Thursday, 31 December 2009


A week ago I said that the rations in our ration book looked generous. With the main rationing shop for the month due on the 2nd of January, they may well turn out to be.

But they also may well turn out to be completely inadequate. I bought the first rationed item yesterday: tea. We're almost out of tea bags (I'm letting supplies of rationed goods run out so we can't cheat next month) so it was an ideal time to get loose tea under rations.

The tea ration was 4oz (just over 100g) a month; the rationing of tea was not because of shortages but because of the shipping space in bringing it from Undivided India. Now, between us, that's 8oz for a month, which sounded a lot in my head. Metrication means you can't buy 8oz, but you can buy the nearest metric equivalent, 250g (8.8oz), so already I'm cheating the ration. But here's the rub: how on earth am I going to make 8oz of tea last a month? This is a tea household. After my morning coffee, uncommon in the UK in the 1940s but not unheard of, I drink tea. Four or 5 cups a day. CJBS drinks more, although he adds herbal stuff to that - other than peppermint, I don't touch such insipid concoctions.

If I remember loose tea correctly from the early 80s (when bags were still thought to be the sweepings of the tea factory floor), it went further than bags because you made it in a pot rather than in the mug. Certainly I've been wasteful of tea in the past - staying in hotels quite often, I can make a hotel teabag go for three cups at a push, whilst at home one bag == one cup. But the process of "refreshing" a pot of loose tea is a lost talent for me now.

But the tea I've bought, which must last a month, is in a teeny-tiny container. I'm looking forward to reducing the fat intake over January, and to reusing leftovers, and to making do with very little and eking out supplies. It'll be a challenge and it'll be fun and it'll be educative. But doing without tea? Well, that'll test the Dunkirk spirit and no mistake.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas curry

Christmas dinner leftovers gives me an excuse to make a traditional British curry. And, yes, you would've got one in the 1940s. In fact, you could get one in the 1840s, such is Britain's love affair with Indian-style food.

And Indian-style is accurate here: British curries are unknown in the Indian subcontinent; even our modern favourites were designed and made in Birmingham and Bradford and other cities, by British people whose connections with the subcontinent are now distant. Our vibrant British Asian population has been part of Britain for more than 200 years, with Queen Victoria settling down to a (pre-turkey) Christmas dinner of curried rabbit.

A classic mid-century British curry's ingredients list is more like that of a fruit cake than a savoury main meal, but its all the better for that. Heat some oil or butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and chuck in a diced large onion. When the onion starts to go translucent, chuck in some crushed garlic and start adding curry powder. A note about curry powder: adding extra mild curry powder won't make a curry hot; adding less hot curry powder won't make a curry mild; the temperature is set by the powder's temperature and adding more or less simply increases or reduces the intensity of the flavour, not the heat.

Keep adding curry powder and stirring until all of the oil is soaked into the powder and stuck to the onion, like making a roux. Then add a tin of tomatoes and stir well. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. This is your curry sauce. You can at this point stir in a glob or two of stuff to round the flavour out: HP or Daddies sauce, ketchup, worcester sauce, anything savoury that you've got in the cupboard will all help. Now for what you're currying: diced turkey for Boxing day, I suppose.

A large handful of raisins or sultana is essential; sliced apple is a good thing too. Left over roast potatoes can go in, plus other leftover veg - almost anything can be curried. Give it all a good stir, cover and leave on a low heat to bubble away to itself. The longer you leave it, the better it tastes, so if you're prepared to cook it for 5 hours, do so! If not, try to give it at least an hour. Stir occasionally to ensure it isn't catching on the bottom. Remove the lid if it's too watery for you to allow it to reduce.

The classic way to serve is by making a pile of cooked rice in the centre of the plate, then spreading the rice around to the edges with the back of a ladle; spoon the curry into the middle. The modern way of serving this would be to cover two thirds of the plate with curry and pile the rice into the remaining space. You can supply your own breads and pappadums.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Peace on Earth, 1939

A 1939 MGM cartoon on the topical subject of peace.

Keeping Christmas merry

With the rationing experiment fast approaching, I'm cooking the usual huge Christmas dinner you'd expect in the early 21st Century.

