Can you imagine feeding a family of seven during the war rationing of the early 1940s? That was the situation for my great-grandparents, Dell and Hildegarde Stringham. Because of it, they learned many World War II food storage lessons.
Their oldest child was my grandmother, and she has made it a point to tell all our family about their experience with food storage during the Second World War. Food storage is an important part of my family’s history, and we have learned much from it.
My Great-grandparents Story
Long before prepping was a thing, long before the media started making documentaries about them, Dell and Hildegarde Stringham prepped. Actually, they had food storage even before it was called “food storage.”
It all began in 1939 when Dell, who owned a cannery in the 1930s, was approached by a church leader. Dell was a member of a charitable committee for his local church and the church leader suggested that, as a member of this committee, he store extra food in his home.
The hope was that other community members would follow their example.
In 1939, America had not yet entered World War II, so there did not seem to be an immediate need for food storage or emergency preparedness as we think about them today. (This was also well before rationing. The United Kingdom did not ration food until January 1940, and the United States did not follow suit until 1942.)
The suggestion to store food may have seemed strange in 1939, but by the time the United States became fully embroiled in the war, it proved to be extremely good advice.
In the spirit of both learning from history and passing that knowledge on to others, here are five things that we can learn from my great-grandparents’ wartime food storage adventure:
Five Food Storage Lessons From World War II
Lesson One: You can never have too much.
My grandmother wrote, “My father brought about five 100-pound sacks of flour and the same of sugar and stacked them in a room over our garage. And in the basement, he put cases of can goods he had canned and bought other things. . . So, Mother had bottled some fruit (like raspberries). We had lots of canned fruits (peaches, pears, apricots, and cherries) and canned vegetables (corn, beans, peas, beets, tomatoes, etc.), and canned meat like tuna fish, salmon, [and] corned beef. We didn’t have any shortage of food in our house all during the war.”
NOTE: A significant point here is that you can never have too many of the right foods! The lesson is to stock up on foods that will last a very long time and can be used in a variety of ways. It’s also why cooking from scratch is a critical skill that you should learn.
Lesson Two: Build up your food storage supply now and not after rationing starts.
“When the war started and rationing started because of the uses of metal for weapons and canned foods for soldiers’ rations, Mother [Hildegarde] had to go to the school and declare what food we had. Ladies were in line telling [the officials] that they had two cans of soup and a can of tuna fish. And then Mother told her list. She said everyone gasped and made a big fuss. But it was all legal and not hoarding.”
READ MORE: Building your foods storage supply means properly storing that food. Learn about foods that must be repackaged for long-term storage and how to do it properly, and about the six enemies of food storage.
Lesson Three: Sometimes it is better not to advertise exactly how much you have in your house.
During this period, the concept of “fairness” was very much in the public consciousness. Perhaps some didn’t think it was “fair” that the Stringham family had so much food in their house, even though they had the same ration cards as everyone else.
With a surplus on hand, they were able to help others, but if their food had been confiscated or stolen, they would have had nothing for their own survival nor that of anyone else.
READ MORE: Here are some ideas for storing your supplies that are less visible.
Lesson Four: Money you don’t have to spend on food can go toward other necessities.
Wartime food storage wasn’t just about food. It was also about how it could free up funds for things that you needed but couldn’t grow, make, or barter for.
Hildegarde had five children. Because of her preparation, she was able to use some of her ration cards to buy shoes for her growing children during a time when shoes were a luxury item.
Think about what other kinds of needs you might have that money could be used for. Medicine, for instance, if home remedies aren’t enough.What can we learn from the WWII era when it comes to food storage? Click To Tweet
READ MORE: Here are some ways people found to earn money during the Great Depression.
Lesson Five: The best way to learn the ins and outs of stored food is to store it and use it.
“We found there were things we didn’t do right. Weevils got into the flour. We should have had it in metal cans. Or stacked it one sack of sugar on the floor, then a sack of flour on that, and alternate sugar and flour to keep weevils from migrating to all the sacks. [When] we went to use some flour, we had to put flour in a sifter, and instead of turning the wheel, we hit the side of the sifter so the flour would go through the screen and the weevils would stay in the screen. And we ended up dumping so many cans of flour into the garden. – Wheat in cans stores so much longer.”
READ MORE: For additional lessons about living during hard times, read this compilation of survival wisdom from the Great Depression or this article about food storage lessons learned while living overseas.
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Do any of you have stories in your family history about food storage during wartime? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
This article was originally published on April 6, 2018, and has been updated.