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  • Hanna Rashidi, Intern & Guest Blogger

A Taste of Providence: World War I Recipe Test

Rhode Island Pendulum, East Greenwich, Rhode Island, December 20, 1917, p. 17, from Digital Archives of the East Greenwich Free Library,

Surrounded by the grandeur of Lippitt House’s dining room, it is easy to lose sight of some of the harsh realities of history. However, while the Lippitts may not have felt it as keenly as others in Rhode Island, difficult decisions about how and what to feed one’s family were unavoidable for many. In my research into dining culture at Lippitt House, I came across a series of recipes from World War I in the newspaper The Rhode Island Pendulum designed to avoid ingredients that were subject to shortages such as meat and fats.

In order to immerse myself in some of the experiences of the homefront during WWI, I set out to make one of these recipes—the lima bean soup to be exact. I was curious to see what I might learn about the cost of ingredients, the ease of finding them, and the time it took to make the food.

Comparison of ingredients cost using prices from 2022 and those reflected in the 1919 issue of the Publications of the American Statistical Association by Raymond Pearl and Magdalen H. Burger.

The ingredients were simple to gather, but the instructions on method were vague to say the least. I did my best to judge what “sufficient beans” might mean, and carefully soaked them overnight.

In the morning I cooked the beans down until they were soft, then mashed them through a sieve. This was a time consuming and tiring process which left my wrist and shoulder sore, but the beans were undeniably smooth afterwards.

All that was left was to add flour, milk, and basic seasoning. Finally, I summoned a group of my friends (Liza, Charlie, and Kaitlyn) who had yet to eat dinner, and asked for their opinions on my historical creation.

They were all pleasantly surprised by the soup, saying that it was smooth and comforting. According to Kaitlyn, it would go well with toast. She also said it tasted like how a cardigan feels, which was apparently a positive quality. Liza also enjoyed the soup, saying it tasted like butter, while Charlie found it to be reminiscent of gravy.

Ultimately, the soup was practical, easy, and filling. Though it was simpler than most recipes I would normally make for myself, I was thoroughly impressed at how such a limited ingredient list could yield such a satisfying result.

Many households engaged in self rationing at the advice of the U.S. Food Administration, and recipes like this one offered ideas for those who found their options limited. The ingenuity of these adaptations is certainly still relevant, and with a few tweaks (such as added garlic and maybe some mushrooms) I plan to add this particular recipe to my list of regulars.

Visit our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds and search for #TasteofProvidence to find related posts. To view the online exhibit "The Art of Dining: A Taste of Providence" visit our history page.

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