Today, November 8th …
Nella Last was an ordinary British housewife when World War II broke out in 1939. The diary she kept during the days of the war however, is anything but ordinary - it is a wonderfully eloquent record of day-to-day life on the Home Front, and we have taken inspiration from it in previous stories.
On this day in 1940 she wrote:
“It’s the custom for fish and fruit shops in Barrow to print their special lines on the outside window with a small brush dipped in whitening: ‘SPECIAL! RABBITS, CRABS.’ The better-class shops never do, and I was really amused by one such shop today for on both windows – its on a corner – was printed neatly and in extra large letters:
NO PAPER BAGS
I wondered how many times Mrs Jones had to say those words before, in exasperation, she printed them on the window. The fishmongers shop was quite nicely stocked – especially with rabbits. I got one and paid 1s.8d. Considering the time of year, I thought they were an indifferent sample – I like to see pale pink flesh and the kidneys sunk in creamy fat. I hunted well through the furry furrows, and did not feel so well suited with what I got finally.”
Today we would say that Nella “found herself” during the war. Her “personal growth” (to use another modern phrase) is revealed through her diary. Without ever consciously realising it, she became “a writer”. Dowdy, nervy Nella also became something of a neighbourhood guru in the domestic arts. The minor housekeeping skills that neither she nor anyone else had valued before the war suddenly became important – the “make do and mend”, the budgeting and improvising and substituting and recycling of everything were what she had always done as a matter of course.
Nella got particular satisfaction out of making a good meal out of not much. Often she recorded exactly how she did this, but not on this day. We don’t know how Nella cooked the rabbit, but it would have been something thrifty, that could be stretched to serve at another meal, because that was her way.
Recipe for the Day …
Perhaps Nella might have cooked something like this recipe from Marguerite Patten, the cookery expert and cookbook writer who acted as an advisor to the Ministry of Food during the war:
Small rabbit, 1 ½ pints of water, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ pint of rice, 1 onio or 3 spring onions, 3 tomatoes, ½ teaspoon of pepper; pinch of ginger or cayenne, ½ pint brown gravy, fat for frying.
Bone the rabbit and cut into bite sized pieces. Boil up some salted water and pour in the rice and leave to cook for about 15 minutes. While you’re waiting for it to cook you can be preparing the rabbit. Heat up the fat and gently cook the pieces of rabbit until a golden brown. Drain the cooked rice and to it add thinly chopped onion(s), sliced tomatoes, pepper and ginger or cayenne. Place a little of this mixture onto a greased casserole dish and then lay the rabbit on top. With the remainder of the rice mixture cover the rabbit and add half a pint of gravy. Cover the casserole and cook gently for about an hour.
Previous Stories about Nella Last …
“Nella’s Orange Jelly”
A previous Story for this Day …
The story for November 8th 2005 was “Food for Cowboys and Popes”.
Tomorrow’s Story …
The Condensed Milk Man.
Quotation for the Day …
On Wartime Food : “There is something magic about all of Faringdon, and Lord Berners himself, in his skull cap, looks not unlike a magician, but perhaps the greatest, most amazing conjuring tricks are reserved for the dining room. In this pleasant sunny white room, scattered with large silver-gilt birds and wonderful Sevres and Dresden china, a standard of culinary perfection has been maintained through the darkest days of war. Cook or no cook, raw materials or no raw materials, a succession of utterly delicious courses would somehow waft themselves to the sideboard, and the poor Londoner, starved, or sated with Spam, would see sights and taste tastes he had long ago forgotten to believe in.” Nancy Mitford.