I'm interested to spot what I could and couldn't make of this meal during wartime. Starting at the top, the turkey is out, as is all poultry. Poultry wasn't rationed, but it became impossible to buy, and although the government encouraged people to keep hens, how many people could (a) find space and (b) wring the neck of a bird you've been caring for all year? Woman's Hour this morning had an all-too-brief clip of a 1940s "Murkey" recipe - mock Turkey made using mutton. I dread to think.

The bread sauce is out too. It's just too wasteful of the onion you put in the milk and then throw away; later in the war, milk would be rationed and a pint for a sauce is even more wasteful. Ironically, the cloves (nutmeg in this case, CJBS not liking cloves either) and the bay leaves would remain in plentiful supply, but of little utility with nothing for them to flavour.

The roast potatoes would still be plentiful, and Lord Woolton would like us to eat more. But there would be little fat to make that crispy, almost-burnt, outside. With no fat, you're getting baked potatoes rather than roast - still good, but not the same thing at all.

Stuffing, carrots, cabbage and broccoli are all fine, although the stuffing would be by hand from scratch rather than from Paxo. Carrots remained in good supply, but cabbage and broccoli are regional products and rely on the railways supplying a useful quantity, so sudden shortages are not unknown.

At the worst level, this Christmas dinner could have been stuffing made from stale bread and sage, carrots, baked potatoes and whatever meat or fish was to hand; if not available, then it would be Woolton Pie or some form of ersatz "savoury loaf" - filling, but uninspired by modern tastes.

At the best, then a small joint with plenty of vegetables would be on offer - this providing the fat to make the potatoes truly roast rather than baked. With few toys in the shops, perennial shortages of hard liquor and the beer watered down, virtually no fresh fruit in December, and supplies of foreign-grown nuts reduced drastically, Christmases 1940 through 1953 (rationing ran January 1940 to mid-1954) would've been very hard by modern standards.

Christmas Under Fire

Monday, 21 December 2009

Retro retro

Keeping track of which rations we've used and which we have still got to go should be easy, what with computers and this blog and so forth. But there's an even easier way, and its usefully manual: I've made ration books.

The original ration books divided each period into weeks and each week into points. You could use your points before the week named on them, but not after. The genius of the points system was that the government could vary the "value" of points according to supplies, so one week 3 points was worth 3oz of ham, the next 3 points was worth 2oz. This way, there was no need to reissue ration books or insist on certain coupons not being used. It also allowed the supply ministries to reallocate coupons, so margarine coupons could be declared to be clothing coupons and butter coupons suddenly butter-and-margarine coupons.

The points system required a ready reckoner approach, with press advertisements telling the housewife how many points made five this week or month. Since the points-to-weight allowance is fixed for the duration of this experiment, I've not used points in our books. Instead, I've just listed the weight directly on the coupon, divided up into useful amounts. The exception is "points", which were points without a fixed item or weight against them and were used for luxuries and store items according to available surpluses, and red meat, which was rationed by price rather than weight.

So we're ready to go. At a glance, these books make the ration seem very generous and easy. Certainly they make it look easy, anyway. I'm expecting the "generous" bit to start looking "onerous" by about 10 January.

Dig for Victory

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A big ol' pan of fat

The shortage of fat in World War II was often got around by the presence of a frankly disgusting pan of fat. The idea was to fry everything in a single pan, thus collecting the run-off fat each time. This fat was then kept, congealed, until it was needed next time.

The pan provided a useful source of dripping - bacon and other fat that you can dip toast or bread in as a tasty alternative to plain, tasteless margarine (there wasn't enough butter to waste on toast). And the fat keeps - regular boiling and congealing kills off most nasties, and anything that did turn could be scraped out, leaving the bulk of the fat available.

There's no other way of saying this: this practice is disgusting. It looks disgusting, it smells disgusting and it is, to 21st century minds, disgusting. And I'm starting my fat pan today, when CJBS has his bacon sandwiches for lunch. The pan will likely be vital toward the end of January, when fat will be hard to come by.

