Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Chips with everything...

Thanks Sarina for your lovely comment about Marguerite Patten.  What would we have done without her guidance during the war years. 

I've a book worth reading called 'Bombers and Mash' by Ray Minns, ('The Domestic Front 1939-45',) this giving a good insight to how life was at that time, not just about food, but every other shortages that everyone had to contend with.   The reference to "those who lived on bread and cakes with jam, cheese and chips as many of the poor did, and no longer able to have them were much healthier for it' made me realise that today it is not just the poor who live on these, it seems that all children prefer this kind of diet, especially the chips - with burgers, with pizzas, even with curries. 

It would do us all good to live for a week on war-time rations, but with not so many restrictions re the vegetables. These were not then on ration, but as there was no food imported, and fields were turned over to growing wheat and potatoes, many vegetables were in short supply.  An onion was worth its weight in gold, and one onion was often given as a prize in a raffle, and common practice for it to be used to flavour savoury dishes for up to a month before actually being consumed.

Whether we would be tempted to try some of the war-time recipes is a matter of taste I suppose.  We are now so used to cooking meals that we know we like to eat, that we rarely (if ever) cook something that we know we would probably not enjoy, even if it would do us good.  But for those who would like a taste of times past, this recipe for the 'Oslo Meal' would be a good one to start with. This dish was found to be so nutritious that the health of school children who were given it daily was much improved, they grew taller, learnt faster, and were much better tempered.

The recipe suggested shredded cabbage, lettuce, chopped parsley... as the raw mixed vegetables. In those days it would be mustard powder, not the ready-made (but we could use this instead).

The Olso Meal:
4 oz (100g) any raw mixed vegetables(see above)
grated carrot (if available)
sliced tomato
grated beetroot, cooked or raw
salad dressing
2 tblsp dried milk powder
2 tblsp vinegar
water, salt, pepper and mustard
Mix everything well together.  Accompany with wholewheat bread and butter, 2 oz (50g) cheese, and as much milk as rations allow.

Here is a recipe that really works today as it uses the parts of veggies that many people throw away.  Allow 1.5lb of mixed 'tops' for four portions.  Note, this recipe is written 'old style' with the ingredients and method all in one.  The 'tops' are the leaves growing at the top of each plant/veg.

Allow one and a half pounds of mixed tops to give four portions.  Broccoli tips, turnip tops, and beetroot leaves all have good food value, so have the broad bean tops that gardeners always pick off.  Shred with a sharp knife after removing any coarse bits for soups and stews.  Cook quickly in a little wate3r.
All sorts of additions may be made: a few bacon rinds chopped small, a few teaspoons of vinegar and a sprinkling of nutmeg or caraway seeds, and you have something quite new and intriguing.

Am pleased to find a recipe for parsley honey in the above book (gave this a mention only a couple or so days ago)  My version was much the same but I omit the vinegar and substitute a tablespoon of runny honey to give it a more authentic (honey) flavour.

Parsley Honey:
6 oz (175g) fresh parsley, including the stalks
1 lb (450g) sugar
1.5 pints boiling water
half tsp vinegar (if you have it), or see above
Wash the parsley well, then pat it dry in a clean tea-towel.  Chop the stalks roughly and put in a pan with the boiling water and boil until reduced to a pint. Strain and put the liquid back into the pan with the sugar. Stir until dissolved and then boil for about 20 minutes until it has gone syrupy. Then add the vinegar (or honey if using), and pot into clean, sterilized jars.
The parsley honey should jell perfectly well by the next day, and tastes very similar to heather honey (even without the added honey).  Best not to make too much at a time as it should be eaten within a week or too of making (but will keep longer in the fridge).

Here's a recipe for home-made (mock) mayonnaise.  Although I've not yet tried making any, will certainly have a go and am pretty sure it will taste good enough to eat, even in this 21st century.
The margarine in those days was sold in a hard block and not as pleasantly flavoured as it is now, but today use what we have, soft marg, and if using ready made mustard blend this into the marg....

Mock Mayonnaise:
1 level tablespoon of custard powder
2 level tablespoons of milk powder
1 oz (25g) margarine
half teaspoonful dry mustard
2 tblsp vinegar
salt and pepper
half pint boiling water
Mix together the custard powder, milk powder, mustard powder and salt in a basin.  Warm the margarine and blend it smoothly with the dry ingredients until soft and creamy. Gradually stir in the boiling water, then pour it into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring all the time.
Cook until the sauce is smooth and thick.  Leave to cool, then beat in the vinegar.  Any kind of spiced vinegar can be used instead of malt vinegar to give variety of flavour.

