Chosen by Holly Wright, member of staff
These Ministry of Food recipe leaflets were produced during World War 2 to help the nation make the most of their food in spite of rationing, a necessary measure first enforced on 8th January 1940 as a result of the enemy bombing or blockading of the supply ships heading for Britain. The rationing scheme was overseen by the wartime Minister of Food Lord Woolton (who lived at Walberton House near Arundel).
It is hard for us to imagine nowadays what it was like to deal with shortages that lasted not a few days or weeks, but for 14 years (rationing finally ended in June 1954). It wasn’t only food that was rationed, other resources were limited too. Imagine Christmas without a decorative tree (timber rationing), one toilet roll for the whole family per week (paper rationing), 5 inches of bath water once a week for the whole family
(water rationing – this often meant sharing the same bath water!) and a set amount of petrol for the car (petrol rationing was actually enforced earlier, in late 1939, and forced many people to give up driving altogether). You also didn’t have the luxury of popping to the shops if you ran low on food – your ration had to last the whole week!
Ration levels fluctuated depending on supplies: it began with butter, sugar and bacon and later on, eggs, jam, biscuits, cheese, sweets and tea were added. In times of severe shortage, the amounts would decrease, at other times there were enough supplies which allowed for a little more. Larger amounts of certain rationed foods were given to those who required it such as expectant or new mothers, babies and workers such as Land Girls and miners. Some foods such as bread and vegetables were not on ration (at least during the war) and made up most of people’s diets. Rationing also encouraged (or perhaps forced) people to ‘grow their own’, thereby supplementing their weekly amounts.
The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign resulted in the creation of over a million new allotments around the country. The Women’s Institute also got involved, setting up fruit preservation centres to make jams and syrups from the wild fruits growing in the trees and hedgerows.
Creative recipe leaflets such as these allowed people more variety – individual recipes were printed in newspapers making them more accessible to the masses. You could also learn how to cook with rations from the home economists themselves: the Chichester Observer advertised a ‘Dig for Victory’ week from 22nd-29th January 1942 with a programme of talks on food and gardening as well as cooking demonstrations. A wartime Christmas edition of the Chichester Observer reported on a cooking exhibition at the Chichester Electricity Department, which focused on making foods ‘with a view to providing some traditional Christmas Fare without being hard on the rations. It was not a Ministry of Food exhibition but Miss Brown did use some of their recipes, besides her own’.
Another new scheme introduced was the ‘British Restaurant’, set up to help those who had been bombed out of their homes but also served meals without the need for coupons – they became incredibly popular with workers who could now enjoy a hot meal at lunchtime. One of these British Restaurants opened in Chichester on 20th April 1942 at the Assembly Rooms in North Street, feeding over 200 people on the opening day. A three course dinner of meat or fish and vegetables, with soup and dessert cost 1s 2d (the equivalent of about £1.70 in today’s money). The Chichester Observer (Saturday April 25th 1942) reported: ‘The restaurant has revealed that there are an astonishing number of workers in Chichester, especially girls and young women, who find it impossible, for one reason or another, to go home for their mid-day meal. To these a hot meal, at a figure within their means, must be infinitely preferable to sandwich food or makeshift buns’.
Of course, this article merely scratches the surface of the history of wartime rationing. How about trying out these recipes yourselves and get a taste of life during the Blitz!