War Bread

From The Economical War-Time Cook Book, this recipe was designed to save white flour during World War I, substituting rye, wheat, and cornmeal instead. Although the United States never had official rationing during the first World War, Americans were still urged not to waste food, especially wheat, meats, fats, and sugar. Corn, “the food of the nation,” was promoted in particular as an economical alternative to flour.

War Bread:

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup boiling water or scalded milk
  • 1 tbsp shortening
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 3/4 to 2 cups wheat flour
  1. Put the cornmeal in a large bowl and pour in the boiling water. Add the shortening, molasses, and salt.
  2. Mix the yeast with 1/4 cup of lukewarm water.
  3. Let the cornmeal mixture cool until lukewarm, then add the yeast and flours and mix together.
  4. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead until smooth, about 15 minutes.
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Turn the dough once to grease the surface so that it doesn’t dry out. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  6. Punch dough down, then shape into a loaf. Place in a greased 8×4 loaf pan and let rise again until almost doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Bake for about 50 minutes.
Before the first rise…
…after the first rise…
…before the second rise…
…after the second rise.

Tasting notes:

As expected from the rye flour and cornmeal content, this is a fairly dense, very hearty bread. It does taste good though, especially considering that it was designed to prevent waste and use inexpensive ingredients! It’s interesting to see World War I-era recipes that compensate for flour shortages after living through some of the shortages in the Covid-19 pandemic. In my area, it was difficult to find all-purpose flour for the first month or so – but it took even longer for rye flour to come back on the shelves, so I couldn’t have made this bread then! During World War I, rye and wheat flour were seen as lower quality and less desirable than white flour, but in our time they are actually often more expensive and difficult to find.

References:

Hill, J. M. (1918). Economical war-time cook book. New York: George Sully and Company. https://archive.org/details/economicalwartim00hill/page/18/mode/2up

2 thoughts on “War Bread

  1. This looks like a lovely loaf of bread! In New England, this combination of wheat, rye, and cornmeal was called “thirded flour” and was used in a lot of baking. Wheat does not grow well in our climate, but rye and corn do, so this was a way of making use of what did well here. One of our popular breads, Boston Brown Bread, used thirded flour.

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