Rationing challenge: end of WW2 week

To round off my week’s World War Two rationing challenge I have been busy baking. I thought making some sweets and cakes might fill me up and the action and scent of baking cheer me up at the same time.

Kerri left a message on the blog suggesting I make something called carrot fudge. I’m not sure if it’s something our latest TV cookery queen, model Sophie Dahl aka The Delicious Miss Dahl, whose new series started this week, would dream of presenting viewers with, but I was curious. Unfortunately while I had a carrot, I couldn’t get my hands on any gelatine. It wasn’t in the local shop and my neighbours didn’t have any. Nor did I have any animal bones at home to boil to produce it myself, so I found something similar to make in my Eating for Victory cookbook which sounds even worse – crumb fudge. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s made from crusts dried in the oven.

Not to use up too much fuel at once, I decided to make a vegan cake at the same time – a vanilla sponge cake, which Flo had suggested I try out. I was a bit worried as I didn’t have enough olive oil left in my rations to make it with. In the end, the cake mixture was dry but I baked it anyway. What emerged from the oven was more of an enormous biscuit than a cake, but it wasn’t entirely inedible.

Strangely enough, while the crumb fudge sounded oddball, it turned out to be the better dessert of the two. I dried the crusts in the oven and then smashed them with a rolling pin into fine breadcrumbs. The cookbook recommended saving them in a tin for a few months. And as they are just fine croutons, it seems like a very good use for them. Once I threw the syrup, butter, sugar and cocoa into a saucepan and it began to melt, I found myself sticking my finger in and it tasted surprisingly good. I thought adding the crumbs would make it weird, but they looked strangely like hazelnuts. Perhaps I was hallucinating. I wondered what on earth the Delicious Miss Dahl  – staring at me from last week’s issue of the Radio Times – would make of it all. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw her turn a light shade of green.

All in all, I’m amazed by the ingenuity people displayed during World War Two. There are plenty of lessons we can all learn from those days, such as not wasting food and thinking outside the box in terms of recipes (admittedly not all the recipes I would want to see again). But not having your usual ingredients stretches your ability as a cook and I think I’ve been found wanting! I would never have considered making a vegan cake for example before, but it was a brilliant solution for even a carnivore lacking eggs and margarine.  

But I am very glad that I didn’t live through those difficult times, and not just because of the food. That said, I hadn’t realised just how much my own sense of wellbeing revolves around the need for tasty grub. I’m quite shocked by that and feel I’ve learned something new about myself. All I can say is how glad I am our cuisine has improved over the past 70 years. A little garlic and chilli powder goes a long way!

Do you think British cooking has improved since the war? Does Britain have an unfair reputation for poor cuisine? Leave a message and let me know your thoughts.

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9 Responses to Rationing challenge: end of WW2 week

  1. elaine says:

    It was the war and rationing that killed of British cooking I think. I recommend looking at pre war cookery books.

  2. piper says:

    Interesting, Elaine. I will take a look. Have eaten too much of the crumb fudge now and feeling a bit sick…

  3. Flo says:

    Hi Piper, Vegan cakes need to be a sloppy mix to work in comparison with the usual ones made with eggs and milk. That\’s why yours didn\’t rise.I think that we have lost some of the traditional elements of British cookery from pre-rationing days. There was certainly a very varied meat based diet from the manor house cookbook where the house had a walled garden that produced fruit, vegetables, flowers and even fish from the fishpond. Much of this tradition was lost because of the great loss of young men in the First World War – there were no longer enough people to keep the gardens going because they were so labour intensive. I remember talking to my father about walled gardens and he had actually lived through the decline of them. Also the landed estates could no longer afford the expense of running them. A great loss of self sufficiency and the knowledge of growing exotic fruit in heated glass houses was the result. We\’ve certainly lost the idea of big roasts of all sorts with lots of vegetables, thick soups to support the labourers and many native puddings and cakes. However as the work we do now is much more sedentary I doubt if we need the calories in the old recipes to keep us going mind. But to exchange the ability to make a traditional pasty or even a fruit salad from fresh ingredients for ready meals and shove it in the microwave cookery is a great loss.

