Remembrance Sunday Wartime Kitchen:
Bacon Cakes, Baked Bean Tin Puddings & Sunday Tea
(John Gillespie Magee, Jr.)
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr (9 June 1922 – 11 December 1941) was an American aviator and poet who died as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire during World War II. He was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States officially entered the war. He is most famous for his poem “High Flight.”
I awoke on this sombre day to sparkling sunshine and a vivid blue sky – so many Remembrance Sundays in the past have been dark, drizzly and damp affairs that at first the beautiful autumn day seemed like an affront to the fallen, but slowly I realised that it was a lovely day to frame the act of remembrance and also embrace hope for the future. I watched the laying of the poppy wreaths at The Cenotaph, as I always do, and I also observed the two-minute silence, again, as I always do, but I was shocked to see that the march past of veterans doesn’t dwindle with time, but remains the same size……as our brave, elderly WW2 veterans pass away, their places are taken by other men and women……it’s a potent symbol of continuing conflicts. When I started my Wartime Kitchen Ration Book Cooking a week ago, it was not just an exercise in thriftiness and the ability to make ends meet, it was my way of commemorating Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. And so, the week of wartime rations ends on this day of remembrance, and what have I learned over the last week? Many things actually, some that I will highlight in my post today…….
With Bonfire Night and Remembrance Sunday over, the next big event on my calendar is of course Christmas; and I wondered how it must have been during the war to celebrate Christmas, with the men away fighting and the rationing, and yet it appears that families who cold celebrate together, did do and with some amount of ingenuity when it came to food for the festive table.
Elizabeth Grice in The Telegraph last year, wrote an interesting article about wartime Christmas with quotes from Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall…….
…………”Grated potato mixed with flour and herbs and gently fried in pork dripping is not the obvious choice for a Christmas Day menu, but desperate times call for desperate measures. If potato floddies could pass as festive fare in food-rationed Britain, why shouldn’t they come into their own again in the new age of austerity? In a spirit of cautious inquiry, I seek out the champion of the forgotten floddie, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, who has a vast knowledge of wartime cooking.
Seventy years ago, Britain was enduring its first Christmas under rationing. Almost everything that constituted traditional Christmas fare or made food appetising was either impossible to get or in short supply. Even if you lived in the country, Christmas dinner was likely to be old hen or half a shoulder of mutton, followed by wartime plum pudding with little fruit and a heavy ballast of breadcrumbs. Gravy browning would be added to plum puddings and Christmas cakes to disguise the paucity of fruit.
“The war made people very inventive,” says Jane. “They started saving their rations for Christmas fare long in advance. Dried fruits were hard to come by unless you were lucky enough to know someone serving in North Africa who could send parcels of raisins.
“There was a huge government advertising campaign to encourage people to eat potatoes and less bread – convoys of British merchant ships bringing wheat from America and Canada were very vulnerable to German U-boats.”
Her wartime hero is Lord Woolton, the charismatic businessman who took charge of feeding the nation in April 1940. As Minister of Food, his job was to oversee rationing. “Not a task likely to endear him to the public,” says Jane, “but he was universally regarded with affection. People called him Uncle Fred and would write to thank him for arranging extra milk for babies and nursing mothers. Sometimes they would send him photos of their babies, captioned: ‘One of Lord Woolton’s babies’, which he was not so fond of.
As a child, Jane spent most of the war on her grandparents’ farm in Wiltshire, so “got off lightly” as far as rationing was concerned, but the waste-not-want-not mantra was ingrained in her.
“I never leave a scrap of food on my plate, even now. If you didn’t finish, you were told to think of the poor starving children in Russia. Rations made food pretty dreary, but people were healthier at the end of the war than at the beginning. There were fewer diseases of malnutrition because everyone was treated fairly. People complained about the National Loaf, but it was fairly OK wholemeal bread and probably healthier than the white bread people were used to.”
The anti-waste campaign was legally enforced. Jane tells the story of Miss Mary O’Sullivan, from Barnet, who was fined £10 with two guineas’ costs for asking her maid to put stale crumbs out for the birds. “Since hearing her story, I have been conscience-stricken about wasting bread. Now, when the heel of a loaf is left over, I whiz it up in the blender and freeze the crumbs for a future gratin or apple charlotte.”
Jane was a teenager by the time rationing dribbled to its end in 1954. “Chicken was a special treat,” she recalls, “usually an old boiler, too old to lay eggs. My mother cooked rabbit more often than chicken. She made a lovely rabbit casserole and regarded it as a great triumph when my father thought it was chicken.”