Edit: CJBS didn't want bacon cooked in a frying pan (only grilled), although he did offer his bacon rinds for further use (?) so I've made a start on a vegetarian fat pan instead, beginning with some baking marg and some vegebacon. This'll be very useful for me in late January...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A question of waste

Earlier this week I reposted this Food Flash from the Ministry of Food. As usual with these pithy 20-second cinema shorts, it was informative without lecturing. And it occurs to me that we should be seeing similar stuff on TV and online now.

The modern recycling campaigns, aimed at young people, are all very well. But recycling is the final option, not the first one. When my mum cooks, she uses virtually everything for something (and online I've discovered that onion skins can be used for stock making; and even potato skins can be fried for crisps if you're desperate enough, although this idea came from someone writing about their experiences of Berlin in the winter of 1945 where things were indeed desperate; the same site appears to have a recipe that requires you to throw away the potato and keep only the skins, which makes me weep). I'm always much more slapdash. The top third of a leek is often mud-filled; it's so much easier to cut it off, throw it away and cook the tight white part alone. Onion skins are easiest to remove if you allow the top layer(s) of onion to be sacrificed with them. Virtually everything fresh has a part that could be used and I throw it away for convenience.

With luck, this experiment will purge me of such foolish notions. I'm supposed to be an environmentalist, yet with no garden and "no time" (made available), I happily throw away tremendous amounts of off-cuts.

Now, that's not as bad as throwing away edible food, or the slightly greater sin of throwing away food that has been over-bought and allowed to go off. But it's still waste and it's still foolish.

So even if this experiment doesn't work, or stops on January 31 with a trite post about how hard it was, what I really want is to walk away with a sense that every scrap has some value somewhere.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Powdered egg

Powdered egg has long been thought World War II's "housewife's staple". So many recipes contain egg, but before the days of battery farming of hens (now itself fortunately dying away again), eggs weren't produced in the shelves-full quantities we now expect.

Add in the difficulties in transporting eggs from the country to the cities and eggs' short shelf life, and you've got a problem with getting protein to the people.

Powdered egg solved this. By drying out the egg contents, you could transport vast quantities without all the smashing, even up the supply along the "fair shares" principle of rationing and store it in tins almost indefinitely.

Needless to say, people hated it. It's really not the same thing at all: you can just about scramble it, and it'll do you an omelette, assuming you can add something else to unblandify it, but you can't have a fried egg butty with powdered egg. But for cooking with, in cakes and anything else needing binding, it was invaluable. When the new Labour government came in in 1945, they stopped production of the powdered egg and the import of the American cans, believing wrongly that shell eggs would soon return. The Conservatives got a Mrs Lovelock to form the Housewives' League to campaign for it to come back, and pretty soon had women all over the country voting to the right, rather than the centre-left they'd done since getting the vote, a situation that has only changed since 1997.

Just occasionally, I've found powdered egg on sale in the UK still, in small quantities from what used to be Supercook. But the local supermarkets don't see a market for it, as I've not found any for this experiment. Until today, when I went into the local healthfood store. I went there last about 5 years ago and it was all supplements and pulses. Now, I discover that they do a lot more vegan foodstuffs. Far too late for me, I've found online suppliers of everything. Except powdered egg-free egg. And now I've got some.

I've been egg intolerant for a couple of years, so the prospect of an omelette is pleasing me no end. Whether CJBS will be pleased at a month of powdered not-quite egg instead of real local free-range eggs... well, what he doesn't know won't harm him.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Waste not waist

Finished the Woolton Pie

...and it was excellent. Filling, tasty, and about 75p per helping per person. CJBS had seconds, enjoying the pie as much as my non-rationed version of old. I think it looked very appetising.

But then, very broadly, pie always does. But CJBS is the final arbiter and he shovelled it down.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Halfway through a Woolton Pie

The potato pastry was excellent to work with. A great consistency, although not all that good at sticking together where there were gaps. Still, it's a hit with me and better than the pre-made stuff, so I'll do it again.

The boiled vegetable mass was drained and put into a pie dish, where it sat looking unappetising, as you'd expect.

The stock, now, I suppose, on its third use,was returned to the pan with some gravy powder (which is cornflour and onion powder) rather than the rolled oats that Patten recommends. Brought back to heat, it thickened and I mixed it into the veg mix.

Then I put the pastry over the dish, used the leftover bits to make a stereotypical leaf design, punched a hole in the top and brushed the result with a very small (1fl oz) amount of fresh milk.

