Happy Birthday, Dear Ration Book

I’ve been thinking about food rations for a good few weeks now – particularly those of the WW2 variety. Poodling around on the internet, I discovered that it was exactly 72 years ago today that rations were introduced in Great Britain. I had rather a grand plan to celebrate this fact by spending a week eating exactly the same food as someone in the 1940s.  Trouble is, life and general galavanting about town gets in the way of even the best of plans…

I spent a good chunk of the Christmas holidays quizzing my favourite old people (Granny Jen and Mary) and my dear friend Mr Internet about eating habits in the 1940s in preparation for this post. One thing quickly became clear: wartime breakfast = porridge. Now that’s rather easy and convenient for a gal who’s more than a bit partial to her Quaker Oats in the morning. Granny made hers with milk, Mary with water. I’ve only tried Mary’s version once – and it’s not something I’ll be repeating any time soon. Soggy cardboard flavour is not a personal favourite of mine, you see.

As a complete fruit munching fiend, I’m quite concerned that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy my usual mid-morning medley of mango, clementines, and grapes if I’m to eat as though we’re in the thick of WW2. Costa Rica, Spain and South Africa would have found it pretty tricksome to get these sweet treats to me during the forties, so what could I have had instead for my elevenses? Summer would have been fun with all the soft fruits – Granny remembers peaches and apricots and all sorts of scrumptious things growing on the walls of their kitchen garden. Autumn wouldn’t have been too bad either – especially if I had access to a brambly field or two. Blackberry picking (and eating) has always been a favourite activity of mine. But Winter, oh Winter you’d have been very dull indeed! Most likely, I’d have been strictly limited to apples. And not the lovely and exotic pink lady that I’m so fond of. Oh no no no. It would have been English varieties only: Cox, Russet, Bramley or whatever hybrid there happened to be in the garden.

And if I were apple-ed out? Well, there was always Granny’s favourite war time snack of bread and DRIPPING(!) to tide me over until lunch. mmmmmmmm.

As for lunch itself, it seems that stews were pretty common choice. Meaty bits such as lamb or rabbit were bulked out with root veg and potatoes and flavoured with garden herbs. To be quite honest, many of the war time recipes I’ve come across look pretty bland. Veg was boiled and boiled again until the all colours had been drained and you were left with a predominant palette of beige on your dinner plate. Colours aside though, I do like the idea of rabbit in my stew – what with it being wild and plentiful and all that. It’s always handy when garden pests are edible.

The final meal of the day, ‘tea’, was a rather modest affair, it seems. Mary remembered baked beans and spam. Granny remembered bread and jam. It was eaten early and was really quite insubstantial. The main meal of the day was definitely lunch.

So after a good bit of research, the 1940s rationed diet doesn’t sound quite as romantic as I’d perhaps hoped. I can do breakfast. Easy. But preparing bland stew to take to work and jam sandwiches to eat between work and evening fun requires more organizational skills and stamina than I am capable of this early on in the year. And then there’s my mid-morning exotic fruit addiction to consider….

Although I might no be quite ready to forego my mangoes and embrace watery porridge, dripping and spam for an entire week, I think a little Home Front cooking in honour of today’s date is in order. I’ve decided on Woolton Pie – a classic dish of the period that has a root veg filling and  potato(!) pastry….



Not the most exciting of pies, it has to be said. I’m all for eating seasonal, British produce but boiling it all up, plonking it in a dish and daubing a bit of pastry on top is not quite my usual approach. Thank goodness for Bouillon, is all I can say. This super handy instant stock (not very 1940s, I know) saved the day and rendered the sauceless veg filling really quite tasty.  As for the potato pastry – well – what a pleasant discovery! Potatoes were used during the war as a fat substitute. The recipe I was following instructed me to grate them before combining with the flour and a small amount of butter. The slightly chewy yet crisp and delicious result definitely got the thumbs up from me.

So there you have it – a not-so-very-bad-after-all war time pie. Happy Birthday, Dear Ration Book xxx

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2 Responses to Happy Birthday, Dear Ration Book

  1. sue tett says:

    I have been sign posted here by your biggest fans Leah ! BRILLIANT I love it and t would be lovely to see you write about clothing with coupons during the war. I know my mum used to cut up old curtains to make dresses for the dances, and draw a black line down her legs at the back for a seam line when stockings were not available. The tissue paper from oranges used for loo roll!

    LOL Sue 🙂 St Neot.

    • acapitalgirl says:

      Thanks so much Sue! Just bought a book about day to day life on the Home Front so will hopefully get some info from that for a post on clothing rations…

      Hope all’s well in st. Neot – it’s bloomin’ freezing up here! xxx

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