In honor of Veterans Day, I’m dedicating today’s post to those who served and those who cooked, especially during the meat-deprived WWII years. Back in ’43, the year this Betty Crocker food-buying and recipe booklet was published, women in charge of family meals were told they were soldiers on the home front. “You must make a little do where there was an abundance before.” Wartime meal planning and preparation meant stretching the available meat supply, buying less familiar cuts of meat, and slowly introducing new, yet nutrient dense food to your family.
“The big concern when the war started was that it would last a long time,” explains Brian Wansink, an eating behavior specialist at Cornell University who wrote about changing eating habits on the home front back in 2002. “Beef and pork were sent overseas to either feed our troops or our allies. And at that point people didn’t really eat fish and chicken, so the biggest threat to American health at that time was malnutrition due to lack of protein” he says. “But one thing that was plentiful was all the leftover stuff.” You know. Liver. Kidneys. Oxtails, shanks, necks, shoulders.
Enter Uncle Sam. Dr Wansink writes that the Department of Defense asked Margaret Mead and dozens of other high-profile anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists to put their heads together and come up with a plan to change eating habits in America. The results were interesting. Turns out people conform when you remove barriers. In other words, make it easier for them to cooperate. Sell the idea that there are lots of people sacrificing for freedom. This is one thing you can do for the war effort. Also, they learned by appealing to the person who has the biggest impact on the rest of the family—THE MOTHER–the more success you’ll have. You can’t browbeat Mrs. Jones into serving liver each night of the week. It won’t work, but one or two dinners a week? OK. And it’s important to incorporate these “variety” meats (yes, that’s where they got their name) into already familiar menu items. Cookbooks became overrun with recipes for liver loaf, green peppers stuffed with liver, and liver with scalloped potatoes, just to name a few.
But here’s the thing. I can’t do liver now. I might be able to do lamb shanks, though. I found a recipe from 1943 for braised lamb shanks and combined it with a colorful post-war magazine ad for lamb stew. That relic came from my mother’s files, and when both recipes were melded with some
modern ingredients, I had one patriotic masterpiece on my hands.
War and Peace Braised Lamb Shank Stew
2 pounds lamb shanks*, cut into pieces
Mix with 2 tbsp. flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1/8 tsp. pepper, 1/4 chili powder (I used Penzey’s Chili 3000) and then brown in 4 tbsp. oil. (I put the flour mixture into a plastic bag to coat all the pieces and added the leftover flour to the pot). Add 2 cups of water, 1 bay leaf and 2 cans Hunts tomato sauce. (There was no size mentioned in the original recipe, but the can in the ad looked small. I used 2 8-oz cans of roasted garlic- flavored sauce). Simmer for 1 1/4-1 1/2 hours. Add 4 carrots, cut in medium chunks, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery and cook on low for another hour. Then, just because I wanted some green, I added frozen petite peas. Here was the result:
Unbelievably, bombastically, astoundingly delicious. I cooked this stew all afternoon on low, just because. The meat was falling off the bones and melted in your mouth. The only accompaniment required is a beautiful loaf of rustic bread, which I didn’t have, but I imagined a crusty slice of sourdough sopping up all that luscious thick sauce. Maybe next time.
This recipe was created out of great scarcity and improved upon with products manufactured when our cup runneth over. It could be the most delicious creation for the blog so far. One thing I know, though, it’s a new classic for me. I’ll make it again and again this fall and winter. I’d recommend the dish for a cold weekend when you have the time to cook low and slow.
*I purchased the lamb shanks at a rural butcher’s shop and asked one of the staff to cut the shanks into two-inch pieces.