Friday, October 13, 2023

Cookbooks and Sugar Rationing During WWII

By Marie Wells Coutu

During a recent visit to my hometown, my sister and I made our favorite dessert from childhood—chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Although we both have handwritten copies, we dug out Mother’s old cookbooks to find the original recipe.

The tattered pages of this 1945
cookbook are a testament to how
much my mother used it

It came from a cookbook produced for Lever Brothers’ Golden Jubilee in 1945 that promoted the use of Spry vegetable shortening. The cover of “10 Luscious New Cakes” touts that these recipes feature Spry’s “amazing new one-bowl method.” Spry’s spokesperson, the fictional character Aunt Jenny, is quoted as saying “It’s easy now to get lighter, more delicious cakes—even if you’re short on sugar.”

The first shortening made entirely from vegetable oil was introduced as Crisco by Procter & Gamble in 1911. It provided an alternative to lard, which is made from animal fats. Both helped cooks produce tender and flaky pie crusts, biscuits, and other baked goods.

Lever Brothers introduced Spry in 1936 as a competitor to Crisco, and within only three years it had gained 75% of Crisco’s market share. This success has been attributed to aggressive marketing using “Aunt Jenny.” I suspect the widespread distribution of numerous Aunt Jenny recipe books contributed, as attested to by the collection my mother had.

I don’t know how many of Aunt Jenny’s recipes she actually used, but the Fudge Bar Cake and Minute Fudge Frosting became our family’s favorite. In our home, chocolate cake automatically meant this cake and frosting, and it was always requested for birthdays and other special occasions. [Confession: in her later years, Mother would use a cake mix, but she always made the frosting from this recipe.]

The notation on the cover about the recipes being delicious “even if you’re short on sugar” made me curious about sugar shortages. Of course, I knew about World War II rationing, but I didn’t know the specifics about how sugar was affected. According to the National Park Service [Sugar: The First and Last Food Rationed on the World War II Home Front (U.S. National Park Service)], imports from Hawaii and the Philippines stopped following the Japanese invasion in December 1941, and German U-Boat attacks limited shipments from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Sales of sugar in the U.S. were halted in late April 1942, and rationing began. Even after the war ended, the global supply of sugar was limited due to disruptions from the war and low crop yields. Sugar rationing in the U.S. continued until June 1947.

In May 1945, the ration of sugar was cut to 15 pounds per person per year. The chocolate cake and frosting recipes each call for one cup of sugar for a single layer. Making a two-layer cake would have used nearly all the sugar ration for a family of four for one week. No wonder cakes were made during the war only for special occasions!

Mother saved a number of other free Spry cookbooks, including “Aunt Jenny Starts a Bride Off Right,” “Good Cooking Made Easy,” and “Enjoy Good Eating Every Day the Easy Spry Way.” I even found a copy of “Aunt Jenny’s Favorite Recipes” among Mother’s cookbooks. That one was reprinted under the public domain in 2018 and is also available to download from the Internet Archive.

If you want to try out any of the recipes, however, you’ll have to use Crisco or another brand of vegetable shortening, since Lever stopped producing Spry sometime in the 1970s.

Aunt Jenny offered recipes and
techniques for cooks during WWII

Multi-award-winning author Marie Wells Coutu finds beauty in surprising places, like undiscovered treasures, old houses, and gnarly trees. All three books in her Mended Vessels series, contemporary stories based on the lives of biblical women, have won awards in multiple contests. She is currently working on historical romances set in her native western Kentucky in the 1930s and 1940s. Her historical short story, “All That Glitters,” won honorable mention in the 2023 Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. You can find more about Marie and her novels at her website,

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. This was very interesting. I don't use much sugar but I think 15 pounds would still limit me quite a bit. Keeping these standards in mind, I wouldn't be feeding hummingbirds!!