Onions…a rare treat

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O pungent root, so lately dear to me,

Thou bulbous, aromatic rarity . . .

Today thou are a treasure vainly sought . . .

Who would have thought there would be an ode to an onion? But with the start of the war, onions became a rare treat. What contributed to the sudden disappearance of onions? The supply chain was broken due to the loss of supplies from France, Spain, Bermuda, and the Channel Islands. Since they were available from overseas, onions were not grown in great quantities in Britain, except on the larger estates.  The “Dig for Victory” campaign urged gardeners to grow onions; even the royal rose gardens were dug up and replaced with onion beds. With their rarity, onions were often given as prizes and used as raffle items to raise money!

“The taste of this humble vegetable, so long taken for granted, seemed suddenly the peak of gastronomic pleasure, partly because with meat rationed by value, not weight, stews, which used the cheapest cuts, were in favour. At least two Odes to an Onion were written in 1941. By September the shortage was no better as, these verses in one London firm’s house magazine testified:

My cupboard might as well be bare.

Bereft, I wander everywhere

And try, nose in the empty air,

To sniff a whiff of onion.

In February 1941 a one-and-a-half pound onion, raffled among the staff of TheTimes, raised £4 3s 4d and in March, when one woman remarked at a first aid lecture in Chelsea that she did not cry if she wore her gas mask when peeling onions, every woman present instantly shouted, ‘Where did you get them?’ Onions became popular prizes at socials and one wartime Girl Guide in Accrington can still recapture her pride at winning one in a treasure hunt, in honour of which her mother baked a special pie. A Cheshire doctor remembers ‘taking home in triumph’ the best gift he ever received from a grateful patient: a large Spanish onion. One ‘aunt’ on Children’sHour, wishing ‘A Happy Birthday and lots of presents’ to one small listener, added, ‘I did hear of a lucky girl the other day who was given some onions, but we can’t all expect a lovely present like that,’ A Worcestershire woman used the same onion in cooking for a month before finally eating it, and in North Queensberry in Scotland one family ‘tried putting an onion in a glass of water like a hyacinth bulb and, as the green shoots appeared . . . cut them off and used them for flavouring’. The Minister of Agriculture, announcing in February 1941 a fifteen-fold increase in the onion crop, expressed the hope that ‘onions would then be eaten and not talked about’, and by 1942 this expectation was being fulfilled.”  -An extract from Norman Longmate: How we Lived Then – A history of everyday life during the Second World War

Onions were never rationed; the Ministry of Food allocated them throughout the country at different times as part of a controlled distribution plan.

onions

 

 

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RECIPE-Leek Pudding

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I made Leek Pudding for Sunday dinner and served it with baked fish and carrots. The pastry crust was very filling (with rationing, one wanted to fill up on crust during wartime!) and the leeks were moist and only seasoned with salt and pepper. I served the pudding with a nice brown gravy. The recipe is from “Food Facts for the Kitchen Front.”

Leek Pudding

You will need a 1 quart pudding basin ( I have a Mason Cash pudding basin). See link above.

A large pot of simmering water for steaming, and a lid. Place a heat proof saucer upside down in the bottom of the pot (the pudding basin will sit on the saucer).

Pastry Crust (Potato Suet Crust)

8 oz Self Rising flour
2 oz suet (I used Vegetable Light Suet-see link to order below)
2 oz raw potato, grated
Cold water for mixing

Filling 

2 large leeks- remove most of the dark green “tops,” trim the ends, cut length wise, rinse thoroughly, and cut into 1″ chunks; salt and pepper to taste

Weigh the flour,  suet, and the raw grated potato and put into a large mixing bowl; add enough cold water to make a stiff pastry dough; form into a ball. Take 2/3 of the pastry and roll out large enough to line the pudding basing- leave the rest for a “lid.” Fill the basin with cut leeks, seasoning each layer – roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid, damp the edges and seal the top to the crust in the basin. Cover with greaseproof paper (parchment or waxed paper rubbed with margarine or butter), use cotton string to tie it to the basin, and steam for 2 hours.

Here is my result:

leekpuddingwithc leekpudding1withc leekpudding2withc leekpudding3withc

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Dig for Victory

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Dig for Victory

With the start of the Second World War in 1939, Britain imported nearly 70% of its food. This included nearly 80% of fruits and about 70% of grains and cereals. The supply chain had been cut off due to the  Nazis sinking ships bringing imports to the country. The result was: Britain needed to grow more of its own food. The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign was set up within a month of the start of  WWII by the British Ministry of Agriculture. The start of rationing meant men and women across the country were encouraged to grow their own food to supplement their meager rations. Empty spaces, including backyards, public parks, and even the lawns outside the Tower of London were turned into vegetable patches.  A massive propaganda campaign was created to ensure that people had enough to eat, and that morale was kept high. The Dig for Victory campaign proved very successful, and by 1943 over 100 million tons of fruits and vegetables were now being grown in Britain!

digforvictorydigforvictory2

Above: Girl Guides at work on their hospital allotment producing vegetables in November 1942; propaganda posters promoting the “Dig for Victory” campaign.

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RECIPE-Parsley Sauce

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Parsley Sauce

½ oz fat

½ pint milk or milk and stock

½ oz Cornflour (corn starch in the US)

2 tsp parsley

Salt & Pepper to taste

Melt the fat, add the cornflour and mix well. Add the milk, stir until boiling and boil 3 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and parsley. Serve with Mock Fish and cooked potatoes.

