There’s much to be said for American ingenuity, especially when it comes to food. On the brink of the 21st century, culinary creativity abounds--from the handiwork of chocolatiers to fusion cooking to “tasting menus” that showcase choice delicacies.
But during World War II--a period of food rationing and global uncertainty--home cooks were put to the test to devise “interesting and palatable” dishes with imagination and spunk. How do you feed a family when sugar, butter, canned goods and fresh meat are in short supply?
The Share the Meat campaign, which urged people to reduce their meat consumption voluntarily, had fizzled by the fall of 1942, putting fresh meat on the ration list by March 1943. Consumers had to make do with about 2 1/2 pounds per person per week.
Soon, protein-rich macaroni and cheese was one of the most popular meatless meals. So were one-pot dishes of beans and other vegetables, inspired by household Victory Gardens reminiscent of those planted in World War I.
“When you’re looking for a main dish that will help space out the family’s meat share, consider the dry bean as a likely candidate,” suggested a Los Angeles Times food story from Jan. 31, 1943.
The recipe for Rodeo Beans that accompanied the article called for 1/2 pound bacon with pink beans, seasoned with chili powder, tomato sauce and vegetables. The flavors meld as the beans simmer.