War Time Food

War Time Food

I don’t want to turn this into a blog about rationing and the war, but this post from a BBC website brought back memories.

Spam got another fond mention, and whale meat got a thumbs down, feelings which were very widespread. You have to admire the Inuit, who practically live on it.

Snoek was another government initiative that didn’t go down well, literally as well as figuratively. It was a South African fish, with a distinctive flavour and a lot of bones.

Horse meat is mentioned in the piece, but I have to say that I don’t remember this ever being on our list, but then, you wouldn’t always know. I’ve eaten steak in France that has made me suspicious.

Anyway, here’s the BBC:-

Strange things on the dinner table

Over-riding all these trifling discomforts was the non-stop foraging by the housewife to provide some variety in her family’s meals. I cannot recall ever being literally hungry, but the country had been reliant upon imports, which were now impossible because of the sea blockade. Everything was scrupulously rationed and we ate some strange things to supplement our diet.

Tea tablets were used to make the tea look stronger; babies’ dried milk or ‘National’ milk was added if it could be obtained; and saccharine was used as a sweetener. Some even resorted to using honey or jam. What a concoction – but we drank it. Bread was heavy and a dull grey colour, but it, too, was rationed – so we ate it.

Sweets were devised from a mixture of dried milk and peppermint essence with a little sugar or icing sugar if available. Grated carrots replaced fruit in a Christmas or birthday cake, while a substitute almond paste was made from ground rice or semolina mixed with a little icing sugar and almond essence. Dried egg powder was used as a raising agent, and this same dried egg could be reconstituted and fried, yielding a dull, yellow, rubbery-like apology for the light and fluffy real thing – but there was nothing else, so we ate it.

Bean pies and lentil rissoles provided protein to eke out our meagre meat ration, and the horse-meat shop, which previously had sold its products only for dogs, now bore a notice on some of its joints occasionally, ‘Fit for Human Consumption’. This horse-meat was not rationed, but it did have to be queued for and sure enough eventually it appeared on our table. It had to be cooked for a long time and even then it was still tough. Nevertheless, it did not get thrown out.

In complete contrast, one highlight for me was the coming of spam from America. It was an oasis in our desert of mediocrity; an elixir in our sea of austerity. It seems to me that it was meatier, juicier, and much tastier than it is now. (Tricks of memory again, no doubt.) We ate it in sandwiches; we ate it fried with chips; cold with salad; chopped in spam-and-egg pies, until, of course, it ceased to provide the variety we longed for, but I never tired of it.

Whale meat – completely inedible

The benefits of eating fish were widely proclaimed, but again it was very scarce. Fishing was a dangerous occupation in mine-laden waters and the pier was a prohibited area, so fresh fish was a novelty and a luxury.

The ultimate came, however, when the government hit on the bright idea of combining fish and meat and urged us to eat whale meat. Where, or how, the whales were caught and brought to England I do not know. There must be a limit to how much whale one ship can carry, and one whale alone would provide a lot of whale steaks, but newspapers and the wireless told us how to prepare and cook the stuff, and sure enough, in due course, it appeared in the shops. From there, inevitably, it found its way onto our table.

It had been soaked overnight, steam-cooked, and soaked again, then blanketed with a sauce, but still it tasted exactly what it sounds like – tough meat with a distinctly fishy flavour, ugh. Just this once the next-door’s cat ate it!

Yes, we laugh about it all now, yet after all these years I still cannot bear to see good food wasted or thrown away – but I think I could make an exception with whale meat.

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  1. I can remember Mr Dean the Rector at St Clements having a pig which he fed with all the left overs and then killed it for Christmas. I found eating your pet a bit difficult to digest as a young child.!!

    • That reminds me that we used to have bins in the back entries for pig swill, left over food, potato peelings, etc,which was collected and fed to pigs. This was right after the war, when polio was a big issue, getting lots of publicity, maybe there had been an outbreak at that time, and it was thought that the rotting food hanging around the back doors was perhaps responsible for the outbreak. So they were all taken away.

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