Did Powdered Milk Candy Save the War?

Last November I shared with you an excerpt from my Grandma’s memory book.  If you want to know more about her book please head on over to that post and then come back.  You can find the link by clicking here. 


I have been reading through this book a lot recently and I revisited her section on Wartime Food.  In that section there was a sentence that intrigued me, and it demonstrates my Gran’s love for sweets.  This is what she said.

“We used to be quite adept at making candy with powdered milk and I don’t know what all, but they were pretty good.”

Then it got me thinking, I have a pretty good idea of what rationing in Britain was like during World War II because of my family’s history but I don’t really know much about Canada.  So I started to do some research.

I found some interesting articles and I wanted to share with you some of my observations.

These days, eating local is trendy but back then it was a way of life.  Canada supported Britain with exports to bolster not only the troops but the people who lived there. Even though it was not a requirement people were encouraged to eat foods that weren’t necessary staples but items that were plentiful.  This included foods like apples and lobster. Can you imagine eating lobster every day?

When I was searching on the internet I also discovered a cookbook that was published in 1943 called Cook to Win by the ladies at Wesley United Church here in Calgary.  This peaked my interest because my husband’s Grandmother attended Wesley.  I reached out to my Mother-in-law because even though we lost Grandma  a few years ago, she kept almost everything.  It was my hope that I might actually find a copy of the book.  I spent some time with my Mother-in-law and we found a lot of older interesting items but not that book.


Even though we didn’t find a copy of the book, she shared with me that her Mom and Dad were married in 1940 and because her Dad went to Wesley that’s where they attended church.  I took that away with me.   Even though I didn’t find a copy of the book I felt firm in the fact that Grandma at one time would have at least seen it.

I kept looking and through the wonder of the internet,  I was able to find a few pages from the book. I am forever grateful for this site, which is a part of the University of Alberta. It is called Culinaria – A Taste of Food History in the Prairies.  I was not able to find any contact information on the site to ask if I could post images to show you.  So I ask you to take a look there, it’s a fascinating site and as I read through the pages, I gained a lot of insight into what food in Canada, specifically the prairies, looked like during the war.

In the end I chose to focus on not just Cook to Win but the Victory Cookbook from the ladies at Knox United Church in Regina.  I learned that during the war in Canada, particularly from these cookbooks, where the mindset of the nation’s women were.  The kitchen was their battleground and the mission was to make nutritious meals for their family.  They were tasked to do it in the most efficient way possible.  That was one of their contributions to the war effort.  If they could make something with one less tablespoon of salt, that was a tablespoon of salt that could go to the boys on the front to help fight the war.

Another thing to think about these books, they were advertisements for war bonds. Church cookbooks these days are sold to raise money for a program or a cause supported by the church but back then they were raising money for the war. It looks like on the bottom of every page of Cook to Win there is a slogan of some sort encouraging this purchase. For example, “Your dollar is better in a tank, than in a Bank.  For security, buy Victory Bonds.”

All these things serve as reminders that Canada, an ocean away, were fully behind the war to support their sister country. My Grandma and my husband’s Grandma only met a couple of times when they were alive but it really makes me think the stories they could have told. While my Gran was working in an airplane factory and spending some nights in bomb shelters my Grandma-in-law was here in Canada. She was almost exactly ten years older than my Gran. She was newly married and and supporting the war an ocean away.

So…what’s the end of the story here?  It’s back at the beginning. I was wondering if you could actually make candy with powdered milk so I decided to try.  Because I knew sugar was scarce in Scotland I decided on another source to add sweetness.  I figured condensed milk would be available so I used that.  And to give the candy a little Canadian flare I also used maple syrup.  And that is really all there is, powdered milk, condensed milk, maple syrup and a little bit of sugar.


And you know what?  It works!  It’s not a hard type of candy but soft and chewy.  My husband turned his nose up at it but I told him to think about it.  If you were in the middle of war and couldn’t get sugar, this would be a pretty great alternative and he agreed.  I found the longer I left the candy the chewier it got.  You could also roll it in saran wrap to make individual portions or roll it in one big piece and cut into squares.  It’s surprisingly satisfying.

Did powdered milk candy save the war?  No, but the spirit and fight behind conservation contributed to it.  And it sure helped my Gran and her family make it through when there wasn’t much else.  That’s enough for me.


Powdered Milk Candy

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

2 cups powdered milk

sprinkling of sugar

Pour the condensed milk and maple syrup in a bowl.  Add the powdered milk in gradually until everything is well combined.  It will be doughy but will stiffen up the longer you wait.  Take out a piece of saran wrap and lie on a flat surface.  Sprinkle some sugar on a cutting board.  Scoop some of the mixture and roll between your hands then roll in the sugar.  It will look like a tube.  Wrap in saran and leave to set.  Wait at least an hour before cutting into pieces.  When you do cut into pieces, leave in saran and peel off just as you would a candy.

I would like to thank the following two sites that I read when researching for this post.  Without them this post would not be possible.

Culinaria – A Taste of Food History on the Prairies

Food on the Home Front during the Second World War

10 thoughts on “Did Powdered Milk Candy Save the War?

  1. A really interesting read Heather! I do hope that you keep searching for the book and eventually find a copy.
    My grandma told me quite a bit about her time in a Toronto munitions factory ( like Bomb Girls) but I didn’t get any stories about cooking with rations. I always think it was quite brave of her to leave small town Prince Albert for Toronto but it was an adventure she shared with her sister so they had each other.
    Anyway, great post. Well done.

    • Thanks Bernice. I know a copy of Cook to Win is up in Edmonton as a part of their collection. I never get up there but I’ll have to make time to do that.

      Thanks for sharing about your Grandma too. Really, that generation went through so much and lived brave lives to give us all we have today.

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