We wanted to treat the period sensitively; obviously we didn’t want to trivialise the war or the losses that were suffered, but we did want to celebrate the ingenuity and resilience of those on the home front who managed to make do with so little for so long. I started by researching the period to find as many recipes from the time as possible – I knew my historical cookbook collection would come in handy one day! – then it was time to settle on a menu.
We decided to do a selection of dishes, recreating original recipes to the letter (where possible) rather than cooking dishes utilising the exact rations that would have been available – we decided that in our fictional rationing scenario the family had saved their rations for a week to splurge on a birthday treat! In reality, given that fruits and vegetables were unrationed, we actually wouldn’t have exceeded the rations by a lot but we did have a lot more food than the average family would probably have eaten for one meal.
I think all of our guests were a little nervous about eating Ration recipes – the War is not a period renowned for its delicious cuisine – but everything was deemed to be eatable, even by our fussiest eater, and most dishes were surprisingly tasty!
To set the mood, we decorated the room with newspaper bunting and a few bunches of fresh flowers. We lined my period cookbooks up on the mantel and turned some of the empty spam tins into tea light votives. The table was decorated simply with a lace tablecloth, daisies and candles and we had a printed menu card on each place setting, we also added a cute ladybug party hat for each guest – this is a birthday party after all!
Thanks to Sara’s historical nerdery we already had a Map of the East printed in 1941, as well as a selection of dance cards, concert programs and photographs from the era, I threw in a couple of post cards I had from the Churchill War Rooms and the room was done.
Our guests were asked to dress in period appropriate outfits, and we popped on a playlist of music from the 1940s, I already had a Music of the 1940s album from our Narnia Party last year but there are plenty of great 1940s playlists about on Spotify or YouTube. We had cards and board games (Monopoly is of the period but we ended up settling for the scandalously modern Trivial Pursuit instead) to keep our dinner guests entertained between courses.
Our guests were welcomed with a drink on arrival – beer for gents and sherry for the ladies. Then it was time to eat!
Potato and Watercress Soup with National Loaf
Lord Woulton Pie and Gravy, Spam and Beans, Curried Carrots, Cabbage with Horseradish Cream and Winter Vegetable Salad
“Apricot” Tart and “Cream”
Chocolate Cake and “Coffee”
I’ll pop all of the recipes we used up in a separate post later in the week – The Lord Woulton Pie was a great success and even the Spam and Beans proved popular. But by far the most unexpected hit was the “Apricot Tart” and “Cream”. This tart consisting of potato pastry with a filling of carrot and jam, with its side of “Cream” made from custard powder, milk and margarine was a little odd in texture but tasted surprisingly like Apricot and had guests going back for seconds!
Whilst I don’t think all of the dishes will make it into our usual rotation of weeknight dinners, the experience of cooking with rations did highlight that with a little bit of creativity even the most boring of staples can become something delicious.
Our modern palate has become very accustomed to a lot of seasoning and big flavours. I know I’m as guilty as anyone of eating the same few dishes using the same veggies all year round just because they’re cheap and easy. Being forced to use in season food and use every part of the vegetable showed how surprising easy and tasty it can be to minimise food waste and make delicious vegetarian dishes which are still filling and warm – and aren’t just pumpkin pasta!