A century ago, Canada was at war. The battle for Vimy Ridge took place on April 9 to 12, 1917, during which 3,600 Canadians lost their lives and thousands were wounded.
Back in Canada, families supported the war effort in many ways, including in their kitchens. They were encouraged to be frugal, eliminate kitchen waste, preserve fresh food for wintertime and cut down on those items needed in large volumes for our troops and allies overseas: flour, sugar, butter, beef and pork. In other words, to cook more beans and less beef, substitute whole grain flours for refined white flour, use bacon drippings in place of butter and vegetable shortening in place of lard. Baking with fine white sugar was discouraged in favour of using brown sugar, syrup and molasses instead. Even peeling a potato became a patriotic act: to cut the peels as thinly as possible so as to waste none of the flesh. And it goes without saying that leftovers were never, ever to be tossed away.
A new law in Canada made it illegal to stockpile or “hoard” foods such as flour and sugar. At the same time, a law banning margarine was suspended from 1917-23 due to shortages of butter caused by the war.
In Ottawa, the federal government created the Canada Food Board to appeal to home cooks and suggest ways in which they could achieve parsimony and patriotism in equal measure. It produced a series of illustrations, like comics, published in newspapers to remind home cooks what was at stake. For instance, one illustration calculated the cost of wasting sugar: if every Canadian wasted a teaspoon of sugar every day for a year, at 10 cents per pound, it would equal the value of 265 airplanes at $15,000 each. Another illustration warned against wasting bread, by which “waste” included overeating and throwing away the crusts: one ounce of bread per day per Canadian would fill 17 ships in the course of a year.
The food board issued a directive to “Public Eating Places” such as restaurants and university cafeterias: to use no more than two lbs. of sugar per 90 meals served (cheaper “yellow” sugar not white) and, for every four pounds of white flour, to use at least one pound of alternative flour such as oatmeal, corn and whole grain.
The board also encouraged farmers to produce more food with a series of colourful posters bearing titles such as “Canada’s Beef Opportunity,” and “Canada’s Butter Opportunity.” For instance, the beef poster stated that Britain buys $1,077,154,000 worth of beef annually, of which just $29,680,000 came from Canada. The bold print states “Speed up — We must do better.”
This recipe for Strawberry Pudding appeared in the Saskatoon Daily Star in August 1918 during the First World War. The original instructions were brief, assuming everyone knew how to steam an old-fashioned pudding. I did not, however, I looked it up in a modern cookbook and this method works well. I made the pudding a second time, cooking it in six 250-ml jelly jars, as shown in the photograph. If using jelly jars, cut the cooking time in half.
- 1 c. brown sugar 1 egg
- 1/4 c. soft butter 1 c. milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2/3 c. flour
- 1 tsp. cream of tartar 1/2 tsp. baking soda 1/4 tsp. cinnamon 2/3 c. sliced strawberries
- Strawberries and whipped cream for serving
Before you start, choose a pudding bowl and a pot in which to steam it. The pudding bowl should have a capacity of at least 6 cups. It should be heatproof and fit inside the pot.
The pot should have a lid. Rip a piece of tinfoil to cover the pudding bowl and smear it lightly with butter. The foil should wrap over the bowl but not hang down too far. Lightly butter the inside of the bowl. Put the bowl into the pot. Add water to the pot to come halfway up the bowl. The water should not touch the foil. Trim the foil if necessary. Remove the bowl. Put the pot on the stove, place the lid and heat the water to a gentle simmer.
While the water is heating, make the pudding: Cream together the brown sugar and egg. Add the butter, milk and vanilla. Blend well. Stir together the dry ingredients and mix into the batter. Stir in the strawberries. Pour the batter into the pudding bowl. It should be half full; the pudding will expand in cooking. Cover with the prepared tinfoil. Place the pudding bowl into the simmering water, put the lid on the pot and simmer 2 hours. Do not lift the lid for the first half-hour, after which you can check the water level and add more water if needed.
Remove the pudding from the water and leave to cool. Tip the pudding out of the bowl. Serve it flat-side down, garnished with whipped cream and strawberries.