It is some time since I gave you a World War II story, so today I am going to my favourite resource on wartime food in Britain – the Food Facts leaflets put out every week by the Ministry of Food.
Food Facts Number 18 was published in The Times of November 25, 1940. It was early in the war, and the Ministry began with a general reminder of its role, then went on to suggest a fuel-efficient, home-made “emergency oven.” The leaflet also included, as became usual, a recipe compliant with rationing and food shortages:-
THIS WEEK’S FOOD FACTS.
One of the chief purposes of the Ministry of Food is to help the housewife to make the most of her housekeeping money, and to see that everyone can buy a fair share of the foods important to health. In addition to giving news and guidance regarding foods in good supply, the Ministry subsidises certain foods so that they can be bought at a reasonable price.
Biscuit Tin Oven.
A little emergency oven is a sensible thing to have by you these days. One of those big square biscuit tins makes an excellent one. You can use it over an oil stove.
Cut two parallel slits, one inch by four inches, in the centre of one side of the tin about one inch apart. Make the lid into a door by wiring it to the tin at one side. Balance the oven firmly on top of the stove, slit-side down. Put inside an inverted baking tin or the trivet from the grill pan to support your baking tray. You can cook slow-baking dishes such as milk puddings and casseroles in this way, and you’ll find it useful for heating up such things as shepherd’s pie.
War-time Queen of Puddings.
Queen of Puddings has always been a favourite. Try this war-time recipe without eggs. Make a pint of sweetened vanilla custard, using about three-quarters of the usual amount of custard powder to a pint of milk and water. Put a dessertspoonful of cocoa into a bowl with a heaped breakfast cup of breadcrumbs. Beat the custard well in with a fork – the mixture should be nice and wet. If you can spare a small nut of margarine, add it to the custard too. Spread a layer of jam – any kind will do – on the bottom of a greased pie dish, pour the custard mixture over the jam and bake for about 20 minutes in a brisk oven. (Enough for four people.)
To the modern reader it may seem strange that eggs were rationed; we are able to churn them out cheaply, if you'll pardon the pun.
However, in 1939 Britain imported almost all its eggs (and its bacon) from Denmark, paid for with British-manufactured goods. This trade required shipping, and escorts to protect the ships travelling to and from Scandinavia, and the re-prioritization of shipping was the major stress that wartime rationing had to adjust for. (Of course after the summer of 1940, Scandinavia fell under German occupation, but North Sea shipping by then had already been re-allocated).
Dried egg powder, in cans, which took up little space was imported from North America. UK milk production was increased to compensate for reductions in eggs and meat; imported grain was fed to cattle, less of it going into bread (people were encouraged to grow and eat more potatoes instead) and cheese production was streamlined, with all specialty cheese factories being closed for the duration, only the one "British Cheese" (a cheddar I believe) being produced.
Of all the conversations I used to hear between my mother and grandmother, discussions of eggs, their availability, their transport during the war and their complete versatility were very frequent and common. Discussion of the price of eggs remained a constant for nearly 4 decades. My grandparents mailed eggs from their Missouri farm to my parents in Connecticut during the war.
I'm enjoying the marvelous detail in the stories you are providing through your blog. Many thanks.
Looking further into the egg rationing question - it appears eggs were not rationed, but instead very scarce. They could have been produced en masse, but the Ministry of Food made a decision that producing milk from cattle was a better use of imported wheat than producing eggs from chickens.
This decision being controversial with the public, and this controversy around the shortage and expense of eggs being something that the Ministry had to deal with for the duration.
If I was to guess, I would say that egg production would have been at least as productive and nutritious as dairying, but the availability of red meat, fat and offal, as well as manure, as a byproduct of dairy farming probably had advantages over a steady supply of boiler hens and chicken poop.
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