WW2 Challenge: Can you dig it?

I’m making Woolton pie tonight, named after the famous wartime Food Minister – admittedly not a popular dish – and am wondering if DJ will make it home for dinner at all. I fear he is tiring already of eating World War Two style food and tempted to get something on the black market…Oh dear!

Woolton pie comprises of cauliflower, carrots and swede, and I had to buy some of the veg in especially. So it struck me that if our vegetable patch was in full flow and we’d stored veg from last year we wouldn’t need to buy it. Unfortunately, all that’s ready to eat right now are some early Anya potatoes, albeit delicious. We had problems with some seeds not germinating, so the crop isn’t quite ready yet. But the courgette plant is flowering and peas are on the go.

Allotments, of course, were vital during the war in producing food to feed the nation, and I wanted to find out more. Luckily the Churchill Museum in London is running a fascinating exhibition called Dig for Victory: War on Waste and has reconstructed two allotments in St James’s Park.

Melody Allen, exhibitions assistant there, says the project was inspired by growing interest in sustainability. “The allotment started up last year,” she says. “It was very successful and we encouraged many school children to grow their own vegetables. So this year we thought we’d continue it. We’ve got two allotments side by side, one cultivated as a modern day one and the other as a World War Two allotment. The wartime one is growing potatoes, carrots and onions, while the other has other vegetables more popular now.”

The Museum is gardening organically, but this wasn’t always the case during the wartime Dig for Victory campaign, which encouraged people to dig up their gardens to grow food. “Back then priorities were very different because they were growing food for the nation,” Melody explains. “For example, nicotine fumes were used in the green house [to kill pests]. But we can learn from their recycling methods. Burying an old mattress under broad beans helped retain moisture, while old window frames were used to make cold frames.”

Allotments sprung up in the unlikeliest of places. “Kensington Gardens, most of London’s Royal Parks and even the Tower of London’s moat were dug up and used to cultivate veg,” she tells me. “People dug up their backyards and some even grew vegetables on top of Anderson Shelters. There were 1.4m allotments and over half the UK’s families were growing their own to supplement their rations. They produced over a million tonnes of veg each year.”

The Ministry of Food supported gardeners by distributing 10m instructional leaflets and organising food into different food groups – not unlike the modern Five a Day campaign. “Amateur gardeners were keen to grow fruits and salad vegetables. But the government encouraged them to grow sustainable crops like potatoes, carrots and cabbages [which could be stored easily],” Melody points out.

She believes that as a throw-away-nation, we have a lot to learn from wartime recycling techniques. “People were very resourceful then,” says Melody. “But now the UK produces 434m tonnes of rubbish each year and if we continue to by 2010 our landfill sites will be full. So we’re particularly looking at sustainability this year. We’ve got lots of ice cream tubs planted up and are trying to encourage people to save yoghurt pots and newspapers to make plant pots.”

And just as the allotment was vital during the war, Melody claims growing your own could help us save on our food bills. “I think growing your own on an allotment is an affordable way of producing food. It’s possible to produce £300 of veg a year plus you get exercise from it and it builds a sense of community. If you don’t have space you can grow courgettes or salad leaves in pots.”

Meanwhile, the Churchill Museum’s allotment is thriving. “The veg is doing particularly well this year,” she tells me. “The only problem has been black fly and as we’re gardening organically we can only spray soapy water on them. We’ve also used World War Two techniques such as companion planting – planting flowers to attract the insects away from the veg.”

Do you grow your own? Does it help you save on your shopping bill, or do you think it’s just another fad that will disappear eventually? What are your recycling tips? Leave a message and let me know. Have a great weekend, xxx Piper


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9 Responses to WW2 Challenge: Can you dig it?

  1. Unknown says:

    I grew up with the sayings Make do and mend and waste not want not ringing in my ears.  I still feel guilty if I throw away something that I might have used and can hear my Mum\’s voice saying waste not want not!  With regard to growing your own and being self sufficient – it can save money but not in the short term.  I remember our first 3 chickens which we bought in our Good Life phase and the cost of the first dozen eggs worked out at something like £100!!  The cost of the hens, hen run, food trough and water dispenser plus the initial feed.  Of course we didn\’t need to buy any of those items again and the chickens loved a diet of mash using up leftover foodstuff and so on so eventually the eggs were costing us less.  The same with growing your own the cost of seeds and garden tools etc if you don\’t already have everything you need makes for a very expensive few veggies in the short term but of course if you cost it out over a longer period it may well cost less.  The only problem is that you can get heartily sick of eating courgettes before they turn into marrows and trying to find yet another way to utilise tomatoes.  It is always all or nothing with growing your own.  Personally I think that there are plenty of other ways to save money and would suggest you only grow your own if you really enjoy doing so as in the end it may lose you money rather than save it especially if the tomatoes get blight or the onions fail to mature etc.
    Recycling – yes we do recycle and have always made compost from all the vegetable waste (apart from when we had chickens who ate a lot of it)  Here in France you can be fined if you put bottles in your bin nag instead of in the recycling facility and we have just got used to putting everything recyclable into a basket in the kitchen and then taking it to the recycling bins in the village.  Our dustbin bag is only half full each week as most of the stuff can be recycled. 

