Friday, 25 December 2009

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.

1 comment:

Gill Slane said...

I don't know if you read comments on your blog anymore (it's a couple of years old by now!), but I just wanted to say how much I'm enjoying it. I've been interested in wartime cookery and rationing for some time, and have a number of books on the subject, so it was great to stumble across your experiment.

I look forward to reading the rest of your blog! :-)