 

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RECIPE-Mock Fish

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Fish was hard to get as the war loomed on. Fishermen had joined the military and were off fighting the war; those that remained had to throw their nets close to shore, as bombing by the enemy was always a threat. The fish that were caught were sold and bought quickly by those that lived close to shore; those that lived inland rarely got fresh fish. So what to do in wartime? Make Mock Fish!

Mock Fish

1/2 pint of whole milk

2 oz ground rice

1 tsp chopped onion or leek

Margarine (or butter if your ration allows)

Anchovy paste or essence

1 egg, fresh or powdered (1 tbls powdered egg mixed with two tbls water)
Bring half a pint of milk to the boil, shower in two ounces of ground rice and add a teaspoonful of chopped onion or leek, a piece of margarine the size of a small walnut, and a seasoning of anchovy essence. Let this simmer gently for 20 minutes, then take the pan off the fire, and stir in a well-beaten egg. Mix well together, and the spread the mixture out on a flat dish: it should be about half an inch thick. When it is cold, cut it into pieces the size and shape of fish fillets, brush these with milk, roll them in breadcrumbs, and fry until golden-brown. Serve with parsley sauce.

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RECIPE-Mock Banana

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When bananas weren’t available, one did the next best thing and made something that tasted like a banana!

Mock Banana

Parsnips (a root vegetable related to carrots)
Banana extract
Sugar to taste

Select young, fresh parsnips as they are more tender and taste sweeter. Peel the parsnips; leaving them whole and steam until tender; dry the parsnips. Slice the cooked parsnips and put into a bowl; thoroughly mash and add a few drops of the banana extract. Continue adding the banana extract to taste (but not too much); add sugar to taste then mash until smooth.

Serve on two slices of National Loaf bread for a nice banana sandwich!

wartimebanana-advertisement

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Yes, We Have No Bananas…or Oranges

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Imagine never having seen, or eaten, a banana? If you were a child born in the days of World War II in Britain, this would not have been uncommon. Imported fruits were hard to come by due to rationing; the unavailability of “exotic” fruits due to the wartime bombing of ships prevented these items arriving safely at their destination. When, and if, these fruits became available, there were long queues to get those priceless bananas and oranges.

Wartime-banana-sandwich

With the onset of rationing, oranges and bananas disappeared from the shops.Fresh oranges did occasionally arrive safely by ship from America — but they were rationed and restricted to children only.

wartimeoranges

 

The British government and the Ministry of Food were concerned that people, especially children, had essential quantities of basic foods to stay healthy, and that staying healthy was an important part of the war effort.
Doctors were regularly sent to schools to check the nutritional needs and general good health of children. Schools were supplied with Virol (formerly Virolax), a liquid laxative made from sweetened bone marrow, that was given weekly to children to “keep them regular.” Virol was eventually discontinued during the war as it was too costly to manufacture. Even in the days of rationing, poor children were guaranteed meals to keep healthy. To avoid the onset of scurvy and rickets, children under five were given doses of cod liver oil; those under three got daily portions of regular or instant dried milk, and the all important orange juice. Mothers were able to get bottles of cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice (both shipped to Britain by the United States) that were distributed at British Welfare Centers.

wartimemother-dont-forget-babys-cod-liver-oil-and-orange-juice-wwii

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RECIPE-Snoek Piquant

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Snoek Piquante

This wartime recipe calls for Snoek, but one can substitute using canned mackerel.

Ingredients:

  • 4 spring onions chopped (green onions)
  • Liquid from the can of Snoek
  • 4 Tablespoons of vinegar
  • ½ can of mashed Snoek
  • 2 teaspoons of golden syrup (or dark corn syrup)
  • salt and pepper

Directions: Cook onions in snoek liquor and vinegar for 5 minutes. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Serve cold with a salad.

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Tinned Snoek (Snook)

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Snoek
As rationing continued to get more strict as the war loomed on,  sources of protein became more rare. Meats, such as beef and pork, were rationed and allowable amounts were about 4 to 6 ounces per week, per person, but chicken and fish were not although difficult to get.  Fishing in Britain had become dangerous since there was the threat of bombing, even close to shore. The availability of cheap fish called snoek, or snook (a relative of the tuna and mackerel),  in South Africa allowed for eleven million cans of fish to be shipped to England; the government believed it to be the “savior of the fish problem” (Shephard, 329*). It did not catch on! Many people did not like the fish with the unusual and funny name and many remember it as being inedible, smelly, and foul-tasting. Most of the tinned Snoek remained firmly on the shop shelves. The Ministry of Defense issued recipes to make the fish palatable, but even that effort of  turning the salty fish into snoek paste, snoek sandwiches, and snoek piquant, did not prove popular.

The British government bought millions of tins of Snoek and with much of it left near the end of the war,  the unsold tins were given new labels and sold as food for cats and kittens! (Thomas, 35**)

Click the link for a recipe with tinned snoek:  Snoek Piquant

*Pickled, Potted, and Canned by Sue Shephard, Simon and Schuster, 2006

**Villains’ Paradise by Donald Thomas, Pegasus Books, 2006

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RECIPE-Potato Chocolate Spread

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This recipe was developed by the Ministry of Food, as they stated to the public: “As sugar, fats, jams and preserves are rationed, energy-giving foods available are limited. Therefore if we are to keep up our weight and health then non-rationed foods, potatoes and bread, must be eaten in larger quantities. Potatoes come first because they are home grown.”

Potato Chocolate Spread (sweet)

2 tablespoonfuls mashed potato

1 tablespoonful cocoa

1 tablespoonful sugar

Almond or vanilla flavouring

Method:  Mash the potato thoroughly, mix in the cocoa, sugar and flavouring. Use as a spread in place of jam.

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