Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Edwardian Christmas Pudding Recipe


I am not a huge fan of this modern obsession of shopping for Christmas gifts ridiculously early. Before the clocks have even been put back in October, people start stockpiling cards, biscuits, Quality Street, crackers and rolls of festive wrap! Actually, I don’t blame the shopper, after all some of the best seasonal bargains can be found on the high street in October and November. It is the greedy retailers with whom I would have harsh words. Early availability of bargains, pressurises cash-strapped households into buying items months well in advance of the Big Day.

Anyway, enough of my Bah Humbugging, I want to talk about Christmas food, when early preparation is essential. Last Sunday (20th November) was ‘Stir-up Sunday’, traditionally the optimum time to make your Christmas pudding. Making it now allows the dried fruit to develop a rich, full-bodied flavour thanks to a weekly ritual of ‘feeding’, which is simply drizzling alcohol over the top. November is also the best time to make your Christmas cake. Over the next few years, Stir-up Sunday takes place on the following dates:

  • 2017: 26th November
  • 2018: 25th November
  • 2019: 24th November
  • 2020: 22th November

For more information about the fascinating history and traditions associated with  Christmas puddings, cakes and mince pies, see this article I wrote in 2014. I also include lots of old Christmas pudding recipes at the article’s end. Don’t worry if you haven’t made your pudding or cake yet, you still have plenty of time.

In a few weeks’ time I am hoping to film a segment for a television company about Christmas puddings from the different eras. I have been enjoying researching and writing-up lots of old pudding recipes. It is fascinating to note trends in ingredients throughout the decades. For example, marmalade is popular in many 1940’s and 1950’s recipes.

Ration book era recipes also feature grated carrot and raw potato. In fact, I still use grated carrot in my normal pudding recipe, try it in yours, it really is delicious and helps keep the mixture moist as well as adding extra sweetness. It is important that you use fresh carrots, preferably organic. Carrots that have been lurking in the bottom of your fridge for a week or so tend to taste earthy, so are best avoided in baking.

I thought I would share with you the following recipe which I found in a recent addition to my vintage magazine collection, The World And His Wife (November, 1904). Recipe is written and created, especially for the magazine, by C. Herman Senn (1862-1934). It is a very rich version of the pudding, typical of the Edwardian era when culinary frugality, amongst the middle and upper classes, was almost unheard of.

Those who know the secret of a really good pudding prepare and cook it some weeks before it is required for table. The quantity given is for two good-sized puddings. Pour a little best brandy, rum or Kirsch round the base of the dish just before sending it to table and set it alight as it is taken into the dining-room:

Ingredients: 1/2 lb finely chopped beef suet; 2 ozs almonds (blanched, peeled and cut into strips); 1/2 lb raisins; 1/4 lb currants; 1/2 lb soft sugar; 1/4 lb chopped figs; 1/4 lb sultanas; 2 ozs candied peel; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg; 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice; juice of 1 orange; juice and finely-grated rind of 1 lemon; 1 wineglass of brandy; 6 ozs plain flour; 1/2 lb soft breadcrumbs; 1/2 pint milk; 6 eggs.

Method: When all these ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together, put the mixture into two well-greased pudding moulds or basins, cover each with a greased and floured cloth tied with string, and boil or steam for 5 or 6 hours.

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How Much Do You Really Know About 20th Century Food Culture?


I love quizzes, everything from University Challenge to pub quizzes, always have done. I am a total geek for general knowledge. Whenever I see a interactive quiz posted anywhere on social media, I am straight in there like a rat up a drainpipe! It is clickbait that I totally approve of.

I have never created my own on-line quiz before, until now. I discovered this free (well, on the basic package which works absolutely fine), simple and mobile-friendly quiz creation tool by QZZR. If you love quizzes too why not design one yourself?

I will be creating many more quizzes using this package but the subject matter I chose for my first was 20th Century food culture, it would be rude of me not too! Hope you enjoy it. This quiz is tricky but fun. Let me know how you get on and also if there are any 20th Century topics you would like me to create a quiz for?


I look forward to hearing from you…



Life Update


It feels good to be blogging again after a short break. Mini life update. Earlier this Summer I had a serious accident*, nearly lost my foot (yikes!) after suffering multiple closed fractures and joint dislocation in my right ankle. There followed a rather dramatic dash to one hospital then another, a short spell in Resus so many drugs I swear I had a near-death experience and 9 days as an in-patient on the orthopaedic trauma ward (where I wasn’t even allowed to get out of bed to wash or eat my dinner).

