Reading Rarities: The AWVS Cook Book

awvscookbook
This book is available on Amazon.

Uniforms were everywhere during the World War Two period, of course, and one type was worn by the American Women’s Voluntary Service, or AWVS. This group was founded in 1940 when it became clear that America would someday enter the war. The early thinking was that we would eventually be bombed like Britain and occupied Europe.

When that didn’t happen, the AWVS became a volunteer clearing house. Members could be doing anything from rolling bandages to running nurseries for war workers’ children to working in canteens. Celebrities such as Jeanette MacDonald, Betty White, and Hattie McDaniel were members; in fact, MacDonald was a co-founder of the organization. By the end of the war the AWVS boasted over 325,000 members, with 32,000 in their junior division.

Legendary Jeanette MacDonald

One of the AWVS’s biggest ventures was selling war bonds, and it was typical for sellers to give away some kind of incentive if someone purchased a certain amount. That’s what I’m guessing American Women’s Voluntary Services Cook Book was. There’s really no accessible information out there about this book–all I could find out is that it was published in 1942.

However, certain aspects of the book are fairly easy to guess at. Since it is a cookbook of the World War Two period, there’s a big dash of patriotism: Food is a weapon. Do your part and don’t waste it. Be sure to get in the Basic Seven Food Groups. These and other slogans were all very common messages of the time. It also takes rationing into account, which means some recipes use alternative sweeteners and less meat and dairy. There’s a whole section devoted to honey, too.

Mobile canteen in Lima, Ohio, 1942. (Remarkable Ohio)

The book is very freeform in more ways than one. There are no pictures of finished dishes, and the recipes are left pretty open-ended in that there may not be exact measurements of certain ingredients or information about how a recipe is supposed to act when it’s done. In other words, it’s pretty typical of the time period, when cooking often was a legacy skill and many recipes assumed a cook’s kitchen prowess.

The book’s only real problem is haphazardry. It has an index but the book itself doesn’t have any kind of real flow to it. The meat section is next to the frosting section and the salad recipes follow drinks. It’s a good thing the book is small or the lack of organization would be maddening.

Pinterest

So yeah, I thought I’d review the book by cooking out of it a little. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that, and a lot of the recipes are intriguing. On the other hand, some look gross and strange, like the tomato in aspic and the prune soufflé. Oh, and the numerous recipes for cooking brains. Not going there, thanks.

I’ve tried getting a smattering of everything, so buckle up, people. Here we go…

Coffee Chiffon Pie

A diner might call this pie a “cool blonde in the ocean.”

Life is uncertain so eat dessert first, right? This pie was quite the experience. I was expecting it to look like a chocolate mousse but it’s more of a café au lait.

That’s not the half of it, though. The good news is that this chiffon would have been rather decadent in the days of rationing. A quarter pound of butter. Four eggs. Almost a cup of sugar. And almost a full cup of strong coffee. It all adds up to a jiggly, rich, custard-y, buzzy, salty confection. Yep, that’s right, I said salty. This pie has a teaspoon of sodium chloride and it kinda wants to be the star flavor here. Yipe. It tasted good, but I kept thinking it was going to pickle my little family and I. Next time I make it, and there will be a next time, I’m cutting the salt in half.

Boeuf Stroganoff

awvsstroganoff
Yum!

Contributed by the Princess V. Romanoff, this is supposedly authentic beef Stroganoff. Browned beef and onions simmered in a moderate oven with dill, thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and enough beef bouillon to cover the whole shebang. The secret is the long, slow cooking.

Well, Her Royal Highness was definitely on to something, because her Stroganoff tastes amazing and has a great depth of flavor. She did, however, leave out a few things. The broth didn’t reduce all that much in the oven so I thickened it on the stove and stirred in some Italian parsley when I put in the sour cream. There’s a lot of sauce, so this recipe is getting mushrooms next time because otherwise there’s not much to it. And since there were no hints as to how to serve it, I added fresh fettucine.

Cream Scones

My guys ate a couple of these apiece.

I could tell when I read the recipe for these that they were a very basic scone. Cream scones are fancy in their own way, though. The tops have an egg wash sprinkled with sugar. And they’ve got butter. Lots of butter. Lots of cream, of course. And lots of baking powder, so they get very high and fluffy. Since they don’t have a lot of flavor pretty much any sweet topping will set them off, and as a nod to the days of rationing we had these scones with strawberry jam and honey. Clotted cream would be nice too, mock or otherwise.

