100 Years Ago: The Camouflage Cookery of World War I

16 Dec 1917 The Lincoln Star
newspaper headline.

According to the Housewives Magazine of 1918, the word ‘camouflage’ means a deception, an illusion, something that is not what it seems to be. Prior to WWI the art of camouflage (to mask soldiers) was used, but to a lesser degree than today. Just before WWI the invention of better military viewing scopes occurred coincidentally with the beginning of the cubism art movement–and it changed everything. During the World War camouflage, and the use of the word, seemed to be everywhere. It was even in the kitchen.

29 Nov 1917 Fort Scott Daily Tribune pumpkin-less pie

Because of shortages of sugar combined with wheat, meat and other rationing, housewives were faced with a dilemma at meal time. Their family’s usual comfort food was now absent, and they yearned for it. Housewives attended classes or read educational pamphlets on how to prepare food that seemed like contained sugar or wheat, but was a look-alike that used other ingredients.  The following are a variety of so-called camouflaged recipes gleaned from women’s magazines and newspapers of 1917-1918.

[From Housewives Magazine, 1918]

Camouflaged Hash
1 cup rice
2 onions, cut fine
Salt to taste
1/2 can tomatoes
1 pound Hamburg steak or less
Pepper to taste
Boil rice and drain. Add other ingredients or cook onion in a little fat before mixing. Bake an hour.

Camouflaged Pot Pie
2 carrots
2 onions
1/2 cup canned tomatoes
1/2 cup cooked hominy, rice or farina
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 tablespoon drippings
Cook the carrots, turnips and onions in boiling salt water for twenty minutes. slice them, add the tomatoes and arrange the vegetables in a baking dish, sprinkling salt and pepper and a little cooked hominy, rice or farina over each layer. Half fill the dish with tomato juice and arrange a layer of potatoes, boiled 3 minutes and sliced, on top with the slices overlapping. Dot over with small bits of the fat and bake two hours in a moderate oven, or until the potatoes are soft and browned.

At Christmas time when families felt the holidays would not be the same without their old favorites of gingerbread, cakes and sweets. In response to the need, housewife innovation flourished. The Lincoln Star newspaper of 16 December 1917 offered the following:

Old Fashioned One Two Three Four Cake
1/4 cup fat
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup flour
1 egg
2 t. baking powder
1/2 cup (scant) milk
1 t flavoring
Few grains salt
Bake in two layers and use jam or jelly filling. In substituting syrup or honey for sugar reduce the liquid one-fourth. In using corn syrup the amount of flour required will vary with the density of the syrup.

Honey Cake
1/3 cup honey
3 T fat
1 egg
1/4 cup flour
plus 1/2 t soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t cloves
1 cup raisins or nuts cut in small pieces
Heat honey and butter until butter melts and while mixture is warm, add spices. Mix and sift other dry ingredients and add with egg well beaten and raisins dredged with part of flour. If necessary add enough more flour to make a dough that will hold its shape. Drop by spoonfuls on greased tin and bake in moderate oven.

Butter Scotch
Butter scotch candy made with corn syrup as a partial substitute for sugar is delicious. The recipe follows:
1 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 T. Oleomargarine
Boil without stirring until brittle when dropped in cold water. Pour in shallow buttered pan and when cool mark into squares.

Another candy recipe in which no sugar is used, is made from fruit only and is known as “Fruit Paste.” Equal parts of dates, raisins, figs and prunes are ground together and then rolled in chopped nuts. This candy is particularly healthful for children.

Cocoa made with corn syrup instead of sugar is another “new wrinkle” of Mrs. A.G. Warner food emergency agent for Lincoln Nebraska. It is made as follows:
Cocoa Syrup
2 T. cocoa.
4 level T corn syrup (white)
1 cup water
Few grains salt
Boil and add hot milk to desired strength.

[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].

Boston Globe 30 August 1917 article on
recruitment as camouflagers.


Hidden Women: The Art of WWI Camouflage (Photos) The National Archives

Gizmodo: Why No One Used Camouflage Before WWI

The Telegraph: Secrets of World War I: Papier mache heads, ponies dressed as zebras and fluorescent sea lions

The Takeout: How WWI Propaganda forever changed the way Americans Eat

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6 Responses to 100 Years Ago: The Camouflage Cookery of World War I

  1. Cathleen Manning says:

    My mother had a recipe for Mock Apple Pie made with Ritz crackers…no apples. I wonder if it is a camouflaged recipe.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Cathy, the mock apple pie recipe could very well be one passed down from World War I. From 1917-1920 it was a necessity to use substitutes. They are still useful today when we run out of some of the essential ingredients, like … apples! 😀 Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Amy says:

    Very interesting—why was sugar rationed but not corn syrup? Don’t we still use corn syrup as a sugar substitute in lots of things (Coke, for example)?

  3. gachap says:

    looks like the pumpkinless pie was nothing but good old fashioned New England Indian Pudding in a crust!

  4. Pingback: 2018 National Women’s History Month: NH WOMEN & WORLD WAR I | Cow Hampshire

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