Saturday, September 01, 2012

Worth Thinking About

Just remembering the minimal amount of food allocated to each person during the last war has made me think twice about how we cook/eat today, and one reason why I find it hard to understand why so many people cry 'food poverty' (on various TV progs) when they are still able to have a choice AND able to buy far more food today than my mother had to manage on during the war years.
We have just got so obsessed with food and the wide variety on the supermarket shelves that we cannot contemplate cutting most of them out and living on 'short commons'.

It was worse for people who lived in towns during the war for they did not have access to any of the 'free food' that rural folk had on their doorstep so to speak. Also farmers would keep chickens, and be able to trap rabbits, shoot pheasants etc, and have a cow that would give enough milk to turn into cream, butter and cheese.
Town dwellers - and only those who were lucky enough to have space such as a back yard - could only keep a very few hens and rabbits (all to be eventually eaten).

Maybe one advantage our mothers had in those days was that they were not used to such a variety of foods that we have today. Then it was practically all locally grown and eaten 'in season'. Anything imported (such as sugar, tea, coffee, bananas, oranges, etc) were rarely available during the rationing period. Any merchant ships still bringing food to our isles were more often than not torpedoed by submarines and so the cargo was lost at sea (as well as the merchant sailors).

Thanks for your comments, practically all about wartime rationing, so do hope yesterday's short list gave an idea of how it was then. The Ministry of Food used to give recipes via the radio, and also leaflets and cookery booklets printed on how to make the best use of what there was. 'Potato Pete' was a cartoon character much mentioned due to potatoes being one of the main crops still grown on farmland, and many different recipes made with the spuds. Although not known then, dare say 'gnocchi' would have made good use of our King Edwards and added a bit more interest to our good plain (then very plain) food.
Food rationing was helped a bit when people went out to work as food was available in the works canteen so (a fairly meagre) lunch was able to be bought without having to worry about using a ration book/points. People who stayed at home (elderly, or single mothers with children) had it much harder.

Think a lot of what my mother did I still do now, maybe because I remember in my teenage years her doing it (war began when I was 6 and rationing ended when I was 19 - give or take one or two items still in short supply).
So now you see me saving all melted fat from meat. After roasting beef this fat would be eaten by B as 'dripping' (really rich flavour, not the clarified beef dripping on sale). When I cook sausages always pour the fat in a pot by the hob to use when frying (gives a good flavour). Chicken skin is always included when I cook a chicken carcase or wings to make stock as when chilled, this can be removed from the top and potted up to use for frying (have even used it instead of lard when making savoury pastry to top a chicken pie).

Bacon fat is gorgeous, not a lot managed to be saved from this but the pan is never washed, and used the same day or the next to either fry an egg or fried bread, or use to fry onions and then meat etc when cooking minced meat to make (say) a spag.bol sauce etc. I've also used bacon fat when making oatcakes to eat with cheese.

My mother used to keep her butter papers to line and grease tins, and I still do this, she also opened out the bags that sugar had been packed in so she could shake off and use the few grains that had been trapped in the folds.

Coffee wasn't mentioned in the list, nether was tobacco, but both in short supply and maybe also rationed. 'Instant' coffee wasn't around then I think, so people would grind a few coffee beans with some dried chicory. Think that perhaps Camp Coffee was on sale (I have a bottle of this in my larder as it does have a good coffee flavour, but then coffee wasn't drunk so much, the English then preferring tea. A dried herb/leaf called 'mate' (pronounced 'mattay' I think) was on sale as a substitute for tea-leaves and my mother used to buy some but I hated the flavour.

My dad - a chain smoker from the age of 14 - couldn't do without his 'fags', so he used to roll his own cigarettes, making them thinner. He also used to dry the leaves of the 'tobacco plant' (nicotiana - a flowering plant grown in gardens today) and crush these up to add these to a few real nicotine leaves and have to make do with that. in those days most people smoked, so am sure some cigarettes were available. Remember seeing packs called 'Black Cat' and 'Senior Service. 'Woodbines' and - was it - 'Wills Whiffs'?'

