Food Shortages During World War I

Donald, Clabe holding Doris, and Delbert Wilson on the back porch of the house “down on Beaver,” belonging to Leora’s brothers who were serving with the 88th Division in France. The contraption to the right is Leora’s hand-cranked washing machine.

Leora seemed to always have a batch of bread “set” on the evening before her babies were born, to bake the next morning. Her mother was there for the birth and to help out for a few days. When Doris was born, in August of 1918, Grandmother Laura Goff made rolls out of some of the dough and baked them and loaves of bread the next morning. When little Delbert and Donald, ages 3 and 2 came in from playing, they could smell the aroma of baking bread. Of course, they each wanted a roll. Then another one. Grandmother said, “Oh, you’ll eat up all and your Daddy won’t have any.”

Donald  said, “He can eat con-bread,” meaning cornbread. Food was rationed during the war, and flour was stretched by adding other grains. Bread made from it didn’t keep long–it soured quickly and was sticky. 

The government encouraged replacing wheat bread with cornbread.

In fact, “An Appeal to the People” by Herbert Hoover, United States Food Administration, was published in local papers throughout the nation in June, encouraging reduction in consumption of food. “But the situation with regard to wheat is the most serious in the food supply of the Allied world. . consumption . . .  must be reduced to approximately one-third of normal.” 

He stressed that “it is imperative that all those whose circumstances permit shall abstain from wheat and wheat products in any form until the next harvest.”

The newspaper included a list of substitutes for one cup of wheat flour:

barley 1 ¾ cup
buckwheat ⅞ cup
corn flour 1 scant cup
corn meal, coarse ⅞ cup
corn meal,  fine one scant cup
corn starch ¾ cup
rice flour ⅞ cup
rolled oats 1 ½ cup
rolled oats ground in meat chopper 1 ½ cup
soybean flour ⅞ cup
sweet potato flour 1 ½ cup

“This table will help you to make good griddle cakes, muffins, cakes, cookies, drop biscuit, and nut or raisin bread without using any wheat flour.”

The newspaper also included a muffin recipe:

Rice and Barley Muffins

1 egg
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon fat
2 tablespoons syrup
4 teaspoons baking powder level
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup rice flour
1 ½ cup barley flour

Beat egg, add milk, fat and syrup, combine with sifted dry ingredients, bake 20 to 30 minutes in hot oven. These are very delicious, the recipe added.

Delbert and Donald asked their grandmother if they could take the new baby for a ride in their wagon. “Let’s ask your mamma.” They tiptoed into the bedroom, where the boys bumped up against the bed to ask their question. Leora answered that baby Doris needed to get bigger first, so they skipped back outside to play.

From Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots


  1. Interesting background information that makes the “Big Picture” of the wartime much more personal. I wondering if, while, all over the country, such “common folk” as your family were going wheatless and eating cornbread if the Hoovers and other leaders were eating the same thing. I somehow doubt it! Hypocrisy reigns throughout all eras. But, as my father-in-law so often says, “Such is life.”

    • Lou and Herbert Hoover were very in involved with helping relieve food shortages, even years after the war. The Hoover Presidential Museum at West Branch has thank yous from other countries because what he’d implemented kept them from starving. Herbert Hoover has gotten bad press, but this Iowa orphan and engineer lived a fascinating life!

  2. This was surely a post to touch the heart!!! Thank you for sharing this story! I can almost smell that bread baking and see the little ones waiting for a roll. 🙂

  3. What a delightful tale and also informative about the sacrifices people had to make then. Makes one wonder if people would be willing to do that in this day and age. And if not, would wars be doomed.

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