Friday, 29 January 2010

All good things...

And so the experiment starts to draw to a close. Tonight's meal - leftover oatmeal sausages from yesterday, served as hot dogs - is the last proper cooking I'll do on the ration.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to that London, to see Enron and then have a meat-free meal (at a fish restaurant that does vegetarian options) with our friend peezedtee. We'll be back late on Sunday, and I've got toast (well, bagels, anachronistic as that may be) for our snack supper. Sunday breakfast will be mostly bread - the joy of Le Pain Quotidien on the Southbank - and I'll be full until late night.

I'll do a totting-up post on Sunday or early next week, but I can say already that I made it to the end of the month with spare points for butter, margarine, cheese, bacon, sweets and sugar. I've only used a third of my cooking fat. There's still a week's worth of tea left. Let me say that again: there's still a week's worth of tea left.

Weightwise, and this is probably due to my thyroid rather than the cooking, I've lost less than a pound. However, my 38" waist is a svelt 34" (32" if I concentrate).

I've learned some useful cooking tricks - I'll add oats and pearl barley to all soups and stews in future and probably keep up putting a potato into soups too - that are worth keeping up in general. I've also become a smarter shopper, and I hope to keep that up too.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Maths lesson (probably wrong)

Tonight's a leftovers night: the very nice roast tomato soup and the indifferent Woolton pie (to which I will add gravy this time, my comments yesterday notwithstanding).

But for tomorrow, I'm experimenting. I've got some sausagemeat (not rationed) and some oatmeal (on points). I've also got some of those vegan hotdogs, so the following works both ways.

Sausagemeat, like sausages, was unrationed in the war but very hard to come by. When you did get it, it was bulked out with rusk and breadcrumbs. It was also fatty. Interestingly, this didn't change much after the war, with sausages over 50% bulk still selling well into the 1980s, when Brits finally started to become foodies.

This sausagemeat is much more meaty, as fits modern standards, but I'll soon see to that, because I'm going to make oatmeal sausages. Oh yes. These Ministry of Food inventions are both clever and disgusting-sounding. You fry off an onion in a knob of dripping, then stir in 4oz of oatmeal. Make up a porridge with water and cook for 15 minutes. Then add 2oz of sausagemeat (this also works for mince or chopped bacon) and allow to cool. Make the resulting gloop into sausage shapes, roll in breadcrumbs and fry if you've the fat or grill. Two ounces of sausagemeat becomes 7oz of sausages. I suspect the trick will be in the seasoning.

To serve with this, I'm going to make what Marguerite Patten calls "pigs in clover". Basically, you hollow out the centre of a potato, fill the space with sausagemeat and bake as you would with ordinary baked potatoes. No fat is used and, theoretically, no butter or cheese is required to lubricate the potatoes. This is then served on a bed of steamed cabbage - presumably the "clover". I like cabbage, but British cooking has long had a love affair with serving pork in, on or with cabbage for reasons I can't fathom. I dare say it'll be lovely; I can't see why the two don't mix. But why always together?

By the way, I can make a rare direct comparison in price for the oatmeal. In the 1940s, oatmeal was subject to a ceiling price set by the Ministry of Food and also a subsidy to keep it below that price courtesy of the Board of Trade (despite its name, a government department, now Lord Voldemort's Mandelson's Orwellian Department for Business, Innovation and Skills). The ceiling price was 3.5d a pound. That's about 1.5p a pound in the post-1971 decimalised money (12d [pennies] to the shilling, 20s [shillings] to the £, therefore 240d to the £), or 2.5 US cents.

I got a pound (well, 500g) for 53p (86c). That's 10 shillings and sixpence ha'p'n'y (10s 6.5d; I miss the pleasure that pre-decimal people had of reducing "half a penny's worth" to "hay-puff" - and that people younger than me don't understand the true insult in "you daft ha'porth!"). Parliament helpfully publishes the snappily named "Inflation: the value of the pound (research paper)" fairly irregularly. Here comes the science bit, and on that basis, prepare for it to be wrong.

We start with a "price index", which takes a pound in 1974 as being "100". The price index for 1940 was 20.2; the index for 2002 (the latest available) was 695.1

So, inflation 1940 to 2002 is 695.1 divided by 20.2; prices have risen by 34.5 times. Between 1940 and 2002, oatmeal went from £0.015 to £0.53; thats  35.3 times. Okay, if you're still with me, inflation since 1940 is 34.4; oatmeal in that time is up 35.3; so the price has risen in real terms by just 2.6% (that's 35.3 divided by 34.4, then minus 1, then times by 100). So despite the ceiling price and subsidy of 1940, oatmeal is barely more expensive now than then.

After doing that, I've sprained my brain. I'll have to have gin to cure it. I hope you're all happy now.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A Woolton pie for our times

I didn't post yesterday because, no matter how much I would think myself a good writer, I can't stretch "I made bangers and mash" much beyond 5 words.

Today, however, there's more excitement to be had. I'm making a rich Woolton pie and a richer-still tomato soup.

The shortage of tomatoes earlier in the project made me start hoarding tomatoes, buying them whenever I could find them. The result, obviously, was 10 rapidly softening fruits not getting any fresher. A couple were seriously over-ripe, but there's a good way round that: roasting them.

As I've said before, most tomato soup recipes will have you skin and seed them, but the skins and seeds have no further use, so I'm roasting the entire thing. Slice them in half lengthways, sprinkle with sea salt, drop on each a couple of slices of garlic (or a shake of garlic powder) and put some finely chopped basil leaves on top of the entire lot. Cook in a very low oven for an hour. This intensifies the flavour of the tomatoes.

When they're done, I'll finely slice an onion and make up a stock-based roux (it's a broth rather than a cream of tomato soup). When that has become a soup, I'll put the roast tomatoes and a chopped carrot into the broth, boil, then let it cook off the heat covered. If you've got celery, add that. I don't have celery. I've not had celery for bloody weeks. What's the problem with celery shortages?

Anyway, back on topic. When the carrot is soft, drain the lumps from the broth and blend the former and add the resulting mulch back into the broth. Bring back to heat and serve.

Meanwhile, I'm making this rich Woolton pie, with help from my leftover mash from yesterday. I've taken a collection of winter root vegetables (beetroot, carrot, parsnip), a leek, a courgette (US: zucchini) and some mushrooms and cut them to equal sizes. Scrub, but don't peel. Chuck them in a heavy-bottomed pan and put them on a low heat on the stove. Stir a few times at first until they start giving up their liquid, then leave covered for 10 minutes. Take off the heat and leave covered until ready.

