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.

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