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

(Image: Morguefile.com)

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

(Image: Morguefile.com)

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.)

Book Me: Keeping History Real

This scowl could only be saying, “Interpret history for yourself!” (Image: Morguefile.com)

Some days history comes alive and some days it stays comatose. Why is that? Why does one subject or exhibit or picture, etc, spur a curiosity in the past and another makes voluntary dental work sound like fun?

I had one of these moments at an interpretive center the other day. I can’t call it a museum because museums tend to emphasize collections of things as is, without intensive interpretation.

This location wasn’t bad, but there were a lot of ambient battle noise recordings that could have been a couple of decibels lower. That coupled with an audio playback of each written display in tight quarters resulted in a cacophony that made me want to leave rather than immerse myself in history.

On the other hand, it might have been me because I was tired out from a long couple of days of filming, so I wasn’t in a very receptive mood. However, on the road home as I read the short pamphlet about Fort Necessity in southwestern Pennsylvania I really got into the subject. Who knew that a multi-thousand dollar interpretive center would fail to inspire where a 50 plus cent sheet of folded paper with a few paragraphs would?

This is the dichotomy of history and of the use of interpretive centers, which are more and more replacing old style museums.

Is interpreting history wise? Should not each one of us have a chance to examine the facts unimpeded and come to our own conclusions?

What if the bias of the interpretive center is wrong? Are you really teaching history or are you perpetuating an opinion?

Probably both. We must interpret, and any teacher of history, no matter how much they try to avoid it, is interpreting the subject via their own personal bias to their students. That’s part of being human.

Developing a personal curiosity into history can help each of us interpret the facts on our own. If an exhibit fails to enthrall you then dig into some books on the subject. You might find the angle that eluded you and develop a whole new area of interest.

Keep history real!

Amanda Stiver

English is Two Languages

You can learn a lot about a person from the way they speak. You can learn a lot about a country by the language they use. In this case, by the language that is shared by two countries.

The English language is named for its country of origin, but it is shared with in use by England’s rebellious former colonies, The United States of America. That said, we really don’t speak the same language. Particularly our idioms and slang. We may spell a word the same, but that doesn’t mean we grant it the same meaning.

Perusing my copy of British English A to Zed by Norman W. Schur and Eugene Ehrlich proves elucidating.

I have heard of kerfuffles before, but didn’t realize it was a British word for a fuss, commotion or dither. Fascinating, although I rarely hear Americans use the words commotion or dither, perhaps fuss.

Girl Scouts are Girl Guides in Britain and oddly enough if you get in a kerfuffle in your troop you might get up someone’s nose! Or in America, get in someone’s hair 0r on their nerves.

A publican sounds vaguely Roman, but it really just means saloon keeper. A puncture isn’t a medical state; it is a flat tire on your car after you’ve been motoring on rough ground.

A spate is a flood of something or other. And a shout isn’t something you do after you’ve had too much alcohol, but is instead the word used for treating others to a round of drinks.

So here’s to speaking a foreign language that you already know!

Cheers!

– Amanda Stiver

America: A Vision for the Present

Lately I’ve been reading David McCullough’s John Adams, upon which the recent HBO series was based. Although I won’t write a review yet (I haven’t quite finished it), some interesting observations can be drawn from this era of history.

As I read the comments in letters and writings of individuals like John Adams, Abigail Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Rush and others, I found myself reading sentiments of modern proportions.

Devaluation of money, excessive national debt, wartime alliances, and visions of America for centuries to come and not just as a mere 13 British colonies. After the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, men and women worried about America’s acceptance with the British, if we were to be continually their enemy or treat for total peace and recognition. Whether America would be a collection of very loosely confederated, nearly autonomous states, a pure, overwhelming national state with a central government, or united in balance under state and federal establishments.

Policies and Politics

Mud was slung between politicians and between factions. Republicans (at that early stage) stood for continuous revolutions and applauded the bloody, messy French Revolution, while Federalists looked to a strongly central government.

These positions would switch back and forth between liberal and conservative parties through the centuries. Today a less empowered federal government is the aim of conservatives while liberals yearn for a highly centralized, intensively regulated state.

Adams worried about America’s future with dire forebodings about the continual practice of slavery. Constant was his worry about how the new nation would be received in Europe and if it would or should get involved in the wars of that continent.

