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