Yesterday I referred to the phrase “the kitchen front” used by the WW II Minister for Food, Lord Woolton, according to a report in The Times of April 13, 1940. The phrase was coined – presumably by Lord Woolton himself - at the beginning of a campaign targeted at the housewife. The aim was to encourage the home-makers of the land to play their part in the war effort by assisting the country to reduce its dependence on imported food by a variety of strategies – including vegetable gardening, reducing waste, and working around shortages and rationing. Aside from the obvious benefit of being self-sufficient during wartime, another important benefit was that transport ships would be freed up for military use.
The first use I have found so far of the phrase “the kitchen front” pre-dates the article referred to yesterday by less than a week. In an article in The Times of 8 April, the phrase appears in quotation marks, suggesting it was a new “thing” on that date. The article was on potatoes – the staple vegetable at the heart of British cuisine.
The humble potato comes into its own in wartime. Appealing to housewives for cooperation in holding “the kitchen front” resolutely whatever conditions may arise, Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, has taken the potato as one example of an excellent food which is not used to full advantage in many homes. The best part of the potato lies just under the skin, and yet potato peelings are usually thrown away. If an enterprising borough council collects household swill, as more authorities are doing today, the waste is not so serious, but the truth remains that the housewife is not obtaining the full value from the potatoes she uses. There is no dearth of potatoes in the country. There have been plenty for every one so far, and the Ministry of Food has just asked potato-growers to increase the acreage for this season. There have been doubts in the minds of farmers and those with allotments about the wisdom of growing more potatoes. Apparently farmers have expected that allotment holders and gardeners would provide the additional production needed this season, while allotment holders and gardeners have been expecting the same of farmers.
In normal years this country grows almost all the potatoes required for consumption in times of plenty, when foodstuffs of all times are freely available. Next winter the potato may be needed to take the place of food, which, for one reason or another, it is desirable to import in smaller quantities. The potato is a great standby, as the last War proved, and the kitchen front will be held more securely if the crop is plentiful to excess. Any surplus potatoes can be used for feeding livestock, and there are to be six potato factories in the chief growing areas, where various useful products can be manufactured. No-one need doubt that all the potatoes grown will be used in one way or another.
Potatoes did, in fact, become in short supply at a few times both during the war itself and the rationing period which continued for many years after it ended. In the autumn of 1940 however, there was no fear of a potato-less diet, although in the spirit of encouraging the housewife to innovate, new ideas for their use were suggested by the Ministry of Food.
From Food Facts No. 7, produced by the Ministry in the second week of September, 1940, here is a new idea – potato salad!
A New Salad.
Wash and drain a crisp lettuce, put it in a bowl and pour over it a dressing made by mixing thoroughly 2 tablespoons salad oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, with salt and pepper to taste. Turn the lettuce over and over in the dressing with a wooden spoon; then line your bowl with it. Pile in the middle a grated raw carrot, a chopped apple, a cupful of cooked diced potatoes, and decorate with chopped mint and a small chopped onion.