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Unused dairy ration coupons: What is their story?

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Every American was issued a series of ration books during World War II. The ration books contained removable stamps good for certain rationed items, like sugar, meat, cooking oil and canned goods. A person could not buy a rationed item without also giving the grocer the right ration stamp. Special to Forum News Service2 / 2

I don't remember where or when I got a book of unused dairy ration coupons, just that I've had them a long time. Every time I glance at them on the shelf, they prompt questions: Whose were they? Why weren't they used? Did the family move away during these years? Did the owner die? Did the war end? Was some mother frantically searching for weeks for this book so she could feed her family?

My mother used to tell me about going to the commissary at the Presidio in San Francisco to use their stamps. She also used to get my attention with her story about having to "pop" the little packet and knead yellow coloring into the margarine. (Margarine was made from oleo — which is white — and required fewer points than butter to purchase.)

There were good reasons for rationing. Processed and canned goods were reserved for our troops overseas, fresh food transportation was limited due to gas and tire rationing, and import restrictions limited foods like coffee and sugar.

'Food will win the war!'

Housewives had to get pretty creative to keep their families fed. Local food boards were created to help. They taught canning classes and offered recipes and substitutions for standard items. Have you ever had a mock apple pie, made with Ritz Crackers, but no apples? It's actually pretty good!

During those lean years, the heartland of America was about the only area still in full production. Farmers received extra rations of fuel and some commodities because wheat production was so vital to the war effort.

But at the same time, even though more acres were being put into production, many farmers still had an extremely hard time getting tractors and equipment. Most factories were being used to make tanks for troops, and metal was commandeered for the war effort.

Farming was also one of the largest employers before the war. As more and more men enlisted or were drafted, women and migrant workers moved into the factories to fill those roles.

This left farmers to do more with less help. They drafted the first people in their line of sight into farm service — their wives and children. Part of our agriculture legacy is hearing tales about our grandparents driving tractors and being dang near full field hands by the age of 10.

In many countries, like Europe and Scotland, war limitations extended right onto the farm. Farmers weren't allowed to butcher their own livestock to feed themselves unless there was obvious distress — like a steer with a broken leg. Only then could they use the meat for themselves. I imagine there were plenty of barnyard "accidents!"

We can't begin to imagine those conditions now, in our lives of plenty. City dwellers just pop down to the local store when they want something, and country dwellers keep well-stocked pantries. Could we even begin to live with rationing now?

I know I can. I was brought up with some serious homesteading skills — skills I pass on to others and especially to young family members — everything from growing and canning to sewing outfits for the whole family, to basic survival skills.

Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa for those lessons!

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