Saturday, October 18, 2014

Molly's Nut and Raisin Bread

A tasty bread for breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. Or for a snack.

I'm going to apologize in advance: this is a long post. Like, a really long one. Maybe longer than any other one I've done so far on this blog, and so if you're in a rush, I promise I won't judge you for skimming. Or just looking at the pictures.

(There are a lot of pictures.)

So why, you may ask, is this post so long? Was this recipe especially complicated? Did it require more than one attempt. Yes, and no respectively, and you'll hear all about that in a minute. Long story short, for Columbus Day weekend, I went down to visit my aunt and uncle in Washington, D.C. and this was the recipe I picked to bring down with me and feature on the blog. And because I'm me, and we were in D.C., we did a lot of wandering around museums and memorials dedicated to one of my favorite periods in history to study. Since I'm always looking for ways to keep this blog fresh and interesting, I decided to share some of the trip with all of you!

As we all probably know, rationing was kind of a big deal during the Second World War. True, America didn't suffer as badly as most of the other nations involved in the conflict (rationing in Britain continued into the 1950's, and people in Japan were still dying of starvation years after the war ended even with attempts at relief efforts in place), but it still changed day to day life for people from the wealthiest man in the nation to the poorest. Even the least passionate scholar can guess about some of the stuff that got rationed - sugar, eggs, gasoline, rubber, metal, all things that were needed for the war effort - but some of it can seem a little surprising.

Molly's Cook Book - which is where this recipe comes from - specifically mentions that sliced bread was something the government effectively ordered everyone to stop producing, as they believed sliced bread went stale faster than a full loaf. People were pretty sure this was utterly ridiculous and made fun of it a bit. The book also mentions that fresh bread was hugely important to soldiers overseas, although I can promise fresh anything was wildly appreciated by combat troops in each theater of the war.

Molly's house keeper Mrs. Gilford makes her own bread to help the war effort, and tests out new recipes with Molly and her friends Linda and Susan. This is supposed to be one of her recipes, and it's a pretty simple one to make because it doesn't involve yeast! Which is always a plus in my book.

I doubled my recipe initially, so these portions are visually off from what's published in the cookbook, but it's a pretty easy recipe to double or half as necessary. You take 3/4 cups of white flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and mix it all together in a bowl. Then add 1/3 cups of chopped nuts (I used walnuts) and 1/3 cup of raisins, and mix them in as well.

Then come the wet ingredients: 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of melted butter, 1 1/4 cups of milk and 1/4 cup molasses get mixed together in a bowl before you add the wet ingredients and mix everything together into a nice thick batter. This all gets poured into a cleaned out 16 ounce coffee can, although the cans we found were much smaller, and this caused some problems.

Oddly, greasing the cans worked out very well, and the bread wound up being really easy to pop out of the can when it was ready! Which was not what I was expecting, so I was pleased.

So, why did I have to make this twice?

Well, the first time, I put way too much batter in the coffee cans. About half an hour after putting them in the oven, my brother asked if anyone else could smell something burning, and I realized oh. Oh dear. Oh no.

They'd bubbled over and dripped all over the oven, so I had to scrap the whole thing and start again. I was pretty frustrated with myself, because I kind of had a feeling that this would happen, but oh well. I remade the batter, tried it again with a lot less in each can, and this was the result:

You cut the bottom of the cans off with a can opener and gently push the bread out. It takes about an hour to cook at 350 degrees.

Why bake it in a coffee can? I haven't been able to find any historical sources to give me an answer, but I'd guess that this is another way to make as much use out of different metal products as possible before handing them in for scrap. After you're done with the can, it's very easy to squish it flat, and bring it and the bottoms in to any scrap metal drives going on for the war effort, thus eliminating the need for a unique metal baking dish.

I was a little worried about how well this would travel (mostly because it's kind of shaped like an artillery shell and I didn't want airport security to freak out about the weird shape in the x-ray, which has happened to us before thanks to my brother's toy cars and a bracelet of my sister's), but it made it off the plane in one piece and was ready to be delivered to my aunt and uncle!

So, how did it taste?

Really, really good. The molasses and raisins definitely make it a sweeter bread than you might want to serve with dinner, but it would be a great breakfast treat or snack, and I can guarantee it tastes good with butter. When I brought the second loaf to my grandparents and joked about serving it with WWII era margarine, they laughed and said yeah no, they'll take a pass on that, because they remember it with pretty much anything but fondness.

Jam would also probably taste good on it, and it's fine to eat by itself as well! I'm happy to report that both loaves were devoured quickly, and apparently got to be shared with quite a few more people than I'd originally intended!