I've saved up my cheese ration and some milk and I'll make a cheese sauce (knob of fat, small chopped onion, flour and milk to a roux, crumble in the cheese, make up slowly with more milk and the liquid from the vegetables until you've got a cheese sauce, season as you see fit).

Put the vegetables into a pie dish. Cover with the cheese sauce and stir in. Cover with the mashed potato and place in a medium oven. If you've got cheese left over (I haven't), you can sprinkle that onto the mash; or you can put little pinches of butter on top (I've not got any of that, either). It's done when it's heated through - when the potato starts to get crisp on top.

A Woolton pie will be filling enough on its own; a soup starter certainly means leftovers that will reheat in a low oven tomorrow. The mushrooms give it a meaty flavour, but you can add gravy to make it more exciting if you like gravy-and-cheese in combination (CJBS yes, RJG no).

Sunday, 24 January 2010

How shortages are made

Michelle of Rational Living asked me about the shortages I mention frequently on this blog, so I thought I'd expand on my answer here.

First, some geography.

View Larger Map

This is the tip of the Wirral peninsular where I live - specifically West Kirby, the end of Merseyrail's Wirral line. I've asked Google to highlight the supermarkets nearby, to which it has added a couple of off licences (alcohol shops) for reasons I can't begin to fathom unless Google knows far too much about me. From this, you can see that Morrisons (formerly Safeway) have a monopoly on walking-distance supermarkets. For train-ride distance supermarkets, the Sommerfield (formerly Gateway) in Hoylake is actually an (in)convenience store rather than a supermarket per se, while the Sainsbury is half the size of the Morrisons. So I'd have to drive if I wanted a supermarket of any real size. If I drove, of course (I gave up driving for environmental reasons a year ago; I live opposite a station with a 15min service into England's 4th city and I work from home; what use would a car be?). But if I did have a car, I'd have to drive off the right of this map, all the way to Bidston (for a Tesco) or Upton (for a Sainsbury) to reach a large supermarket.

So, I think I've proved that Morrisons have a monopoly here. This monopoly they (take a deep breath, the UK's libel laws are harsh and fickle) might be alleged to be abusing. Some of the staff are breathtakingly unhelpful (some are wonderful, though, so go figure). They advertise themselves as being Britain's premiere supplier of cheap fresh food, then sell old mouldy crap for ridiculously high prices. This is partially true of all branches of Morrisons, but particularly true of this one.

Fortunately, the monopoly-of-crappiness that Morrisons have means that they haven't driven our independent shops out of business. We still have two butchers - one ordinary, one very upmarket - a fishmonger, a greengrocer and four pharmacies (one in Morrisons, and five if you include the Superdrug, but it doesn't dispense prescriptions; the people of West Kirby must be in a bad way).

The greengrocer is excellent - and cheaper than Morrisons - but doesn't have the muscle to hedge against supply problems. If the potatoes are frozen in the ground, Morrisons will, eventually, fly potatoes in from somewhere warmer (making it warmer still, ultimately). The greengrocer will go without potatoes. And so will I.

The posh butcher is much more expensive than Morrisons, but thousands of times better. Their meat is locally reared, locally cured and, for sausages, locally turned into sausages (in the back, where they've got a sausage-making machine, I'd assume). I don't eat meat, for moral reasons, but I believe you draw your own moral boundaries and don't impose them on others. CJBS does eat meat, the murderous swine, and I cook it for him. I'm very good at it, I'm told. Cooking with steak that has been hung for 28 days is a pleasure compared to cooking with the scrunched-up, bright red, nitrogen-bathed, shrink-wrapped, "processed in the UK" rubbish from the supermarkets. It just costs 5 times the price.

But using local stores requires planning. They open 9-to-5ish Monday to Saturday, with a half-day in the week; the greengrocer staff have usually packed everything away by 4:30, while the fishmonger has such strange opening hours you can't really predict when they'll open or close (at the first approximation, they're always closed). Morrisons is open from about 7am to about 9pm so is more convenient; they're also open on Sundays, unlike everything else.

So today, being a Sunday, it was Morrisons or nothing (perhaps Morrisons or better-planning-earlier-in-the-week would be more true). And at Morrisons, it was nothing. No carrots (they ran out on Friday, I think, but this could be weather related as the carrots they don't have are British), no non-air freight broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage (except red cabbage) or tomatoes. They did have some courgettes. Here they are, in case you wonder why I went without.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Environmental impact assessment

Despite the (fully justified) nay-sayers, the cabbage colcannon soup was delicious and the Environment Agency didn't have to sue me for breaking emissions targets, even after two bowlfuls. That's useful, because I have another two bowls of it to have tonight.

What this soup didn't have was any suggestion of cabbage. I don't know whether I overwhelmed it with the potato - it seems unlikely - but it tasted of cream of some green vegetable rather than being specifically cabbagey (hey, no red underline! Cabbagey is a word!)

Tonight, therefore, is the same again; something that rationing forces upon you quite often. I dare say that the leftovers could be turned into something else, perhaps thickened into a sauce for cauliflower cheese or broccoli mornay (red underline: apparently not a word), but that would be asking a lot of Morrisons and their supply chain. Their cauliflower today was from Africa and their broccoli was from Spain, whilst Colin Lunt (fnar fnar) couldn't offer cauliflower at all and the broccoli was from Israel.

[By the way, I'm a very pro-EU Welsh lefty, not some Little Englander; I just normally watch my food miles anyway and during this project have specific rules about not eating stuff I couldn't get in 1940... in this case because Israel didn't exist and Spain, although neutral, was fascist and if I wasn't a wuss I'd've been in the International Brigades. I've even run away in faintly-absurd horror from condensed milk from Germany]

So, leftover colcannon soup it is, backed with some lettuce, tomato, onion and (yet more) cabbage in sandwiches. Tomorrow, CJBS isn't at work in the evening so for the first time in two weeks I get to actually cook for two (he's had 4 days off in that time, but I think I've fed him leftovers of my previous meals each time) and I've actually managed to get fish for him. Fish fingers, but fish all the same.

So tomorrow is fish fingers, both real and Redwood, a mound of mashed potato and some creamed leek. CJBS will also have baked beans, but cotton buds in vivid orange sauce are not how I'm spending my points.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Seeking inspiration

The random shortages here combined today with a lack of inspiration. I went to the greengrocers to find empty shelves, so I bought whatever they had: two onions, some potatoes and a savoy cabbage.

Now, that would suggest bubble and squeak or colcannon. But neither excites me. Therefore it's time for an experiment: cream of cabbage soup.