  2. Christine says:

    No name has a point about the early investment in growing your own. Of course you can see if the charity shop or freecycle can provide you with some of the tools that you require. Then you can save your own seeds from some vegetables for the next year. Or you can join local seed swap schemes if  you have things left over at the end of a planting season. You can blanch and save veg in your freezer when you have a glut. You can make jams, chutneys, larger portions of a recipe to freeze. You need to put time aside to preserve if you are going to grow in large quantities. Which is sensible. But there is no point in running a freezer when you grow your own and not filling it up for the future. More people are going to have to learn how to preserve their own produce in order to save money on food. Remember that there are more ways of preserving than cooking extra portions to freeze. Blanch and freeze, jam, chutney are the obvious ways. But I expect that you can come up with other ways. If you do nothing else, you can grow your own herbs in tubs and on window ledges from seed to save money on paying for the jar as well as the contents. Long term composting of your own waste is easy enough – all you need is a small space and to remember just how much we produce is compostable. And an excellent money saver in growing your own. I scrounge stuff for the compost heap from all over from those who don\’t or don\’t have the space. But remember too that the time and effort put into growing food can be a very socialable hobby if you have an allotment, an excellent keep fit regime which will save you paying for the gym and other fitness hobbies, and the best way to get a suntan. It takes up enough spare time to save you money down the pub, out at other social events too. Also you can put off going on holiday till the off season when it is cheaper!

  3. David says:

    I was born, Feb 1944, and raised in Rothwell Nr. Leeds Yorks. I remember having horse meat for Sunday lunch. Lard and bread for sandwiches. Vivid and happy memories of carrying out my asigned duties on my dads allotment, on which he kept a pig. One of my duties was to go round the village to collect food scraps to go into the boiler to produce pig swill, which the pig ate with great gusto. I remember a funny event, not funny at the time. My elder brother was sent to the local shop to buy a jar of jam with the ration coupons. He had the usual stick with him but on the way home he dropped the jar of jam. On reporting this to mam, who went balistc, she duly whacked him with the stick, gave him a plate and spoon. He was duly dispatched to retrieve the jar of jam, which he duly did. My mother then duly went about sieving out the broken glass so that the jam was not wasted. I don\’t think kids today even eat jam sandwiches anymore. This is only a small part of memories growing up in the good old days when you could leave your front door unlocked without any fears of today. Yes there were hard times but they were good times.

  4. Abigail says:

    We grow as much as we can given our small garden – courgettes, tomatoes, peas, radishes, sweetcorn, squash, salad leaves, herbs, and in winter cabbages, potatoes, leeks and brussels in raised beds, with more tomatoes, chillis, peppers and herbs in containers or cold frames, and strawberries in hanging baskets and troughs balanced on top of the brackets. It does save us money (59p for a packet of rocket seeds which will give us months of salad, plus you can pick it as you need to rather than paying over £1 for a plastic bag full which will soon turn brown and manky in the fridge between shopping trips).
    For recycling, the biggest tip is composting – using up vegetable waste, eggshells, shredded newspaper, pruned leaves and twigs and so on by packing it all into a compost bin (or make your own with 4 old pallets and an old bit of carpet).
    We also keep an eye out for things we can re-use – the old bit of carpet from the attic was used to line a raised bed made from wood which a neighbour was getting rid of after remodelling his workshop for instance. We also use loo roll inner-tubes (and kitchen roll tubes) for seedlings which don\’t like having their roots disturbed – peas and sweetcorn for example. The cardboard holds well enough to stand up to regular watering, but will break down after being planted out.

  5. Jen says:

    Growing your own is not only healthier, in that you know what you\’ve sprayed (or not!) on the plants, it\’s also healthier to eat something that isn\’t cold-stored before reaching the shelves and tastes so much better. I once knew a farmer who owned his own farm. He used those skills in the garden. When the veg and/or fruit is ripe for picking, you store it properly and it won\’t deteriorate in next to no time!
    Good article. More of us should do it instead of panicking about a possible food shortage. Grow enough stuff, store it well and you can still have some of it left for the following year, as we\’ve found. We can\’t work the gaden now as we used to, both of us being disabled but those who can really should.

  6. John says:

    I was born in 1935 and during the war years brought up on Woolton Pie, bread and dripping, jam sandwiches, and if you was lucky mutton stew, it never done us any harm and we were far healthier in those day\’s.  I can remember feeding the pigs on \’Tottenham Pudding\’ which contained old tyres and razor blades and those porkers were bootiful.

  7. Harry says:

    I can remember the rationing up to around 1953/4. Sugar wasn\’t plentiful. Chicken was only for Christmas & rabbit was a cheap meat until mixamawhatsit decimated the rabbit population. Mutton was also cheap & tasty. Fish was cheap & was mainly a cheap dish. Fridges were a luxury only available to the rich so food was bought from a corner shop or similar almost daily – this is pre-supermarket days so produce came from local or near local providers (no motorways). People also forget that the word organic was almost non existent. Pesticides  were being used to help improve quantity & quality (yes quality) of food yeilds. Oh yes, very few of us had cars. Common forms of transport walking, bike, bus, train, motorbike if you had some cash or could get the HP (hire purchase). So the lack of choice in a way was good for our stone-age bodies, whereas processed foods with higher fat & sugar, less exercise because we drive everywhere, remote controls because we no longer get up out of the chair to switch over channels.

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