  4. laurie says:

    to me the trouble with people cooking these days is they ruin food with over the top garlic & chili I can only take just a hint of either if all you can taste is the seasoning why bother with the main ingredients you might as well use an old dishcloth

  5. Bill says:

    I meet so many Ladies on supermarket check-outs, who have ter ask their supervisor ter ID various fresh fruits & veg. Without a barcode, or label of any form, they are completely foxed. Most simply do not have time ter cook, or even time ter learn. They vary from me own age, part-time pensioners, down ter school-leavers. It is possible that since the war so many mothers have been forced ter work, at least part time, & have also been bombarded with various ready meals, TV dinners, Mc Donnels, & other fast/junk foods, etc. As a busy bachelor, I sometimes buy pre-pack "Boiled Ham" which is fairly tasteless, & looks suspiciously like spam. In the 70\’s & 80\’s I made me own spam, as also quality ham, mostly consumed hot, fresh from the oven, also cold as salad, or sarnaus. It was always made from clean, fresh pork, with no more than adequate, clean, fresh seasoning.I also meet so many illiterate & innumerate mothers in various charities, in the entire age spectrum, who obviously have no means of following a written recipe, therefore have no real hope of self-help from the internet, & have themselves grown up similar to above.They have all been let down ter some extent, by their own famillies, but much more by the Welfare State.I also wonder if so many hip operations, for such young Ladies, is also a diet problem. Me own mother was in her late 80\’s, her mother the late 90\’s, & their generation, despite 2 world wars, rationing, bombing, the relevant sleepless nights, etc., had no such hip problems. They were also well educated, me own mother a shorthand typist & a top seamstress, her mother a simple headteacher, despite being born & bred among the poverty & destitution of the suburbs, complete with gas lighting, etc. etc.

  6. Sue says:

    I think that\’s where our cooking reputation came from! Most British mums were dab hands at creativity, whether in the kitchen or surviving right up until the end of rationing! My old dad had a pair of flannel trousers that had worn in the seat. My mum created a pleated school skirt for me from one leg and a pair of school shorts for my brother from the other. She often tells the story of trying to feed us both with 1 egg and a potato. The egg was a double yolker (which you rarely see nowadays) so she managed to produce egg and chips each, for our tea! She managed to make quite a decent meal from some flour, suet and a handful of bacon scraps too!

  7. Bill says:

    I clearly remember making a pair of shorts fer me\’sen from a pair of badly damaged jeans. I simply cut em off at the knee, popped a hem on each leg, by hand, & used some of a redundant leg as a patch right across the seat. They jeans were me favourites, which I wore at every opportunity fers at least 20 years, & I still yet have \’em now, altough I no longer fit inter \’em, since I grew a 12 pack, due ter ulcer & hernia, 10 years since.I also remember unpicking old pullies etc. fers me mother, back in the 50\’s, possibly also the 60\’s, a form of wool recycling, which was all used again. Waste was not only a cardinal sin, it was also a capital crime!While I learnt me basic cooking extremely well from me mother, I have long since modified to a more modern style, low fat, low carb, zero sugar, whole grain flour, with much more "foreign" fresh fruit & veg, possibly unavailable/ungrown in UK back then. Me various travels have obviously had a great influence, having worked with a Sikh Priest in his large volume charity kitchen out there, as also with several Italian Military & charity cooks. My German, Soviet, East Block cuisine all benefit from hands on local experience & materials, also me lingiutsics. Me Chinese experience & local materials is also down ter young local Military & charity cooks, most of whom speak semi fluent English or German.All above learn just as much from me as I from them, in clean fair exchange, oft with a large measure of friendly rivalry. Some Chinese spend time in the West, in civilian catering. Many German & Italian squaddies do short Military courses in UK, some returning ter civilian catering back home. Many Red Army/Navy cooks speak fluent German, & oft serve in Germany, or the N. Atlantlic/Artic-Circle. Some also vist the UK on rare (official service) occassions.

  8. Bill says:

    p.s.WW2 rationing may be the very best form of education fers many modern young mothers, even grannies, not only the standard of cuisine & living would improve, possibly turning the clock back, but they would also learn ter stretch the cash so much further, with far better self discipline.Ration books would also mean far less loose cash ter splash agin wall, or ter puff inter blue dust. All boozers, smokers & other junkies sould be issued ration books, in preference ter loose cash, leaving \’em nout ter waste on bad health. Their heat, light, & water should also be paid direct, ter the same end.Not all Ladies work today, so many are on some form of benefit, therefore easy ter put on ration books. All males on benefit should also be put on the rationing system.

  9. Antonio says:

    I remember reading that during the 2nd world war a group of people who lived in Warsaw made a bread out of saw dust, Because of an invasion by Nazis, The saw dust bread made i don\’t think was nutritious but it was all they had as a food while fighting the German Invasion of there city

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