I had a look around for recipes, but most wartime ones wanted such luxuries as celery and carrot. Online ones wanted cream and bacon. Mine needs to be a bit simpler, but I'll posh it up - this is not cream of cabbage soup, this is my colcannon soup. Oh yes!

I've started with an onion-based roux made with a little milk, then added two sliced potatoes and a chopped cabbage and made it up with stock. For extra bulk, always important, I've added some oats and some pearl barley. This came to the boil and then I've taken it off the heat and left it to cook on its own covered.

When it's done, I'll drain the broth off, blend the potato and cabbage, reunite them and bring back to heat. I have literally no idea how it will taste; nor do I know if I will have to sleep alone tonight.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

You do win friends with salad

I really enjoyed my empty calories in last night's hot dog meal (although vegan sausages are transfat and cholesterol free) and the amount of bread I used kept me full.

But then Rational Mama, last seen envying my salad a week ago, managed to squeeze a crispy, fresh and filling salad out of her US rations. My plans for tonight, half-formed, withered immediately. A salad? A salad!

Our random shortages - actually always a feature of the Morrisons monopoly here, just particularly noticeable when I'm under rations - intervened. With no non-rotten potatoes, no carrots, nothing to make anything of it, I've ended up with a cold collation of the past - lettuce, tomato and onion.

But I can get round this. Some limp raw cabbage leftovers dropped into freezing water to revive adds some bite, I've got some (egg-free) mayo and, despite a bizarre shortage of brown bread, two small baguettes. If I can make a spicy dressing, I'll have two footish-long salad subs.

If that doesn't fill me, nothing will. And only slightly anachronistic (baguettes, I believe without evidence, weren't a feature of most peoples' lives) so well within the bounds of the project.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Hot diggerty dog

Tonight, I'm having something of an anachronism. After recent random (but oddly authentic) shortages, I've managed to get my hands on some vegan hot dogs.

Hot dogs - mechanically recovered various meats with bulking agents injected into a casing made of ick - were unknown in the UK in the 1940s. The British had sausages - unrationed but scarce - but these were completely different, especially towards the end of the war, when the meat content declined to almost nothing and sometimes actually nothing.

When US forces arrived in the UK after America joined the war following Pearl Harbor, we were very pleased to see them. And they were pleased to meet us, especially as we made them so very welcome. The GIs discovered that the British public valued them more than their own civilian population did, and we were so grateful to no longer be standing alone that we did what we could to make them happy. This included Rainbow Corner in London, a 24-hour canteen and recreation club open to all GIs, made by knocking together a Delmonico's and a Lyon's Corner House.

At Rainbow Corner, a GI could get local newspapers, listen to fashionable music, get help with letter writing (and reading, such were the times) from Fred Astaire's sister Adele and other US residents in London and even get US-style food. But the GIs had one complaint - the British couldn't do hot dogs (actually, we couldn't do decent coffee either, and tea was an acquired taste; but for our purposes here, we'll stick to the food).
This lack of a basic, ordinary food stuff pained the average GI who had come to a cold, threadbare and old-fashioned country, often on his first ever trip abroad.

Hot dogs would appear in the UK in the 1950s, after rationing was done, and become popular into the 1960s and beyond. As ever, the British would serve their hot dogs just slightly wrong, almost a parody of the American version. Now, we do a white bread roll with onions and mustard. Then, we would often use a crusty cob with salad and some chutney.

I'm not going quite that far; I'm having the sausage with onion and "made mustard" (powdered mustard made into English mustard by adding vinegar) and fried onion. But I'm having them in a sliced brown baguette, so I'm almost there.

By the way, a brief plug for Rational Mama's blog about living for a year on US rations (yes, they had them). Well worth a read.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Tonight is part leftovers, part points and part unrationed. For the leftovers, CJBS is having his cat sick (mentioned yesterday) plus a small tin of baked beans and a baked potato. Meanwhile I'm having baked potato as a main course, with a cheese filling.

But how, I hear you cry. This is the fake cheese sauce I made recently as a Welsh rarebit, adapted: it uses very little cheese (although I have some blue cheese to give it a kick) as it's mostly a roux made with beer. To that I'm going to scrape out the insides of the baked potatoes, mix the pulp into the beer-cheese roux and put the whole lot back into the skins and bake again.

The result should be cheese-filled potatoes of the first rank. If not, I won't be able to rescue it with extra salt, that being this week's unexpected actual shortage of a non-rationed product. Could this be winter related? It certainly didn't go onto Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council's roads and pavements; but then they haven't collected our rubbish yet this year (loss-making) but have been round to get the recycling (profitable). But I digress.

And to digress further, my thumb is no longer bleeding. And whilst it looks disgusting and mutilated without the bandages, it does appear to be healing at a normal rate. In a day or two I'll start putting aloe on it to promote that a bit.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Thumbing my nose

Tonight's meal is leftovers again for me: always dull to write about. So here's last night's meal described.

I had bubble and squeak (recipe earlier) and made what CJBS called "corned beef hash" for him. This wasn't what I would've called a hash, but he loved it as it replicated a school dinner of the 1960s for him. From that, I therefore understand that his school dinners looked like, and smelled of, cat sick. But there we go.

If you're insane enough to want cat sick for dinner, here's how it's done: boil and then mash or rice enough potato. Mince, blend or otherwise pulverise a tin of corned beef. Dice a carrot and boil it. Combine, sprinkle with a little grated cheese and bake for half an hour in a medium oven. Serve, then leave the room. As a starter, we had the last of the mushroom soup and the winter salad on the side.

In the meantime, two other culinary events have occurred. First, on opening the tin of corned beef (one of those wind-a-key-around jobs), the beef got stuck in the tin. I attempted to prize it out, and quickly and efficiently severed the tip of my thumb. This was painful, messy and is now disabling (you'd be amazed at the number of things having two opposable thumbs lets you do; and consequently the number of things that having just one on the "wrong" hand prevents you from doing).

In all the drama, I forgot to boil my stock pots. This evening, I went to boil them and lifted the lids first. Now, a useful thing when you're cooking is to trust your nose. Fundamentally, we're born able to tell when food is off. It's innate, a survival-of-the-fittest hereditary thing. Modern processed foods contain chemicals to inhibit mould and bacteria growth, but they also inhibit the smell of these things as the food goes off. Artificial flavourings also help mask the smell of bad food.

