Friday, 5 March 2010

The Roots of My Kitchen Culture

I am not a foodie, nor am I a particularly adventurous cook. I put it down to internalising the post-war austerity cuisine of my British childhood!  I am still drawn to labour-intensive recipes that involve stewing cheaper cuts of meat, pastry-making and milk puddings. However,  I don't use margarine and dried eggs nor dare I eat bread and dripping; and I've never had another toothpaste sandwich. To be fair to my mother, that wasn't her idea.

This moment of nostalgia was brought on by The Imperial War Museum's latest big exhibition The Ministry of Food running throughout 2010.  The Director of Research sums it up here better than I can and there's lots of information on the museum's website. I particularly like the bracing information film on how to dig for victory for beginners.

A recreation of a newly stocked wartime shop based on photographs from the Museum's archive.  

Rationing during the war applied to everyone, including the Royal Family.

Leonora K Green’s painting Coupons Required, 1941

Ooh a banana!  It's what everyone talks about not having during the war.  Spam and plenty of it, yes.  I wonder if the blue variety was even tastier? 

How chic is this?  Not if that's all you had maybe.

What's chintz got to do with it?

Jean Monro Hollyhock

Well, only that in the dark days of food shortages my mother was relieved to find two sacks of rice in the back of her store cupboard.  It made a lot of puddings (I doubt if she could buy the ingredients for curry) but it was originally intended for reglazing her chintz curtains. Now there's a thought..

All images courtesty of the Imperial War Museum except for the fabric which I pinched off  The House of Beauty and Culture blog. Many thanks.


  1. There's something grimly fascinating about the postwar austerity period
    in Great Britain~viewed from the safe distance of several decades, needless to say. As a backdrop to the novels of Barbara Pym, or front and center in a film by Alan Bennett (A Private Function~hilarious, having to do with a black market pig) it's a subject at once repellent and intriguing.
    The early cookery books of Elizabeth David were written when food rationing was at its height, yet she ignored that reality while evoking the flavors of the Mediterranean. There's something charming about a cookery book that regards a roasted chicken as "dear" or olive oil as mildly subversive to the general pubic of the time.
    In any case, I love the idea of rice puddings being made from bags of rice intended for the reglazing of chintz! The concept of glazing chintz with rice has me on tenterhooks! Elucidate please, Lady West. There's some faded chintz around here, in desperate need of a rice fix.

  2. A roast chicken (not a broiler) was certainly 'dear' in my childhood by both definitions: expensive and an absolute treat. It could only have been free range then.

    I am afraid my dear Mama went to her grave with her rice-glazing secret.
    I think everyone should experiment dipping fabric in the starchy water and publish their results, don't you. There must be an element of heat too I guess.

  3. Rice water will starch and if one irons starched stuff well it will polish. What intrigues me, Mr Worthington and Rose, is not that your mama planned to starch her curtains, with rice or not, but which vessel other than the bath tub would she use? An old kitchen copper?

    My disgust of chicken, mostly named "dead bird" goes back to that time when it was so dear and such a damned treat. Couldn't stand it then and really don't like it now.

    Glad, Mr Worthington, to read the name of Elizabeth David. My other half gave me a couple of christmases ago "Christmas by Elizabeth David." My favourite book of hers remains "English Bread and Yeast Cookery" and her recipe for potato bread makes a superb loaf.

  4. The closest Asian market to us is in Durham, and the corn starch is kept on a shelf next to nonfood kitchen articles. I was in the checkout line once when one of the owners asked me what I intended to do with my "cornstarch".
    "I'm going to use it to thicken a sauce."
    "No" the woman said. "That is used to loosen a drain on a sink."
    It was a small bag of lye.

  5. Now, I was going to ask the very same about the glazing of fabric using rice. Really, I need to get out more.

  6. Rose, I'm pleased that you're prolific as ever. The idea of rationing always put me in a frugal frame of mind, and there's certainly a great many here in Ghana living on a similar level of subsistence

    Could you please drop me a line at at your leisure?

    All best,


  7. During the Depression, my mother grew up in a town. My father grew up on a farm. My brother and I would know we needed to leave the table when the after dinner conversation would come round to which had it the harder. My mother said she longed for real meat (not spam,etc.) and great vegetables. My father would go on about if they killed a pig, all they had to eat was pork. If they killed a cow, all they had to eat was beef. And he knew that vegetables meant he had to do more than his share (being the youngest) of weeding and tending the garden. What he really wanted was wonder bread and a bologna sandwich. They had this conversation for over 40 years! All those years, she never served Spam. And he continued to hate left overs.

  8. Thanks all for your comments and anecdotes. I think this exhibition is very timely when we should be conserving our resources. The prize for some home-starched chintz is still running!

    Home, it's nothing to do with really bad times, but someone I know simply cannot bear to have a family Sunday roast because it was always a source of trauma in his chldhood. But that was something to do with his dad rolling home late from the pub, unable even to carve the meat!

  9. Great topic.

    My parents were married in March 1945 in Australia, still in the middle of rationing. My mother was very young and very slim, so she took her precious clothing rations to a children's shop and bought a white dress. She got far more for her ration coupons than she would have bought in an adult shop.

    I was born after the war, but rationing was over before it had much impact on my young life. In any case, Australian families didn't suffer in the same way as European families did, because almost everyone grew fruit trees in their back yard. And a few hens, if they could.


Related Posts with Thumbnails