Alice Ringstad sat in the wooden chair next to the table filled with baking ingredients, mixing bowls, silverware and pie pans. With nervous twitches she played with her flowery skirt, smoothing out the fabric. It had been her idea to share her wartime cooking skills with the Duluth radio audience. The idea came to her as her way to do her part for the war effort. But now, wringing her handkerchief with nervous, sweaty hands, this no longer seemed such a great idea.
Her assistant, Mary Lewis sat next to her. At Alice’s age, Mary also auditioned for the position as radio announcer, but came in second to Alice. Mary’s mouth purse in a tight line as her nose turned up. Since Mary was unhappy with the turn of advents, Alice’s discomfort rose.
The front bleachers audience waited for Alice to speak. They occupied themselves while they watched stagehands place more ingredients on the table. The restless audience frequent glances in her direction made her pulse rate rise. The dread of potential failure filled her brain.
Speakers boomed with the voice of a news correspondent from Washington. The news of the latest push against the Nazis in Africa and the results of the past battles in the Pacific filled the studio. Alice sighed in relief knowing her wounded husband, Henry rested in a California hospital. Injured – but alive. He had been a gunner’s mate on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid that now sits at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
Henry had lost his right leg below the knee in August when the Japanese navy destroyed the USS Intrepid. As a gunner’s mate, Henry was a tempting target. Now that winter was on its way she became eager for this return to Duluth. Home would be a better place for him to heal instead of a military hospital. She sighed and checked the studio clock one more time.
The news man from Washington concluded his broadcast. The Duluth radio station announcer approached the microphone. He adjusted his glasses, rubbed his small bushy mustache and smoothed back his greased back hair. As he tightened his thin knot tie, he spoke. “This is WDSM your Duluth good neighbor and hello to all our friends throughout the entire Iron Range. We now invite you to join us for ‘Cooking for Victory’. As you know Miss Julie Ann Baxter has left the show and we all wish her well. Today I will introduce you to young Alice Ringstad who will replace Miss Julie.”
Alice stood up. The audience gave a courteous applause. Alice remembered when she listened in the ‘Cooking for Victory show with Miss Julie and the loud and warm applause she received. The last announcer to the show was a tough act to follower, Alice gulped.
The announcer spoke how important his audience needed to conserve and ration food. “As you know, our ‘Cooking for Victory’ program is for our patriotic housewives who want to learn how to ration foodstuff and yet still put a hearty meal on the table for her family.”
The audience applauded.
As Alice walked to the microphone two stage hands brought the table filled with ingredients in front of her. Mary followed.
Alice stepped up close to the square-shaped microphone and pulled on the thin metal stand close. She cleared her throat. “Thank you everyone. This is my first appearance with ‘Cooking for Victory’ program. My name is Alice Ringstad and this is my assistant, Mary Lewis. I know how difficult it is to put a good meal on the table during these times of uncertainty. But as Bob mentioned, with a little help and a bit of creativity, you can prepare great meals with simple substitutions from the grocer or from your very own victory garden. Today, I’m will make a recipe called ‘Tomato Soup Cake’. This recipe is brought to you by ‘Good Taste Flour’, from the Duluth Milling Company.”
Alice paused. She found the ingredients not placed in the same arrangement during practice. Her hands shook as she rearranged things quickly. The distraction calmed her nerves. The audience fidgeted and the producer director waved his hand toward her to move on. “Ah, yes.” she stared at the table.
Mary tsked. “Shouldn’t we get going? Here, step aside. I’ll take over.”
Alice stood her ground, finished rearranging and spoke into the microphone. “I do apologize for my delay. To tell you the truth things here are not arranged as I expected. But, as I said about uncertainty, we mothers and wives deal with all kinds of uncertainty since we have sent our men-folk out to defend our great country.”
Alice finished rearranging the small bowls of ingredients. Mary brought herself close to the microphone, but Alice beat her to it. “Now, I hope you have your pencil and paper ready to write down the recipe and ingredients you will need for our Tomato Soup Cake.”
Alice brought the recipe to her eyes and read:
“Three tablespoons of shortening or lard – don’t forget to use your drippings; One cup of sugar or less if you wish to conserve; one teaspoon of baking soda; one can of tomato soup; two cups of flour; one teaspoon of cinnamon; one teaspoon each of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.”
“After you mix these ingredients you will add one and a half cups of raisins or nuts or a combination of the two to your liking. Again, to conserve your sugar, use more raisins.” Alice glimpsed at the audience. She gave a sigh of relief as the audience scribbled down the ingredients. The director stopped fidgeting but gave her a stern gaze.
