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Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Award-winning author Donis Casey has written eight Alafair Tucker Mysteries. Her series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. Learn more about Donis and her books at her website and the Type M 4 Murder blog.  

The eighth Alafair Tucker Mystery, All Men Fear Me, was released this month. The saga of Alafair Tucker and her family, which began in 1912, has now progressed to the year 1917. By now four of Alafair’s daughter are married, there are four grandchildren, and the community of Boynton, Oklahoma, has almost recovered from the devastating tornado of the previous summer. Life would be wonderful if it were not for the fact that the United States has recently declared war on Germany, and if Alafair didn’t have two well-grown sons who are both eager to do their duty.

All Men Fear Me is not about the life of a soldier, though, or what is going on in Europe. All Men Fear Me is about the American home front. The war had a huge impact on daily life for ordinary people, even in the far reaches of eastern Oklahoma. But even more than bond drives and the loss of civil liberties, Alafair’s daily life is affected by the war’s impact on dinner.

In 1917, the United States Food Administration was headed by a young man named Herbert Hoover. He was charged with making sure that all American housewives were doing their part for the war effort. “Our problem,” said the USFA, “is to feed our Allies by sending them as much food as we can of the most concentrated nutritive value in the least shipping space. These foods are wheat, beef, pork, dairy products, and sugar. Our solution is to eat less of these…and to waste less of all foods.”

Every housewife was encouraged to use as little of the aforementioned foodstuffs as possible. There are several surviving war cookbooks that show women how to make meals for their families without using wheat, or meat, or sugar. I’ve tested out many old recipes in the course of writing this series. Our modern tastes are different from our ancestors’, and sometimes the old dishes are so heavy and rich that a bite or two is all we can take.

But when I made the following recipe for War Cake, which I found in a 1918 USFA publication called War Economy in Food, the reviews from my test eaters were very good. The cake is dense and moist and even though it has no ginger, it reminds me of gingerbread. The following recipe is taken directly from the booklet. It’s easy to make and delicious. But be warned, it is not low in calories.

War Cake

1 cup molasses*
1 cup corn syrup**
1-1/2 cup water
1 package raisins*** (exact quantity according to preference)
2 T fat (vegetable oil)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 cups rye flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder

Boil together for 5 minutes the first nine ingredients. Cool, add the sifted dry ingredients and bake in two loaves for 45 minutes in a moderate oven. (I baked it at 350ยบ F. – Donis)

*There is more than one kind of molasses. I think the cake tastes better when it’s made with light molasses rather than blackstrap.

**I usually use Karo Syrup, which is corn syrup, but I have also substituted maple syrup, agave syrup, honey, and a combination thereof for the 1 cup of corn syrup. The maple syrup is especially delicious. 
***I prefer to use golden raisins, both for the look and the taste.

All Men Fear Me
An Alafair Tucker Mystery

The U.S. has finally entered the First World War and scheduled the first draft lottery. No one in Boynton, Oklahoma, is unaffected by the clash between rabid pro-war, anti-immigrant "patriots" and anti-conscription socialists, who are threatening an uprising rather than submit to the draft. Alafair Tucker is caught in the middle when her brother, a union organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, pays her a visit. 

Rob Gunn is fresh out of an internment camp for participants in an Arizona miners’ strike. He assures Alafair that he's only come to visit family, but she's not so sure. More unsettling, Alafair's eldest son enlists, and a group calling itself the “Knights of Liberty” vandalizes the farm of Alafair’s German-born son-in-law. 

Alafair’s younger son, 16-year-old Charlie, is wildly patriotic and horrified by his socialist uncle. With his father's permission Charlie takes a part-time war job at the Francis Vitric Brick Company. Soon several suspicious machine breakdowns delay production, and a couple of shift supervisors are murdered. Everyone in town suspects sabotage, some blaming German spies, others blaming the unionists and socialists. But Charlie Tucker is sure he knows who the culprit is and comes up with a plan to catch him red-handed. And then there is old Nick―a mysterious guy in a bowler hat who's been hanging around town.

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cj petterson said...

The story sounds wonderfully mysterious, and the recipe for War Cake intriguing enough for me to try. Best wishes for great sales and good eating,

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading this book. If I remember correctly, the Food Network Magazine had a brief article showing U.S. government posters about eating properly in the early 20th century. People were advised to eat lots of fats for energy to fuel their work and advised to skip the produce as it filled you up without giving you any nutrient value. A proper dinner for children was bread with lots of butter.
Llyn K.

Donis Casey said...

CJ, the cake is really delicious, like dense gingerbread, and the kitchen smells wonderful after you make it. Anonymous, in the early 20th Century I suppose you needed the calories in order to plow the back 40! Besides, I think the fats were not hydrogenated (sp) and thus not so bad for you. In fact, I've read that home-rendered lard is actually good for your cholesterol!