A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

April 2004

Prudence Penny's Wartime Wisdom

by Alyssa Shirley Morein, Curator of Collections

  World War II had a great impact on daily life in America. Among the many new realities of the time were air-raid drills in schoolrooms, scrap-metal and rubber drives, and rationing of food and other goods imposed by the Office of Price Administration.

American women, who had been called to duty in the workforce and possibly also had spouses overseas, grappled with another new hardship: grocery shopping with ration stamps. This was no easy task. Shoppers received stamps of different colors for different types of foodųsome good for thirty days, others valid a week at a time but could be held over until they expired the last week of the monthųand point values of foods were subject to change, so planning at home often proved difficult.

Prudence Penny's Coupon Cookery
Prudence Penny‚s Coupon Cookery, front cover.
Murray & Gee, Publishers: Hollywood, CA, 1943.
„An investment that will pay for itself many times over in money,
time, patience, nutrition value, and good meals!š ųMuseum Library.

Thankfully, shoppers were not without help. In 1943, the 128-page Coupon Cookery was published. Its author, Prudence Penny, counsels readers how to provide their families with „sound nutrition plus appetite-appeal within the bounds of Uncle Sam‚s allowance.š The book, which sold for $1.50, contains a number of tongue-in-cheek illustrations featuring a perky-looking, apron-clad housewife, and patriotic poetry is peppered throughout. Its dedication begins, „To the housewives of America/ those soldiers, tried and true/ who are struggling on the homefront/ to serve good meals to you!š Good nutrition is presented as the ultimate patriotic statement, as is good cooking: „U. S. needs US strong!š „Wars may come and go, but real, red-blooded American Homemakers will put up a struggle to preserve that cherished custom of Good Eating!š

Coupon Cookery, p. 21
It may not be convenient
But we don't admit defeat
For in spite of War and Rationing
America must eat
It may take a deal of cunning
And a bit of laughter, too
To keep the meal-time pleasant
When the coupons are too few!

To cook „Good Meals, In Spite of It Allš required a little magic.
ų Coupon Cookery, p. 21.

In addition to advice on organizing and „s-t-r-e-t-c-hingš ration points, Ms. Penny‚s book includes tables for keeping track of different foods‚ point values and hundreds of recipes designed to make the most of available ingredientsųfor example, „Pork Knuckles in Sour Cream,š „Liver Gems,š and „Hearty Lima Molds.š In the chapter „Prudent Tips and Penny Savers,š readers are reminded that tough cuts of meat can be made more enjoyable by long, slow cooking, and learn how to substitute baking powder for eggs. Coffee, which was strictly rationed, could be stretched by being mixed with Soyfee, an unrationed coffee substitute. And through it all, of course, readers were urged to turn in cans for scrap metal.

World War II ration stamps
World War II ration stamps

World War II ration stamps belonging to Auburn citizens.
ųWWII Ephemera Collection, Museum Archives

The extreme economies suggested by this book may seem to some as antiquated as its bright, booster-ish turns of phrase and old-fashioned recipes. But those who lived through World War II witnessed a unique period in American historyųwhen civilians across thousands of miles were unified in their actions and struggles by a single purpose. Prudence Penny‚s book is an intriguing and irreplaceable symbol of that era.

Alyssa Shirley Morein