Alice opened her mouth. A shock wave moved down her spine when her eyes moved to Bob’s left, in the back and out of sight of everyone – two six-inch villagers from her mother’s attic stood – Nicholas and Astrid. Alice peeked sideways at Mary to make sure she did not notice her two little supporters in the back. Astrid motioned a silent applause and Nicholas nodded his head.
Alice took a deep breath, cleared her throat and moved on. As she mixed the ingredients she spoke her instructions. Again, she observed the audience as they jot them down. Their attention inspired her to continue with confidence. “First you cream the shortening while you add the sugar and blend thoroughly like this. Now you do not need to add as much sugar for taste. We do need to stretch out your sugar rations. Let’s put this down and pick up another bowl with the tomato soup and add the baking soda and stir well like I’m doing here. Now we add the first bowl of sugar and shortening to the second bowl like this.”
Mary hissed through the side of her mouth. “You don’t need to lift the bowls. This is radio.”
Alice ignored Mary then smiled at the audience. “Now with the third bowl we sift the flour and add the rest of the dry ingredients. Then take this bowl over to the first mix and stir together thoroughly. Your mix should have a texture like thick pudding. Now we add the raisins and/or nuts and stir all together with a wooden spoon.”
Alice peeked at Nicholas and Astrid from time to time for moral support. She gave the bowl to Mary to keep stirring. Alice walked to the fake oven on the set. “Now we need to have our oven preheated to 325°.” Alice turned the knob. “When the mixture is all stirred up pour it into a greased cake pan or loaf pan as Mary is doing right now.”
After Mary poured the ingredients, Alice reached for the cake filled pan. Mary made a “humph” sound in her throat.
“Place the pan in the oven, and let it bake for 50 minutes.” Alice placed the uncooked mixture next to another pan of cooked cake. “And here’s how your ‘Tomato Soup Cake’ looks after 50 minutes in the oven, done to perfection. I wish all of you listening to the radio could see the lovely results that our studio audience is witnessing. Audience, doesn’t that look delicious?”
Alice turned Nicholas and Astrid for approval. Both applauded with the audience. The director lowered his eyebrows and turned to his left as if he heard a strange noise. He turned back and raised his shoulders and shook his head. Alice glanced at the clock. She had two minutes left.
“Now, I also neglected to mention you can add a bit more cinnamon or other festive ingredients readily available to make this a sweet addition to your Thanksgiving Day or Christmas dinner table.” She paused and glanced at Nicholas and became inspired.
“Now, I know we all are all disheartened by the war that has plagued us for almost a whole year since the tragedy at Pearl Harbor. But we do need to remember our holidays. They bring family and friends together and help us to remain strong and forget our woes, only if temporarily.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas are moments for reflection. We reflect on the good memories of this year and the blessings of the year. And with the decorations of evergreen garlands with red and gold ribbons throughout the studio here bring festive thoughts to my mind. The Christmas tree, holly branches and…”
Alice stopped when she heard Mary clear her throat. At a glance, she saw the director move his arm around clockwise that told Alice to wrap it up. Actors for the next show had their scripts handy and ready to perform.
“That’s all for now — well not all. A treat like this can help you forget your woes and –.” Alice admired her cake then looked up at Nicholas and Astrid. “This is the time to forget your woes and think of the good times. Always keep those good thoughts in your heart.”
The announcer stepped in haste and pushed her aside. “Well, let’s give Alice Ringstad a warm applause for her marvelous recipe.”
The audience applauded. As Alice stepped away from the microphone, the two men returned and removed the table. Some of the audience came up to chat with Alice about her recipe. The director walked up to those audience members, put his fingers to his round lips and frowned. The inquisitive audience members sat back down while the show continued despite the interruptions.
Alice and Mary walked off the stage. The director followed.
The announcer spoke into the microphone.
“I suppose I did a horrible job.”
Mary’s face screwed into a grimace. “That much is certain.”
“Oh no, the audience loved it. Just make sure you have your ingredients in order. We don’t want any interruptions.”
“So, you want me, I mean us back next week?”
Bob watched the actors start then he snapped his head back. “Of course, your show was splendid. I don’t remember the last time audience members came up like that afterward.”
Mary shook her head in disgust and walked off.
Bob watched the actors bring the first round of laughs from the audience. He spoke over his shoulder. “See you next week.”
“Yes, thank you. I will. And I’m sure I won’t need moral support from Nicholas – I mean, I’ll be much better then.”
He took a step towards the show then turned back to Alice. “What you said at the end –‘this is the time to forget your woes and think of the good times. Always keep them in your heart.’ I think you should use that line at the end of all your shows.” He winked and pointed his finger at her.
The director walked away before she could thank him. She took one last glance at Nicholas and Astrid. Nicholas gave her a thumbs-up, took Astrid’s wrist, and then they vanished.
Alice sighed put her hand towards her heart in relief. “I suppose these are the good times.”