Because in times past - war or otherwise - few people were as 'interested' in food as we seem to be today. Meals were eaten to keep us alive, not for real pleasure. Few homes even had a cookery book. Recipes just handed down from mother to daughter, and - as I've mentioned many times - we had the same meals on the same days of each week, all based round the big joint of meat that was roasted each Sunday. Beef one week, lamb another, pork and NEVER a roast chicken (unless for special occasions) as chickens were kept mainly for producing eggs. Old birds were killed and either eaten by the farmers or sold in butchers as 'boiling fowls' (and very tough they were). Good plain food, but pretty boring, the only things to look forward to was 'food in season' such as tomatoes, strawberries etc as these were never on sale at other times of the year, and the shorter their season the more we appreciated them when they appeared.
During the war the weekend roast disappeared unless a family was large, as then there was enough 'ration allowance' to allow for a larger joint to be bought.

Everyone had to to sign on to just one of their local butchers and grocers and buy food only from these shops for the duration of the war (unless moving to another area). Perhaps the same applied to greengrocers and fish shops. This made it easier for the shopkeeper to order the correct amount of rations for his customers. Even if one shop had more of certain canned or packet foods on his shelves (sold on points) than another, these could only be bought by the customers registered in that particular store.

Everything was in short supply, even paper. Newspapers had less and less pages, and many of these had to be saved and cut up into squares to hang by the loo to use as toilet paper as this was also in short supply (have to say newsprint WAS softer than the shiny 'Izal/Isal' paper used in those days, the soft loo rolls were 'invented' much later).

Clothing also hit hard. Skirts had to be no longer than just below the knee, more than one pleat not allowed, and even buttons limited in number. Trousers no longer were allowed to have turn-ups, and double breasted coats then had to be single-breasted. People began to buy second hand clothes (a really shocking thing to do in those days) so they could cut them up to make something to wear.
Knitted garments (always pure wool in those days) were unravelled and re-knitted into something else and remember my mother knitting a jumper for her (much younger) sister that was one colour on the front and another on the back. This so it could be worn with a suit so that only one side would be seen under the jacket and it looked as though Kathy was lucky enough to have two jumpers, not just one.

All our windows had sticky cream tape stuck over them, usually from corner to corner, maybe in a diamond pattern. This to prevent a whole pane of glass 'exploding' into shards when a bomb dropped close by. In those days there was no sticky 'clear film' (frosted or otherwise) that could be stuck over the glass as would happen today.
All windows had to be covered with 'blackout material' so not a chink of light could be seen from outside. There were special wardens walking the streets to check and they would yell 'put that light out' if any was seen. Almost certainly fines imposed when they were. Any light seen would show enemy bombers there were houses (even towns) underneath their flight path.
Used to hate that blackout material, it had an unpleasant smell.

On the good side, parachutes that were either captured or damaged were sold and much sought after as think they were made of silk, and usually made into underwear.
Stockings were usually lisle (nylons came later) and generally in only a few shades of brown. Unladdered ones were boiled together as they ended up all the same shade, so good ones could be paired up. Otherwise ladders had to be stitched up.
Probably also on 'coupons' stocking were cherished, and during the summer month (and often in the winter) girls would dye their legs brown and pencil in a line down the back of their legs to look like the seam. Today don't think stockings have seams any more. Tights were then not worn.

Have to say that because of the above, nostalgia has crept in and for a while will now be concentrating on changing my life-style to one that was in keeping to 'times past'. Maybe not living on rations, but certainly eating less of the 'imports' and concentrating more on home-produced and 'making do' a lot more (as if I do anything else?).
I've ordered a half price 'veggie box' and if I find it satisfactory (by this I mean quality, as several years ago did order some and each time some of the produce: cucumbers, soft fruits etc... had already turned mouldy, so cancelled the order) then I will continue. The produce may be more expensive than that sold in supermarkets, but think I'll be more inclined to make use of what is sent, and end up eating more healthily anyway.

Yesterday we had an unexpected trip to Barton Grange, sort of unexpected as I had a sudden desire early that morning to go and buy some meat from there before it went up in price. We took our daughter with us, and as we got there early was just in time to use one of their mobility scooters.
First went into their 'cook shop' but was able to leave without buying anything expensive. Just bought a few more labels for preserve jars (am now getting orders from the sailing club for jars of jam and marmalade) and a cook book for B where the meals use only three ingredients. He is already deciding which meals he wants to make from this, but unfortunately (for the obvious reason) the less ingredients used the more expensive they end up being. Suggested to B that if we don't already have 'the makings' (like duck breast?), it will now be easy enough for him to write out his own shopping list and go and buy them, also pay for them himself adding "then you'll really be a cook". Could be I'll end up with spending even less of my budget. Just wonder how long before B realises how expensive his meals will be when he makes them himself.
Bless him, he even put a jar of ground coriander in the shopping trolley when we went into the Farm Shop. I've already got one, and as fresh coriander is often used in the recipes he chooses, think he though this was just the dried version of the herb when it is actually ground coriander seeds - something used when making curries, and a very different taste to the herb. But he will learn.

