Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Patriotic Christmas.

Sugar was in short supply and rationed during both world wars in Britain, and the Ministry of Food continually churned out advice on how to cope with the shortages. Home supply of sugar was a greater issue in those days, when baking and preserving were part of every housewife’s lot. Even the most reluctant home cook had to make the effort at Christmas.
On November 2, 1917, the Ministry put on a demonstration of Christmas Cookery. One of the recipes given was this one, which gave me pause for thought:
Mince Meat for Patriotic People
1 ¼ lb apples
6 oz suet, grated
½ lb currants and raisins
¼ lb moist sugar or corn syrup
¼ lb dates or prunes (stoned)
¼ lb candied peel (optional)
1 oz ground ginger
1 oz mixed spice
1 lemon or orange
½ gill cider (optional)
Peel and chop the apples, chop the dates, figs or prunes and candied peel – clean currants and raisins, mix all together. Sufficient for 36 mince pies.
Firstly, I love the name. It is hard to imagine such a call to patriotism even in times of the greatest nationalistic fervour today, isnt it?
Secondly, I was surprised to see corn syrup as an ingredient. Is it not a modern evil? A manufactured non-food perpetrated on us surreptitiously for non-nutritional reasons, and sharing a large part of the blame for the diseases of over-nutrition such as diabetes and obesity, that plague our modern society?
No, actually. The original corn syrup was glucose syrup, not the High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is the subject of increasing controversy today. HFCS is made by using various enzymes to convert 90% of the glucose into fructose . It is sweeter and more soluble, and it converts cheap corn (from a perpetual surplus) into a valuable ‘commodity.’ The English version was likely also made from wheat, which was called ‘corn’ in the old days because ‘corn’ meant grain (‘corned’ meat is processed with ‘grains’ or ‘corns’ of salt.)
This article, from an edition of The Times in August the previous year, shows that corn syrup was quite heavily promoted as a substitute for sugar during the war.
In order to meet the deficiency of sugar, the Board urge all those who have been in the habit of making home-made jam to save as much ordinary sugar as they can from their household supplies and to make up the remainder with the sugar known as glucose. Glucose, which is sold under the name of corn syrup, is made in England, and also imported from America, and is extensively used in the manufacture of confectionery and sweets, especially acid drops and toffee. In the manufacture of home-made jam, not more than one part of corn syrup should be added to two of sugar, and the weight of the sugar and syrup should be approximately equal to the weight of the fruit used.

Now, something I only do occasionally is look at my blog stats, because I have no idea what to do with the information. I did look during the week before Thanksgiving, and was surprised to see quite a lot of searches for ‘pies no corn syrup’. Am I picking up some sort of grass-roots resistance here?
Getting back on topic, the other important shortage during both wars was wheat. Again, the Ministry came to the rescue with recipes to conserve it. This was the recipe for the pastry to make up the Patriotic Mince Pies.
Short Crust Paste for Mince Pies.
¼ lb ordinary flour, 2 oz maize flour, 2 oz barley flour or cornflour, 4 oz lard, dripping, or margarine, a pinch of salt, ½ teaspoonful bicarbonate of soda, water to mix.
Mix the flour, salt, and soda, and rub fat into flour. Mix to a stiff paste with water. Roll out. Sufficient for 12 pies.
These recipes are now in the Vintage Christmas Recipes archive.
Quotation for the Day …
If there is no joyous way to give a festive gift, give love away.


SometimesKate said...

Part of the reason I re-read everything, other than thoroughly enjoying it, was to see if you'd delved into a hilarious book called A la Mode Cookery by Harriet Anne DeSalis. It came out in 1902, which means it's full of perfectly ghastly turn of the 19th century aspic creations. With colour illustrations, no less! I hope you'll find it as amusing as I do, and it's certainly miles away from either Pennsylvania Dutch or WWII British austerity.


[URL=]A la Mode Cookery[/URL]

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Kate - I have come across the book (isnt Google Books fabulous?) but havent delved into it. I will now though. Dont you just love to hate (or is it hate to love?) those aspic things?

SometimesKate said...

I think it's my slightly twisted sense of humour, but I adore reading about such things. I managed to horrify quite a few "tough guys" on a game I play by posting a recipe for brains in aspic. You probably couldn't pay me enough to actually eat some of them, and I honestly wonder whether anyone actually did, or whether it just sat in a dish of ice till it finally melted or was given to the dog.