Prairie Fare: 4-H foods projects teach lifelong lessons
"I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world."
If you recognize this pledge, chances are you have been in 4-H, or perhaps your child and/or other relative has been in 4-H. Maybe you are or have been a 4-H volunteer leader.
Growing up as a "town kid," I was not in a 4-H club. Typically, kids who lived on farms were in 4-H. However, I liked doing all the sorts of things that my friends in 4-H did, including gardening, baking and sewing.
I certainly liked looking at all my cousin's purple "grand champion" ribbons earned at the county fair for her 4-H projects.
Two of my own "city kids" are 4-H members and my third child was enrolled through his senior year of high school. My children have gathered bountiful lifelong skills in everything from public speaking to health, gardening, sewing, baking, science and technology, outdoor skills, dog training, art and photography.
With my kids' involvement in 4-H clubs, I became a club leader many years ago. I have learned new skills, too. I learned how to train our three dogs, as much as dachshunds allow "training." I also learned how to take decent photos with my digital camera.
As part of my job at North Dakota State University, I also help create 4-H food and health-related materials.
I admire my children's bulletin boards with their collections of blue, pink and purple ribbons earned at the local and state fairs. But, really, couldn't my kids give their old mom a purple grand champion ribbon in appreciation of my being their long-term helper?
4-H club-based programs were launched in 1902 by A.B. Graham, an Ohio school principal. Now the 4-H youth development program reaches more than 6 million youth in urban, suburban and rural areas throughout the U.S. and beyond. Food-related programs have been popular topics for children enrolled in 4-H.
The other day, our state 4-H program leader lent me two 4-H food curriculum member manuals dated 1947. He knows I enjoy looking at historical food- and cooking-related information. I carefully examined the fragile sheets of paper that probably were typed using a manual typewriter and copied with carbon paper.
As I paged through the curriculum for "4-H girls," I became a little nostalgic reading the recipes. By the way, presently, food projects are not only for girls; boys enjoy food projects, too.
In the years right after World War II, girls engaged in this food curriculum were advised to drink six glasses of water, wash their hands before meals, and eat three meals a day with no sweets between meals "except at a party." They were to strive to miss no days from school because of illness. That's still good advice.
I was a little amused by hygiene recommendations, considering the vast array of shampoos and soaps available today. 1940s-era young girls were advised to take a warm sponge bath or tub bath twice a week and shampoo their hair twice a month.
After viewing this document, I can see why women who took part in these programs as children were self-sufficient as adults. The curriculum taught them how to butcher and pluck chickens and cut them up for dinner. They learned how to cook, bake and preserve foods.
Interestingly, the 4-H food guide stated that during World War II, $1.5 million worth of vegetables were spoiled due to improper canning. When I ran the figure in an online inflation calculator, the value of the wasted food would be more than $25 million in today's dollars.
Yes, proper food preservation can save money and your life, too.
Much of the canning research was done during the 1940s. Participants in the 1947 4-H food curriculum were taught the principles of pressure canning, which allows the temperature in the center of jars to reach 240 F. This temperature inactivates the deadly bacteria that can produce the botulism toxin in the right environment. Botulism is potentially fatal.
I was happy to note that even in 1947, oven canning was not considered safe. By the way, if anyone shares guidelines to can food in the oven with you today, let them know the National Center for Home Food Preservation considers this a dangerous practice. Dry heat from your oven does not penetrate jars sufficiently to heat the food to safe temperatures.
Further, the 4-H guide cautioned that oven canning might result in "jars exploding, the oven door may fly off, or a person may be injured from flying glass." Yes, in 1947, they had a good handle on the dangers of oven canning.
A couple of the 4-H recipes included eggs that were not fully cooked. Now we would recommend using pasteurized (heat-treated) eggs in their place.
Lard was used in the pie crusts instead of other types of fat. Lard still makes the flakiest pie crusts, by the way.
In the 1940s, refined flour was used in nearly all the bread, cookie and muffin recipes. As we have learned more about the health benefits of whole-grain ingredients, such as whole-wheat flour and oatmeal, our emphasis in nutrition has been to make at least half of your grains whole grains.
My step back in food history was an interesting one. Here's a recipe from the 1947 "Foods the 4-H Way" member manual. This reminds me of a recipe that my mother used to make. See www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for more information about food preservation and nutrition. Contact your local office of the NDSU Extension Service for more information about 4-H.
3 cups soft bread pieces
1 quart scalded milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup raisins
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat milk in a saucepan to scald (bubbles will form around side; do not boil). Break bread into pieces about 1 inch in size. Place bread in hot milk, then add butter and let stand 20 minutes.
Beat eggs slightly. Add sugar, salt and vanilla to eggs. Add to bread and milk mixture and mix thoroughly. Add raisins.
Pour into a buttered baking dish and bake for 60 minutes. Test with a knife. If it comes out clean, the bread pudding is done.
Makes six servings. Each serving has 320 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 11 g protein, 55 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber and 380 milligrams sodium.
Editor's note: Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the North Dakota State University Extension Service.