Eat Spam and carry on: Wartime pamphlets could teach us a thing or two about healthy, thrifty eating

The government issued pamphlets filled out with recipes for nourishing meals on a budget, along with tips for a healthier lifestyle and dietary advice. Now the nostalgic leaflets have now been compiled in a book.

When we think about periods in food, the Second World War is not one that begs to be revisited. It was all tinned meat, semolina and a joyless absence of butter, right? Well, not quite. And despite rationing, many commentators have observed that the population never enjoyed a healthier diet than during that time. The food writer Irene Veal even wrote in the preface to her 1943 book, Recipes of the 1940s, "never have the British people been so wisely fed or British women so sensibly interested in cooking".

During the war, the government issued pamphlets filled out with recipes for nourishing meals on a budget, along with tips for a healthier lifestyle and dietary advice, to help people eat well using the reduced ingredients with which rationing left them. The nostalgic leaflets distributed by the Ministry of Food have now been compiled in a book, Eating for Victory: Healthy Home Front Cooking on War Rations, and acts as a fascinating look at how people survived with the food shortages in wartime Britain, as well as offering tips that are pertinent today.

After the First World War, the government took stock of the food problems faced during the period and spent a great deal of time researching everything from nutrition to food preparation. In the 1930s a British Medical Association study showed that millions of people were deficient of their basic dietary constituents to some extent. The outbreak of war in 1939 meant the government used this information, along with its experience of the First World War, to plan how best to feed the nation.

Rationing was officially introduced in January 1940, with bacon, butter and sugar the first to be affected, before everything from cheese to eggs, cereal and dried fruit joined them. Every man, woman and child had a ration book and food prices were pegged at a standard rate so that poorer people could buy sufficient goods. The pamphlets were issued to encourage families to get the most out of their meagre supplies. The Great War had seen a lot of men being called up and told they were not fit to fight because they were undernourished. The government couldn't afford to let this to happen again.

As well as recipes for dishes including split-pea soup, treacle tarts, potato and cheese flans and pickled herrings, there is advice on how to preserve fruits and tomatoes, how to make the most of the fat ration and how to ensure sufficient vitamin intake. The public was also instructed against wasting anything and was encouraged to add bacon rinds to joints and steaks to help make dripping, or fry them until crisp and use to flavour soup. Similarly, apple peels were simmered in water until soft so that the liquid could be substituted for lemon juice in the jam-making process.

Jill Norman, who wrote the foreword for the book, insists that a huge amount of helpful information can be found on the pamphlets. "This compilation is so different to all the sort of lifestyle-y recipe books we're so used to today," she says. "It's all straightforward common sense, a lot of which has been forgotten."

And with the current economic climate, it is certainly useful to see how healthy meals can be prepared on a shoestring budget, even if some of the options might seem a little on the extreme side. The book also contains leaflets that offer advice on how to replace flowerbeds with vegetable gardens, which was also promoted by the Government. "Those pamphlets are very relevant to the situation today in many ways," Norman says. "People are queuing up for allotments, people are growing vegetables in anything from the back of the garden to a window box. Yes, it's partly because of the economic squeeze but it's also down to a bigger level of awareness of sustainability and, given all the food scares, provenance."

You might be surprised to learn that just about everything here can be found in your local supermarket; our basic food stuffs have evidently not changed all that much over the last 60 years. "Of course there are differences. You wouldn't find as many herrings in the shops these days but you can certainly buy them. Things like Spam are not as widely used but it's still available. There is a strong-tasting tinned fish called snoek which you'd struggle to find. But other than that you'd be able to get your hands on most of the ingredients."

There are a few things worth bearing in mind if you are keen to experiment with a bit of wartime cooking. Rations for butter and margarine were particularly meagre, so their measurements in most recipes are, understandably, very mean-spirited. Norman also recommends double-checking the cooking times, as our ovens are so much more powerful than they were back then.

Finally, don't feel like a cheat for substituting dried egg (a deplorable wartime necessity) for the real thing. "Awful stuff!" Norman says. "Nobody wants to be eating dried eggs, and quite rightly. Some things should be left in the past."

'Eating for Victory: Healthy Home Front Cooking on War Rations' is published by Michael O' Mara Books. RRP £9.99

Bacon Hot-Pot

1½ lb potatoes, cut in thin slices
2oz onions, finely chopped
3oz bacon, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2-3 teaspoons salt
Half teaspoon pepper
Quarter pint stock
8oz shredded cabbage

Grease a cake tin or pudding basin. Arrange layers of potatoes, onion, bacon and parsley in it, seasoning each layer. Add the stock, cover with a plate and steam for one and a half hours. Fifteen minutes before serving arrange cabbage round tin or basin to steam.

Dripping cake

8oz self-raising flour
8oz plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
Half a teaspoon salt
Half a teaspoon mixed spice
2oz clarified dripping
3oz sugar
3oz currants or sultanas
Quarter pint milk

Sift the flour, baking powder, if used, salt and spice together. Rub in the dripping and add the sugar and fruit. Mix to a soft consistency with the milk and turn into a greased 6in cake tin. Bake in a moderate oven for 50 minutes.

NB If hard mutton dripping is used, it may be slightly warmed to make it easier to rub in.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms