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Ann Farrell

11 Awesome Pages from World War II Ration Cookbooks

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Ann Farrell

When you have grandparents that survived the depression it means they saved everything. And while the extended family may have chuckled at the mounds and mounds of string or 20-year-old phone bills from companies that no longer existed, it was hard to complain about old magazines and pamphlets. My grandmother kept a stack of thin cookbooks, oftentimes product tie-ins (“Cooking with Jell-O” and “Cooking with 7-Up” are two winners), but the best were the ones that were dusty with history.

Below are eleven choice images from cookbooks (one branded, the others not) that just recently were sprung from a decades-closed box.

1. "How to Bake By the Ration Book"

A delicious cake in one hand, a page of rationing stamps in the other.

Swans Down cake flour was a product of the Igleheart Brothers Mills of Evanston, Indiana created in 1894. It has since been bought by the Reily Food Company of New Orleans. I never heard of them, but, then again, I've never baked a cake.

At some point during the Second World War, my mother's mother procured this handy guide to baking while dealing with rationing.

2. "Who said 'No cake?' Of course you can have cake!"

Everybody calm down. Those Axis rats haven't taken our cake yet.

Key line to calm a nervous homemaker: “You'll see that some of the methods of mixing are quite different from your usual ones. They're planned that way.”

3. "The Wartime Lunch Box"

“Lunch box carriers are on the increase as America is on the march!”

Scheming to make sure Junior's lunch box is packed with the nutrients he needs to keep our nation strong is no easy task during rationing. Cupcakes are preferable to wedges of pie for the sake of freshness and transport. (Good to know.)

Also, if your hubby is working in a defense plant (and if he isn't in uniform, he better be), know that for security's sake, he may need to take a paper bag! If so, be sure to pack all relishes in a small paper cup and "fasten a paper with a rubber band firmly over top."

4. ABC of Wartime Canning

Well-known Pittsburgh-based recipe columnist and radio personality Josephine Gibson authored more than one ration-centric cookbook during the war. (She also wrote branded cookbooks for Heinz.) ABC of Wartime Canning is an advocacy tract for the importance of canning fruits, vegetables, meat, soups, butter—you name it. It also came with a collection of recipe ideas for the strapped housewife with hungry mouths to feed and bare cupboards.

You'll note that at the bottom it basically says “your ad here.” I believe that the publishers of this pamphlet hoped to make money by selling that space to companies facing the public—shops and banks, perhaps. My guess is that my maternal grandfather, who was something of an entrepreneur in the agricultural field, was solicited with this proof-of-concept book by the publishing company. My grandmother took it off his hands and maybe—who knows—this is where she learned to make those delicious sour pickles I grew up on.

5. "Canning and Preserving for Victory"

“Because much of our farmers' crops this year will be needed by the Armed Forces, and transportation difficulties make it harder for the tiller of the soil to deliver his produce to the commercial canneries, the efforts of millions of American women, just like you, will result in building up an extremely valuable supply of food for the coming winter.”

Making Jelly = Defeating Fascism.

6. "Keeping Your Family Fit in Wartime"

“Men are daily rejected for service with the armed forces because of faulty nutrition and thousands of man-hours are lost on production lines for lack of proper food. It's up to the women of America to change all this.”

You got that ladies? I'll be in the back smoking my pipe if you need me.

7. "Low Point Meat Dishes"

So now we get to the magic. How to make protein-rich foods out of small portions of meat. Apparently putting sawdust in the meatballs isn't an option.

8. "Low on Sugar and Shortening!"

This book claims that some people like pandowdy just as much as pie. Am I one of these people? I don't even know what pandowdy is! Is this something that died with FDR? Anyway, the pandowdy was instrumental in our efforts to beat Tojo, I'm sure of it.

9. "Wartime Substitutions and Helps"

A hundred points for use of the term “oleomargarine.”

10. "Suggested Weekly Market Order (For parents and two children under twelve years)"

“Study the above lists and charts for they will help you plan well balanced menus amid constantly changing conditions that necessitate quick alterations in marketing and eating habits. It is your responsibility, no matter how difficult the task, to see that your husband and children are well fed and happy when they come to the family table.”

I'd just like to say for the record that the 1940s were sexist as hell.

11. "Cookies"

Listen, just because we're not undergoing rationing today, doesn't mean we can't call our kitchens “war kitchens,” right? Cause that sounds totally badass.

Pictures courtesy Ann Farrell.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]