And now into a moderate oven until CJBS gets back from work. I'll report back.

Starting a Woolton Pie

As a fairly ordinary lazy person, I tend to buy ready-made pastry. There, I've said it and my Mum will now break down in tears. So making pastry is a fun new thing. Making potato pastry is even newer.

There are two types, one using mashed and then sieved cooked potatoes, but Patten warns subtly that this method uses less fat and has a bland flavour. The second version replaces 2oz of fat with grated raw potato, and is apparently much more robust in taste.

I took six ounces of self-raising flour and a pinch of salt, and rubbed in 3oz of cooking margarine - now somewhat forgotten but you'll remember it from your childhood childhood hood hood od od (no brand names, no pack drill). This took forever. Then I grated in 2oz of raw potato. This was then also rubbed in. With a little bit of water, a dough was made.

Then it was time for the pie filling. This was just £3 of seasonal vegetables - a small turnip, a small swede, two potatoes, a carrot, a leek and three very large mushrooms. Diced up, these were put in my stock pot, then I added the left over stock from Friday's meal, which was enriched by cooking (faux) bacon with the vegetables.

This has now boiled on the stove for 10 minutes, covered, and all the veg has softened. Next, the oven stage...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Eating well the Frederick Marquis way

With time ticking on this experiment beginning (2 January), I'm going to have to tackle a proper Woolton Pie.

I already do a modern version that CJBS loves, but that version isn't as economical on rationed and short-supply items. My version uses no discrete fat but does use too much cheese and too much fat in the pastry.

For my usual version, I take seasonal root vegetables peeled and chopped and put them in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cook, covered, on a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't stick to the bottom. This causes the vegetables to sweat. When the pan has liquid in the bottom, I add mushroom essence (bottled or from the liquid dried mushrooms have soaked in for a few hours), stir well again, and then add grated cheese - about two handfuls. Keep stirring until the cheese has melted around the vegetables and take off the heat.

Make (or buy, I'm not proud) shortcrust pastry, line a pie dish with it, then tip the vegetable mix in without the liquid. Cover with more pastry and bake in a moderate oven until the pastry browns. Serve with gravy. You can also top with mashed potato instead.

Now, Woolton Pie is designed to use almost no fat. The basics are the same, but without the cheese and without the shortcrust pastry. For the former, gravy browning takes the liquid and stiffens it. For the latter, it uses potato pastry, basically made from rubbing the potatoes with other ingredients forever, or a similar version that also uses grated carrot. Either way, the pastry doesn't keep. Make and use immediately, else it goes an unappealing grey, warns Marguerite Patten.

The result could be truly boring and even fat-free mash would be better, but I fancy the challenge of making something interesting out of it. So that's tomorrow evening's plan.

Add Water

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Spam spam spam spam spam spam corned beef spam

One of the reasons CJBS is looking forward to our month on rations (and he now thinks that it should extend beyond if the following comes true and also if I introduce "points") is the prospect of getting the rare delights of stodgy comfort food from his school days. I'm familiar with this idea: my Dad, an essentially conservative man, had a very wide palate (he loved curry) thanks to my Mum and her superb cooking skills. But he continued to adore particularly the former British habit of serving something brown, something green and something off-white, smothered in something gravy- or sauce-like. If followed by a pudding that was 90% suet and covered in Birds custard, it would've been perfect.

CJBS loves the idea of school food, and the above describes it pretty well. Today I went out and bought some spam and some corned beef. He was delighted to see the tins in the cupboard. For him, cold spam with hot mashed potato and tomato ketchup would be perfection. If I could mash the corned beef into potatoes and serve with a limp gravy, well, he'd be in heaven.

This must be a thing of men of, er, a certain age. My late ex loved nothing more than mince and potatoes or a Vesta meal. My own creations were as nothing to what could come out of a 1950s-looking packet. For me, I drool over penne and tortellini, real South Asia curries and stuff with waterchestnuts and tofu bobbing about in them. Clearly British cuisine has moved on (and about time too) but a love of cheap food of the 50s clearly continues to dominate some people's palates.

I shall search for recipes that do a bit more with spam and a lot more with corned beef, if only to make either or both seem palatable now. But clearly I won't lose out if I just serve each out of the tin.


