For our recent WWII Ration Dinner I tried to recreate recipes of the period as accurately as possible. For most dishes it was easy to find original recipes online thanks to The Ministry of Food’s many handy household guides and recipes for making the most of your rations (as well as the produce from your Victory Garden). Otherwise, I replicated popular dishes of the time using recipes as close as possible to those of the period.
I’ve included links to all my sources below so that you can have a look at some of the wonderful resources around the World Wide Web and perhaps find some other tempting treats to try yourself – Mock Fish anyone?
Potato and Watercress Soup
This recipe is adapted from one found in The Potato Pete Recipe Book (I found a digital copy here). Potato Pete was a fun character created by the Ministry of Food during the war to encourage people to eat more potatoes, utilising them in creative ways to bulk up the diets of the British people during the food shortages and break up the monotony of the Ration Diet. Experts of the time recommended people eat half a kilo of potato per day – a task easily accomplished if the recipes we tried are anything to go by!
As we were making soup for 6, not 4 we increased the quantities a little. This made enough for a ladle and a half each so probably keep the increased recipe if you’re having this as a meal for 4. The recipe is perhaps a little plain for the modern palate – some veggie stock, a good sprinkle of salt or some cheese wouldn’t have gone astray, or perhaps even just some salted butter and crusty bread – but even keeping to the bare original it was a super creamy and hearty winter soup none the less.
1.5kg potatoes – scrubbed clean but unpeeled, quartered
1L Vegetable stock (homemade of course – can’t waste those precious peelings!)
3-4 bunches of watercress, washed and shredded
Add the potatoes to a large pot, add your stock and enough water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Scoop out the potatoes and pass them through a fine sieve. Return to the pot. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Thin with a dash of milk if needed.
Another Potato Pete classic which we used as the base for both our Lord Woulton Pie and Mock Apricot Tart. This recipe uses finely sieved mashed potato to bulk out the dough minimising the amount of flour and fat needed. This dough, whilst a little stickier and trickier to roll out and shape than a normal pastry gives a surprisingly crisp and flaky pastry which tasted equally delicious for both sweet and savoury dishes!
225g (8oz.) sieved cooked potato
115g (4oz) plain flour
30g (1oz) cooking fat/margarine
1/2 tsp salt
Sieve the flour and salt together. Rub the cooking fat into the flour mixture until it is fully incorporated. Add in the potato and rub into the flour and fat mixture. Add a dash of very cold water and mix to a very dry dough. Knead well and roll out.
Lord Woolton Pie
Named after Lord Woolton, head of the Ministry of Food during the War the Lord Woolton Pie is a vegetable pie in a potato pastry crust, designed to stretch the rations and increase the vegetable intake of the British public. We followed the official recipe, as reported in The Times 26 April 1941 (we found it here) as closely as we could. Again this dish was probably a little under seasoned for the modern palate (some pancetta or cheese would have been a delicious addition) but the pie was certainly tasty and comforting, and reheated well for lunch the next day, which was a bonus!
Take 1 pound each diced of potatoes, cauliflower, swedes and carrots, three or four spring onions – if possible, one teaspoon of vegetable extract, and one tablespoon of oatmeal. Cook altogether for 10 minutes with just enough water to cover. Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking. Allow to cool; put into a pie dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and cover with a crust of potato or wheatmeal pastry. Bake in a moderate oven until the pastry is nicely browned and serve hot with a brown gravy.
As you can see, it does bake to a lovely brown colour. This recipe is perfect for using up any wilting vegetables in your fridge for a hearty, delicious winter dinner.
On our table we also served:
- Spam and Beans: two tins of baked beans in a casserole dish, with slices of fried spam on top. Bake in moderate oven for 10 minutes, or until warmed through.
- Winter Vegetable Salad: Mix grated apple and raw beetroot, diced boiled potato, shredded cabbage, and watercress. Dress with a mix of vinegar, oil and powdered mustard.
- Curried Carrots: Boiled carrot medallions stirred into a curry sauce made as follows: melt one tablespoon margarine (or other fat) in a saucepan, add one chopped onion and fry for a few minutes. Add one and a half teaspoons curry powder and three teaspoons full of flour and fry, stirring from time to time for a few minutes longer. Stir in one cup vegetable stock or water, bring to boil. Season to taste. Reduce heat slightly and simmer for thirty minutes. Add cooked carrots and cook for a further twenty to thirty minutes.
- Gravy: good ol’ powdered gravy for this table!
We will post the recipes for dessert in the next day or two. I heartily encourage you to give these and other WWII recipes a try – they were all surprisingly delicious! They also encourage you to think carefully about food waste, giving you ideas to use the food you have in new ways, rather than simply heading back to the shops.