Past and Present

This is how history affects us. The same worries tie us to an era whose daily life is so very different from our own. The industrial revolution had not yet begun in earnest and everyday life was much as it had been for thousands of years.

You traveled by horse, your house was unplumbed, electricity was a gleam in Benjamin Franklin’s eye, and cooking was done over an open wood fire!

And yet, the human yearning for liberty is not sequestered by physical environment. Despite the differences of our dress, manner, speech, and abode, we all still cling to the hope of freedom – to live a free and virtuous life full of opportunity.

For more on this, please read The Declaration of Independence.

– Amanda Stiver

The Teatime Experience

Branching out from my usual trend toward military or related history, I’ve been thinking about tea lately. I am off caffeine and therefore can’t have the lovely dark liquid for a while, so naturally I should choose to write about it.

Much is said about tea these days regarding its health qualities. And for the past few years the idea of an extravagant and elegant afternoon tea has enjoyed a revival of popularity in the U.S. Cute little tea houses have popped up in various places, often only to fold a few months later. It takes marketing genius or a known clientele to get Americans to shake their coffee loving habits.

Although colonial America owes many of its identifying traditions to British norms of the eighteenth century, we did shake loose a few things during the revolution. Tea was one. The Boston Tea Party incident sparked by increased taxes on this most essential of British liquids made a seminal statement. So much so that when you step into a diner the waitress will hand out menus and ask if you want a cup of coffee – you have to ask for tea!

Tea, once upon a time

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing bad to say about traditional British teatime. It’s lovely and when I visited England I was determined to experience this glorious repast.

In the city of York there is a lovely place called Betty’s Café Tea Rooms. Here you will find the kind of tea service, sandwiches, sweet things, and goodies dreamed about by little girls in frilly dresses. They also serve a pretty swell coronation chicken if you hanker for something more substantial.

For the real deal, tea is prepared with loose leaves in a teapot and strained into your cup. Then a tower of delights arrives at the table. Three layers: warm scones and clotted cream (something I dream of, but rarely can afford stateside), then small open-faced sandwiches conspicuous by the absence of crust and the delicacy of cut, and, finally, a platter of small tarts, lemon curd and raspberry, and other little cakes.

Why is this historic?

Well, at one time people frequently indulged in this colossal teatime repast, but they don’t so much anymore, so participating in such a meal is akin to attending one of those medieval banquet performances, with jousting, and a goofy looking minstrel wandering around playing on a lute. You wouldn’t dine that way every night, but once in a while it gives you first hand experience of a different era of history. Living history.

So have a cup of tea, a scone, and some cake. Live a little… history.

Living like it’s 1873

Not long ago I finished A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird. The book covers her remarkable travels as an Englishwoman in the nineteenth century American West.

Bird was subject to ill health and traveled, as many did at that time, to different climates to restore her strength. Among other places she also visited Hawaii as well as Canada, Japan and China. In this case Bird was on a trip to reach Estes Park, Colorado.

Her journey begins at Lake Tahoe and she travels east from there into Colorado. Given the strictures of the time she was unusual as an independent woman who traveled alone and un-chaperoned through vast prairies and mountainous regions. With the exception of a few close calls she remained quite safe. After her return she compiled letters written to family into a journal of her travels and published it for sale.

The narrative is full of action and moves quickly, so it is a worthy read if you are interested in doing a little time travel and getting some firsthand experience in the “old west.”

Word pictures

Two things stand out from the book. First, is Bird’s ability to use language to describe her surroundings. The book is un-illustrated, but I was surprised at how little I missed photographs or maps. Her descriptions are precise and show a facility of language usage that is completely lacking these days.

Here are a few samples:

“The stars were intensely bright, and a well-defined auroral arch, throwing off fantastic coruscations, lighted the whole northern sky. Yet I was only in the Foot Hills, and Long’s glorious Peak was not to be seen (p. 229, Comstock Editions, INC., 1987).”

Who uses the word “coruscations” these days? (It means “sparklings and glitterings,” by the way.)

“Long’s Peak, 14,700 feet high, blocks up one end of Estes Park, and dwarfs all the surrounding mountains. … By sunlight or moonlight its splintered grey crest is the one object which, in spite of wapiti and bighorn, skunk and grizzly, unfailingly arrests the eyes. From it come all storms of snow and wind, and the forked lightnings play round its head like a glory. It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one’s imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality (pp.78-79).”

I know that a picture can speak a thousand words, but words like these can speak a thousand pictures!

At your leisure…

Secondly, the descriptions of life at this time in American (and British) history fill a need-to-know of mine. When I sit down in the evening to watch a television show or movie I sometimes ponder at the passivity of my modern habits. It doesn’t take much intellectual stimulation to watch a video (which is sometimes the point after a busy day), but on the other hand, how much of the human brain do we leave inactive for the sake of “entertainment.”

The following quote from the book gives a hint at the kind of end-of-day events common in the early 1870’s:

“After that we all sit in the living room, and I settle down to write to you, or mend my clothes, which are dropping to pieces. Some sit round the table playing at eucre, the strange hunters and prospectors lie on the floor smoking, and rifles are cleaned, bullets cast, fishing flies made, fishing tackle repaired, boots are waterproofed, part-songs are sung, and about half-past eight I cross the crisp grass to my cabin, always expecting to find something in it [based on a previous encounter with a skunk] (pp. 108-109).”

Life was not a piece of cake and leisure time was at a minimum. If you wanted to hear music, you sang it. If you wanted amusement, you played cards. Otherwise you were busy repairing your equipment.

Travel by book – I highly recommend this volume as your personal tour guide into the past!

Play Me A Dirge, Matey…

A few years ago my folks were out on a garage sale tour and they came across an estate sale with a significant collection of books. Garage sales are fun on their own, but with the added incentive of books they are irresistible, to me at least. So I went along.

The collection was breaking up at a rapid pace, but before they disappeared I located part of a series of Time-Life books called The Seafarers. I ended up with eight volumes out of a set of 22.

Ever since high school when I read C.S. Forrester’s Captain Hornblower I have been curious about naval history. I’ve not sailed, but have had the chance to tour a replica of Captain Cook’s HM Bark Endeavour and my haul at the estate sale came as a boost to my curiosity.

Would you be interested in buying…

I remember commercials for Time-Life books when I was a kid, but I didn’t realize, until I got my hands on the nautical volumes, how detailed and fascinating they were. The illustrations are spectacular and the writing very approachable.

Collections of books like the ones sold by Time-Life take me back to the days of encyclopedia sets as well. My mom tells me childhood stories of curling up with a crunchy apple or wedge of cabbage and reading through a volume of the encyclopedia. I remember going through our own set and being fascinating by the pictures and the concise descriptions or explanations of various entries – mostly scientific.

The history of science

It wasn’t until my parents did some research that we learned the rocky relationship encyclopedias have had with history. Early on in the 18th century these compendiums of knowledge contained history as well as the burgeoning study of science and the natural world. This trend continued until the early 20th century, around WWI. At this point the history got dropped in favor of the multitude of scientific discoveries that were coming along at a rapid pace.

Our modern default setting is for science and scientific proof to back up even historical discoveries. Sometimes this “proof” is debatable, science itself not being a science, but an art and subject to interpretation. Human witness can get relegated to second place behind scientific substantiation in anthropological and archeological pursuits. Perhaps not always without cause, humans can be liars.

Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy the pages of well-reasoned, carefully researched history and see if someday I can track down a few more volumes of The Seafarers.

The Great Museum Debate

Narrowing the itinerary, I had decided on four museums. The Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum, the Imperial War Museum, The Churchill War Rooms, and lastly, the grand poobah – The British Museum.

Sadly, on that trip to the UK I had no time for the first three-fourths of the list, but I made it to the British Museum. The edifice is impressive – a wide yard with steps that lead up to a long portico of sturdy, grey columns.

Fetch your hiking boots…

When I think museum, I think a small, well organized place with five or six rooms you can see in a fairly short time. This is not the right impression for the British M. The £2 map you can buy to keep you on track is a maze of room upon room of antiquities.

With only a few hours to see a tiny sampling of what it has to offer, I strolled through the main exhibit hall of Egyptian artifacts (the Rosetta Stone among them) into the Parthenon sculptures and back down the Assyrian hall. I looked in vain for a Scythian exhibit, only to find out it was closed for repair, so I took a short turn in the temporary display of 18th century exploration. I entirely missed the ancient British artifacts, Asian, and African exhibits, among all the rest.

