Tag Archives: lifestyle

Food for thought – digging for victory in the Second World War

Spring will soon be with us and many people’s thought will be turning to their gardens. What will you plant this year? Some will plant flowers only, others vegetables, some a mixture of both. But during World War 2 your choices would have been very different.

U-boat attack

How to feed the population of Britain was one of the perennial questions during the Second World War. About 55 million tons of food was imported into the UK at the outbreak of war, but the German U-boats began to hunt the convoys which crossed the Atlantic, causing great losses in lives and supplies. Essential foodstuffs were rationed, and within a month of the outbreak of war the Ministry of Agriculture launched its ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign.

Everyone was encouraged to dig up their flower beds and lawns to create vegetable gardens. The idea was twofold – to provide much needed food for the local community whilst, at the same time, freeing up space in the merchant ships for military supplies. Gardens, sports grounds and parks were soon full of vegetables, even Buckingham Palace gardens and the lawns and moat at the Tower of London became large allotments.

Tower of London

poster-dig-victoryBy 1943 over one million tons of vegetables were being grown in the ‘Dig For Victory’ drive, all encouraged by Ministry of Agriculture ‘food flashes’, literature and poster displays. Two key cartoon characters who encouraged the gardeners were ‘Dr Carrot’ and ‘Potato Pete’ who often appeared on posters in railway and bus stations, and in leaflets. Over 10 million leaflets were distributed during the war. The government also provided innovative recipes, including curried carrot and carrotade (a drink made from carrots and swedes). When there was a glut of carrots Lord Woolton had a novel idea to encourage people to eat more. He said that RAF pilots were eating carrots to help them see better in the dark. Radar was still a secret so the general population had no idea what was behind the increasing success of the pilots. They knew that, like everyone else, pilots were eating a lot of carrots so Woolton’s propogandists got to work. Within no time at all everyone was eating carrots to improve their vision!

DrCarrot

potaot pete

People were also encouraged by Lord Wooton and others to try innovative recipes, and to scrub instead of peeling potatoes to avoid waste. As one poem put it:

Those who have the will to win,
Cook potatoes in their skin,
Knowing that the sight of peelings,
Deeply hurts Lord Woolton’s feelings.

As well as growing vegetables, people also kept their own chickens, rabbits, goats and pigs. About 6,000 pigs were raised; they were especially popular because they could be fed kitchen waste, and by the end of the war 900 ‘pig clubs’ had been set up to coordinate the collection of waste, and to purchase pigs for groups of families who couldn’t afford one of their own.

pig poster

Chickens were also popular. By 1943-44, people who kept hens in their gardens were producing around 25% of the country’s fresh eggs. By the end of the war there were over 250,000 members of the Domestic Poultry Keepers’ Council, raising in excess of twelve million birds.

In my novel Heronfield we get a clear feel for what life was like for civilians when Sarah’s mother turns her garden over to vegetable, bemoaning the loss of her beloved roses. But the importance of ‘Dig For Victory’ is then seen in the aftermath of the bombing of Coventry when people shared the supplies from their gardens in the first few desperate days before help arrived.

coventry-1940-595x498

As the war progressed it became clear to everyone that the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign had been far more successful than could ever have been imagined. However, it was recognised that there would still be a need for home grown food for a long time to come. Civilians were encouraged to keep gardening, keep digging, long after the war was over.

Rationing continued for the British people long after the war was over, and with it the work of growing vegetables. It was a number of years before roses once again replaced radishes, carnations replaced cabbages, and what had been lettuce beds were once more lawns for families to enjoy.

PortlandRoseGarden

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Wartime Christmas Cake Recipe

Christmas is fast approaching, but it’s not too late to make a Christmas cake if you haven’t already done so. We should consider ourselves lucky that we can bake a traditional rich, tasty fruitcake; during the Second World War that was not possible for the people of England.

January 1940 saw the beginning of rationing; by the end of August 1942 almost all food, apart from vegetables and bread, was rationed. The women of Britain became very creative in their cooking, producing tasty meals from simple ingredients. This frugality was carried over from the ordinary every day meals to celebrations. People hoarded their ration coupons before weddings and Christmas, both traditionally times of indulgence but, in the early 1940’s, times to ‘make do’. The government published recipes for all sorts of things, from hearty meals to cakes, which could be cooked using just the ingredients purchased with ration coupons.

The characters in my novel, ‘Heronfield’, would have baked a Christmas cake from this or a similar recipe.

Christmas Cake (makes about 10 portions)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons dried egg*

1/2 level teaspoon mixed spice

10 tablespoons milk

pinch of salt

8oz self-raising flour

3oz margarine

3oz sugar

8oz mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, raisins or prunes)

Method

  1. Sieve the flour, dried egg, spice and salt into a basin. Hold the sieve high to allow as much air as possible to get into the dry ingredients.
  2. Wash the currants and sultanas and remove any woody stalks. Stone and chop the raisins or prunes. If using prunes these should be soaked in cold water overnight.
  3. Cream the margarine and sugar together, and beat well to incorporate as much air as possible.
  4. Add the milk and sieved flour mixture together. Do this a little at a time to make the mixing easier. Beat well.
  5. Stir in the dried fruit.
  6. At this point, give the mixture a final stir and make a wish!
  7. Line a cake tin with greaseproof paper; brush the paper with melted margarine to prevent the cake sticking.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for one hour in a moderate oven (Gas Mark 4). Lower the heat and bake for a further 1 1/2 hours in a very slow oven (Gas Mark 1).

*People were allowed 1 egg each per week or one packet of dried egg, which was equivalent to 12 eggs

I wonder what people wished for when giving the final stir to the cake? The safety of a loved one? Peace? If you have made your own cake this year I hope that you, too, have made a wish.

And I hope that that wish will come true for you!

Christmas cake