National Put People to Work Week

You can’t make anything from that title other than a deep crust pie of stress (although there is a nice stress-reducing recipe at the bottom). Nearly every person I know knows somebody who is out of work or underemployed. Long distance working is great for some, nerve wracking and all consuming for others, and infeasible for a good many more. According to the August job report, approximately 8.4 percent of the population, or 13.6 million people, are out of work in this country and grappling with daunting prospects to find employment in the near future.

All to say–as I have before–we may want to revisit how we pulled ourselves out of a similar pickle in the past through a rare genius-level government financed program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). At its height, it created jobs for 8.5 million people and left an enduring legacy across the country in the form of public buildings; new roads, bridges, airports and schools; national parks; flood control systems; conservation programs; books; murals; photography; theater productions; art education; historical recordings; and public health initiatives, among a host of others.

The Administration lasted nine years and cost the government about $11 billion dollars. According to some calculator I found on line, that translates to $167,261,183,431.95 today. Lots of politicians back then balked at the price. Even the President considered the WPA to be a little too close to socialism. Not everyone who needed a job was helped by it. But the program provided the right kind of momentum to push our country out of its deep hole and enough moxie to face the challenges of a world soon enmeshed in war. In the long run, it’s fair to say the WPA was absolutely worth the money.

It also revived a sense that America takes care of its own. We could use a little of that right now as we go into the next two bloody months.

And now, a late summer dessert recipe from A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes by Charles Elmé Francatelli, Late Maî·tre d’Hôtel and Chief Cook for Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria (1861)

From the Forward: “My object in writing this little book is to show you how you may prepare and cook your daily food, so as to obtain from it the greatest amount of nourishment at the least possible expense; and thus, by skill and economy, add, at the same time, to your comfort and to your comparatively slender means.”

Plum Broth

Original recipe:

Boil one quart of any kind of red plums in three pints of water with a piece of cinnamon and four ounces of brown sugar until the plums are entirely dissolved; then rub the whole through a sieve or colander, and give it to the children to eat with bread.

Plum broth on sea salt caramel gelato and toast

My version:

Cut four ripe medium-sized plums of any kind in half, remove the stones, then cut into quarters and place in a medium size sauce pot. Add in two cups of water, one cinnamon stick and 1/4 cup light brown sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until the plums are very soft–about 8 minutes if really ripe. Drain the plums through a sieve over a bowl, discarding the skin. You may either use the plums as is or set aside while you return the liquid to the pot, bring to a boil and reduce to a syrup. Return the reserved plums to the sauce. Makes an excellent dessert topping. The sauce is also wonderful if you have an unsettled stomach–in that case, toast a piece of bread, warm the sauce and puddle it over the top.

Photo credits–those not directly credited are from the Library of Congress (LOC):

Top first row from left: Howard Leibman, LOC, Barbara Wright

Second row from left: LOC, Caltrans/Wikimedia Commons, LOC

Third row from left: Jack Delano, LOC, Alan Lomax

Fourth row from left: Dorothea Lange, Alan Lomax