Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Continuing this week’s theme of WW II food:
Today, Tuesday March 21st …
On this day in 1941, Winston Churchill sent a memo to Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, in relation to the “Community Kitchens” order.
“I hope the term ‘communal feeding centres’ is not going to be adopted. It is an odious expression, suggestive of Communism and the workhouse. I suggest you call them ‘British Restaurants’. Everybody associates ‘restaurant’ with a good meal, and they may as well have the name if they cannot get anything else”
The concept of “British Restaurants” had arisen out of the need to supply meals for workers who did not have access to a canteen, although anyone could use them. Local buildings were requisitioned, and wholesome hot meals at a maximum of one shilling were supplied with no ration coupons required. Within two months there were 800 of them around the country, and by the end of 1942 there were over 1800.
Anthony Burgess referred to British Restaurants as “that disastrous war-child of Winston Churchill”. Frances Partridge shows why:
"We joined a swelling stream of the citizens of Swindon, all following a series of notices marked 'British Restaurants’, to a huge elephant house, where thousands of human beings were eating as we did an enormous all-beige meal, starting with beige soup thickened to the consistency of paste, followed by beige mince full of lumps and garnished with beige beans and a few beige Potatoes, thin beige apple stew and a sort of skilly. Very satisfying and crushing, and calling up a vision of our future Planned World, all beige also …. "
“Skilly” is defined by the OED as “ A kind of thin, watery porridge, gruel, or soup, commonly made from oatmeal, and traditionally used especially in prisons and workhouses.” The use of that ultra-beige food, oatmeal, was encouraged during the war because it was home-grown. Many recipes were circulated, including this one, which can stand for soup or skilly:
1 oz margarine
2 medium onions, grated or finely diced
2 tablespoons oatmeal
1 pint cold water
salt and pepper
½ pint milk
3 medium carrots grated
Heat the margarine in a pan, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes. Blend the oatmeal with the cold water, tip into the pan and stir as the mixture comes to the boil; season lightly. Simmer steadily for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the milk and carrots and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Tomorrow: Nella’s Sadness.