My main reason for going to B. Grange was to buy meat, so chose my usual 'favourite': chicken breasts. These when unpacked are always huge and when trimmed of the 'fillet' on the back, plus even more, ended up with me having 10 chicken breasts and 8 packs of 'trimmings', some finger length (to cook as 'gougons') the rest in chunky bits for curries and B's stir-fries.

Also bought a pack of minced lamb, another of minced beef, and a final pack of cubed stewing steak. The minced meat able to be divided up into 15 packs, the stewing meat still in the fridge waiting to be divided up today, but expect that to also make 15 packs (each bulk purchase sold in 5lb bags). Total cost of meat was around £50, but well worth the money as enough there to keep B (and me) throughout the winter.

Did treat myself to a bottle of quality balsamic vinegar. Don't suppose I needed it, but there you go. Also bought a huge chunk of Parmesan (the one with the proper name), and this will be grated and flakes as needed.
There was a big stand holding umpteen varieties of pasta at B.Grange, and I wanted all of them, but chose just a pack of lasagne sheets and a bag of what looks like 'wheels'. Just because I fancied them.
So with my meats and boxed veggies, all I really need to buy from the supermarket now is milk, butter, eggs and cheese. Have enough canned and packet everything else to last for months by the look of it, so let's see if this different approach to shopping will work to my benefit or not. Time will tell.

Thanks Les for your comment on when to use table salt and the coarser rock and sea salts. As it sounds as if you've only discovered this, apologise for not mentioning it before. It just seemed sort of 'obvious' which to choose and when, but then possibly not for novice cooks. Normally a cookbook will suggest using one or t'other.

Also thanks to gillibob and Lisa for giving suggestions on making coleslaw (use Italian dressing instead of mayo, and add pineapple chunks).

As you said Brenda, sheep's heads were often cooked during the time of rationing, and myself have cooked a pig's head more than once, mainly to make brawn. Still worth doing the latter.

Thanks for mentioning 'Floradix' Jane, could be worth trying although have to say the recent daily dose of an iron pill seems to be working magic, I have LOADS of energy now and am feeling more 'interested' in life. Raring to go in fact (one reason why I suddenly chose to go to B.Grange yesterday).

Thanks Julie for that reference to wartime rationing (Daily Mail). Have jotted down the details and will be taking a look at it later today.
As you say Sarina, could any of us manage on these rations today, seeing that several generations have not learnt the self-sufficiency that was natural in those days? Even then it needed the Ministry of Food to explain how to make the little of what there was. Another thing was in those days many middle-class people had a servant/cook, and so when war came, everyone young enough was called up to serve their country (either fighting or working in a munitions factory, or on the land), and so the higher up the social ladder, the more difficult cooking was and even 'ladies' had to learn how to cook the basics.

As I write, a very plump and large seagull is standing on the fence by my window, it comes every day waiting for the man next door to throw down food on his lawn for the birds. All I could think of today was that it would make a good pie!

It would do all of us good to start 'rationing' ourselves when it comes to the amount of food we allow ourselves each week. By this I mean cutting down slightly, not to the extremes as in wartime. This would help us to give more thought to how we use what we have, and the bonus is we save money. Maybe nothing more than following my cost-cutting suggestions that fill many of my pages, but we should think a bit more about reducing our consumption especially now with rising food prices and shortages due to crop failures.

Looking through old books (the ones that don't mention 'the metrics') have come across a good 'traybake cake ' that is essentially a Bread and Butter Pudding in a new guise. Perhaps a bit 'heavy' on the egg and butter for a war-time recipe , but less than we might normally expect to use when making a similar 'cake' today, so worth filing away as 21st century 'ration book cookery'.