My stock pots contained nothing artificial. And they didn't smell "bad", just "wrong". There was the usual vegetable-soupy aroma to one and the slightly nastier meaty smell to the other. But underneath that was something else. Sweet? Sickly? A sugary note, of sorts. It was just something, not unpleasant, but... well, "wrong". That's all the clue I needed: both are now gone and I'll wash out the pans on the dishwasher's hottest, scrubbiest setting. And start again with new stock tomorrow.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Presenting salad and soup

Tonight's dinner for me needs to extend into a starter and side for tomorrow's dinner. Fortunately, the shops were suddenly plentiful for unrationed goods, so I'm having a winter salad and mushroom soup. Tomorrow, I'll make bubble and squeak for me and corn beef hash for CJBS, with the soup as a starter and the salad remnants on the side.

In the 1940s, salad existed, although it was a pale shadow of what we would serve today. This wasn't because of rationing, but simply a lack of imagination . "Cold collation", as salad was known, was usually some lettuce, some tomato, some ham and some salad cream. As such, it wasn't much of a meal.

The Ministry of Food tried to put salad on a new footing, not altogether successfully, by suggesting more exciting meat-free collations; with vegetables unrationed and healthy, they hoped to get the housewife to save coupons and fuel by serving cold meals, but the British liked their meat and liked their food hot (now, of course, Britain is the most vegetarian country in Europe, a complete turnaround).

My salads are usually suitable as a main course in and of themselves, although rationing has reduced the fripperies I can add. Still, a winter salad as a large side dish to mushroom soup should be filling. I took the leaves of a hothouse lettuce and lined a bowl, then grated a dozen cabbage leaves into the middle. On top goes a grated carrot, half an onion finely sliced, two chopped tomatoes, a chopped apple and half an ounce of cheese crumbled over the top. I'm also going to add, as an afterthought, a cubed boiled potato to give the salad more bulk.

The key with a salad is presentation, so I hope I've made an attractive meal, if nothing else. By the way, to stop the apple going brown before you get to eat it, cover it in lemon juice. This stops the oxidation without changing the flavour much.

The mushroom soup is an easy one, but it has a major pitfall awaiting the first-time cook: mushroom soup often tastes of boiled milk with mushroom floating in it. The mushrooms can be reluctant to give up their flavour and need to be helped along. There are various ways of soaking, with vinegar in the water to prevent browning, to get them going, but I prefer a direct cheat: dried mushrooms. Drop these in a bowl, pour on half a pint of boiling water and leave as long as possible. The mushroom liquor is intense and can be chucked into the soup at any point.

The soup itself is a standard white soup: fry a small diced onion in a little fat until translucent, add flour until all the oil is taken up, then a quarter pint of milk to make the roux. Dilute that down with stock and you've got a white soup with no particular flavour.

Add the flavour by tossing in whatever you want to make a soup of; in this case, chopped breakfast mushrooms plus the liqour from the dried mushrooms (and the dried mushrooms themselves, what the hell). Bring close to the boil, then simmer gently with the lid on until the veg you're using is tender. Serve as it or blend to a puree, reheat and serve. I'll be cooking a chopped large potato in the soup and running the result through the blender: adding a potato to soup is a useful wartime standby as it adds bulk, something these recipes never stop demanding of the chef.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Why not try... a sandwich?

Tonight's dinner is a second go at last night's tomato soup. It was very tasty and very filling, especially with bread; a second helping is worth having. Meanwhile CJBS has been sent off to work with more of the parsnip soup and a round of spam sandwiches.

Tomorrow I'm making my monthly trip to the office in Yorkshire. This presents a couple of problems, the biggest of which is that my (non-leather, I'm that much of a vegetarian) shoes life-expired two weeks ago. I've defaulted to my previous pair, which are scuffed but serviceable, however, they have suffered from 18 months of not being used and are like clogs. So my poor feet are in a ruinous state and I'll be using a mixture of insoles and Compeed plasters to stop the delicate mincing steps I take in them. I'll order new ones after pay day!

But that's not important right now. The biggest issues are that I get my 6am train via the Café Nerd coffee stand at Lime Street. A big latte and a sandwich or panini to "put me on" as they say in Liverpool, then sleep until Leeds. On arrival at work, we have our group meeting and discussion, then Helen and Sue lay on a slap-up spread for everyone, including one egg-intolerant vegetarian (me), one pescetarian and one coeliac. It's always lovely, but I'll make them miserable if I try to tell them what points I've got, how many I'm willing to spend and what values they need to put on them.

Since I haven't cheated on points or coupons once in 13 days, I'm not going to mark the fortnight anniversary by having cheese and crisps and chocolate and other such treats tomorrow. So I've just carefully made a small number of sandwiches to take with me. I had drawn on, but not used, my (not) bacon ration a week ago; with tomatoes in the shops and, miraculously, British lettuce suddenly appearing on sale again, the sandwiches could only be BLT (with a bit of cress for interest sake). I fried off 2oz of bacon without using any fat, then mixed together one part butter to two parts margarine to make the spread - I'm fearsomely attached to my butter ration, whilst the margarine ration is just as tight but inedible as spread. Split between four sandwiches, the result was a nice pack up to take with me... with one of the sandwiches now to go with my soup.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Everyone stops for soup

Having filled up on baked potatoes last night - and stayed full - tonight I'm having another bulked-out wartime staple: soup. I made parsnip soup yesterday, but with bacon rinds, so I don't know how it tastes (I'll find out tonight when CJBS eats it at work).

With tomatoes now back in the shops after a week of shortages, I fancied tomato soup. Marguerite Patten gives the WVS's recipe, which contains bacon yet again; but as I almost always change her recipes, this one was freely adaptable to take that out.

I melted a large knob of butter in a pan, then added a finely sliced onion. When the onion was cooked, I used flour to make my roux, with a small tin of evaporated milk as the liquid. To this I added some of my vegetable stock from the on-going pot, then put in a diced carrot and a diced potato - the bulking agents that will turn a starter into a main course. Then I added more stock, and finally six tomatoes, halved.

Now, outside of wartime, I'd've scooped out the seeds and only cooked the flesh; and, if I could be bothered, deskinned the tomatoes as well. But the waste is terrible, since the skins and seeds really can't be used elsewhere and the WVS (now WRVS) recipe leaves them in. So there will likely be seeds still floating in the soup after I've run it through the blender. I'll cope, as will the tomato seeds.

Normally I'd bring the soup to the boil, then simmer. But the evap could easily "catch", so I'm back on the endless stirring until it gets close to boiling; then, as with the parsnip soup yesterday, I've taken it off the heat and left it covered for the potatoes and carrot to cook through in the hot liquid. This takes longer - literally "slow food" - but uses no gas, so it's worth the time taken. When the potato is done, I'll run the lot through the blender, return to the heat briefly and serve with croutons.

