Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wartime Potatoes.

As many of you know, I am particularly fond of the regular Food Facts leaflets published by the British wartime Ministry of Food throughout the war and for many years afterwards. Yesterday I gave you a couple of recipes from a 1948 publication. One recipe was for a potato supper dish, and it struck me (yet again) how intrinsic to British cooking is the potato. It is almost impossible to imagine the cuisine of the country without the humble but incredibly versatile spud.

I thought it might be fun to look at a sample of potato recipes from the Food Facts leaflets of the wartime Ministry of Food.

Let us start early in the war, in November 1940: from Food Facts no. 16:

Potato and Watercress Soup.
Potatoes and watercress are two of the most valuable of the “protective” foods – the foods that help us resist illness and fatigue. This soup is a true protective dish. Scrub a pound of potatoes and cut into quarters. Boil in 1 ½ pints of water until soft. Then put through a sieve, return to the pan, add a bunch of watercress shredded, and pepper and salt to taste. Simmer very gently for 5 minutes, adding a little milk if the soup is too thick (This makes enough for 4 people.)

Reduction of the consumption of wheat and fat were goals of the Ministry of Food throughout the war: less wheat imported meant that shipping could be freed up for military use, and fat was essential for the production of explosives. Many Food Facts recipes were developed to accommodate these requirements, as in the leaflet number 28 in early February 1941, which made a feature of potatoes. It began with the following:

Have you discovered how often potatoes can replace foods that are now difficult to get? Potatoes can be served in an endless variety of ways – below are a few suggestions. Potatoes build up your strength, give you vitality and help you to resist illness – as they are home-grown. So eat them often.

One of the included recipes saved wheat, the other, fat:

Potato Pastry.
This is extremely good with either sweet or savoury dishes. Sieve 8 oz. plain flour with ½ teaspoon salt. Rub in 4 oz. cooking fat with the tips of the fingers, until the mixture has the appearance of fine breadcrumbs. Add 4 oz. sieved cooked potato and rub lightly into the other ingredients. Mix to a very dry dough with a little cold water. Knead well with the fingers and roll out.

Potato Suet Crust.
This recipe will make your suet ration go further, and give you a light crust, which is not greasy. Mix 8 oz. flour, 2 oz. suet, 2 oz. grated raw potato, salt, and a little water. Then cook your mixture in the usual way.

Potatoes were the sole topic of the leaflet the following week in February. Number 29 went so far as suggesting that potatoes be eaten three times a day – for breakfast, dinner, and supper. I have mentioned this particular leaflet, and gave the recipe for Surprise PotatoBalls in a previous story (here) and also gave the recipe for Coffee Potato Scones in another post.

Leaflet No. 29 also had the following very simple potato idea:

Parsley Potato Cakes.
Here is a new breakfast dish which you can prepare the day before.
Boil 1 lb. potatoes and mash them while hot with a very little hot milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Next morning, add a tablespoon chopped parsley. Shape the mixture into little cakes, cover well with browned breadcrumbs and pan fry in a little hot fat, or bake in the oven.

The Ministry of Food introduced several cartoon-type characters to encourage vegetable consumption during the war, and the most famous is probably Potato Pete, who even had a potato song:

Potatoes new, potatoes old,
Potatoes (in a salad) cold,
Potatoes baked or mashed or fried,
Potatoes whole, potatoes pied:
Enjoy them all including chips –
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships!

I am sure I will return to this theme of wartime potatoes, but as a final offering, especially for those of you who have never met a potato they didn’t like, here is another recipe from the Food Facts leaflet which gave us Potato Devils yesterday – leaflet number 430, published in September 1948, well after the end of the war.

Hot Potato Salad.
1½ oz. dripping; 1 level tablespoon chopped onion; 1½ lb. boiled potatoes, sliced; salt and pepper to taste; 1-2 level tablespoons chopped parsley.
Heat the dripping and fry the onion until light brown. Add the potatoes and sprinkle with seasoning. Heat slowly, stirring frequently, until all the fat has been absorbed. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve hot.


Pieter B said...

Being a potato lover, I enjoyed reading these enticements to increased potato consumption. I'm curious, though, as to what starchy food was the norm in Britain before the potato came into favor? Was there a single starch that ruled the table, or were there several that shared the honors?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Pieter B. It was bread, absolutely. And thick (very thick) pie crust. But bread, especially.