There are a lot of wonderful blogs out there run by people who know how to cook and who are posting great dishes, carefully tested and perfected, which they highly recommend.

This is not one of them.

My name is Bethany. I’m an enthusiastic historian and a mediocre-at-best cook. It was really only a matter of time before I attempted to combine the two to see what would happen. 

This blog comes out of research I’ve been doing on the Great War humanitarian efforts using the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection. Since women were heavily involved in humanitarian undertakings, articles frequently appeared on the “women’s pages,” and along with facts and figures on outreach I kept stumbling across old recipes. The ingredients, and the instructions – or more often, the complete lack thereof – fascinated me. I’d been meaning to get into the kitchen more. Why not get on with it, using incomplete and sometimes strange directions from over a century ago? And when sharing the results/absolute failures, why not talk about the history of that time?  What could be better?

Lots of things, I suspect, but let’s find out.

For each posting here, I’m talking about a historical event connected to the Great War time period to see what people reading that paper would have learned.  I’ll then make one or more recipes from that week’s newspaper, providing both the original and updated instructions, commentary on how things went, and a final verdict on whether the recipe was good, bad, or is something someone else who knows how to cook might have success with, because I sure didn’t.

Recipes will be determined by what catches my eye in that week’s readings, will probably be dessert-based, and will most likely vary drastically in quality.

The recipes and newspapers contained here are all American. I’m a French historian by trade, and there are wonderful collections of digitized French newspapers available, but I’ve chosen to stick with the American ones. It’s in everyone’s best interest if we don’t add linguistic and measurement issues on to my already numerous challenges with cooking.   

I should note finally that this is not, by any means, a period-correct recipe re-enactment. I’ll be varying instructions to adjust for modern kitchen situations, modern ingredients, and, at times, taste. It’ll be close to the original, but not quite. We’re operating here on the time-worn principle of “Eh, Good Enough.”

It really can’t be anything else, actually. For starters, I like my arteries too much to use anywhere near the quantities of lard most recipes called for. For seconders, I don’t have access to a woodburning stove, and I’m not allowed to light a giant fire in the middle of the living room to cook on. I asked. My family was pretty adamant in their response.

That’s about it, I think. Welcome to Cooking the Great War. Come for the history, stay for the food! 

Copyright Comment:

All newspaper materials used in this blog are in the public domain. Per the Library of Congress’ statement for the Chronicling America site, “Newspapers published in the United States prior to 1923 are in the public domain in their entirety.” I have provided links to the original documents throughout. Other material and illustrations used are presented with links to the provider. If there are concerns with any item used, please let me know promptly at cookingthegreatwar@gmail.com.

Bethany S. Keenan teaches European history at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. She is a specialist in twentieth-century France. Her current research focuses on Franco-American humanitarian efforts during the Great War. When she is not reading, grading, or wrecking the kitchen, she enjoys time with her family, hula-hooping, playing the ukulele, and calligraphy – just not all at once.