April 30, 2014
I had never heard of the Women's Land Army, the U.S. Crop Corps or Victory Farm Volunteers. But one day, rummaging through a used book store, I came upon a huge stash of Department of Agriculture pamphlets from World War II. Unable to resist, I snatched it up and took it home, reading with fascination.
As one pamphlet began: "The farmer has one of the Nation's most important jobs. Uncle Sam has called on him to raise food for our fighting men, our war workers and our allies. His sons and hired man may be in the armed forces or working in war plants. More food than ever must be produced with fewer people to do it. Everybody who can must help!"
I began doing research, collecting everything I could on the subject. It was an intriguing moment in American history, a time when everyone became a farmer. For me it was even more than that; it was the beginning of a novel. Through the research I began to imagine a spirited little girl in Akron Ohio who yearns to get into the fields and do her bit for her country. Through the pamphlets and ration cookbooks (I'll be posting a few really hilarious recipes), antique seed catalogs and first-person accounts of women on the homefront during the war, I slowly began learning what Lulu's life was like. As the character became more real to me, she started writing letters to James Beard, asking for his help. When my heroine, Billie Breslin, discovered the letters almost 70 years later, she found them so compelling that she began a kind of scavenger hunt, trying to find them all.
World War II was an amazing time for the women on the homefront. The men went off to war for years. There was no internet, no Skype, and very few letters. Left at home, the women went to work in war plants, counted ration points, saved their fat to make ammunition. And the children? Like Lulu, they learned to raise Victory Gardens. And they learned to cook.
I had a great time researching Delicious!, and over the next few weeks I'll be posting more of my discoveries.
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