Due to the mere existence and long-suffering stubbornness of climate change deniers, I suppose it’s unsurprising that we’re now seeing COVID deniers too. Anyone who still has a Facebook account knows what I’m talking about. It’s scary, yet so tiresome; do we have to do this again? Apparently. COVID denialism, and my annoyance therewith, got me thinking about World War II. I’ll explain.
When we first got hit with our stay-at-home orders back in March, you started seeing these memes running around social media, all purportedly written by octogenarians who lived through World War II. Remember those? They’re all the same. All long-winded screeds bleating about what average Americans endured during that tumultuous time: the rationing, the victory gardens, the draft, the uncertainty, and how they all managed to survive this turmoil without internet or cable news! And all you have to do in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty is just not leave your fucking house! Stay home with your smartphone and your Netflix! That’s it, you numbnut whippersnappers!
Okay, so not everyone survived World War II, but we’ll put that aside for now. These memes always traffic in oversimplification and arrogance, they must certainly involve some bit of rose-colored glasses, and yes, they’re a tad rude. But, they do have a point. That generation DID have to give up or at least cut back on a lot of everyday food items they’d likely taken for granted before. There WAS a wartime draft, bearing so much fear and uncertainty for a large swath of the populace. And to finance American involvement in WWII, the federal government back home actually raised taxes (OH NOOOOOOOO!!!) on the middle class, something that certainly hasn’t happened with the COVID pandemic. Which begs the question…
Were there a bunch of WWII Deniers running around? Think about it. WWII was not fought on American soil. Any average American exiting their house would see and hear zero evidence of that war in their immediate surroundings. No gunshots, no military presence, no smoke in the distance, no wartime quarantines to avoid enemy capture of civilians, nothing! And, as the aforementioned memesters like to pound home, they didn’t have internet or cable news back then. So no constant media coverage either. Did this situation breed deniers, Americans who refused to believe this war was even happening at all? Were there Americans who claimed that it was all a propaganda stunt made up by the government to restrict their right to gas up their cars or drink their coffee?
I’m just so curious. Like, did people run around yelling about how BIG GUBMINT CAN’T MAKE ME PLANT NO SISSY GARDEN? Was it like, DURR, GIVE ME BACK MAH BUTTUH? (Or, if they were from Boston, GIMME BACK MY FACKIN’ BUTTAH?) Did a bunch of armed, suburban Chads and Karens all come together to collectively burn their ration books on their respective state capitol steps?
Any Google search of this oh-so-pressing question only returns information about Holocaust deniers, which of course I already knew about, and isn’t what I’m speaking of here. Does anyone know whether this happened? Anyone remember their parents or grandparents telling such stories? Because I do not. I had to write a paper on WWII in ninth grade, or something like that, and as part of my assignment I had to interview two people who lived through said war: one who actually fought in the war, and one civilian who stayed on American shores. For the former person, I interviewed a friend’s grandfather, and my own grandfather served as my latter interviewee. As you can surmise, they told no such stories of people, like, protesting victory gardens, or referring to wartime rationing as gOveRnMeNtaL oVErReAcH, or thinking the entire war was fabricated for some nefarious and insidious DEEP STATE agenda.
Perhaps that did happen and all of two individuals simply didn’t encounter it. Or maybe, just maybe, that inane shit didn’t happen, at least not on a scale that made any difference or endangered anyone’s lives? Maybe – and I’m just spitballing here – we have Fox News et al to thank for creating a culture of science denialism, hatred of a functioning nation-state, and this knee-jerk impulse to run around like headless chickens yelling about MY RIGHTS and refusing to believe you might harm innocent people? Just hazarding a guess, but is it possible that the far right media has convinced a swath of people that self-absorption is a virtue, and thus they throw tantrums at the first call for enduring a mere inconvenience to save lives? And maybe, just maybe, without those destructive forces, Americans were capable of pulling together and making sacrifices for each other and the common good?
Like I said, just spitballing!
Strawberry Sumac Jam with Ricotta Biscuits
STRAWBERRY SUMAC JAM:
- 2 lbs. Strawberries, hulled and quartered (or halved if small)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup pale ale
- 1 tsp ground sumac
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ¾ cup whole-milk ricotta
- 2 ½ cups cake flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbs baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into cubes and chilled
- 1 cup buttermilk, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing
STRAWBERRY SUMAC JAM:
- Combine the strawberries, sugar, ale, sumac, and salt in a large nonreactive stockpot. Use a larger stockpot than you think you need because the bubbling jam could overflow on a small pot and this is basically boiling sugar we’re talking about here. Not something to mess around with.
- Bring this mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium, simmering briskly and stirring frequently, until the strawberries are broken down and saucy. This will take about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, and this is when I like to mash the strawberries with a potato masher, but that is entirely optional. Let cool completely, then transfer to a secure, lidded container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- Set the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a small bowl. Let it sit and drain for 30 minutes, then gently squeeze out any excess moisture with the cheesecloth.
- Preheat your oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the cubed, cold butter and use a pastry blender or your fingers to work the butter into the flour until it’s the size of peas. Pour the buttermilk into the bowl and use a rubber spatula to stir until all the flour is dampened. Now crumble the drained ricotta in your fingers and loosely sprinkle it around the biscuit mixture. Use your hands to knead the ricotta into the dough and bring it all together. This shouldn’t take more than about 1 minute, you don’t want to overwork the dough.
- Turn the dough onto a clean, floured work surface and use your hands to flatten it into a 4-by-6-inch rectangle. Fold it into thirds (like a letter) and then flatten it back to the 4-by-6-inch rectangle. Repeat this process 2 more times. Use a sharp knife or bench scraper to cut the biscuit dough rectangle into 8 squares. Transfer them to your prepared baking sheet, placing them close together but not touching, and brush the tops with the 2 tbs buttermilk. Immediately place them in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. They are done when the tops are golden brown, the biscuits have risen, and they feel decidedly unsquishy to the touch when tapped. They won’t be firm like rocks, but if you tap them and they jiggle like jello or it feels like you could smush the whole thing easily, they’re not done yet.
- When they are done, remove from the oven and let cool as much as you want. Split them open and serve with the Strawberry Sumac Jam.
This jam is foolproof if you just don’t let it scorch. Watch your heat level and keep stirring. Use a bigger pot than you think or it WILL spill over, and that’s not a mess you want. Trust me. I use this stockpot for reference. I took an idea from NYTimes Cooking for the biscuits - they published a tomato cobbler with ricotta biscuits awhile back, and I skipped the cobbler and just adapted the biscuits to bake up. The ricotta adds a little sweetness and a tad bit of richness that I think plays off the strawberries very well. We are starting to see some semblance of normalcy with respect to flour buying once again, but if you cannot find cake flour, just follow these instructions to make your own, it's easy. Enjoy!