Whilst I think on, I should clarify the mention of "points" above. Each ration book came with a page of non-specific coupons. These were called "points" and were designed to be effectively a second currency that the government could control. Every month, you accrued more available points. These could be "spent" (with the addition of actual money) on a range of goods, depending on what was in surplus and what was in short supply at the time. The government, via the Ministry of Food, set a points value on items that were in short supply but were not in themselves essential.

You could, if you so wished, use your points on basic rations, buying cheese or bacon "above the ration". But you could also use them on milk chocolate - a rarity that people really wanted - or on seasonal items like sprouts and mincemeat. Above all, they could be used on the items that came and went - often went for prolonged periods - like South African tinned peaches, a delicacy that still makes a 1940s or 1950s child drool. When in plentiful supply, tinned peaches could be bought for 3 or 4 points and the money the market asked (points goods were usually not price controlled). When they were in short supply, suddenly the points required would be 30 or 40, plus the steep price the market wanted. With 16 a month per person, the housewife - and it was a stupid man who tried to control these things, even whilst thinking nothing of controlling her money supply - could decide on that little treat this month and that store-cupboard item next.

Personally, as a lefty, I'd've preferred the government to have set price controls on these items and not bothered with points. But no housewife would've been without them in the 1940s.

Look After Bread

Friday, 11 December 2009

Making a hash of things

Whilst I wait for CJBS to sample his savoury potato and meat patty things I made yesterday (he'll text from work, where they will be served with baked beans via a microwave), today I have a non-leftovers meal to try.

I'm making hash, a mixture of potato and anything else to hand. In today's case, that's faux bacon, mushroom and carrot because the noble Lords Woolton and Hill want me to see in the dark (and more importantly to use lots of carrots, as they're domestic, cheap to grow and keep well).

If this works, it's a good rationable meal: only the fat at the start and the bacon are rationed, and the fat would be from the - frankly disgusting - pan of old fat kept on the stove for regular recycling.

I've chopped an onion, a handful of mushrooms, a handful of potatoes and a carrot and cut up 3oz of bacon (Redwood faux back bacon here). With a minimum of fat in a heavy-bottomed fan, I fried the bacon and the onions, then chucked in the potato, carrot and mushrooms. Stirred well, then added half a pint of stock (which will have a second life).

Left covered on the stove to simmer for 10 minutes, then drained, keeping the now-bacon enhanced stock for reuse (I'm thinking stew). The remainder is then transferred to the oven with some more fat (butter in this case, the experiment doesn't begin officially until 2 January), where it now sits awaiting gaining crispy bits on the potatoes. Gravy optional (in theory I would have some left over from last night, but in reality it went down the sink).

I'll get back to you on how it worked out.

Edit: It worked perfectly. Lovely meal!

Now Wait a Minute

Thursday, 10 December 2009

And the final product

I've finished the savoury meat roll experiment. Only the result has been sausage and potato patties. I'm not unhappy with this.

The texture from not steaming but baking instead was firmer and just looked "right", compared to the soggy faux-meat version I made for myself. Out of the oven, I rolled the result into balls, flattened them, dipped them in a little beaten egg then shallow fried them.

When they were golden, I took them out and drained them on kitchen roll. I'd imagine that, during the 1940s, people would've left this sort of thing on racks and collected the run-off fat, perhaps even keeping them in a low oven for half an hour to extract as much as was going to fall out. Gravy hides a multitude of such non-sins.

And now the results go into the fridge, for me to reheat tomorrow for CJBS to pass a verdict. I think they'll be fine. Meanwhile, I'll keep the browned breadcrumb remains and the fat from shallow frying (it was the fat I cooked the sausages in earlier, so it was already flavoursome, as these things go) for use tomorrow and look for a recipe that will use both.

And the rationing experiment doesn't even begin until 2 Janaury!

It worked!

With caveats, of course. But, yeah, it worked!

The sage was a bad idea. It tasted lovely... but it tasted lovely of stuffing. Everyone likes stuffing, but not as an entire meal, I'll wager. (Except, obviously, when drunk/high and it's the only thing in the house). And, by the way, yes, I know about the double entendre, so there's no need to point it out.

