- Food and Cooking
Lessons from the wartime diet
What can we learn from the wartime diet?
During the Second World War, all food in the UK was severely rationed by the government.
The result of this wasn't that the population became unhealthy - in fact, the opposite was true.
During and after rationing in the UK, the population was healthier than ever before. Why was this?
This was the result because meat, butter, sweets and other foods were almost unobtainable at some times during the war and when they were, it was in extremely limited quantities.
Instead, the population was urged to eat fresh vegetables, legumes, homemade soups ... There were no sweet, sugary sodas, no chocolate and there was a complete lack of many of the foods we use daily in this day and age. In other words, the diet was much better than it had been before the war.
People were encouraged to save electricity and make sure that every scrap of food was used. And everyone was urged to buy local produce to cut down on transportation costs and fuel consumption.How familiar that sounds to us all today.
My parents were both born in the 1920s so were young during wartime - they taught me a lot about diet and waste - and much of their advice is applicable today.
Yes, we decided to give it a try
I bought a book of wartime recipes and decided that we'd give the diet a go.
The results were amazing. We only bought produce that was grown locally, we made the most of foods full of nutrients such as potatoes, oatmeal, grains and pulses.Yes, I admit that we cheated - we imagined that we kept bees so we did have honey.
We couldn't quite give up coffee, so that was another cheat and I have to admit that a few glasses of wine passed our lips, but overall we ate a similar diet to that people ate during World War Two.
Because we don't eat meat, we 'exchanged' our meat rations with an imaginary neighbor, so we had extra cheese but we bought the most basic types available - no brie or mozzarella.
Of course, it's not the sort of diet that can be voluntarily kept up forever - eventually a takeout pizza beckons - but during our 'wartime' we lost weight, felt wonderful and saved a lot of money.
We found that soups were quick to make, nutritious and incredibly cheap. Here's an example - an authentic wartime recipe:
GOLDEN BARLEY SOUP
Grate 2lbs carrots, and add to 1 quart of water along with 1 small teacup barley.
Simmer for 2½ hours. Roll a piece of margarine, roughly the size of a walnut, with a tablespoon flour and stir into the soup. Cook for eight minutes, stirring. Garnish with fresh herbs from the garden. Serves 4 - 5.
This a great served with crusty bread from the local baker. I also regularly made croutons with oddments of leftover bread to go into soups. Or you could try this wartime recipe:
Into 8oz plain flour, add 1 teaspoon baking power and a teaspoon of chopped herbs from the garden. Add cold water to make a firm dough. Roll into balls (about the size of a marble), drop them into the soup and cook for about seven minutes.
POTATO & WATERCRESS SOUP
Wash, peel and chop 1lb potatoes into small pieces and cook them in a pint of vegetable stock until soft. Mash against the side of the pan (I sieved ) and add 1 teaspoon margarine (yes, I used butter) a pint of milk, pepper and salt and reheat. Just before serving, add two bunches of watercress, chopped.
When I lived in Hampshire many years ago, we could pick fresh watercress right from the sparkling, beautifully clear river. Potato soup is actually quite tasty even if you don't have watercress - add plenty of black pepper.
Wartime diet vegetarian main meals
You'll need 8 small tomatoes or four large ones.
Cut a thin slice from the top of these and scoop out the pulp, leaving the skins intact. Make ¼ pint white sauce and add 2oz grated cheese, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and the tomato pulp.
Mix and fill the tomatoes with the mixture. Cook in a moderate oven for ten minutes and serve with green vegetables or a large green salad.
Mix together 2lbs cooked mixed vegetables, 4oz grated cheese, 3oz fresh breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, pepper & salt and add two lightly beaten eggs. Melt a little fat or oil in a frying pan and add the mixture so that it covers the bottom of the pan.
Cover and cook for about twenty minutes. Give it a shake from time to time. Serve with a green vegetable or salad.
FIVE DISHES FROM ONE RECIPE
The book I have suggests five ways of using a basic batter recipe.
YORKSHIRE PUDDING.Put a knob of fat into a baking tin and pour in the batter. Cook in a brisk oven for thirty minutes. Our favorite way to serve this was with baked beans. The book suggests:
TOAD IN THE HOLE, which is the same as above but with sausages or meat leftovers added. But it's great with mushrooms instead.
SWEET PANCAKES. Make pancakes (English style, skillet sizes) and roll up with a little fruit jam (jelly), honey or sliced apple.
SAVORY PANCAKES. As above but filled with cooked vegetables and cheese.
BATTER PUDDING. As Yorkshire pudding above but served with honey and fruit.
Wartime cooks were incredibly inventive when it came to creating cakes, biscuits and treats. We preferred to have a piece of fruit or a quickly made fruit salad after our meal.
Just as it is today, during wartime it was important to save fuel when cooking. The book suggests that neighbors should arrange to share ovens. If Jane is baking a cake she should contact Mary and tell her that she has space in her oven, if she'd like to add a dish. What a great idea!
This might interest you too
Lessons from a wartime teenager.This shows some of the lessons I learned from my mum about living during the war and how to make the most of the foods available, how to save energy and generally live the green life.
Baking was an important skill for the wartime cook.Today, more and more people are realising benefits of making their own cakes,pastries and other baked goods.
It was the wartime cooks who were the true specialists - creating delicious foods cheaply in a planet-friendly fashion. We can learn from them.