If you don’t know what food to buy or how to cook the food the advertisers tell you to buy, newspaper and magazine articles will tell you all you need to know, and television food shows will make you wonder if it’s all become a bit too much. So let’s go for a trip back down the years when food was less colourful and certainly less plentiful. Do you remember what you were eating when you were ten years old?
That’s the question I was asked recently. When I was ten, 1950, and in England we were still on war rations. The phrases that stick in my mind are ‘best butter’ and ‘fresh tea.’ Meaning (occasionally) genuine butter instead of margarine, and tea that had not been stewed a few times. But since I had only vague memories of other details I contacted my brother and two friends I grew up with.
This from my brother, Bob: “Toast for breakfast. Scouse for tea, of course, (which was really poor man’s Irish stew often containing lumps of fat), and sometimes we had cheese or plum-jam butties, or that terrible bread pudding me mam used to make. It was probably lunch at the school Dinner Centre, which provided us with a decent meal.
Kath from next door, whose mother was a good cook: “I remember eating a lot of toast, bread and spuds and cabbage. And my mam got bacon bones which she boiled with lentils, barley, rice and spuds. And those bloody peas you had to soak with bicarbonate of soda for about three days to get them to soften. These were all cheap and not rationed.”
“Richie from across the road: “Surely you remember the daily doses of cod-liver oil, which we all hated, followed by a spoon of thick orange juice or malt to keep it down.” Richie also sent me the memory jogger below.
During the war, and also for several years afterwards, there were many food shortages. People were only allowed so much of some particularly scarce foods. This was partly because it made things fairer for everyone, but it was also because the rationing was a lot better for us.
Every member of every family would have had a ration book and it gave precise details of the amounts of certain types of food that you were allowed during one week.
All schoolchildren had to have a weekly dose of VIROL, a sweet and sticky extract of malt, in order to make sure they got the proper ration of vitamins; (and you weren’t allowed much time to suck the spoon to get all the sticky off it!).
Bacon and ham: 4 oz (100g)
Meat: To the value of 1s.2d (6p today). Sausages were not rationed but difficult to get; offal (liver, kidneys, tripe) was originally unrationed but sometimes formed part of the meat ration.
Cheese: 2 oz (50g) sometimes it went up to 4 oz (100g) and even up to 8 oz (225g).
Margarine: 4 oz (100g)
Butter: 2 oz (50g)
Milk: 3 pints(1800ml) occasionally dropping to 2 pints (1200ml). Household milk (skimmed or dried) was available : 1 packet per four weeks.
Sugar: 8 oz (225g). There were one or two ways we could make this go further. See our recipe for Beetroot Pudding.
Jam: 1 lb (450g) every two months.
Tea: 2 oz (50g).
Eggs: 1 fresh egg a week if available but often only one every two weeks. Dried eggs 1 packet every four weeks.
Sweets: 12 oz (350g) every four weeks.
You can see some austerity recipes here.