This was my first ever stay in hospital in 43 years on this earth so I consider myself very lucky indeed. Despite the obvious background trauma/drama, I can honestly say it was a very positive experience. Hoorah for the NHS (and the Pet Therapy team, a daily snuggle with a selection of delightful canines saved my sanity I can tell you). Surgery fixed the extensive damage that had been done to both bones and ligaments and  I was then sent home with a walking frame, crutches, wheelchair and a commode (I know, don’t laugh, ‘my throne’ was actually a Godsend I can tell you;)). I also had to have daily injections for 7 weeks so I didn’t develop a DVT.

For those of you who are medically minded, I had syndesmotic screws/fixations inserted  in my ankle and the truly brilliant surgical team were thrilled to tell me that they had, “saved my foot”. For that I am truly grateful.  Luckily, the accident happened in the 21st Century, a hundred years ago at the very best I would have lost my foot, at worst I may have died from an infection/haemorrhage.

I spent the entire Summer bedridden and unable to sit for any length of time at my laptop. All the medication played havoc with my memory too so the chance of me producing any coherent content over the last few months has been absolutely zero. I did try, many, many times to teach myself to crochet from a 1970’s Ladybird book. Thought it might kickstart my poor brain. Sadly, with limited concentration, I never got beyond an initial chain. I will be revisiting my ‘project crochet’ in the not too distant future and promise to keep you posted on progress.

Looking on the bright side, I am now undertaking intensive physiotherapy at hospital. I currently wear an Aircast boot and still need crutches if I go outside my house. Fingers crossed I may be walking again, without too much pain or swelling, in the not too distant future:)  My lower right leg is oddly shaped and I am not sure how long that will take to rectify itself. I also have absolutely no idea when I will (if ever!) be able to wear some of my lovely vintage shoes again but these are First World Problems as I am sure you will agree.


*I tripped on a rug, yep, accidents do happen at home. A simple trip with catastrophic consequences:(

Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Sorrel – The Comeback Kid

Last year, I planted a broad leaf sorrel clipping in my herb and vegetable garden. I will be honest, I had never eaten sorrel before neither did I know much about its culinary history. I had seen it as an ingredient in numerous historical recipes so I thought it would be a good addition to my heritage herb garden. This spring, that little sorrel plant grew like crazy! The two pics on the right (above) were taken in May and the plant grew even bigger (nearly twice as much again!) but because of the bad weather in June, I didn’t manage to photograph it at its peak.

Interestingly, our neighbours are from Hungary and in their food culture, sorrel is a really  important herb. It is used in many different sauces, soups and is often teamed with chicken and fish. I told my neighbours to help themselves to the leaves and we both shared the plant. I am just sorry that I don’t have a final pic of the plant in all its bushy glory. Our neighbour’s daughter ate the leaves like sweets after school for several days in a row. She absolutely loved them. How fantastic to see a child enjoying fresh produce rather than reaching for the Haribo.

Sorrel is becoming an increasingly popular ingredient, once again, with British restaurant chefs and foragers alike. Sorrel grows wild, in abundance, in public spaces but do be careful before you start picking it with gay abandon. Be safe and sure you know that are selecting the correct plants. If you are not confident foraging by yourself, join a local group. I did this a few year’s ago and went foraging in my park with a professional guide (for free!). It made me stop and think how careful you have to be as so many plants look similar but eating them can have very different outcomes if you don’t know what you are doing.

According to Larousse Gastronomique (1961 edition), sorrel is:

…a hardy perennial herb which dates back before 3000 BC and still grows wildly today in Asia, Europe and North America. It is also cultivated. In the thirteenth century it was listed as an English herb; it has long been used in the making of sauces and soups. The young under leaves of this plant, also called Sour Grass, are used as salad greens or as a vegetable. (p.897).


Since I had never eaten sorrel before I decided to try the following recipe for an omelette containing the herb. The recipe featured in a new book from my collection, Meatless Menus For Lunch, Dinner, and  Supper by Alfred Arm (edited by A. P. Laurie). Published in Scotland at the end of World War One (1918), this is a super little, meat free, cookery book.

Sorrel Omelette (1918)

  1. Mix a little melt-down sorrel with 3 eggs;
  2. Beat the eggs well, so that yolk and white are well mixed together; add pepper, salt, and fine herbs;
  3. Make butter hot in frying-pan, pour in the mixture, and stir over the fire with a fork till the eggs are on the point of setting;
  4. Draw the eggs to the end of the pan opposite the handle, and fold the sides towards the middle;
  5. When the omelette is nicely formed, turn it over on to a hot dish, and serve;
  6. Note: To make a proper omelette one has to keep a special pan for nothing else but omelettes and fried eggs. If the pan is not quite clean, the eggs will stick to the bottom of it, and will be apt to spoil the omelette.