As you know I'm always suggesting alternative ingredients to take the place of those we may not have - mainly as a good way to keep costs down and use things up. This next bit from the book goes one step further and reminds me (and I hope all readers) that we should always be grateful for what we have while we still have it.

Good Substitutes:
for eggs read reconstituted milk powder
for milk read national dried milk
for butter read margarine or dripping
for cream use whipped margarine with vanilla
for flour read mashed potato or oatmeal
for fruit read grated vegetables
for mayonnaise read condensed milk with vinegar
for meat read offal
for cheese read sour milk
for pepper read grated turnip
for lemon juice read rhubarb juice
for coffee read barley or acorns
and for Christmas - read substitute

Am sure there are plenty of internet sites where umpteen war-time recipes can be found, but like to feel that it becomes more personal and debateable when I can share some with readers, also many recipes 'invented' during war-time rationing have proved so successful that they are still being cooked/made today, and will probably give some of those later. 

Youngsters today (and by that I mean anyone under the age of 35) could probably never in a million years understand what it was like to cook for a family (or even worse just for one) when food was so scarce.  The allocations given out today by the foodbanks would - during rationing - have seemed like manna from heaven, and yes I really do know how hard it must be for many people who just don't have the funds to pay for house and home let alone food, but where does the fault lie?  Not with the people themselves, but the banks, government, manufacturers and even supermarkets who have grasped every opportunity to make money from us all. 
There are times I feel that the decision to stop teaching domestic skills in schools was purely to help businesses to prosper.  It doesn't matter what we used to do/make, there was (and still is) always someone ready 'make our lives easier' by removing much of our work-load, and provide (at a price) everything ready made, ready prepared and this includes almost every aspect of food we can think of.   A couple of generations go past and stores are rubbing their hands with glee.  By now grandma has popped her clogs and no-one knows how to cook any more.  The manufactures and stores are now in full control.

Well - it may not be as bad as that, but it darn well feels like it, and the only thing we can do is to try and take back some of the control ourselves, and the older we are at least we may have had some knowledge of 'how to' worth passing on.

Most of us older folk probably do feel fairly self-sufficient, but even then we take an awful lot for granted.  Worse case scenario is for something to disrupt the electricity supply nationwide (this has been known to happen due to strong solar winds - aka Northern lights).  A few days without electricity and the country would grind to a halt.  Even if there was food on the supermarket shelves, the electric doors to enter probably wouldn't open, the electric tills not working, no credit cards able to be used, no cash able to be taken from the 'hole in the wall'.  Almost back to war-time again.  And that's where I began this Wednesday blog. 

What do we really want to know when it comes to providing food for our families?  Is it just how to save money, or how to save time? Or both?  Should we go back to living a more Spartan life as in the old days, or is that too much to contend with?

One thing we always want to do when faced with a recession/depression is we cheer ourselves up by eating, and if I was having a bad hair day with only the money to pay for a bag of apples or a bar of chocolate, it would be the choccies that would win.  Doesn't say much for my good advice (for that matter do I give any good advice?).  It is so easy to explain how - with a bit of knowledge - we can do an awful lot better, but managing to do it is quite a different matter.  For instance it doesn't matter how many instruction books I've read on the subject (and I've read several) I'd never got past learning how to test the oil level in my car (when I had one).  But then I suppose many car mechanics aren't very good at cooking.  Horses for courses don't they say?

It's turned very mild, so can turn the central heating off for a few days.  Even warmer further south, with the London area warmest of all (it has its own micro-climate being a large built-up area). 
After watching the Hairy Biker's cookery series set in the far East was amazed to learn that Tokyo - the capital of Japan - covers an area the size of West Yorkshire.  At least it didn't seem to have the dreadful pollution that seems to cover many of the main cities in China.

Enough for today.  The clock reads 1.06am so even if the blog shows an hour earlier it will still show this as published on Wednesday.  Expect me back the same time again tomorrow. 
If there are any recipes or hints/tips you are seeking, all you have to do is ask and I'll hope to come up with the answer.  TTFN.