The American Honey Institute booklet from 1945 is one of my favorite mid-century food pamphlets. While a lot of the mid-century brochures were propaganda for specific food manufacturers, Old Favorite Honey Recipes provides specific cultural insight by focusing on the ingredient itself as a substitute for sugar while it was being rationed during WWII.
Sugar rationing is something that confuses a lot of people today when looking back at WWII rations. Unlike supplies that were more obviously used on the front lines, sugar was predominantly rationed to prevent chaos from scarcity. Supplies from places like the Philippines and Java were cut off and the transportation resources from other suppliers were needed for the war effort. Sugar was the first food to be rationed, starting in 1942 and lasting until 1947. Here’s a video from the Office of Price Administration explaining why sugar was still rationed after the war:
Allotted amounts were generally 8 oz per week. In case your conversion skills are a little rusty, that’s 1 CUP. That’s barely anything! Even with that allowance, sugar wasn’t always available. Needless to say, this required a little creativity in the kitchen. In swoops the American Honey Institute and their adorable cross-stich design recipe book:
Despite it not really being necessary due to the lack of too many other options, the Honey Institute did take it upon themselves to highlight other reasons and benefits to using honey, including the following:
- Honey puts no tax upon the digestive system
- Honey contains vitamins
- Honey contains minerals
- Honey is suitable for infant feeding
- Honey is a good food for growing children
They also included advice for storage and measuring (measure shortening first, then measure honey in the same measuring unit). Most useful, however, were the tips and recipes for substituting honey for sugar:
“A general rule is to reduce the amount of liquid 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used to replace sugar. Cakes and cookies made with honey are noted for their keeping qualities. The ability of honey to absorb and retain moisture and thus retard the drying out and staling of baked goods is of great importance to the homemaker who wishes to do her baking in advance. The property combined with the food value and flavor of honey is valuable also to the baker.”
Recipe categories are broken down into beverages, breads, cakes, candies, confitures, cookies, desserts, meats, salads, sandwiches, and vegetables. The meat section included things like honey baked ham and less obvious categories of vegetables and salads are mostly things like glazed carrots and different fruit salads. Of over 200 recipes, most look pretty good and could probably stand the test of time. A few are laughable in their simplicity – was a recipe for a honey and butter sandwich really necessary? Or something called “Marguerites” – just saltines topped with honey and nuts and then baked? Something just doesn’t sound appealing about “Honey Peanut Rocks” though!
It should be noted that the recipes are not all complete swaps for sugar; some still include sugar at reduced quantities.
Here are some of my favorites:
I learned about the awesomeness that is penuche. It’s basically a brown sugar fudge.
The candy section must have been somebody’s favorite, judging by the oil stains on those pages, and with good reason – all of those caramel, taffy, and divinity recipes look pretty damn good.
I love that there are cakes for every day. I suppose that since sugar was scare cakes felt like even more of a special occasion food. There is a recipe for Everyday Cookies too!
And of course, one last push highlighting the wholesome era of Sundays suppers and warm glasses of milk:
As an interesting side note, some credit war rationing for creating healthier lifestyles. Of course, a lot of other factors like less gasoline (so less driving, more walking) were at play, and it’s hard to determine how many people stuck to these healthier diets and how many dove right back into the rationed items as soon as they were available. Most of these recipes look like pretty easy ones to give a whirl today though. Perhaps a little sugar swapping wouldn’t hurt in contemporary society.