’re all for the convenience of canned veggies, but we’re betting a few fresh ears will make a great substitute.
- 1 can corn
- 2 cups boiling water
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons butter substitute (screw it, we're using butter)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Paprika to taste
- Add water to corn and simmer 20 minutes. Rub the kernels through a sieve. (Nowadays, you can just put them in the blender or food processor instead.)
- Make white sauce with butter substitute, cornstarch and milk, then add to corn mixture.
- Add salt and paprika. Serve with popped corn.
3. Tamale Pie
Now there’s a main you’re likely always excited to see (unless possum is more your style). This dish was actually considered a “meat extender” during WWI because it was filling and fed multiple people without using too much beef.
- 2 cups corn meal
- 2 ½ teaspoons salt
- 6 cups boiling water
- 1 onion
- 1 tablespoon fat
- 1 pound hamburger steak
- 2 cups tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 small sweet pepper, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Make mush by stirring the corn meal into boiling salted water. Let it cook 1 ½ hours.
- Brown onion in fat, then add the meat until it’s cooked.
- Add tomato, pepper and salt.
- Grease a baking dish and put down a layer of mush. Then, a layer of the seasoned meat and another of the mush.
- Bake 30 minutes (there’s no temperature listed in the book, but 400°F should do the trick).
4. Honey Drop Cookies
There was a big push to reduce America’s sugar intake during WWI. That’s why you’ll find lots of the recipe book’s desserts use alternative sweeteners, like molasses or honey.
- ¾ cup honey
- ¾ fat (butter or shortening will work fine)
- 1 egg, well-beaten
- 1 ½ cup white flour
- ¾ cup rice flour
- ½ teaspoon soda
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup raisins, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves (optional)
- Heat the honey and fat on the stove until the fat melts. Add the cinnamon and cloves if you’re including them. Turn off the heat.
- Sift flour, soda and salt together in a separate bowl.
- Once the honey mixture cools, add the egg, water and raisins. Then, slowly add the dry ingredients.
- Drop by the spoonful on a greased sheet. Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes at 355°F.
5. Lemon Milk Sherbert
After a long day in the yard, we’re eager to chill. Skip the store-bought stuff and try this three-ingredient recipe instead.
- 1 quart skim milk
- 1 ½ cup lemon juice
- 1 ½ cup simple syrup or sugar
- Combine lemon juice and syrup.
- Gradually add the milk. If added too rapidly or without constant stirring, the mixture will have a curdled appearance.