What they ate!

"Over-riding all these trifling discomforts was the non-stop foraging by the housewife to provide some variety in her family's meals. I cannot recall ever being literally hungry, but the country had been reliant upon imports, which were now impossible because of the sea blockade. Everything was scrupulously rationed and we ate some strange things to supplement our diet.

Tea tablets were used to make the tea look stronger; babies' dried milk or 'National' milk was added if it could be obtained; and saccharine was used as a sweetener. Some even resorted to using honey or jam. What a concoction - but we drank it. Bread was heavy and a dull grey colour, but it, too, was rationed - so we ate it.

Sweets were devised from a mixture of dried milk and peppermint essence with a little sugar or icing sugar if available. Grated carrots replaced fruit in a Christmas or birthday cake, while a substitute almond paste was made from ground rice or semolina mixed with a little icing sugar and almond essence. Dried egg powder was used as a raising agent, and this same dried egg could be reconstituted and fried, yielding a dull, yellow, rubbery-like apology for the light and fluffy real thing - but there was nothing else, so we ate it.

Bean pies and lentil rissoles provided protein to eke out our meagre meat ration, and the horse-meat shop, which previously had sold its products only for dogs, now bore a notice on some of its joints occasionally, 'Fit for Human Consumption'. This horse-meat was not rationed, but it did have to be queued for and sure enough eventually it appeared on our table. It had to be cooked for a long time and even then it was still tough. Nevertheless, it did not get thrown out.

In complete contrast, one highlight for me was the coming of spam from America. It was an oasis in our desert of mediocrity; an elixir in our sea of austerity. It seems to me that it was meatier, juicier, and much tastier than it is now. (Tricks of memory again, no doubt.) We ate it in sandwiches; we ate it fried with chips; cold with salad; chopped in spam-and-egg pies, until, of course, it ceased to provide the variety we longed for, but I never tired of it." 

- Anne Butcher

So back in time again, we go! This time to the 1940s, with war raging all around, and the British and Irish governments issuing ration books to households around the country! 

I did a bit of research, along with dipping into my ration cookbook, and, not being able to find any Spam for sale in our local supermarket, decided on Corned Beef instead and to make some sort of hash.  Its something I cook myself, with fresh corned beef and plenty of potatoes, so I was intrigued as to how they would have made it in a time when there was few onions, hardly any potatoes and tins of meat! 

So this is the recipe I chose, as it was one which the ingredients were available in war time, and it was a bit unusual and fancy, often served on a Sunday!!

Layered Hash
You'll need
Twelve thin slices of corned beef
1 small green cabbage
2 leeks
2 tins of haricot beans
Half a pint of gravy (Made from bisto!)
1 tsp english mustard

Fry the cabbage and leeks in a small bit of oil until soft.  Then layer the greens, beans and slices of corned beef in a lasagne dish. 
 Mix the mustard with the gravy and pour over the top.  Bake for 1 hour in a medium hot oven.  

This was a lovely meal, hot, comforting and very tasty.  I'd imagine, with the little they had in wartimes, that taste came before anything in the meal stakes! 


Ciara said...

I have a confession. When I became vegetarian at the age of 11, corned beef was the thing I missed most! Not the most sophisticated young one was I?

Beth said...

Another great food history post. I am really enjoying them. It's hard to imagine in this day and age not having what we want at out fingertips. I can't imagine not being able to run to the store at anytime of day and get something, anything.

Emily said...

I am really enjoying the food history posts. They really make you think about what we view as an every day necessity. I do have to say that no matter how short we were on supplies I would never eat spam. There is a reason junk mail has adopted it name, you never quite know what is in it.

Lisa Conmara said...

I have not eaten Spam since I was a child, I can't remember it at all - I would have used it if I could have got it, as I really am going for the authentic!!

rachel said...

i admire your devotion and creativity and resourcefulness in the art of cooking. Great and novel idea- revisiting cook books from bygone eras to get a "taste" of times gone by.

Lo said...

Love these posts!
This hash looks really great... and I love the frugal nourishment of it.

Never eaten spam... but corned beef. yee-ummmm.

Michelle said...

Oh, the gelatinous goodness of artery-clogging Spam! Actually, the corned beef sounds better than the Spam in this recipe. Having eaten Spam for a long time, I can say that with complete confidence! (although I will admit that I do love a good fried Spam sandwhich with tomatoes...)

Lisa Conmara said...

Oh I'll have to hunt out a tin of spam asap! A fried sandwich? Michelle surely thats illegal!