Meanwhile CJBS takes his parsnip soup to work, with some spam sandwiches to have on the side and some extra bread for toasting, whilst I think I've got the preposterous rubbish of "Survivors" to watch on the BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Pasta, potatoes, parsnips... and hay

Yesterday's meal - an anachronistic pasta-in-sauce made to wartime standards - was lovely. But, despite eating my fill, I was hungry again after about an hour. I'm not used to this: the wartime bulking-out fills you and leaves you full.

So today I'm back on a wartime staple: baked potato with soured cream.

That'd be severely boring to blog about, but luckily I'm also making a soup for CJBS to have tomorrow (he's on late shifts for the next two weeks so he gets a packed lunch - sandwiches made from the leftover lamb today, with the bone going into the stock pot and thus meaning we had zero waste from the Sunday lunch).

The soup is a cream of parsnip. For the starting fat, I used two bacon rinds, chopped up. To this I added a finely-sliced small onion and let the two heat through. I added some flour to start the roux then used a quarter of a pint of milk (cream of, see?) to get the roux paste. Then I added two chopped parsnips and two chopped potatoes, all scrubbed but not peeled.

Then I added some of the meat stock to make the soup up to about three portions. I brought the whole lot to the boil, then, in a wartime measure of economy, took it off the gas and have left it covered; the parsnips and potato will cook in the liquid and cool enough to go into the blender (if I wasn't blending, I'd've grated the veg first and left the bacon rinds whole to fish out at the end).

I'll portion it off to go into the freezer - a non-wartime cheat - for CJBS to microwave at work for three evenings. The wartime equivalent of this was to warm a ceramic pot, fill it with soup, cover, then put it in a "hay box", a gas mask box full of hay. The soup would keep edibly, if not superbly, warm until he needed it. Of course, as a railwayman, CJBS would've been able to warm the soup on the coal fire in the waiting rooms (the railway in question was electrified in 1937, so there was never the option to heat it on the footplate, even if he had worked on the trains themselves).

Meanwhile, I'm off to have my baked potatoes and catch up with "Being Human" on the BBC iPlayer in peace.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Past pasta

Tonight I'm trying something different. The heavy (if fat-light) meals of wartime are starting to daunt me after years of living on a much more Mediterranean diet, so I was pleased when CJBS suggested trying to adapt a standard Italian meal to rations.

Pasta (called macaroni or spaghetti rather than pasta) was not uncommon, at least in the cities, in the 1940s. It was rationed, but relatively generously, I suspect to restrict the use of eggs and the import of wheat. So I've got a bag of good pasta on points for use tonight; spirals rather than the plainer shapes of the time.

For the sauce, I was at last able to get tomatoes, but I'm using pre-strained ones (passata) anyway. I've started with a chopped onion added to a knob of melted marg and allowed to soften. Then I've added plenty of mushrooms and some powdered garlic - again available in the 1940s but rarely used by cautious Brits! - and left to cook slowly covered. That produces a nice mushroomy liquid, to which I'll add a splash of red wine, then thicken with some gravy powder. Then to add the strained tomatoes and leave to cook slowly, perhaps with a ladleful of stock.

While that's cooking, I'm going to see what version of garlic bread can be made with ordinary brown bread, little fat and some garlic powder. That'll be the hard part!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sunday roast

Fitting a standard Sunday lunch to rations seems a fun idea in the hour before I start actually doing it. It should also provide a method for reducing fat intake after I'm done with this project.

For instance, my roast potatoes have always used a lot of fat. I prepare them in the usual way (and if you don't do it this way, you should!) by parboiling them for 10 minutes, draining and then vigorously shaking the pan until they're all bashed up. This gives lots of corners to get crispy and ensures that the insides are fluffy: perfect. Then I slosh them with olive oil and drop knobs of butter on top of each one before baking.

I plan to adapt this by melting a little fat and a little more butter, then brushing the potatoes with the melted goo; less waste sloshing about the baking tray and less fat on the potatoes themselves.

Similarly, the roast salt marsh lamb would often be rubbed with butter or oil before cooking. Instead, I'm studding it with dried apricots (got with points) that I've soaked overnight in white wine. The apricotty wine will go through the flesh and keep it moist, saving the need for fat. The weather-related shortages this week have taken fresh herbs off the shelves, so I can't push spears of fresh rosemary into the lamb; instead I've put dried rosemary into the wine, so the apricots have taken on some of that flavour too.

The parsnips I'll roast without fat, using honey and balsamic vinegar instead. I bought extra parsnips to make parsnip soup tomorrow, although I personally loathe parsnips (CJBS loves them).

For dessert, I'm making rhubarb and apple crumble. I used honey in the fruit to avoid using sugar, giving me the sugar to use in the crumble part. The crumble itself uses less fat than pastry, and I can cheat a bit by mixing marg with butter but not compromising the flavour.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

On not taking a day off

I've discovered something pleasing. When I started this experiment, I mentioned the need to cook a Sunday lunch for our best friends Kate and Jon on one of the days covered by rationing. I concluded that I'd need a day off the ration to manage it.

But looking at my ration book, I can cover the meal with very little penalty. I've saved so much butter that I still have a week's worth left at the start of the second week. I've barely dented the margarine ration. The dripping ration is tiny, but using the extra butter and marg instead means I don't have to take a hit on that.

That means I don't have an issue with any leftovers: if I'm discounting the roast lamb, how do I use the uneaten meat in further recipes over the next week - something I'd do even when not rationing - without discounting them again? But I can cut the coupons without penalty and CJBS can dine off the lamb in the week.

All this means that tonight we're having the leftover vegetable curry again, but it was very tasty and we won't mind a second go immediately after the first.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Currying (dis)favour

For the first time in the week I've been running this experiment I felt it today. The shortages, the two-hour cooking times with endless stirring, the damn potato with every bloody meal...

I'd already decided to do a classic British fruit curry tonight. For that, I wanted some spinach and some tomatoes. The shops could not provide - the spinach, wilted and old, was flown in from Portugal; the soft tomatoes were worse, with a choice of lorry from Spain or airfreight from Israel. This are not included in our ration, as they did not exist as an option in 1940. So no spinach and no tomato for my curry. (I'll use unrationed tomato juice, as I'm loathe to spend my points on tinned tomatoes).

But the shortages set my mind going. I want a pizza, my brain said. I want crisps. I want pasta in a thick tomato sauce with garlic bread and brushetta. I want to pierce some plastic film and shove something in the microwave or take something out of a box and throw it in the oven for 20 minutes. I want cheese and biscuits to finish, with butter and sliced tomatoes.

