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  • Writer's pictureLeigh

Victory Kitchen: Tuna Wiggle on Cornbread

During World War II many families grew their own gardens and raised their own chickens for meat and eggs, women routinely supervised canning marathons so fruits and vegetables could be preserved for leaner times, and mothers and grandmothers became experts at coping with rationing and shortages of meat, sugar, butter, cheese, and a variety of other foods. Oh, and many of those mothers and grandmothers, in addition to their work for their families, held jobs outside the home. Regardless of their constraints and the heavy demands on their time and energy, American women tried to put "a proper meal" on the table. The women of the early 1940s weren't into show-off, iron chef, pretentious cooking. Instead the women of the period focused on comfort foods that were easy to make, nourishing, inexpensive, and filling. Meat loaf, chicken and waffles, rolls, biscuits, pot pies, and other stretch foods became the norm.

I'm not sure that we can properly liken the COVID-19 pandemic to a war, but we do and will struggle with the pandemic's effects for months, perhaps years, and, when "normal" returns, it is likely to be a "new normal." That's the way of history. As we try to define that "new normal," I suspect we will see some hard times ahead. Although a "Victory Garden" might be nice, such an option is no longer practical for most of us, especially those living in apartments and townhouses. What is an option is a "Victory Kitchen."

What is a Victory Kitchen? One in which cooks make creative use of the items they have to put decent meals on the table and feed their families well--ensuring victory over shortages, want, and hunger. Am I being sexist here? No, I don't think so. I'm entirely sold on the idea that the cook in a Victory Kitchen can be male or female, or, preferably, both males and females can pitch in to create great meals. The idea is not who does the cooking. The goal is to find ways to prepare meals frugally, avoid waste, and serve nutritious, tasty food. Sure, the United States has plenty of examples of thrift in the kitchen. So do many other countries and cultures. I'm convinced that in this "new normal" Victory Kitchen we'll need to learn from each other and adapt our practices as we do so, in the process coming up with some creative, delicious surprises all while ensuring that our families and friends have plenty to eat.

From time to time, I intend to publish a recipe from some of the lean years of the United States, particularly those of the Great Depression and World War II. I'll also publish some of my mother's recipes. She was a child of the Depression and extremely frugal. If I find them and can execute them without too much hassle (i.e., I can find the ingredients), I'll include some recipes from other cultures.

The first recipe I'm offering is one--Tuna Wiggle on Cornbread--that will help you use up some of those cans of tuna on your shelf. And, if you don't like tuna and want to substitute cooked chicken, go for it! Similarly, if you want to serve the tuna on rice or noodles (wiggle really is served with wiggly noodles!) feel free. The goal is to use up what you have.

Tuna Wiggle on Cornbread -- Serves 4

1 tablespoon of canola oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

1/3 cup of flour

2 cups of milk

1 12-ounce can of tuna, drained (or use 2 small cans of tuna)

1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper or regular black pepper

Salt, if you must

4 big handfuls of fresh spinach or about a cup of left over cooked spinach

1/4 cup of left over white wine, if you have it and feel like using it (not traditional, but


1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (optional but good)

Left over corn bread, toasted

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper. Saute them for 8-10 minutes until soft. Sprinkle on the flour and stir it into the vegetables for a minute or so. Turn down the heat to medium low and whisk in the milk until you have a thickening sauce. Stir in the tuna, pepper, salt to taste, and then the spinach, adding the spinach a handful at a time. Add the wine, if you like. Stir in the cheese, if you like. Turn off the heat and serve the hot tuna wiggle over the toasted corn bread.

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