At the end of the oven-cooking part, it was too moist (my fear that it would be too dry led to me steaming it) so I rolled it into balls (control yourselves). These I rolled into the breadcrumbs, and then I shallow-fried the lot. The result was very very good, but hardly healthy. But, as my only meal of the day, it works. I can always fill up on bread if I get hungry later, although Lord Woolton would have kittens at the idea.

Nevertheless, good enough to produce something similar for CJBS now. Less sage, less balls (ahem) but no less good. I hope.

Savoury meat roll

As previously mentioned I'm trying a variation of the savoury meat roll recommended by La Patten, re-reusing the bubble and squeak. And it's looking good.

I'm using faux sausages, which I tried - and failed - to pass through the potato ricer. So I mashed them with a fork. I used sage rather than thyme, on the basis that I like sage, and that I didn't have any thyme. I also made up my own mustard using mustard powder.

Since this is just for me, and despite my blood pressure, I added the outrageous amounts of salt and pepper Patten requires. The result, formed into a loaf, covered with foil, is now in the oven gently steaming itself.

The breadcrumbs - also homemade - bit follows in about half an hour. In the meantime, CJBS has had his bubble and squeak (his first go), his cottage pie (his third go) and two cumberland sausages bought today from the local butcher.

Please excuse his trousers. If the savoury faux-meat roll works, I'll cook CJBS an actual meat version, using the internals of the remaining sausages tonight.

Edit: Whilst it doesn't look all that appetising, here's the savoury faux-meat roll straight out of the oven but before it gets the breadcrumbs:

Leftover leftovers

Having previously written about making bubble and squeak, I then went and made some bubble and squeak. Actually, I made lots of bubble and squeak.

So now I have leftover leftovers. This is a good thing, because, if nothing else, it forces a bit of creativity from me.

I've also got some Redwood vegan sausages in. So the bubble, plus the sausages, must equal something tasty - if only just serving the sausages with the bubble and covering it in gravy. 

Marguerite Patten suggests a savoury meat roll. This is made with sausage meat (which appears to have been unrationed but almost impossible to get hold of and, by the end of the war, was only about 2% meat when you could get it), soaked stale bread and pinto beans. This sounds foul, on two counts: wet bread makes me retch, for reasons I've never worked out, and pinto beans are pinto beans. 

Adapting the recipe tonight to swap the bread and the beans for the bubble would seem the thing to do. I'll have to improvise, but I'd suggest mashing the faux sausages, mix them into the bubble with some mustard and some thyme and finally add gravy browning for colour and for the binding properties of the cornflour. The original, because of the bread I'd assume, wanted steaming for two hours. That would prevent it drying out, but cooking it covered in the oven might also work. The end result is then sliced, rolled into breadcrumbs and served hot with gravy. 

I'll have fun trying this, then inflict a meat version on CJBS if it works.

Rationing in Britain

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wartime posters

Photo by davidChief via flickr [CC-BY]

Bubble and Squeak

As a dish made of leftovers, this is best if the cabbage was cooked a day or so before. It also doesn't harm if the mashed potato is from the day before or even if it is scraped from the top of a cottage pie or somewhere else. I'd imagine you could mash pre-cooked chips or croquettes or the like, but haven't tried it.

If you don't have leftover potato, peel and cut into roughly equal portions some potatoes: the better the potatoes, the better the mash, so something named rather than "baking potatoes" or "white potatoes" will work best. Put into a pan of lightly salted water and boil until you can pass a knife through one without pushing. Drain the water off.

Mash (or better still rice) the potatoes with some butter or olive oil.

If you don't have leftover cabbage, roughly chop your cabbage. If you have a stove-top steamer, steam for a minimum amount of time. If not, boil a pan of water and drop the cabbage in. It really doesn't take long either way. Minutes. The less the better.

Chop an onion. Put a bit of butter in a pan, melt it and add the onion. Wait for the onion to go translucent (see-through). Medium heat is best (too hot it'll caramelise, too cold it'll just sit there). When the onion is done, chuck in the cabbage and stir up. Now chuck in the potato mash. Add some pepper (and salt if your blood pressure is normal) and mix up.