It's definitely got more of a breadish texture than a cake, and I didn't think it was dry even after being frozen, thawed out and thrown in a backpack to take on a plane. That alone would make it a winner for me! The fact that it's actually pretty easy to make is just an added bonus.

So, where did we wind up going during our stay?

The better question is probably where didn't I drag Molly with us on this particular excursion, which was sort of by accident in some ways. Our schedule wasn't super definitive, so I took her along in anticipation of having things to photograph with her. And photograph I did!

Our first stop was the National Archives, which doesn't allow pictures in a majority of its exhibits, so unfortunately you don't get photo evidence of the D-Day newsreel I got to put together. Actually, I'm pretty sure they're sticklers about no pictures at all considering how fragile a lot of their artifacts are, and I'm more than happy to respect that.

Next we went to the National Museum of American History, which includes one of my favorite exhibits I've ever seen - The Price of Freedom: Americans at War. It tells a pretty comprehensive history of Americans in conflict with each other and other countries, and includes cool artifacts like the chairs Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant used during the surrender ceremony at Appomattox Court House, George Washington's sword and scabbard, and George Gay's flight jacket. George Gay was the sole survivor from Torpedo Squadron 8 during the battle of Midway.

It also has a lot of great artifacts from the home front, like these posters and cookbooks!

Thanks to a hands on activity station, my dad and I both discovered we would not have been successful Rosie the Riveters, and I got to feel a little smug that I was able to correctly identify a lot of the equipment and weaponry in the World War II part of the exhibit that my fellow museum goers tried to pass off as tommy guns and flamethrowers.

While most of the trip was me revisiting places I've been before in an attempt to spend a little more time looking at the exhibits, we did go to some new places as well, including the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is basically an addition to the Air and Space Museum located in Chantilly, Virginia. It 's home to a lot of the larger objects in the collection that just won't fit in the other Air and Space museum: things like the Enola Gay (the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima), an SR-71 Blackbird (the plane the X-Men get around in, in many incarnations of the story) and the space shuttle Discovery, along with other artifacts like Jimmy Doolittle's dress uniform, flight jackets from the Flying Tigers, one of Amelia Earhart's flight suits, and a ton of Charles Lindbergh memorabilia.

But one of the things I was most excited to see didn't belong to any of those people, and as I found out, apparently a lot of people don't know much about this part of American history!

The Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were a highly elite group of female aviators who decided to put their skills to good use during the war to ferry military aircraft across the country to facilities that needed them, thus freeing up a male pilot who could then serve on the front lines. Although they weren't trained for combat, they were still taught very similarly to their male counterparts, and some highly elite members of the service were allowed to test new equipment before it went out into general use.

About 25,000 women applied to join, but only 1,830 were accepted for training. Only 1,074 passed the rigorous training, and of these, 38 gave their lives in the service of their country. Because WASPs weren't technically considered military personnel, their families were charged for their funerals and they weren't buried with military honors. The surviving WASPs fought to be recognized as members of the military until 1977, when they were finally recognized for their service. Part of the reason it took so long is the files regarding the WASPs were all sealed until 1975, so the general public didn't know that much about them. When the files were declassified, it became easier to lobby for equal treatment. Since then, the WASPs have been awarded and recognized for their service to their country.

African American women weren't allowed to join despite being players in air travel pretty much since its inception (institutional racism: destroying good things since the dawn of time), but there were two Chinese American pilots and one member of the Oglala Sioux WASPs. Molly's aunt Eleanor applies to be a WASP, and Molly's Aviator outfit has a WASP patch on the breast.

The Air and Space Museum inside D.C. had a decent display in the WASPs' honor too, and included their uniform alongside their male counterparts' from various nations involved in the air war, which pleased me. Representation matters, thanks!

The WASPs were dissolved in 1944, but made an important mark on gender roles in the military and in the mind of the American public, as did many other women who stepped up to do jobs generally considered to be men's work during the war. It's a fascinating story that people should absolutely learn more about, and I appreciate American Girl for introducing me to the concept as a little kid.

We also stopped by Arlington, but I didn't snap any pictures with Molly there. I always feel a little strange taking pictures in cemeteries like we're visiting some kind of tourist attraction, especially military cemeteries, because the last thing I want to do is be disrespectful, but I did want to go on a hunt to find the graves of two Marines I've done a lot of reading about recently: Captain Andrew "Ack Ack" Haldane and Gunny Sergeant John Basilone, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal. Both are featured characters in HBO's The Pacific, and it turns out they're buried not too far from each other.

Whenever I visit places like Arlington, I wish that I could get more information about everyone who's buried there, not just the famous people. I'd love to be able to compile an official database of information and stories about the people buried there, especially because I doubt I'm the only person who's interested in the stories of those buried here.

