Friday, August 28, 2009

Canteen Cookery.

We have met the World War II housewife and diarist, Nella Last, in several previous stories (here, here, and here.) The nervy, headachy, severely frustrated and unfulfilled woman “found herself” (to use a modern phrase) - and lost her headaches - during the war. Her “personal growth” (hate that phrase too, but what else to use?) is clear to the reader long before it seems to be clear to Nella, and it is so profound that when the war ends and her husband expresses a fervent hope that very soon their personal lives will go back to being what they were before the war, one tiny piece of her is saying No! No! No!

Nella’s skills – she had no idea that they were skills - in what would have been called “Domestic Economy” came to the fore during those times of austerity, and she became a local expert and leader in all sorts of projects. Her diary reveals that it was on this day in 1941, that some sort of realisation dawned on Nella that she was a valued and useful member of the community.

“ … there was a ring and Mrs Thompson, our canteen head, was at the door. She had come to tell me that we will have the two new American mobile canteens any time now, as well as our own Jolly Roger, and also a ‘first grade’ canteen for the soldiers. She wants me to give an afternoon and / or evening as advisory cook. … It’s what I’ve always wanted to do – I am realising more each day what a knack of dodging and cooking and managing I possess, and my careful economies are things to pass on, not hide as I used to!”

Many communities set up canteens to provide cheap and nourishing meals for local workers during the war, and suitable recipes for canteen organizers were often provided in the newspapers. An article in The Times in 1941 gave several provided by “a correspondent” under the heading:


My pick for today, from the article is Poor Knights of Windsor – an English version of French Toast, or Egg Bread, or one of the myriad other names that the simple dish goes by. It is an austerity triumph – a real Loaves and Fishes job – a sweet treat for 25 people using only 2 eggs, a pint of milk, and a large loaf of bread.

Poor Knights of Windsor
For 25 people
Two eggs, 1 quartern loaf, 2 lb. jam, 1 pint milk. Cut crust away from loaf, then cut slices of even size. Cut these again into fingers. Soak them in mixture of milk and eggs without allowing them to absorb too much. Drain and fry them in deep fat, golden brown. Spread them with hot jam and pile up in a hot dish. Good with hot treacle.

Quotation for the Day.

Be temperate in wine, in eating, girls & sloth;
Or the Gout will sieze you and plague you both.
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1734


Helen T said...

I love that there are so many variations of this recipe around the world, and it's still being made today. For some reason I forget, the savoury version of this was called Egyptian Toast in our house. Still one of my favourite comfort foods today.

The Old Foodie said...

I love it too - and I love it that you have given me yet another name for it. I wonder if it is called "Egyptian toast" in other families too - or was it just yours?

Anonymous said...

It also took "fat for frying", and cooking fat was in short supply. When I was in England in 1970, memories of the fat shortage still haunted some people to the point that a breakfast order might include extra bacon dripping for an extra fee!

"1939: the Last Season of Peace" a report of London debutants in 1939 and what happened to them in and after the war has some related information. Girls who had never so much as made a slice or toast in their lives (nanny, the nursery maid, cook, or the kitchen maid did that) were pitched into catering, and "took hold splendidly". Rather too splendidly in the case of one deb, who was very popular with the men she fed. Seems that, not yet trained or supervised much, she had been poviding more, and more varied, food than the "General Issue".

You've posted some of those GI menus recently. 1939 doesn't give recipes, but it does have some info on land-owning families usung game and river fish to suplement rations. The Royal households did this too, which made their boast that they too complied with rationing quite true, but not entirely candid.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello entspinster - thanks for your very informative comments: I must get a copy of "1939" - it sounds fascinating. I had no idea that the fat-saving mentality still had a hold in the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm talking about a sort of "fat saving" "backlash". People who were used to bacon, eggs, and dripping felt really deprived by low fat living. And rationing was, in fact, even more drastic after the war, it was only lifted in (I think) 1956. So that old people, at least, wanted extra fat and would pay for it.