CORVALLIS, Ore. – Recipes are a snapshot of a nation's history.
From wiggly gelatin molds to cola cakes to vegetarian tofu turkey, recipes reflect the size of our wallets, the pace of our lives and the extent of our values. Recipes can even tell us about the diversity of our communities and how wars, global trade and economic vicissitudes affect what we put in our bellies.
So in honor of October being American Archives Month, Oregon State University's Valley Library will host on Oct. 17 a potluck of dishes made from recipes published mainly during World War I. The recipes were originally published by the Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU) Extension Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture largely for homemakers and youth clubs.
"These recipes are documenting a period when austerity measures were taken," said archivist Karl McCreary, who has made one of the recipes, a carrot pie. "It speaks volumes when you see the title of one of these publications called 'War Breads and Cakes.' They came up with these as a way to cope with the times, with shortages and emergencies. But there are also recipes that reflect when times were normal and fat. So it's an interesting mix."
The archives staff will prepare some of the dishes for the event, but they are also seeking volunteers to join in. Anyone interested in doing so can stop by the archives reference desk on the third floor of the library and peruse a folder containing more than 300 old-time recipes. Staff will then photocopy the chosen recipe, so the person can take the copy home and prepare the dish. People are not obligated to return to campus with their new culinary creation, but if they do, a recipe card will be place in front of the dish so others know what the ingredients are.
The titles of the publications containing the recipes show a time when the nation was tightening its belt and making sacrifices in the kitchen to feed the troops on the Western Front. Peanut butter and cheese became substitutes for protein previously obtained from meat. Potatoes, cornmeal, rice, rye and ground vetch beans showed up in baked goods as a replacement for wheat.
For example, a 1917 Extension bulletin, "Substitutes for Meat," includes recipes for baked vetch, peanut butter loaf, baked macaroni with peanut butter, and cottage cheese nut loaf.
Many of the recipes are from 1916-18, but the folder also contains a 1909 publication called "Recipes for Use in Freshmen Cooking Classes" and an Extension bulletin from 1939, "Low Cost Menus for One Month With Recipes." A 1923 USDA bulletin, "Corn and its Uses as Food," includes a recipe for scrapple containing 10 pounds of whole hog heads, 2 ½ pounds of hog livers and hearts, and 6 pounds of cornmeal. A 1912 USDA bulletin titled "Cheese and its Economical Uses in the Diet" includes a recipe for cheese jelly salad, which combines one cup of whipped cream, a half-cup of grated cheese, a tablespoon of gelatin, and salt and pepper.
Cheese jelly salad may have come and gone, but the OSU Extension Service remains a stalwart source of information on food preparation and storage. Across the state, it trains Oregonians to preserve food safely, teaches families and youngsters how to eat nutritiously, and publishes recipes and guides on food preservation and storage. Some of the recipes are available at http://healthyrecipes.oregonstate.edu/all-recipes.
The Oct. 17 tasting will be held on the third floor of the library in the Willamette Room East 3622 from noon to 1:15 p.m.
Each weekday in October, the archives staff will post a new recipe from the folder on their Web site at http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/archives/.