The mixture can now be set aside until you're ready to use the oven for something else. When you are, place the mixture in a shallow baking pan and smooth over, or divide into balls, or put into Yorkshire Pudding trays, or whatever suits you best. Oven cook for as long as possible, until you see signs of browning on the top.

Note that it doesn't matter if any part goes cold during the making of this, so it's perfectly possible to do all of this using just one pan, a colander and a baking tray.

Two Cooks and a Cabbage

Positively green

The two previous posts here have, accidentally, emphasised the negative aspects to the rationing plan - how it doesn't actually replicate 1940 reality and how I'm effectively skipping three days of the month for my own convenience.

So I should be positive: today, I wished I was already doing the plan, because I've got some great leftovers.

To people born in the 1950s and 1960s, leftovers rarely sound positive. I was born in the 1970s, and my school friends talked disparagingly about leftovers (usually to be had of a Monday night). But I don't have this experience: my mum was (and still is) a chef of the first order and has catered to parties of 1000 and of 2. She knows exactly how much to cook and her leftovers, if she chooses to have any, are re-presented later as brand-new meals that nobody would know were recycled. (This is now in fashion, with at least one serious and one post-modern-lets-take-the-piss-of-a-subject-we-actually-want-to-make-money-from book on the market). Thanks to my mum's very patient teaching and lack of a gag reflex - I'm not a natural in the kitchen in the way she is - I can also spin leftovers into other meals.

On Monday, I made two cottage pie meals; one with real mince, one with faux veggie mince. Both with the same riced potato topping (via Kate and Jon's part-wedding present of a potato ricer, be still my beating heart: Best. Present. Ever). There's no way of making that meal for one sitting, especially in two mutually-exclusive varieties. The leftover pie is then re-served the next day, but is less alluring a second time, so needs something new adding.

This time it was steamed cabbage. Yes, you remember it from childhood and cringe. I don't. My memories of it from childhood is it being cooked barely and briefly until it was bright green, crunchy and tasty but not bitter. I told you my mum was good. A perfect supplement to cottage pie. But a whole cabbage leads to more cabbage than two people can eat.

No matter. The leftover cabbage will be tomorrow's bubble and squeak. But that's not my point here. My point is that I was left with the water the cabbage steamed in: salty water that was bright green. And some gravy that I made from granules that I didn't finish. These will go down the sink.

Except they shouldn't. I paid good money for that gravy. And the cabbage water contains much of the nutrients and almost all of the vitamins of the cabbage itself. I'm not doing it now - and I'm feeling guilty because of it - but when the rationing plan kicks in, leftover steaming water plus leftover gravy plus a few root vegetables... doesn't that just scream "the perfect soup"?

Terms of reference

Having established why we're doing this, we need to work out how this will work.

Obviously, some parts of the World War 2 "experience" are not going to be easy (or desirable) to repeat. Working out the dividing line without bankrupting the experiment is difficult.

First things first, however.


Wikipedia provides a useful ready-reckoner of rations at their highest and their lowest. Since we're starting in January, we might as well start with the January 1940 rations - tight, but positively generous by later standards.

That gives us bacon and ham at 8oz/230g a week. Sugar is 16oz/455g. Tea is 4oz/115g. Cheese is 8oz/230g a week. Jam is 1lb/450g a month, with marmalade at 2lb/900g a month. Butter is 8oz/230g a week and margarine 12oz/340g. Lard - ugh - is 3oz/85g a week. Sweets are 16oz/455g a month. Meat other than pig meat is slightly more left to the market economy to regulate, at a shilling and tuppence a week.

That meat ration provides the first hurdle: 1/2d is slightly over 5p now. The meat that buys in 2010 can barely be measured. So we need to allow for inflation. Here an invention not thought of in 1940 (except perhaps by Alan Turing) comes in handy. The internet says that, allowing for inflation, 1/2d is just £1.68. That's £6.72 a month, or enough, from our excellent but premium local butcher for about half a pound of lamb or a pound of some appalling cut of beef. And that's in a month. Hmmm.

As a vegetarian, which I am but CJBS is not, all I can find online is that I get "more" cheese to make up for the reduction in pig, "meat" and lard. This is unhelpfully vague (I'd be grateful to anyone with actual figures who got in contact) and, of course, doesn't take into account the modern ways of using Quorn and the even better Redwood vegan meat replacements.