While the potato floddies are sizzling contentedly on the Aga, we measure out the ingredients for Jane’s wartime plum pudding. “The recipe was passed on to me by a lady who died aged 101 the other day. It was given to her 85 years ago. There’s hardly any flour and no added sugar. The fruit provides the sweetness. It is quite appropriate for these austere times.”
In The Ministry of Food, the book she wrote to accompany the Imperial War Museum’s wartime food exhibition last year, Jane has a potential Christmas show-stopper – Mock Duck, a concoction of sausage meat, apples, onions and sage.
“In wartime, when there was very little meat in sausages, Mock Duck would have been almost a vegetarian dish,” says Jane. “Does it taste like duck? No. Does it look like duck? No. Calling it Mock Duck must have satisfied a craving for a pre-war treat.”
The combined adult weekly ration of butter (2oz), margarine (4oz) and cooking fat (2oz-4oz) was seldom adequate for a regular baking session and women would go to extreme lengths to supplement it – using the fat surrounding tinned ham or corned beef, even resorting to liquid paraffin (a strong laxative) or their children’s cod liver oil.
In the Fearnley-Whittingstall household, a Christmas favourite is wartime brandy snaps. Tiny dollops of the lemony, gingery mixture are spooned on to floured baking parchment and a few minutes later we are wrapping the warm, pliant lacework circles of sweetness round the handle of a wooden spoon. “We also fill them with fruit fool,” she says. “These are as popular today in our house as they were during the Second World War.“………
With Christmas in mind, I decided to veer away from a rigid wartime menu today and share my wartime Sunday High Tea with you…..we had porridge for breakfast as usual, and then a bowl of soup, Meat-Free Scotch Broth, for lunch time, but our last day of rations is going to be a very luxurious event as I have saved much of my rationed food for today. So, today’s Sunday High Tea Time table will comprise:
Day Seven: Remembrance Sunday High Tea:
Bacon and Potato Cakes with Fried Bread
Boiled eggs with Bread and Butter
Spiced Mixed Fruit Pudding with custard
Pot of tea
And here are my weekly rations and what I have left…….
WW2 Rations 1940: Two Adults:
* Butter: Finished! used all 3 ozs (75g)!
* Bacon or ham: 150g (6oz) – used two rashers
* Margarine: 4 1/2 ozs (120g) – used 1 oz (25g)
* Cooking fat/lard: 50g (2 oz) Used 30zs (75g)
Sugar: 13 1/2 ozs (415g) – used 1 oz (25g)
Meat: To the value of 2/4d – about 2lb (900g) – Used 8 ozs (225g)
* Milk: 1 3/4 pints (1050ml)) – used 2 pints (600ml)
Cheese: 6oz (150g)
Eggs: 2 fresh egg a week – NOT taking this ration up as I have my own chickens
* Tea: Finished! Used last 1 oz (25g)
* Jam: 900g (2lb) every two months. (4 ozs) left – Used last of jam
Dried eggs: 1 packet (12 eggs) every four weeks
Sweets & Chocolate: 700g (1lb 8oz) every four weeks
As you can see I have quite a lot of my rations left, and that reflects current tastes I think, such as low-fat and low sugar diets, as well as not much meat in my diet on a personal level. Plus, I am on a diet anyway and I am not eating sweets and chocolates at present. I finished all my tea and jam, and also my butter, as a special Sunday tea time treat, with the bread and jam sandwiches as well as with the bread and butter for the boiled eggs. I also used a lot of milk today with tea as well as making some custard to go with the steamed pudding.
What has become obvious as I have progressed through the week is JUST how little meat, eggs, sugar and fat you actually need in most recipes, and, just HOW small the ingredient amounts that are needed – most wartime recipes are for four people and would probably feed two people today, which is shocking. I was also interested to see how the wartime housewife perked up her meals with the use if herbs and spices, with parsley and sage taking centre stage, as well as mustard and curry powder. It’s been humbling to live off rations for a week, and it also brought home how relevant these wartime menus are for today and the excesses and waste in food. I may try this again in the New Year for a longer period of time and also bring the points system in to play. I am sharing two recipes with you today, my delicious Spiced Mixed Fruit Roll made in a baked beans tin and Wartime Bacon and Potato Cakes…..and the other recipes that I have made throughout the week can be found here: Wartime Recipes. I am also sharing a few Wartime Christmas recipes by way of Ministry of Food leaflets too…..
and the other side of the leaflet……
I hope you have found my wartime kitchen and living off rations interesting, and a BIG thanks to my wartime buddies, Janice and Fiona too….that’s all for today, see you next week with some NEW GIVEAWAYS, NEW REVIEWS and some NEW RECIPES too! Karen
Join Fiona and Janice in their Wartime Kitchens too: