Boom, Bust, War + Edith Adams
If you visit the Museum of Vancouver’s 1930s-1940s: Boom, Bust, and War, you’ll see multiple references to Edith Adams and her Wartime Cookbooks. ‘Easter has Eggs and Eggs – and Each Means A Good Dish.’
Like Betty Crocker, Edith Adams didn’t exist. Ms. Adams – whose apostrophe seems to have snuck right over time – was the creation of multiple writers and editors at the Vancouver Sun. Real or not, this Edith was a trusted source for wartime Canadian homemakers.
‘Food, gasoline and metal went first to the war effort,’ the MOV explains, ‘forcing the folks at home to limit their consumption. Ration quotas strictly controlled allowance of these items based on the age and number in the family, and whether members were ill or pregnant.’
Thankfully, Edith offered step by step suggestions on how to cook in scarcity. Want to make one pound of butter into two?
‘Take the top cream from a bottle of milk and add enough milk to make 2 cups,’ she said. ‘Soak 1 tablespoon gelatin in 2 tablespoons milk for 5 minutes. Place over hot water until gelatin dissolves. Cut 1 pound butter into small pieces and when soft gradually whip milk and dissolved gelatin mixture into butter with dover beater. After milk is all thoroughly beaten in, add 1 teaspoon salt. Place on ice to harden.’
Ms. Adams also offered up substitutions. Can’t access one cup of butter? Try ‘4 to 5 cups (eep) of clarified bacon fat, ½ cup of suet with sale, or 7/8 cup cottonseed, corn or nut oil.’
Edith did have some strict nutritional demands for Canadian families. “Growing children should have 1 quart of milk a day,’ said she, ‘and adults 1 pint, but where this is not possible allow 1 pint for each member of the family daily.’
Edith’s ‘Kitchen Handies’ offered more relief to those scraping for ingredients. ‘Use little water when cooking vegetables’ she said, ‘except for the strong-flavored varieties. Always save any water, or liquid from canned vegetables, for use in soups and sauces.’
‘To improve the flavor of old potatoes, add a little sugar to the water in which they are boiled. ‘ ‘Stale loaves may be freshened by wrapping in a wet cloth for half a minute. Remove the cloth and bake in a slow oven for half an hour.’ ‘Cakes will keep fresh longer if an apple is placed in the air-tight container in which they are stored.’
Speaking of cakes, Edith Adams always made time for sweets. ‘There is always a demand for a piece of fudge or nut brittle where young and old gather.’ ‘For the warmer days in summer, a light and fluffy cottage pudding with a tasty lemon sauce is far more suitable than a steamed fruit pudding and caramel sauce.’
Ms. Adams’ cookbooks included recipes sourced from readers. There was Inexpensive White Fruit Cake (a prize-winning submission from Mrs. J. Phimister, 445 West Fifteenth Avenue) or Eggless War Cake, Swedish Charm Cake (shoutout to Mrs. Holger Halbarson of Cherryville, BC), Lunch Box Health Dainties, Pecan Snow Balls, Taffy Apples (a nod to 15 year old Bob Harris, 1210 Lakewood Drive). It is Mrs. Margaret Bunch of Hornby Street whom we have to thank for Popcorn Balls crafted from popped corn, molasses, brown sugar, butter, vinegar, and soda.
In the Museum of Vancouver’ 1930s-1940s: Boom, Bust, and War exhibit, you’ll also get a glimpse of war era Canadian kitchens, ingredients, and cooking implements that would have been used in bringing Edith Adams’ recipes to the table.
Written by Elizabeth Newton