Friday, 10 September 2010

Read all about it

There has been a decidedly autumnal nip in the air in the last few days. Summer is clearly drawing to a close and with it, no doubt, my happy three or four months of salads.

In the last few weeks, there's been a real choice of home-grown goodies. In spring, I was falling upon the odd limp British lettuce with joy at having something green. In August, I was choosing from 3 types of British lettuce. Slowly, this is sliding back to just the one. Soon, lettuce will go off the menu entirely.

So it's time to start planning for the limited menus and random shortages that made last winter so hard to deal with. Luckily, I've got help.

On my monthly trip into the office in Harrogate, one of my colleagues had found her mother's cookbooks in the back of a cupboard. One, entitled something like 'Eat What You Grow' didn't sound promising but was actually full of the most tempting winter recipes. The other, a wartime cookbook sponsored by Stork margarine, had some the staples I was already used to, enlivened by putting a spoonful of Stork in, on or over the food before, during or after cooking. Why are these sponsored cookbooks always so naked in their attempt to get you to heap great big piles of their wares into your cooking? Even vegetables, getting their usual British "quick boil" of 15 minutes or so, would be improved by having Stork boiling in the pan with them, as well as melting over the top of them at the end. And this awful substance, Stork, was rationed!

I took photocopies from both books of likely looking recipes. The Stork book had a chapter at the beginning that I loved: what to do with your cooking when the air raid sirens sounded (basically, turn off the gas and come back to it after the All Clear, when it will either need further cooking or reheating).

A day later and we were in that London, to have dinner with Jonathan and Kate to celebrate our up-coming first wedding anniversary. It was also a good opportunity to have an expensive shop for non-rationed goods at Fortnum and Mason's in Piccadilly - something possible even during the war, as the shop specialises in dressings and sauces and side-of-plate extras that were never rationed and rarely subject to shortages, but entirely useless with nothing to put them on. You can't make a main meal from Ginger Confit and Hungarian Paprika, try as you might.

It was also a good opportunity to nose around a museum, something we could both pass our lives doing, me at speed, CJBS as slowly as possible. So we went to the National Portrait Gallery at St Martin-in-the-Field in order to look for and at people I'd heard of. It was very interesting and I think we'll go back to look at the people I haven't heard of in the older galleries.

CJBS cannot visit any building with a cafe in it without having a cup of tea, so we stopped off in the basement cafe to be charged a small fortune for some warm water and a bag of assorted leaves. This meant - clever, clever curators - going past the NPG's bookshop. I can't resist a bookshop. Ever. So we paid an even greater fortune for a pile of books that we then had to lug back up north with us.

Still, one of the books was the Eat What You Grow book, in the form of a reprint of the 1941 edition "Food Facts for the Kitchen Front". This is a good little book, much better than the Marguerite Patten stodge I've been living with for the past year.

It starts with a useful, if not entirely accurate, chapter on how you need at least one item from each of three "food value groups" in each meal: energy foods (fat, sugar, potatoes); body-building foods (meat, fish, dairy, wholemeal grains, potatoes); and protective foods (vegetables, wholemeal grains, potatoes). Yes, there's something of a tuber-based theme here.

It then goes on to explain calories, proteins, vitamins and mineral salts - suggesting that half a pound of potatoes and a quarter of a pound of cabbage would get you your day's Vitamin C (and sod all else, I'd wager).

The good bit of the book - the rest of it, in fact - then follows. Alphabetically, with no nonsense, it runs through each vegetable and presents some ration-friendly and (surprisingly) delicious-sounding ways of cooking it. The it does the same for potatoes, salads and herbs; then on to fish (still all white fish, with a detour into trout), meat and meat-substitution and nine pages of quick soups; bread, fruit and quick sauces to disguise poor menus; and finishes with a chapter on slow cooking. And it has an index! (The number of cookbooks without a useful index is disturbing; those chefs need to stay in more.)

Artichoke soup! Hot tomato salad! Eggless mayonnaise! The latter made with icing sugar... ugh. Sheep's Head Roll! (no, no, no). Despite the odd misfire (liver dumplings, anybody?), this book will be keeping us fed as winter draws on.

Meanwhile, by the way, I catered for TWO dinner parties the weekend before London. It was ration-stretching (in other words, it required a fiddle, assuming that I was getting coupons and points from the guests; although in reality, that was exactly what people did when entertaining during the war) but nobody noticed that they were getting rationed fare.

The first meal, a chicken salad, was made by slow-cooking chicken fillets in mustard and honey, so took no precious fat. Dessert was Eton Mess, but I saved on sugar by buying a bottle of cherry beer and reducing it to a sauce.

The second meal was roast lamb. That really was ration-stretching, using up the best part of a month's saved meat rations from both of us for a small joint. Plenty of vegetables, gravy and mint sauce hid that the meat wasn't in huge quantities. Still, I managed to get three days of further meals out of the scraps of meat left on the bone, then made stock from the bone itself, which became two days of French onion soup. Finally, the bone went into the dogs, who are grateful even now.

Ultimately, I made my dinner party rations stretch over 17 individual meals and two dogs without feeling any shortages. Of course, I'm now meatless for the next two weeks but this is survivable, thanks to my Food Facts book and the last days of the salad.


Michelle said...

Aren't those historic cookbooks a trip? And I had to Google "Stork" to determine what it really was (my intuition told me it wasn't canned bird).

Michelle said...

Mr. Graham - If time permits, could you please glance over the 9/11/10 Rational Living post and provide feedback? It lays out the guidelines we will be using when we follow UK rations for two weeks. I'm particularly perplexed about the monetary allowance for meat. Also, do you know anything about gasoline/petrol rationing? Thanks! :)