In the days this recipe was written it was expected to use up stale (probably home-baked) bread and today I would almost certainly use up the end crusts of both white and brown bread (they can be mixed together) or crumbed bread that might have been put in our freezer. Although this can be eaten hot as a pud (as the normal B & B pud), it eats extremely well when cut into squares and eaten cold as a cake.
The amount of fruit is a lot by my standards, but could be reduced or made up with other dried fruits such as apple etc. White caster sugar could be used instead of the soft brown.
Bread Pudding Cake: serves 9 (as squares)
1 lb (450g) loaf, white or brown, crumbed
1 lb (450g) mixed dried fruit with peel
3 teaspoons mixed spice
1 pint (600ml) milk
2 large eggs, beaten
5 oz (150g) soft brown sugar
3 oz (75g) butter, melted
2 tblsp demerara sugar
Put breadcrumbs into a bowl with the dried fruit, soft brown sugar and spice. Add the milk and mix well together, then leave to stand for 15 minutes to half an hour (or longer) to allow the crumbs and fruit to soak up the liquid.
Grease and line a 9" (23cm) square solid base cake tin. Stir the melted butter into the crumb mixture and spoon into the tin. Level surface and sprinkle the demerara sugar on top.
Bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for one hour, then cover surface with a tent of foil (shiny side up to prevent it browning too much) and cook for a further 30 minutes.
To serve hot, turn out from the tin, removing any paper, and cut into 9 squares. Serve with custard. To serve cold, can be left in the tin then cut into squares when cold. Store in an airtight tin if not eating immediately. Eat within a week.

A recipe that is economical enough today is the Flapjack. Although traditionally made with butter (as per recipe) this can of course be made with all margarine, but myself prefer use half marg, half butter purely for the flavour. At the moment porridge oats are cheap enough, so with the thought of winter breakfasts (porridge still being the cheapest and most filling), time now to stock up with oats before the price of that also rises.
Flapjack: makes 10
6 oz (175g) butter (see above)
4 oz (100g) light muscavado sugar
1 heaped tblsp golden syrup
9 oz (250g) porridge oat
Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan over low heat, stirring together until all melted into a dark brown syrup. Remove from heat and stir in the oats and pour into a greased and lined 8" (20cm) square baking tin, smoothing the surface as flat as possible (I use half a cut lemon to press down the mixture - this adds a little hint of lemon to the flavour from the juice that gets squeezed out whilst pressing).
Bake at 170C, 325F, gas 3 for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown (slightly darker at the edges than the middle). Remove from oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then - whilst still hot - using the back of a table knife, mark into 10 bars on the surface. Leave in the tin until cooled down - but still warm - and then using the sharp side of a knife, cut down through the markings to the base.
Leave in the tin until completely cold before running a knife round the edges to loosen, then tip out onto a board, remove the paper and carefully break into the marked bars. Can be kept in an airtight tin for up to 3 days.

Now have to trot off into the kitchen to sort out the stewing meat, probably freezing some and cooking the rest in the slow-cooker so that it is ready to make a speedy casserole when the weather turns colder.
Yesterday began as the most beautiful day, with a real feeling of autumn. Am sure this was because of the angle of sunshine, now lower than 'summer'. Anyway, today is the first of September, so officially autumn has arrived and can feel the ancient instincts begin to flow through me, urging me to start making more preserves, pickles, and stock up with food for the winter.

Yesterday B had a beef and ale pie for his supper. He bought it at Barton Grange because it said 'Shirley's Pies' (or something similar on the packaging). I reheated it in the oven, only just long enough for the filling to be heated through, but B said the pastry lid was too thick and rock hard (not like the 'real' Shirley's pies I am glad to say), although the filling was nice. As a bought pie, B much prefers Pukka Pies which I have to say are very good indeed (the ones with puff pastry not the microwave ones).

Today will probably make a spag.bol for supper (B is out both today and tomorrow with the sailing club), so can use some of the bought mince beef and spaghetti 'wheels' to make that.
Have a feeling I should learn Italian (do know enough French) to be able to translate the packaging instructions. Just about managed to work out the cooking times on both the lasagne and the 'wheels'.
Gill - when she visited - used to bring me quite a few 'reduced' items she had found on her supermarket shelves, all foreign (Polish etc), that have no English (or other) translation on the packaging. So really have to try to work out how to use. Some packs still unused because of this.
Am wondering if there is a way this computer can translate into other languages, write down in Polish/Italian etc, and press a button and it brings it up in English. Am sure Les would know how to.

Anyway, as I said, time to trot. More chat from me again tomorrow, possibly later in the morning if I get up too late to make a start before Gill phones me. TTFN.