One of my favorite places to visit is the World War II Memorial, right across the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial. The last time we visited, the fountains were off, which made the whole place look a little depressing and abandoned, but this time, they were on and it really kind of completed the image. The memorial is difficult to get a full sized picture of when the thing you're trying to photograph with it is an 18 inch doll, so unfortunately, most of my pictures don't do it justice.

It's very large and perfectly symmetrical, with one half of the memorial honoring the European Theater:

And the other honoring the Pacific:

As someone who's become very passionate about the Pacific War, it's definitely nice to see that the two theaters are being given equal footing when usually people spend more time talking about goings on in Europe, which are definitely important too! I just don't think I'm wrong in saying that the Pacific winds up getting a lot less attention outside of Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Each side has a bunch of bronze reliefs showing different aspects of the war, including the Lend Lease program, the landings at Normandy, fighting in the jungles of the Pacific, the air war and the home front. The fountains in front of the larger structures have the names of major battles and campaigns engraved in the base, with some separated by a star and some not. I was confused about why the stars were placed the way they were (there was a star between Midway and the Coral Sea, but not between Bataan and Corregidor), and received a less than satisfactory answer from the National Park ranger I was able to track down. Apparently, the stars separate different battles from each other, which means according to the people who designed the memorial, Bataan and Corregidor count as the same battle, as do Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Rome, but Normandy and Saint-Lô are considered separate events. If this is really the answer versus something the ranger just kind of made up, I have to admit, I think it's kind of horribly factually inaccurate, because while I could see the justification of Bataan and Corregidor being lumped together and the various components of the Italian campaign being shoved together too, I don't get why Normandy and Saint-Lô would be considered separate, as Saint-Lô is part of the invasion and liberation of Normandy.

Anyway, despite that, it's still an excellent memorial. It even includes a quote that I'm sure Molly, her mother and her aunt would all appreciate. I know I do.

It's right between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, which adds some extra nice touches to any pictures you wind up taking there.

Including this one, which has me holding Molly up by her legs while standing on one of the stair cases cropped out of it.

It even includes a secret that takes a little bit of hunting to find it. During the war, GIs would scribble a doodle of a man with a long nose peeking over a flat surface with the words "Kilroy was here" next to it, and in two discreet places on the memorial, you can see Kilroy engraved just as he appeared on various walls and structures during the war. I totally missed this the last time I visited, and was really excited to find it this time!

Safe to say, I had a really nice time, and I'd like to say a big thank you to my aunt and uncle for hosting us for the weekend! I had a really nice time and would love to come back again for further adventures.

I also managed to come home with a couple cool souvenirs...

My favorites probably being the 1st Marine Division patch (purchased from a vendor near the Vietnam War Memorial) and Eating With Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives from (guess where) the National Archives, which has a pretty great gift shop, I won't lie. I've been on a bit of a 1st Marines kick since watching The Pacific, and hopefully my enthusiasm for the cookbook should be self explanatory. This is, after all, a cooking blog!

It has a lot of fun looking recipes from all kinds of sources, including personal favorites of various 20th (and 21st) century presidents, ideas for ration friendly baked goods from World War I, and various treats from the first half of the 20th century. You'll definitely be seeing it again soon!


  1. *From Julie's doll mom:*

    Another plus of baking that bread in a coffee can is that you can see where to slice the bread (from the indentations on the can) and get nice even slices! Nice pics of your trip. I'm sure Molly had a good time!

    1. She definitely did! The weather was a little dodgy at times, but every time we've ever gone down to DC, it's been awful so I guess we were sort of expecting it, haha!

  2. Again, thanks for all your interesting historical information. Especially everything you shared about the WASP's. Glad you didn't give up and gave the bread another go.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! And I definitely am too, it turned out to be pretty tasty.

  3. Brown bread is traditionally baked in a coffee can. The recipe dates back to colonial time "Rye and Indian bread" they called it. It was baked in a mold similar to a 20th century coffee can. I found that if you grease the coffee can well enough, you should be able to get bread out of it.

    Eggs were not rationed in the U.S. but if you didn't own chickens or a fridge, you were out of luck if a truck couldn't deliver eggs to the city/suburbs. Chickens don't lay eggs in wintertime either so you probably didn't have eggs all winter.

    LOVE your pictures of DC- my favorite city in the world. They are made better by the presence of Molly! I wish I could have seen Eating with Uncle Sam. I did use the website in researching my exhibit

    1. Like I said in my reply to your post on my War Cake thread, this post was written well over two years ago, and I've grown and developed a lot as a baker and historian since then. I know eggs weren't rationed, but I did not know the origins of brown bread, so thanks for that!

      I actually live in DC now, so we have some newer posts that feature more pictures from the city if you're interested.