Friday, December 03, 2010

Making a Little go a Long Way.

In ‘the good old days’, nothing was wasted. It can be difficult today - when we throw away one-fifth of the food we buy - to appreciate just how deep was the abhorrence of waste until relatively recent times. Rationing in Britain during both wars was imposed on a nation of people accustomed to re-purposing every leftover scrap, bone, or crumb - which perhaps partly explains why it was accepted with barely a demur.

Today I give you in its entirety an article from The Times of April 10, 1917, which beautifully demonstrates an attitude of patriotic frugality with no hint of mean-spiritedness or resentment. The only part of this that makes me shudder is the purchase of a fowl on a Saturday in Spring, with the raw legs not being used until the Wednesday – in a household that almost certainly did not have a refrigerator. I admit that the toast-water coloured soup does not excite me greatly, but it would certainly be a healthy choice.


“A Housekeeper” writes:-

My little household of three women falls within the category for which some of your correspondents have suggested that menus are difficult to arrange. I venture to send you a sample of ours for a week. They are so simple as to be perhaps hardly worth quoting, but we have found them satisfactory and they have the hygienic feature of avoiding twice-cooked meat.
We begin always on a Saturday. On that day we bought 1 ¼ lb. of rump steak, and a fowl weighing 2 ½ lb.

Half the rump steak grilled; seakale; baked apples.

The body of the fowl roasted without its legs.
Chestnuts (stripped, boiled whole, and served like new potatoes with a bit of butter.
Remainder of bundle of seakale; jam tart.

Second half of the rump steak cut into strips, stewed with prunes, and served with dumplings.
Tin of marrow-fat peas.
Coffee custard.

Slices of cod, sautés in butter and onions.
Potatoes and hard-boiled eggs sliced together in white sauce.
Baked tomatoes.
Mont Blanc of chestnuts, currant jelly, and whipped cream.

Chicken pie made with raw legs of fowl, a few whole chestnuts, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and some good gravy.
Remains of chestnut cream.

Vegetable pot-au-feu soup; 1 lb of midget sausages on a puree of tomatoes and eggs; marrow-fat peas.

1 ¼ lb roast mutton (best end of neck); baked onions.
Remains of trifle.

Total Rations for the week:
Rump steak      1 ¼ lb
Fowl                2 ½ lb
Mutton             1 ¼ lb
Sausages          1 lb
Bacon               ½ lb
                        6 ½ lb (to spare, 1 lb)

Flour, made into bread    7 lb
For cooking                   1 ½ lb
                                     8 ½ lb
Add sponge cakes for trifle
                                (to spare, nothing)

Sugar, helped out with saxin for
the sweetening of puddings          1 ½ lb

We thus come round to Saturday again, well within our rations; and on two days (marked by the better puddings) we had a guest to luncheon. But we do not attempt meat more than once a day. Breakfast consists only of porridge, bread, butter, jam, and a boiled egg if desired, with tea or coffee. The evening meal consists of good soup with a dish of haricot beans, eaten with the soup. After the soup we have only some slight dish of scraps, and bread and cheese and fruit, with a cup of cocoa to follow for those who like it.
We keep a meat stockpot and a vegetable stockpot. Our meat stockpot besides receiving our chicken and other bones, is reinforced by two pennyworth of butchers bones sawn and chopped in pieces; our vegetable stockpot receives all parings and strippings of vegetables, besides liquor in which certain vegetables have been boiled; and according as we desire to have a meat soup or a vegetable soup we dip to the right hand or we dip to the left.
This recipe for a vegetable pot-au-feu soup which is independent of the stockpot is perhaps worth giving:-
Cut three carrots, one turnip, one large onion, and the quarter of a moderate-sized cabbage into coarse strips. Put them into a large saucepan, earthenware for preference, with three pints of salted water: let them come to the boil, and continue to simmer gently for three hours. Within a quarter of an hour of serving toast a bit of bread very brown on both sides and hard. Put it in the soup and leave it there for only five or six minutes. Take it out before it has time to break and spoil the clear appearance of the soup. The only object of putting it in is to give the soup the pleasant colour of toast-water. When serving, empty the entire contents of the saucepan into the tureen. If rightly done, this soup has the appearance and flavour of a French pot-au-feu, and few people would guess that it has been made without meat. Where vegetables in the soup are not liked, the liquor can be strained off and sent up as a clear soup accompanied by little cheese puffs.

Quotation for the Day.

“He had drawn many a thousand of these rations in prisons and camps, and though he'd never had an opportunity to weight them on scales, and although, being a man of timid nature, he knew no way of standing up for his rights, he, like every other prisoner, had discovered long ago that honest weight was never to be found in the bread-cutting. There was short weight in every ration. The only point was how short. So every day you took a look to soothe your soul - today, maybe, they haven't snitched any.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn


Fay said...

Hmm. I see they must have eaten a lot of toast and bread the other meals. 7lbs flour in bread would be about 7 loaves. One a day between 3 women. No doubt to eat with all the left or right handed soups.
Saxin was a trade name for Saccharin.
Evidently having your chook in the larder for four days was considered more hygienic than cooking it twice. An English Spring can be cool, I guess.
Love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Wow, 6.5 pounds of meat a week for 3 women doesn't seem like it should be a problem. Then again, I don't know what they were used to; they do mention only having meat at one meal a day.

Marcheline said...

Ah, the days when women didn't have to work an 80 hour week and could spend all their time cooking and planning meals!

panavia999 said...

Some of that seems kind of heavy. But in those days people did much more physical labor on every day chores, so every calorie utilised.