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Lets hope some things don't come back... Forties' fashion wasn't just influenced by the rationing of clothes: food rationing meant the nation was at its healthiest and slimmest ever. But that doesn't mean it was appetising, as Jo Ind finds out...

Byline: Jo Ind

I had thought that in the interests of research, I would live on rations for a week so I could write about seven days in the life of a 1940s housewife.

Then I had a look at a typical menu from a world war two kitchen and changed my mind...

I could imagine that a mince and haricot pudding could be quite tasty and lentil soup with bread could make a good nutritious lunch.

Even the porridge, bubble and squeak and jam tart had a feel of comforting stodge about them.

It was when I came to the liver hot pot and minced tripe that I changed my mind about the mouth-on journalistic research.

It was the monotony that I found the most unappetising of all. I like potatoes, I really do, but I like them two or three times a week, not two or three times a day.

The truth is that I could live on rations if I absolutely had to, but choose it - even for a week - I never could.

All through the 40s, they did not have the luxury of that choice. Rationing began in 1940 and did not finally end until 1954 It was a deliciously socialist concept. Food was in short supply as 70 per cent of the food that Britain had been importing ceased to be available during the war.

Everybody was therefore allocated his or her fair share. Nobody had more than he or she needed and everyone had enough.

To start with only a few foods were rationed - bacon was the first to be restricted, then sugar, then meat, then tea.

People were permitted the equivalent of 15 tea bags per week from their registered grocers. Once they had had their share, the ration book was stamped and they were allowed no more.

In July 1940 a complete ban was put on the making or selling of iced cakes. Later that year, the death knell was sounded for wedding cakes and Christmas cakes as candied peel and crystallised cherries were banned.

In December 1941 the Ministry of Food introduced a points rationing scheme for items such as canned meat, fish and vegetables at first.

Everyone was given 16 points a month, later raised to 20, to spend as they wished at any shop that had the items they wanted.

Later items such as rice, canned fruit, condensed milk, breakfast cereals, biscuits and cornflakes were added. In essence the 1940s diet was low in saturated animal fat and cholesterol.

People became reluctant vegetarians as meat was limited to one small porkchop and four sausages a week. Eggs were no substitute as people were allowed only one per week.

House wives had to learn the art of bulking food out with lentils, haricot beans, oats and steamed pudding.

The skill was in making the meagre supplies stretch to fill the family up and also in providing variety on such limited provisions.

The Ministry of Food tried to encourage cooks to be more creative with their food. It produced a radio show called The Kitchen Front, offering tips to house wives to help them think up ideas for stretching their rations.

One enthusiastic woman told of her great discovery of potato and chocolate pudding.

Likewise a reader wrote in to the Birmingham Evening Mail proudly proclaiming she used liquid paraffin as a substitute for margarine in cakes.

And when she made a cake for the VE day celebrations, she made an oblong cake with red, white and blue icing. In the want of any food colouring, she made her own - cochineal for the red and a bit of an old bag for the blue.

Eating bits of old bag might not be the most nutritious of war time inventions, but in other respects people were more healthy through rationing than they are today.

Fruit and vegetables were not rationed so it was not unusual for children coming in from school and announcing they were hungry, to be told to have some carrots from the pantry.

The myth that carrots help you to see in the dark, was invented by Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, in an attempt to encourage people to keep eating them.

He said the night fighter and bomber aces of the RAF had better eyesight as a result of eating carrots which explained their success in helping them bring down the enemy.

The happy effect of all this was that many people were better nourished than they were before.

Eating carrots instead of sweets meant the average wartime child consumed 1,800 calories a day as opposed to 3,000 calories for the average child today.

When oranges were available children under six years of age were entitled to receive 1lb each week and these were relished as a treat because they were so unusual, rather than being overlooked in favour of a Mars Bar.

Special arrangements were made for young children, expectant and nursing mothers to receive cod-liver oil, orange juice and milk from welfare clinics.

The result was that most people ate less meat, fat, eggs and sugar than they had eaten before and yet the poor were able to increase their intake of protein and vitamins because they received the same ration as everybody else.

Infant mortality rates declined, as a consequence, and the average age at which people died from natural causes increased.

The general health of children improved and they grew taller than they did before the war.

It did not stop there either. The National Loaf was introduced. It was made with more of the grain than was used in white bread, resulting in a brown loaf.

That meant white bread was no longer readily available and brown bread became the norm.

And people ate much more locally grown, organic food than they do today. That was not because they were more pesticide conscious but because they had no choice.

In 1939, the Government launched a Dig for Victory campaign, which urged people to dig up their flower beds and make them into vegetable patches.

This people did and many kept chickens, rabbits and even pigs in their gardens too.

During some seasons, it was a matter of grow your own or eat nothing at all. And the soil contained more nutrients than it does today because it was not so intensively farmed.

True, it was not all good. People were really short on fruit as very few citrus fruits were available and bananas disappeared altogether.

People never saw a fresh tomato from the end of September to the end of May and they would look forward to summer with its strawberries and the apples of autumn with relish.

The great thing about the restrictions, with mother being the necessity of invention and all that, was that people found imaginative ways of surviving.

Garden owners discovered they could grow tomatoes against a warm wall, a practice hardly seen before the war. Fruit crumble is a pudding that is still popular today but it was during the 40s that it came into its own because it was hard to make pastry out of wartime flour.

The eggless sponge, which we still use for cakes like Swiss Roll, was invented in the age of the rationed egg. Despite all the good things about rationing, I am still grateful I did not have to live on a diet of porridge, steamed pudding and vegetables. I just hope realising that will make me more appreciative of the food we have today.

There are times when I pull a stir-fry out of the freezer because I 'can't think what to cook.'

And that is when my larder is packed with four different varieties of rice, three types of pasta, tins of tuna, tomatoes, olives and every kind of flavouring imaginable.

My fridge is usually stocked with, by 1940s' standards, six week's supply of eggs and eight week's supply of cheese not to mention fromage frais, red and yellow peppers, fresh fruit, mushrooms and tomatoes - and I stand there and can't think what to do with it all.

Marguerite Patten, the wartime chef who advised house wives on The Kitchen Front, has been rightly sniffy with celebrity chefs who have said to her:'Marguerite, you must be surprised at how imaginative we are.'

'If we hadn't been imaginative during those 14 years, we would have starved,' she replied.

Typical weekly rations per person in August 1942: Three pints of milk Four ounces of bacon Two ounces of tea (15 tea bags) Two ounces of cheese Two ounces of butter or margarine Two ounces of lard Eight ounces of sugar One pound of meat One egg Jam, rice, dried fruit, canned tomatoes, peas, condensed milk, chocolate, sweets, biscuits and oatflakes were rationed by a points system.

Potatoes, offal, fruit and vegetables were not rationed.

Bread became rationed once the war was over.

A typical wartime recipe Mock GooseOne and a half pounds of potatoes Two large cooking apples Four ounces of cheese Half a teaspoon of dried sage Salt and pepper Three quarters of a pint of vegetable stock I tablespoon of flour Cooking time - one hour Scrub and slice potatoes thinly, slice apples, grate cheese. Grease a fireproof dish, place a layer of potatoes on it, cover with apples and a little sage, season lightly and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat layers leaving potatoes and cheese to cover.

Pour in half a pint of stock and cook in a moderate oven for three quarters of an hour.

Blend flour with the remainder of the stock, pour into a dish and cook for another quarter of an hour.

Serve as a main dish with a green vegetable.


A little girl savours her first taste of ration free chocolate; People queueing in the bread line; Rations Office workers
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 8, 2004
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