Monthly Archives: August 2020

Canning and Preserving in Wartime

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These were the days before refrigeration and freezing was common in household kitchens (and not just Britain — the refrigerator revolution did not sweep America until the late 1940s), so housewives still knew and used preservation techniques such as canning. The Ministry of Food educated people with leaflets, radio programmes and community demonstrations on the latest and greatest food preserving techniques, to ensure that no food went to waste.

Eggs could be kept fresher for a bit longer by rubbing them with lard to seal the pores, or for longer periods, by storing them in crocks under water with isinglass or waterglass mixed in, or by turning them into pickled eggs.

Canadian Women’s Institutes supported their sister British Women’s Institutes, by donating to them useful tools such as canning machines, etc, which could be shared out.

Preserving of fruits and vegetables was largely done in Kilner jars: glass jars with glass lids with a spring on them. You put a rubber ring around the neck of each jar before sealing it. You replaced the rubber rings each season.

Members of a Women’s Institute enjoying a tea break during a canning session at Ashton-under-Edge village hall (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)

Even if you grew your own fruit, making jams and preserves from it was tricky as sugar was rationed and you weren’t likely to be able to get enough sugar, unless you had some food item you could swap with someone else for their sugar. Many people started saving up their sugar rations right at the start of the summer to help with canning time.(Some years, during the summer, the Ministry of Food was able to double the sugar rations to encourage home preserving.)

The Ministry of Food also advised people on how to cure and preserve meat. Pork or lamp chops could be preserved for up to six weeks by first cooking them, and then putting them in a crock completely covered with fat.- from

(c) Dr R. W. Follet; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
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Put Your Best Face Forward!

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It was a lot of work to stay beautiful in wartime. Food, fuel, and clothing weren’t the only things rationed. Beauty was, too (actually the tools to keep beautiful were rationed). Hair care, face, and beauty products contained many ingredients that were rationed, so it took some creativity for the wartime woman to look for alternatives to keep up a beauty regimen.


Keeping hair clean was a struggle. Working in factories, rationed shampoo, and limited water usage made it hard work to keep hair clean and beautiful. One method that women in wartime Britain used to wash hair was to mix a tablespoon of baking powder with a small cup of warm water or to saturate hair in vegetable oil (when available) and wrap in a towel until ready to wash. Dry hair was made shiny and manageable by rinsing in beer.  Lemon juice was used (when one could find lemons due to rationing) on hair which helped to remove residue from hair. Not only was a homemade regimen practical, but using every day items that were readily available showed women were supporting the war effort. Magazines targeted women by using slogans such as  “Put Your Best Face Forward.” An active beauty regimen also helped at a time when black outs required finding something to occupy time spent in the dark!  Setting hair at night took some creativity.  One of the most popular methods was to curl hair by “ragging.”  Curls were achieved by tearing old material into strips, taking a small section of hair and twist around the rag until the twist reached the scalp, and then tie the ends of the rag together, and go to bed. One would wake up to curly hair!


Heavy brows were the thing for women in wartime. Cosmetic counters today are adorned with countless numbers of beauty products offering every eye preparation imaginable, with the most daring item in the WW2 woman’s make-up bag for eyes was charcoal. Eyebrows were often completely shaved off; then a charcoal pencil being used to draw on to create a full-brow affect.

Olive oil or petroleum jelly was applied on top to make the brows shine. During the daytime, women would use the petroleum jelly on their eyelids to act as an eye shadow. This brightened up the eyes and was easy for women working in the factories.

Mascara was not widely used during wartime. Women would make it from petroleum jelly and coal dust pressed together to then be applied to the lashes with a fine brush.

Face powder was used and was essential as it doubled up as a tool to create a matte base if going out after working in the factory. Beetroot was used as a lipstick and a rouge.


As previously mentioned, lipstick was used and the war-time colour was, without any doubt, red. Using beetroot and cherry juice achieved this effect. The favourite color was red, and the patriotic shade enabled women to show their support for the war effort and it made them feel more confident (it also went down well with the soldiers!)

Churchill engendered a notion of fighting the enemy by keeping up morale with beauty and looking one’s best. Magazines and newspapers had an endless flow of hints and tips for scrimping and making powders and lipsticks last longer. Beauty was propagated as a way of lifting the wearer from the awful reality of war, not just for herself, but for her soldier too.

Shhh…other beauty tips

There were all sorts of other beauty secrets women of the war possessed. From removing vegetable stains on their hands with lemon juice, to oiling themselves up to tan!

American forces introduced British home front women to nylons which enabled them to create stockings and suspenders. As nylons became increasingly necessary for the war effort, women were forced to resort to other alternatives. In order to get the much sought-after sophisticated  stocking look, women would paint their legs with gravy browning and draw a line down the backs of their legs with charcoal to create the effect of the seams.

Another method similar to this was by taking four or five teabags, soaking them in warm water and then applying this mixture to legs to give the effect of wearing stockings.

Despite living on rations, some women put beauty before their appetite and used a mixture of rationed sugar and a little warm water or lemon juice to act as a skin exfoliator.

Working all day in a factory was never good for their hands so women would take some petroleum jelly with them to work to apply before going home. This kept their hands soft and supple.

What natural products do you use to stay beautiful during wartime?

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