And that's after a week of pretty easy rations. I can only imagine what the people of 1945 felt, after 5 years of ever-diminishing supplies coupled to hard war work and fuel (therefore heat) shortages. No wonder that people trudged through life, as even after the war ended, the destruction of our economy became apparent and rations continued to contract; then came the winter of 1947, where even the sea froze.[Wikipedia] [Gallery] [Feature]

With that thought, I'll now make our potato-and-carrot curry and feel cheered at my lot.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Camping it up

When I blogged about the living hell that is tea rations (2oz per person per week is simply inhuman) my friend Dave (the world's best graphic designer, btw) mentioned that a wartime staple was the (unrationed) chicory essence liquid with the heroically non-21st Century name "Camp".

This stuff, now marketed as a cooking ingredient rather than a coffee substitute, is a Victorian relic, as suggested by the (now fortunately politically-corrected) label. It had brief spells of popularity in the first war, in the second and, during an artificial shortage created by the coffee companies, in the late 1970s.

In that time, the purpose of the tar-like liquid has changed, as has, I'd think, the ingredients. Certainly the preparation instructions have altered from the early requirement of adding a teaspoon to boiling water and chucking in cream and sugar.

Indeed, adding sugar is the last thing you'd do now, since the ingredients, in order of greatest first, are sugar, water, chicory (24%) and coffee (4%). So 70% of this is sugar and water, and 51% at least of that is sugar alone. No wonder the bottle now says that it's ideal for making milkshakes, baking cakes and flavouring cream. The current jar doesn't mention how to make a beverage out of it at all, other than to suggest adding an unspecified amount to warm milk.

I tried two teaspoons in boiling water with a standard amount of milk. This was undrinkable. So I tried two more and yet more milk. This produced something that looked a bit like coffee and tasted a bit like coffee... is as much as it also tasted a bit like toffee and a bit like caramel and a bit like cheap chocolate but not really like any of those things.

So it isn't going to replace my morning coffee and it isn't going to stand in for my rationed tea. But as a bedtime drink, it's no worse than Horlicks or Ovaltine and better, in some ways, than some of the modern powders and potions available for the purpose. So I'll finish the bottle; I just might not buy any more.

Fish dish

CJBS bought a side of haddock. Since I needed the oven on to cook my pretend fish, baking the (real) fish was money-saving and eco-friendly. But the best way to bake?

Patten has various ways of baking "fresh salted cod", the preserved-in-salt, then-washed-in-bicarb version of fresh fish that appeared after we invaded Iceland and slaved their economy to ours (a plan we also had for the then-Irish Free State should the U-Boats drive us into starvation) . But fresh salted cod is quite different, and Patten is bulking it out to a degree not needed when we could buy such a large piece (admittedly at a terrifyingly high price - £2.77 for just under half a pound).

My choice was to make something of an occasion of it. I took two tomatoes and scooped out the pulp; I chopped the flesh and half an onion. I melted a knob of our fat ration (vegetable lard) and put two diced slices of smoked bacon in to cook. When this started to sizzle, I added the onion. When the onion was soft, I added the tomato chunks.

When everything was heated through, I put two slices worth of breadcrumbs into the mixture, soaking up the fat, then took it off the heat. I put the fish into a baking tray and spread the bacon-tomato-breadcrumb mixture over the top. I dotted half an ounce of butter over the top, then put it in a medium oven. Half an hour later, I served the now crusty, crisp-topped haddock with some mashed potato (made with both an ounce of butter and a quarter pint of milk because there was no gravy on offer) and some steamed broccoli.

Now I'll see if the resulting large meal was enough or whether CJBS wants the baked apple I've offered but not made yet.

Back to the future

Tonight's meal is timeless: modern but classic, within rations but not rationed. It's a simple grilled (or baked, CJBS will decide) fish with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.

Fish was never rationed, but the supply was erratic due to U-Boat activity and disruption on the railways (fresh fish inland was unknown until the railways came in the 1830s and made the fast transfer of fish from coast to city possible, so fish and chips is a relatively modern British tradition). To simulate this, we banned fish from the supermarket and said that we could only buy it from the fishmonger. Our fishmonger has erratic opening hours, so the erratic supply is covered; indeed this is the first time that we've been able to get fish from him this year.

For me, I have some Redwood fishless fingers, which are almost exactly but not quite entirely unlike fish, so I'm covered in the vegetarianism bit.

For the first time, I'm not planning on a starter today. Instead I'm going to do the baked apple desert I mentioned yesterday. I've got mincemeat leftover from Christmas. Core out the apples and stuff the centre with the mincemeat. Wrap in foil and bake in a moderate oven for twenty minutes. Serve with custard or condensed milk, assuming you have the points for either.

Food flash

At the greengrocer's, CJBS was warned that potatoes are likely to be in short supply in the next few weeks due to supply problems from the poor weather (the potatoes are frozen into the ground). That'll make this experiment much more challenging... and also more authentic.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A rare bit

Now for the main course: a faked rarebit. I've got 4oz of cheese in the fridge, of which I'm prepared up give up 2oz. Any rarebit is going to be a bit cheese-light and thus need to be lifted in some way. This is my attempt.

I started by taking some oats and toasting them in a low oven for an hour to bring out the flavour I'd much need. Then I melted a knob of butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and added the finely sliced (other) small onion and some garlic powder and let it sit on a gentle heat for a while. When the onion was translucent, I added the toasted oats to soak up the remaining fat. Then I added a helping of flour to start my roux.

This was a roux with a difference: instead of milk, I used beer. Specifically Riggwelter, one of the finest cooking-beers I've come across. If you're fool enough to try this recipe, you can substitute Guinness, but Riggwelter is ideal. I built up the roux as normal until I got the thick paste I needed, then grated in the 2oz of cheese and added 3tsp of wholegrain mustard. When this had settled, I added 1/2 gill (an eighth of a pint, 2.5 fluid oz or 70ml) of Household milk and a ladle of my stock and let it reduce until it was thick but not quite thick enough.

Taking the rarebit off the heat, I then boiled a peeled and diced potato; when done, I drained it off in a sieve then pushed it through the sieve and added the pulped potato to the rarebit. That thickened it and added the much-needed bulk for such a thin meal. It tastes good too!

Now to slice some bread and toast it and the rarebit under the grill, then put it in CJBS for a final verdict.

Cheating at carrot soup

The carrot soup seems to have worked. With only two carrots, I had to cheat slightly, as I'll explain.