Still, those figures are a good way of proceeding.

Off the ration

Now, how to deal with things that weren't rationed but were still difficult to get? For instance, fish was never rationed but it was very difficult to get hold of. My solution is to allow CJBS as much fish as he would want... but not from the supermarket. If he wants fish, he must go to the fishmongers, where their half-days and strange closing times make getting it difficult. Similarly with vegetables: you can have as much as you like, provide they're British. If they're Commonwealth... well, it's not a drain on Sterling but it does endanger our sailors. Vegetables from Europe are out, even thought the Nazis haven't yet (if 2010=1940) broken out into the west. Our local greengrocer has lots of local veg, amongst the non-local stuff and the air-freight stuff that makes me wince in 2010, let alone in 1940. Anything British from there is therefore fine.


With a faintly green side to this plan, what can we do about the other stuff that we now call "recycling" and "carbon footprint" but in 1940 called "waste not want not"? The 1890s house we live in has had all the fireplaces bricked up, mostly in a refurbishment in 1937 (the one that survived I had bricked up in a refurbishment in 2007). We have central heating - North Sea gas - rather than coal: something on both levels never thought of in 1940. The best I can offer is to be "careful" with it in 2010. We will turn off radiators we're not using and turn down the radiators we are. We'll also wrap up warmer. To a degree we already do this, of course, and fuel and power rationing didn't really kick in until much later in the war... but that's all really excuses.

I have a deep freeze and a fridge - something my Dad's mother never had, even into the 1990s. Both fridge and freezer were effectively unknown in the UK in 1940. I also have clingfilm - a development from the post-war oil boom. To do this properly, I'd need to give both up and live with food that goes off much more quickly. This is an anathema to me - wasting food just bothers me terribly - so I'll continue to treat the fridge like my grandma's pantry. But ideally I'll avoid the deep freeze for voracity.


CJBS points out that exceptions will need to be made three times in January. At the beginning, our best friends Jon and Kate will be visiting for Sunday lunch. Even if I take their rations into account, the roast lamb I promised a few months ago will be the entire meat ration for the month immediately. And Jon doesn't even eat meat! Shortly after, we're promised our friend Tony almost exactly the same meal - but long enough after that he'd notice that the meat had been reheated. Finally, right at the end of January, CJBS and me are in London for a play. This involves a restaurant meal; whilst these were not initially rationed, when it did happen they were limited to 5s (25p) a sitting. That's £7.18 allowing for inflation. £14.36 between the two of us? Well, not including wine and coffee (both were excluded and charged at a premium by restaurants to subsidise the main meal) that's something we could just about do. But the two guest meals will need thinking on about.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Making a start

In October of this year, my boyfriend and I realised that the combination of my being a good cook, him being a good eater, Christmas, me working from home and our generally relaxed lifestyle meant that we're, for want of a better way of putting it, getting fat.

Christmas, with its chocolate and booze and fried stuff, wouldn't help this. By January, we'd be blobs (and comfort eating caused by the forthcoming death of the Tenth Doctor will only make things worse). So what could we do?

A few years ago we were given a book by the sainted chef Marguerite Patten with her famous Ministry of Food recipes from wartime (there have since been other books on what is clearly a popular subject). This set the idea in our heads that we could create a way of losing weight, protecting the environment and furthering our consuming interest in the 1933-1951 period, all without the actual bother of dieting or going hungry.

Not going hungry? Why yes. Because the rationing system of World War II was designed to not cause hunger. The food might be boring and might require quite some skill to make something of it, but the person of 1940 would get exactly the calories they needed, exactly the protein, exactly the carbs but almost no fat. They would lose weight, but not muscle. They would, at the end, be healthier than before the War. But much thinner (except in the many slums of the inner cities, where they would be just as thin, but wholly better fed).

CJBS (the boyfriend, otherwise known as @kiffr, Kif or Chris, and not strictly speaking my boyfriend either since, reader, I married him recently) was keen to live with what his parents lived with in the years immediately before his birth and to experience the circumstances that his paternal grandmother never stopped banging on about. So together this is our January 2010 project, the planning for which starts now.