Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Rationing Challenge, Final Results

Well, we made it to the end of the Rationing Challenge without actually running out of anything. On Thursday, we had a dinner of pasta with sauteed peppers, onions, and a bit of sausage from the Amish market. Sausage wasn't listed anywhere on the rationing chart I've been using as my main source for this challenge, but a quick search on Google led me to a blog called Rational Living, all about the adventures of a family trying to follow the Rationing Challenge for an entire year (brave souls). That site has a post about a sausage-based recipe from a WWII-themed cookbook, and in the comments on the article, someone noted that sausage cost 8 red points per pound (the same as cheese). So I used that figure, allotting 2 points for the 1/4 pound we used (actually, it was more like 3 ounces, but I figured a quarter pound was probably the smallest amount you could buy). And I also knocked another couple of tablespoons our oil allotment for the oil we used to fry it, as well as the half-teaspoon or so I've been using each day on my popcorn. So our tally for the day looked like this:

Day 6 (June 6)
  • Sausage, 1/4 pound: 2 red points
RED POINTS: 24 used, 8 remaining
BLUE POINTS: 48 used, 48 remaining

That night came our biggest challenge of all: baking for the Minstrel. I paged through the "Cakes to Make Often" section in the vintage WWII cookbook I found online and found that, while the "One-Egg Wonder Cake" supposedly made enough for a 9-inch square cake or 12 cupcakes, that same recipe could also be modified to make "Lunch Box Surprises," which could make "12 medium cup cakes or 12 bars" using only half the batter. In other words, a single recipe could make one batch of a dozen big cupcakes or two batches of a dozen short little cupcakes. So I figure we could just split the difference and make one batch into 18 medium-sized cupcakes, halfway in between full size and "lunch box" size. That would make 16 for the Minstrel and leave 2 for us.

I opted to combine two of the "lunch box surprises" recipes—Chocolate Cakes and Coconut Cakes—to make a chocolate cupcake topped with coconut. The Chocolate Cakes recipe called for a square of baking chocolate (which would be two squares for the double batch we were making), but we opted to substitute 6 Tbsp. cocoa and 2 Tbsp. oil—a substitution that Brian, the baker of the house, declared "an ancient and time-honored one." Somewhat more novel and uncertain was the substitution of honey for half the sugar, but the cookbook explained exactly how to do it: cut the sugar in the recipe to 1/2 cup, cut the milk to 2/3 cup, and mix the honey with the milk. We also substituted butter (the remainder of the stick we started on Sunday) for the shortening, which is an item we no longer keep in the house since the phrase "trans fats" entered our vocabulary.

Since my adapted recipe involved a lot of modifications from the original "One-Egg Wonder Cake," I decided to write it out in detail, copying and pasting and modifying the original recipe as needed. Here's my adapted recipe in full:
ONE-EGG CHOCOLATE COCONUT CAKES 
Preparations. Have shortening at room temperature. Grease pans, line bottoms with waxed paper, grease again. Start oven for moderate heat. Sift flour once before measuring. 
Measure into sifter:2 cups sifted Swans Down Cake Flour [we actually used all-purpose flour and skipped the sifting]
2 teaspoons Calumet Baking Powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar [or use 1/2 cup and add honey as noted below] 
Measure into bowl:1/3 cup vegetable shortening [use butter] 
Measure into cup:3/4 cup milk [or cut to 2/3 cup and add 1/2 cup corn syrup or honey]
1 teaspoon vanilla 
Have ready: 1 egg, unbeaten 
Now the “Mix-Easy” Part. Mix or stir shortening just to soften. Sift in dry ingredients; add 1/2 of liquid and the egg. Mix until all flour is dampened; then beat 1 minute. Add remaining liquid, blend, and beat 2 minutes longer. (Mix by hand or at low speed of electric mixer. Count only actual beating time. Or count strokes. Allow 100 to 150 full strokes per minute. Scrape bowl often.) 
Add to batter: 2 squares Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate, melted [or 6 Tbsp. cocoa plus 2 Tbsp. oil]. Mix thoroughly. 
Turn into 18 greased cupcake pans; top with coconut. Bake in moderate oven (375° F.) 18 minutes, or until done.
The result was—interesting. They were significantly less sweet than most cupcakes, sort of more comparable to a lightly sweet bread, and the honey added a noticeable twist to the chocolate flavor. I'm not going to say they were extraordinary, but they were certainly edible, with a nice moist texture. At the Minstrel the following night they didn't go as quickly as the homemade brownies (which are what we usually make), but they were more popular than the store-bought chocolate chip cookies. I imagine if we'd grown accustomed to low-sugar eating over the period of a long war, these would taste pretty good to us. I'm actually eager now to try some of the other recipes from this section, particularly the gingerbread (made with half sugar, half molasses).

Friday night Brian skipped dinner, having enjoyed a bountiful Indian buffet at lunch in honor of three coworkers all expecting babies at the same time. So my dinner ended up being some homemade bread and leftover soup out of the freezer, which I treated as if it were a canned soup, costing 2 blue points for a small can. Thus, the tally for the final day of the challenge was:

Day 7 (June 7)
  • Soup, 10 oz: 2 blue points
RED POINTS: 24 used, 8 remaining
BLUE POINTS: 50 used, 46 remaining

So, we made it through the week with 8 red points and 46 blue points to spare. We also had about half a cup of sugar left out of the pound we started with. Actually, I now think we could have had even more, since in the process of searching for low-sugar cakes I stumbled across this recipe, supposedly dating from WWII, which calls for saccharin. Many comments say it tastes horrible, but the point is that artificial sweeteners were in fact available and unrationed during the war. (An article on artificial sweeteners at WebMD.com confirms this.) Thus, there was no need for me to count out extra spoonfuls of sugar to make up for the aspartame I used in my cocoa and egg creams. We also ended the week with 28 tablespoons of oil left out of the quart (64 tablespoons) that we "opened" at the start of the challenge, as well as 1 1/2 sticks out of the half-pound of margarine that I added to our tally on Day 1.

On the whole, I think we did a pretty good job. If we had to do this on a longer-term basis, I might be inclined to try and make better use of the blue points, since we ended the week with nearly half our allotted points unused. Perhaps we could take advantage of blue-point items, like canned fruits and preserves, to enjoy more desserts without running down our sugar ration. So it might be worth revisiting this challenge at a later date to explore those possibilities.

To be honest, I think the hardest part of the challenge for me wasn't limiting my use of specific foods; it was having to track everything we ate. We actually managed just fine with limited amounts of sugar, oils, meats, and canned foods; the only thing we changed about our eating habits was the low-sugar baking, and I suspect we could adapt to that pretty quickly. But keeping track of every teaspoon of sugar, oil, or margarine, just to make sure we didn't go over our allotted amount, was a really big hassle. I certainly wouldn't want to do it for an entire year.
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