To make the soup, I took a good knob of butter and melted it in a heavy-bottomed pan. I finely chopped the two carrots and the small onion, and put them in with the butter. I left both to soften for ten minutes with a small amount of powdered ginger and garlic and some fresh nutmeg. Then I added a handful of oats to soak up any remaining fat and ladled in some stock from my stock pot and added a handful of rice. I left this to cook gently for twenty minutes and then I cheated.

I like chunky soups. I grew up with chunky soups. My leek and potato soup is nothing but chunks. These whizzed-up blended soups are for tins and cartons and restaurants that want their soup to look like they came out of tins and cartons. But two carrots don't make for a chunky soup. So I had to put it through the blender to make it go further.

Now, Wikipedia says that blenders were invented just after the first war. But they didn't become common, at least in the UK, until the 1950s or even the 1960s. What contemporary housewives did usually have, now completely gone, was a mechanical mincer. But a mincer wouldn't've made puréed soup. So I've cheated, using technology not generally available in 1940 to get round the shortages.

Back to the soup. Out of the blender and back into the pan, heating it gently covered, adjusting the seasoning according to taste. I've now taken it off the heat and will bring it back when CJBS gets home at 7:30pm. I'll serve it with more of those brown bread croutons as a starter before the faked rarebit.

Coping with shortages of... everything

The bad weather continues. Although no new snow has fallen, the 3" from yesterday remains on pavements (compacted to ice) and on roads further inland. This has given me a lovely taste of World War II conditions: shortages.

I went out to get something - I wasn't sure what - for dinner. But most of the local shops are closed, and those that are open have bare shelves. I managed to get 2lb of potatoes in poor condition, two sad-looking carrots, two apples, 5 frost-burnt tomatoes, two tiny onions and a loaf of bread (thereby beating my Cheshire-based friend David who can't even get that). I had had ideas of doing a lavish soup followed by a small "cold collation" (as they used to call salad). This is clearly out of the question.

What to do with those ingredients and whatever rations I've already got in? I'm thinking that I can cobble together a carrot soup, eke out a rarebit and even make baked apple for afters. The rarebit will require quite some eking, with only 2oz of cheese available and only Household milk to make it. But, with some oats to thicken it (Marguerite Patten even suggests some mashed potato will make it go even further) and a slice of tomato on top, I think I'll've beaten both the weather and the panic buyers. I'll get back to you on whether it works.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Posh nosh

With snow on the ground (a rarity on the coast) I'm pleased not to have to walk the half mile to Morrison's or Lunt's. I also want something warming for dinner. What to do with a couple of pounds of potatoes, two carrots, an onion, a cabbage, some mushrooms and four (vegan) sausages for me and a tin of corned beef for CJBS?

Potato and cabbage automatically sing bubble and squeak, but I've got little to serve it with. The carrots and the onion as well, however, suggest colcannon.

Colcannon is "peasant food", used by poor people to make a lot out of a little (and all the more delicious for that) but of late it has had a makeover, becoming posh nosh. From a simple mashed potato, onion and cabbage it now appears on BBC Food with lashings of double cream and melted butter, and elsewhere with bacon and yet more butter.

CJBS's bacon ration is something he prizes highly for a lazy breakfast. My own vegan bacon is unuseful for baking, being designed to be fried and put in a sandwich - which to me feels like a waste of both bacon and fat when I'm so short. Butter just can't be wasted on melting to make something taste a bit better. Double cream? Yeah, okay if you can get it, but my own rules forbid me from getting it to use in such a damp way. Don't they know there's a war on?

I brought the peeled and diced potatoes to the boil with the carrots. When the water boiled, I put the cabbage in. Meanwhile, I heated a knob (about a heaped teaspoon) of butter in a frying pan and fried off the onion and the mushrooms. When the potatoes were soft, I mashed the contents of the pan with a little milk, then added the onion and the mushrooms. With the frying pan still hot, I cooked off the vegan sausages, then diced the corned beef.

I divided the mash into two, mixing the vegan sausage into one and the diced beef into the other. Then I put both into a slow oven - it needs to cook very slowly as CJBS isn't home until 7:30pm. The heat isn't wasted as I'll make croutons for the leftover soup from yesterday (these are just cubes of brown bread baked slowly for 15 minutes) as the oven cools.

The result, in theory, should be crispy on top but fluffy in the middle. Onion gravy, an easy standby since I have leftover gravy from yesterday, will help lubricate it.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The leeky cauldron

Day three and I've done my second vegetable shop, this time spending £2.56 on two days' worth. That got me two leeks, 8oz of local mushrooms, an onion, two carrots and three and a half pounds of potatoes.

In the two days so far of this experiment, I've learnt that a starter and a main course hide a multitude of shortages. So yesterday I served cheese soup and stew. Today, leek and potato soup (an idea put into my head by my friend Sandi) will be followed by toad in the hole.

My usual leek and potato soup (actually, like most of my best recipes, my mum's leek and potato soup) is a bit of a caloriefest, although still healthier than anything you'd get out of a tin and much tastier. This one I'm trying to make conform to World War II standards. Compare and contrast:

21st Century L&PS: roughly chop two or three leeks; peel and roughly chop two or three large potatoes. Make a roux (heat oil or butter in a pan, add flour and two crumbled stock cubes until all the oil is bound, add milk until there's a paste, add more milk until there's a thick liquid) in a large pan or stock pot and put the leek into it. Get it covered in the roux and keep adding milk. Keep stirring. When the milk covers the leeks, add the potatoes. Cover with water, stock or more milk, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover and serve when the potatoes are done - say half to three-quarters of an hour.

WW2 L&PS: finely slice two leeks. Scrub and dice two potatoes. Put a knob (about a heaped teaspoon) of marg into a heavy-bottomed pan. Make up a pint of Household milk. Heat the marg and, when it begins to melt, tip in the leeks and start stirring. Eventually, you'll hear the leeks start to sizzle. Chuck in a handful of oats to soak up the remaining fat. Keep stirring. Add more oats if there's still any sign of liquid in the pan. Keep stirring. Add half of the pretend milk and stir well. Add a pint of stock from your stock pot and stir well. Add the rest of the "milk" and keep stirring. Add some salt and pepper (or mustard powder) and some "extract" (a teaspoon of Bovril or a good dash of Maggi). Keep stirring. Bring almost to the boil: this will happen quickly thanks to the Household milk and, again thanks to the Household milk, if you're not already stirring it will burn on the bottom. Put it on a lower heat and keep it simmering, staying attentive and - yes, you've guessed it - keep stirring. Cook uncovered to let it reduce, stirring all the more.

