Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

Long, long ago, in what seems like a galaxy far, far away, and long before I started writing the Luke and Jenny books, I created my first living history character, a composite WWII era housewife, and I did presentations about the WWII home front here in the States.  The idea was to teach people, particularly kids, about the patriotism and sacrifice of The Greatest Generation.  That was when I wrote my first book, a self published WWII era compilation of historic food rationing recipes along with anecdotal stories of the time. Back in 2005, when I wrote that book, the Great Depression and WWII seemed like an abstract concept.  We were living in reasonably a prosperous time, in spite of 9/11 and the conflicts in the Middle East, and who would have thought that we would ever, in our lifetimes, see anything remotely close to the hard times our parents experienced.


So now we've all discovered that history really does repeat itself and sometimes it bites us in the fanny in the process.  I decided that as long as we're all living through an economy that's looking more and more like the 1930s this was probably just as good a time as any to work on an updated version of that WWII era cookbook, and maybe while I was at it looking for a literary agent and taking a shot at getting a traditional publisher to buy it.


The first agent I pitched it to asked me if I had tested the recipes. I said yes, a few.  I felt a little sheepish, but figured it just wasn't the time or place to tell her that at the time I wrote it my then spouse wasn't impressed with any of the recipes because none included french fries.  She explained that I really need to test more than just a few, so I've taken her advice and for the past several months I've been recreating these old recipes and finding them to be quite tasty, but I haven't stopped there.  I don't know if I'm doing too good of a job connecting to the past, or am feeling too uncertain about the present, but I've noticed that I'm taking it a lot further. 


I think I started my Victory Garden.  The other day I had a couple of guys come over with a tiller and some fertilizer, and I just got done planting onions, scallions, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce.  In about six weeks I'm planting tomatoes, corn and winter squashes.  I'm also teaching myself how to do home canning, just like real WWII era housewives did.


So I guess there's living history as in donning some period attire and going down to Tombstone for a day to have fun doing gunfight skits in the street.  Then there's living history as in actually recreating the day to day experiences and activities of people in the past.  I guess that's what living history is really all about.  


Those of you who want to try some of the recipes will find them on my food blog at



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Comment by Gayle Martin on February 1, 2011 at 8:35am
Heard a little squib on the radio yesterday that the typical supermarket only has enough in their inventories to last for two days.  Most of the time this is not an issue.  You want a good turnover of foods, particularly meat and produce, to help maintain freshness and prevent spoilage.  But if there is an unexpected interruption in the market, due to harsh weather, or a fuel shortage resulting from political unrest in the Middle East, grocery stores could easily run out of stock.  Our ancestors were aware of the possibility of market instability, particularly during WWII, so most families had Victory Gardens and they did home canning, just like their grandparents did in the Old West.  In fact the U.S. government encouraged Victory Gardens and canning at home.  Gardening and home canning are actually making a bit of a comeback, and people are starting to shop more at local farmer's markets, but more need to get with the program.  Our ancestors back in the day were smarter than we are.
Comment by Carbine on January 31, 2011 at 8:25pm
Gayle, Your Walking the walk Girl. Good for you. Nothing gets one as close as being in the "trenchs". Good luck with the garden. Just can't beat home grown.
Comment by Mel Graf on January 31, 2011 at 3:07pm
Gayle, thanks for the post!  I'm always interested in food!  :)
Comment by dirtrider on January 31, 2011 at 9:51am

WHAT???????????  No french fries?????


Seriously, it is time to take up as new, what our ancestors did.  We now think of running to the store for a can of soup.  "On time delivery" processes can become delayed and the ensuing panic will be scary for many people.  It is wise to put up canned meat, vegetables, and fruit.  We have a year's supply in reserve.  From that, we consume and replace to keep the storage up to snuff.  Gardening is becoming a lost art, known and persued by only a few, in spite of the many ways to cultivate one.

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