WWII Rations: Baking a Pudding?

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After reading all about British rationing during World War II I decided to try one of the recipes. This is a side effect of studying culinary history – edible research material!

I thought about trying my hand at green veggies or potato mash, but I deferred to a dessert recipe. I chose ‘Spiced Cottage Pudding with Lemon Sauce’ from Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic  Food and Facts From 1940-1954 by Marguerite Patten OBE.

I only got as far as the ‘Spiced Pudding’ and discovered that ‘pudding’ is one of those English words that has multiple meanings. My impression of pudding is a gooey, chocolaty, semi-liquid that one makes in a pot on the stovetop, but this recipe is more of a bread in the style of ginger-bread. A cake really.

Here is the recipe with my additions and tweaks:

Spiced Cottage Pudding (or in the States – Spice Cake)

-8 oz (1 cup) flour (I used whole wheat) with 4 teaspoons baking powder

-Pinch of salt

-2 tablespoons dried egg (or two fresh eggs)

-3 oz fat (light olive oil)

-3 oz sugar (a measurement also known as a ‘snit!’)

-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

-1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

-1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

-Approximately 1/4 pint (half a cup, or a little less) milk

(I used reconstituted dried milk to get in the spirit of WWII rations, and although being smelly, it incorporated effectively.)

Instructions: Mix the flour and baking powder with the salt and dried egg. Mix the fat in well. Add the sugar with the spices; mix to a stiff consistency with the milk (you may not end up using all the milk). Turn into a greased pan about 8×6 inches (the cake will rise moderately, like gingerbread). Bake in the center of a moderately hot (350° F) oven for 30 minutes. Cut in squares and serve hot.

> The result was a nice firm, if slightly dry cake with a lovely spicy flavor. This tasty cake, along with a dollop of whipped cream, would go well with coffee or tea.

Interestingly, the amount of sugar in this cake is far less than what we normally see in recipes. So much so, that you might mistake it for a snack cake rather than a full-blown dessert. However, remembering back to the 8 oz a week ration of sugar per person, you can see why recipes of that time were spare with the sugar. Sugar was as rare as diamonds!

There you have it – a recipe for history!

– Amanda Stiver

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WWII: Fed Up on Feeble Rations

Limited food rations in Britain during World War II meant a lot of creativity in the kitchen. If you didn’t have eggs, which are essential in baking, you had to learn to use dehydrated powdered egg in your recipes. If you didn’t have milk, you have to make do with powdered milk – called household milk then.

Fortunately flour wasn’t rationed during the war, but being wasteful just wasn’t an option, so you were careful with the amounts you did have.

By the book

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954, by Marguerite Patten, is a compilation of three separate books about the Kitchen Front in WWII Britain. Each contains menus, cooking tips, and recipes from those years as provided by the British government to help cooks be more inventive with their meager rations.

I find these kind of historic resources fascinating because they provide a trip back in time, but also because they are still immediately applicable. Most all of the recipes in Marguerite Patten’s book are doable today. They may not be to our modern day taste, a taste, however, that is often sullied by overindulgence.

Having great material resources is good, but it can lead to wastefulness. Economics being what they are means that we are in for some particularly nasty inflation in the US, so looking back at a time when people carefully eked out meals with what they had on hand is as relevant as can be!

What did they eat?

Tooling through the recipes I find great emphasis on vegetables. They were mostly home grown, thus cheap, and un-rationed, thus available. The government didn’t ration these foods because of their immense nutritional value and so they encouraged people to eat them daily, in large portions.

Expectant mothers and children were given special supplies of oranges for Vitamin-C and cod-live-oil for Vitamin-D and essential oils. However, everyone else had to scrounge for vitamins via their vegetables.

Green, leafy vegetables were encouraged daily as well as a serving of raw vegetables. Sound familiar? This same type of advice is encouraged by current nutritional experts. More so because those raw vegetables contain enzymes that are essential for proper digestion.

Spuds

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Potatoes play a prominent role in the cook book. As the government material of the time said, they could be grown in England, preferably at home, and thus needed no transportation or importation – freeing up ships to transport supplies to the military forces overseas. They provided glucose and rounded out meals of small portions of meat (which was heavily rationed) and servings of vegetables.

Even pastry for desserts came to be made partially of potato mash. There was no job too big for the humble potato to complete!

Technique

For vegetables, so highly encouraged, cooks were instructed to prepare them by steam boiling. Not with the fancy steamer contraptions we have today, but with a small amount of water in the base of the kettle, just enough to boil into steam when the lid was added and thus cook the veggies.

This technique had the effect of keeping the cooked vegetables appetizing, avoiding the heavily boiled mush that was common. Also it required less cooking time and conserved fuels such as coal that were in short supply. Stoves at that time were wood, coal or oil powered, not electric or gas fed like we have today. Infrastructure wasn’t yet that advanced.

Steam boiling also kept some of the vitamin content intact. Certain vitamins are sensitive to heat and are diluted by water, thus over-cooking leads to depleted nutrient value. Minimal cooking preserved the water-soluble vitamins. Likewise, cooks were encouraged to save the cooking water for soups and other dishes – thereby consuming the rest of the precious vitamins and minerals.

This, by the way, is a fantastic tip for our lives today. Saving vegetable water doesn’t take much time and provides better nutrition. Likewise, pasta water can be used as a soup base because it contains starch and acts as a thickener.

So, go ahead, cook a little history today and standby for more on this topic soon…

– Amanda Stiver

Eating Up World War II

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Could you live on 1 fresh egg every two weeks?

Could you live on 2 oz. of tea every week? How about 4 oz. of meat per week (that’s the size of 1 small steak, by the way), 2 oz. of butter (half a stick), 2 oz. of cheese, and 8 oz. of sugar (yep, just one cup A WEEK!).

These are merely a sample of the ration measurements for a single individual’s food for one week during World War Two in Great Britain. This, combined with the rations of other family members in a household, were the raw ingredients for breakfast and dinner. Lunch was often taken at school or a work cafeteria in order to stretch those portions.

Bread wasn’t rationed and neither were vegetables. To take advantage of fresh produce, many wartime Britons grew stupendous gardens – Victory Gardens. Likewise their American cousins dug in and planted – though rationing in the States was not nearly as severe. Vegetables made up a large part of the diet and were the main supply of vitamins and minerals.

The Ministry of Food was the government office in the UK that directed rationing and also provided creative recipes for using limited foods. Taking a turn through a cookbook from that era is a lesson in thinking outside the box. Replacements and substitutions were the order of the day.

Next up… how and what kind of meals did they create on such meager portions? Stay tuned!

(Ration facts courtesy of Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954, Marguerite Patten OBE, Chancellor Press, 2002.)