I knew very little about WWII and the home front period when this quilt challenge came along. Wide-ranging connections popped up everywhere and I became intrigued. A Santa Rosa Press Democrat story on one-room schoolhouses along the Marin-Sonoma coast mentioned a train that took milk from farms to the dairy and coastal kids to school until the rails were taken out for metal recycling during WWII. My book club read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, about a Chinese American boy and his friend, a Japanese American girl, who is interned with her family. A friend gave me two books published during the war, Coupon Cookery by Prudence Penny, and Make and Mend for Victory produced by the Spool Cotton Company in 1942. My mother-in-law shared her recollections and an envelope of period items saved by her father, including fuel oil ration coupons and a 1943 Des Moines Register article on how and when to shop for rationed food commodities. I was hooked and had to know more!
I found several relevant government archives available online, and visited great local resources, including the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, Richmond Museum of History, and the Richmond Room at the public library, seeking inspiration and a personal connection to the Home Front era.
In the end, the serendipity of something I found early on stayed with me and became the inspiration for my quilt. Browsing my collection of Cook’s Illustrated magazines, I found Emergency Chocolate Cake by Keith Dresser (2009) about updating a wartime family recipe from his grandma’s kitchen. Online I found other variations of that basic recipe from the period. All had the same “convenient” ingredient – mayonnaise, in place of scarce butter and eggs. All used common pantry items, cocoa instead of chocolate, and reduced sugar. In an article from the Richmond Record Herald, I learned sugar rationing began February 5, 1942. The allotment for each adult and child was 12 ounces weekly. I tried both versions – the WWII cake, and Dresser’s revised version, which has become a favorite.
In a book of souvenir postcards, I found a 1943 Office of War Information poster featuring a mother and young daughter canning vegetables. The caption reads “Grow Your Own, Can Your Own.” Depicting a similar wartime kitchen scene, my quilt imagines a tired homemaker, just beyond its binding. She has finished her day and sits down for a piece of Emergency Chocolate Cake, looking over some of this week’s canning. A history-buff friend told me she discovered an interest in quilts through this historical quilt challenge. My epiphany was just the opposite. As a quilter, making Homemade 1943 took me on a journey through time before I was born, where I discovered that history can come alive, enriching my experience of life today.