Oh, they’re good. They’re substantial, too. I just wish they had a little vanilla in them or something.

Sausage And Rice En Blanquette

awvssausageenblanquette
It tasted better than it looked.

OK, this one sounded a little weird. It also sounded delicious. In the end, it was a bit of both. Pork sausage and rice rolled up in blanched cabbage leaves and baked in tomato soup diluted with water. The catch is that the rice is uncooked. I was dubious, but I gave it a try. This time I tried to stick to the recipe as much as possible, although I didn’t fasten the rolls with toothpicks. The idea of baking toothpicks for an hour in the oven wasn’t exactly appealing.

Anyway, the dish came out fine…kinda. While it the flavor was great, some of the rice didn’t cook hardly at all and a couple of the cabbage leaves fell apart. We still gobbled it up, even my son, who normally has an aversion to anything green. Score for the AWVS.

Crackers For Tea Time

awvscrackersforteatime
This counts as lightly toasted, right?

You all know I like my tea, so I had to try these. They’re deceptively simple: Honey spread on saltines, sprinkled with chopped nuts (smashed almonds in my case), and lightly toasted in the oven. Easy, right? Yep. The one pitfall is they’re really easy to burn, so it’s best to watch them while they toast. It’s worth it, though, because these are a nice combo of salty and sweet without being cloying. They’d probably go well with some Earl Grey or Lipton’s. Constant Comment would work, too.

The other thing is they tend to stick to the plate as they cool, so they should be eaten right away. Teatime in the AWVS must have been a rushed affair, but I like mine leisurely, thanks.

Rolled Lettuce Salad

awvsrolledlettucesalad
We nicknamed these little rolls “salad sushi.”

The AWVS cookbook features several recipes submitted by celebrities, and the Rolled Lettuce Salad came from Jane Withers, who would have been sixteen at the time. Ham, pickle relish, cream cheese, and a little mayo rolled up in lettuce leaves. I’d like to know where she got the recipe because it’s an interesting idea. Like a pinwheel sandwich but with lettuce.

The rolls were tasty, although once they’re sliced it’s better not to touch them because they will fall apart. I do have some ideas for switching things up, though–deli ham instead of chopped, nix the mayo, and go easy on the relish. It would make the finished product less gloppy and they’d look better sliced. Either that or leave each serving rolled up and people can cut them themselves.

Braised Pork Chops

Gourmet a la AWVS. 🙂

The AWVS went a little crazy with the braised pork chop recipe–there are five variations and these chops can be cooked on the stove or in the oven. Technically, the book’s method of braising is more like steaming because it only calls for two tablespoons of water, but why quibble? I fixed mine with chili sauce and Worcestershire.

Pork can be tricky because there’s always the chance it comes out dry, but these weren’t too bad. I think next time I’ll add more liquid and do a traditional braise, though.

Chicken Maryland

This one’s a keeper, I think.

Chicken Maryland isn’t unfamiliar at my house–I’ve made the Betty Crocker version many times–and the AWVS’s take couldn’t be more different except for the pan gravy. The Betty Crocker chicken has a very light flour coating spiced with paprika, celery salt, and pepper, but the AWVS recipe features seasoned flour, egg, and coarse breadcrumbs.

Oh my word, it was tasty. The only thing I would change is that next time I’ll season the chicken instead of the flour because the end product was a little bland and I had to overseason the gravy to make up for it. Dinner was still a big hit, though, so it’s all good.

Creole Shrimps

creoleshrimps
Mmm…shrimps.

This recipe was contributed by Frank Morgan, so I was interested in seeing how it tasted. Morgan’s family got rich distributing Angostura Bitters and Morgan was famously alcoholic, but did he like food with his spirits? Apparently yes.

He seemed to like strong spices, too. I know Creole cooking uses curry powder occasionally and it’s the dominant player here, offset by chili sauce, paprika, cayenne, and salt. Oh, and a wee bit of sherry. This meal is really good. It doesn’t feature the Holy Trinity and doesn’t have the multi-dimensional flavor that seems to be typical of Creole cuisine, but it’s not too shabby. Definitely making Mr. Morgan’s shrimps again.


Good going, AWVS. This cookbook may have a few rough spots, but overall it’s a fine piece of work with a lot of variety and more hits than misses. It must have felt like a steal to people who were able to get a copy during the war. Heck, it still feels like a steal. I will absolutely be trying more recipes.

Another review is coming on Saturday. Thanks for reading, all…

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