It’s hard to take in the scale of so many ‘things’ housed in the museum complex, but it helps to imagine a very classy warehouse where you can see into most of the boxes. To learn more about the museum, the web address is http://www.britishmuseum.org.

I recommend going because it’s the abode of bits and fascinating pieces of ancient civilizations, but also because the building itself is an historic landmark. Frankly, most of London is an historic landmark.

Museums draw you to the past. Coming face to face with an ancient Egyptian carving brings reality to your sense of history – something that looking at a picture in a book cannot do. You may be surprised at how your assumptions are burst by seeing how much smaller or larger a famous artifact is from the way you imagined it would be.

Who owns what?

On a related note, there is a continuous debate about the ethics of major European museums keeping ownership of items discovered in other countries (mostly former colonies or protectorates). British, German, and French museums, among others, house some of the seminal pieces representing Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Many nations want their items returned, and fairly enough, as they exemplify the cultural history of those places. On the other hand, with the instability, politically and religiously of many nations of origin, some argue that human history is best protected by keeping the items where they have been for the past century or more.

Arguing in favor of this sentiment was the 2001 destruction in Afghanistan of two giant statues of Buddha by Islamic extremists. Likewise the ensuing chaos and devastation of Iraq at war has resulted in the pilfering and destruction of many Assyrian and Babylonian artifacts from Iraqi museums.

Consensus eludes the world on this issue at present, but compromises have been suggested. Returning the originals to their homes, but not before precise copies can be made to remain in place at western museums. Not unlike the copy of the Lascaux caves in France that was made to protect the original from too many respirating tourists.

UK Election, Hung Parliaments, and History

Watching the electoral machinations of another country carries the detached, but comforting sentiment that, “ah well, they do have their problems, don’t they!”

It makes us feel better about things back home – almost. Knowing that leadership around the world seems to be faltering on a variety of levels isn’t really comforting, but it is a distraction.

This most recent election in Great Britain has been interesting to me, for its import on a national level in the UK, but also because of the situation it created, a hung parliament.

Three-for-all

Being an American, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the British Parliament and it’s associated traditions and functions. A multi-party system has its share of challenges and this most recent election proves the point.

Three parties took the lion’s share of the general election: the Labour party (of seated Prime Minster Gordon Brown), the Conservative party, and the Liberal- Democrat party. By vote the Conservatives won the most, but in order to create a cabinet and functioning government, a more significant surplus of votes was required for an outright Conservative win. Labour came in second, and the Liberal-Democrats third, with a much smaller percentage.

This is where it gets tricky because, suddenly, the power play is in the hands of the third party – though small, it is the deal breaker. A coalition must be formed by the first two in line or no one has the momentum to rule. Thus, the third party becomes the bride and the first two her ardent suitors.

In this case the leader of the Liberal-Democrats, Nick Clegg, decided on a coalition government under the Conservatives (ironic, as these two parties tend not to be ideologically closely related) and their leader, David Cameron. Using the analogy of American politics, this is like a Republican president peopling his cabinet, attorneys general, and other administration posts with Democrats as well as members of his own party and adding into the goals of his administration, those of his opponents. Thus, you see the complications.

Once the hashing out has been done, Queen Elizabeth invites the prime ministerial candidate with the best odds of creating a coalition government to her presence and asks him to form a government (or as we would style it, an administration). This makes it official. It is the pomp part of the equation that is at once quaint and foreign to those of us from the States.

As a result the new Prime Minister is David Cameron.

Where’s the history?

That’s just it; this is history. The last hung parliament was in the middle 1970’s, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it makes for a lot of drama.

“Present-vision,” which is the inability to recognize an historical moment while one is in it, affects us all. We don’t realize until someone tells us later that, yes, your freedoms were being rapidly erased by a government with starkly different views on social structures. Or that, yep, that war in the 1940’s was a big deal!

Worse than present-vision is historical illiteracy. When people can’t look at the past, get the facts, and believe what happened happened, then they, by default, ask for a repeat performance. A few charmers from my college days, “That Soviet Union thing, well, it didn’t work out so well, especially if you disagreed with anybody in power,” and “No, the United States did not know they were going to win the Second World War when they entered the fray, that’s why they had to fight a war!”

Live in the present, but learn from the past, and look to the future!