It's a wonder that 40s housewives arms didn't fall off! I'm a lazy cook, doing my prep in advance but also over dozens and dozens of bowls, containers, cups and tupperware as I start to run out of anything vaguely round. I enjoy getting the meal started, but then like to leave it to do its thing whilst I drink, smoke and look for naughty pictures on the kitchen computer. This is possibly the most demanding meal I've ever cooked and it's only the first course! I don't even know if it's going to be even slightly edible: and CJBS is awaiting my first wartime kitchen disaster (he's either got the perfect sympathetic look rehearsed or he's planning on doing a little dance; I can't tell).

Still, if I manage to ruin the soup, at least I can top that with the toad in the hole, which should combine my (inherited, there, I've said it, Mum) inability to make Yorkshire pudding batter rise with using powdered milk and egg.

I'll post more after the fire brigade has left.

Edit: The curse is broken! The Yorkshire pudding rose (not hugely, but nevertheless) and CJBS wolfed it down.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Let him stew

A lot to do today - I need to tidy away Christmas, clean up, wash clothes and buy an electric blanket, new telephones and a bathroom scale... so that calls for a slow-cooked stew.

I bought £3 of veg yesterday (a bag almost too heavy to carry) and used about half of it to start my stock pot. The rest I've roughly chopped, covered in the new stock, added dried herbs, a bay leaf, mustard powder (CJBS can't have pepper so mustard stands in for it) and a good helping of pearl barley. Into the slow cooker on medium, and I'll come back to it at about 7pm to add oats to thicken it if it needs it and decide on either flour dumplings or mashed potato to bulk it out.

Now to get busy with the other stuff.

Edit: It didn't need thickening, the pearl barley did that job excellently and gave it much needed bulk - a bowl was enough for me when usually with stew I'd have more than one (CJBS had some of yesterday's cheese soup and finished with some mince pies and custard, seemingly aiming to blow through his points as soon as possible). I also managed to get all my shopping except for the telephones and, on topic, got as close as I could to half a pound of sausagemeat for CJBS, with 3 cumberland sausages. I've got a couple of tofu sausages, my powdered (not-)egg and an onion and I've saved up some fat through not using any at all in the stew. So I think we're having toad in the hole and mashed potatoes for tomorrow's dinner.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Stock answers

I've done well today, having not snacked on anything and coped with shortages already (no tomatoes, no sausagemeat, no quality tinned fruit, no leeks) and I've sent CJBS off to work with a packed lunch of (unrationed) fishpaste sandwiches and (leftover) soup.

Now I need to think on about my dinner for tonight. I'm wanting soup and have plenty of vegetables to make a good one, plus some pearl barley and oats to make it filling and thick, respectively. But to create said soup, I first need a good stock.

I've got a lovely large stockpot, bought a couple of years ago, but I've only ever used it to make soup. So I'm starting my soup-making today by making a stock that I'll add to over the coming days and weeks. As long as it is brought to the (vigorous) boil once a day, it won't go off... and I'll try to avoid my grandma's world-famous attempt at stock, where she left the pot for over a week on a low heat. Once taken off the heat, it continued to bubble to itself, before making a grab for power in an audacious coup d'etat and rampaging across much of Europe and Hessle foreshore.

I've roughly chopped an onion, a carrot and a parsnip to get it going, then covered them in water with a pinch of salt and brought the whole lot to the boil. Now to leave them for an hour or so on a gentle heat, then swipe some of the liquid for the soup-to-be. Later in the week I'll probably start adding stuff like mushrooms (meaty flavour) and onion skins (for the colour) before dividing into one vegetarian stock and one meaty stock, for which I'll swipe CJBS's bacon rinds.

As for tonight's soup, I'm undecided between cream of parsnip, cheese or potato and cabbage soup. CJBS fancies the parsnip, I fancy using some of my cheese ration on something a bit creamier still. Splitting the difference would mean I end up making the potato and cabbage soup...

Edit: I ended up making cheese soup, adapting Marguerite Patten's recipe, but not enough (although the soup itself was very nice).

The Patten recipe takes a chopped onion, 1.5oz marg, and a pint of household (reconstituted) milk and brings them to the boil together. Then you make a paste with 2tbsp of flour and a little milk, and add this to the now-simmering soup. This thickens the soup; then you add a cup of grated cheese, let it melt, season and serve.

The flaw here is that the flour paste didn't soak up the globs of fat on the surface - why would it? - and thus what I served was slightly unappetising. The recipe would've made more sense by starting with a roux (fry the onion gently, then add flour until the oil is all bound up, then slowly add milk until the thickened soup appears). I doubted that a creamy soup not made with a roux would work; I was right, although the taste was fine, especially when I added two ladles of my new stock and increased the seasoning (code for salt) slightly.

And what do points make?

So, we've begun! Tomorrow I'll buy some bathroom scales so CJBS and I can chart just how rationing reduces our overstuffed frames. Today, I'll be shopping for fruit and vegetables at our local greengrocer (Colin Lunt - not joking, and, yes, I intentionally spoonerise that name normally, but won't here else Blogspot will throw me off) and also get our fat ration.

Having looked everywhere, I failed dismally to find the value of "points" - the 16 free coupons a month everyone got that could be used (with money) to buy treats and store cupboard items. However, seeking to put off planning my menu for the week and enjoying three cups made from one teaspoon of loose tea, I picked up one of my favourite books: Peter Hennessy's masterful Never Again: Britain 1945-1951. And it fell open at page 49 - a table of points-values from May 1945. This wasn't quite the high point of values that we're using (January 1940), nor the lowest (early 1942 and late 1946, I believe) but it's all I've got.

So, these are our "points". We have 16 to last a month, and the quantity is a pound (450g) - although that's a maximum, not a minimum (so if 16pts gets a pound of something, we can use 8pts to get half a pound):

Meat products: 16
Tinned soup: 4
Tinned fish: 16
Tinned fruit: 4
Tinned vegetables: 4
Dried fruit: 16
Nuts: 12
Biscuits: 4
Cereal: 8
Oatmeal: 4
Dried peas and beans: 4
Rice, sago, tapioca and semolina: 2
Pasta: 4
Jelly, custard powder, blancmange, table cream: 8
Tinned peas and beans: 3
Tinned stewed steak: 20

Additionally, 2 points gets a pint of condensed milk, and 1 point gets a fluid ounce (30ml) of olive oil, salad oil or salad cream.

And, yes, the British had heard of pasta in 1940, although it was known as macaroni if it was shaped and spaghetti if it wasn't. They'd also heard of olive oil, but you usually bought it from Boot's or Timothy White's, not from the grocer (although this in itself has become a lazy journalist's shorthand, as you could buy it for cooking purposes from delis and specialist food shops).

So, with those values set, I can now try to plan the first week's food.