By the end of World War One, the British people were having to endure rationing, food was in very short supply. In fact at one point, the nation was only 6 weeks away from starvation. The introduction to Meatless Menus contains some interesting thoughts about Britain’s need to be self-sufficient in times of national crisis. Quite a few points that seem to resonate in this post-Brexit Britain climate:

The shortage of food due to the war has the nation to consider both home food production and the most economical use of food… In the matter of food production we are now convinced that in our small sea-girt  island the land must be utilised for the production of the largest quantity of food, apart from individual profit; in the use of food we must take lessons from our Continental neighbours, and learn to utilise the various foodstuffs which are obtainable outside of meat, and give up the extravagance of our ordinary habits of eating and cookery.

It must, however, be remembered that the production of the largest quantity of food means that we must become a grain-growing country, producing wheat, barley, and oats, and therefore that we shall have less land available for the feeding of animals.

This country is capable of producing large quantities of cereals, vegetables, and eggs, and the sea surrounding us supplies us, in normal times, with unlimited quantities of fish. If, therefore, we alter the diet of the past, we can become very largely self-supporting in the matter of food, with advantage both in economy and health, and it is to be hoped that these war lessons will result in a permanent alteration in the food habits of this country. (pp. 3-4)

Another lovely recipe I found is Elizabeth David’s (1913-1992) hake with sorrel, featured in French Country Cooking (1951). David observes that in early 1950’s Britain:

Sorrel is not often seen in England, although I have managed to buy it in London from time to time, and some enterprising people grow it in their garden. It has a delicious flavour, rather acid, and is a perfect foil for fish and eggs.

For Colin à l’oseille, poach a large piece of hake or rock salmon in a court-bouillon with an onion, herbs, and lemon peel. Clean the sorrel (about 1lb), and cook it as for spinach, with as little water as possible. Make this into a puree by putting it through a sieve, mix in 2 yolks of eggs, a little French tarragon mustard, a few leaves of raw sorrel which you have reserved, chopped finely with a few leaves of tarragon. Serve the fish on this green bed, either hot or cold, garnished with lemon. A fine summer dish. (p.65)

Sorrel is an incredibly versatile herb. Apart from soups, sauces, eggs and fish it can also be preserved or simply served as a side dish with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a knob of butter. It has a strong, slightly bitter taste but if you like spinach, the texture is exactly the same when cooked or braised. I truly believe that this abundant, wild and cultivated herb with its ancient culinary roots, rightly deserves its place at the British dining table once more.

Food History, Get Creative, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Make Your Own Crystallised & Candied Angelica

  • Garden angelica or wild celery, Angelica archangelica. Handcoloured copperplate engraving after a drawing by James Sowerby for James Smith’s English Botany, 1813. (Photo by Florilegius/SSPL/Getty Images)

Has anyone noticed that it is almost impossible to find candied or crystallised angelica in British supermarkets these days? Even health food shops seem to no longer stock it. Yet another retro-ingredient which has been consigned to the big shopping basket in the sky. If you want to purchase glace angelica then one of the few places you still can is online, from Wilton Foods.

Until the late 1980s, angelica was a very popular decoration on sweets and some savoury dishes. In the 1950s and 60s, nearly every cake baked had a topping consisting of a glace cherry and a diamond shaped piece of angelica. According to Larousse Gastronomique (1961 edition):

Angelica is a biennial herb rendered hardy by scientific cultivation…..grows wild in the Alps, in the Pyrenees and in northern Europe. It has always been valued as a stimulant, stomachic, carminative and anti-spasmodic…The fresh stalks, candied in sugar, make a pleasant preserve, used by confectioners and wine and spirit merchants under the name of Niort angelica, Nevers angelica, Châteaubriand angelica.

The roots, which come principally from Bohemia, are rugose, grey outside and white inside. They are aromatic, musky, have a sweet taste to begin with, which later becomes acrid and bitter.

They contain a volatile oil, angelicine, angelic acid, tannin, malic acid, pectic acid, the malates, etc. These roots possess very strong digestive and antidyspeptic properties, owing to which they enter into the composition of Melissa cordial and several other liqueurs such as chartreuse, vespetro, gin and English bitters. (p.38).

I had always wanted to have a go at making my own candied/crystallised angelica and researched suitable recipes from various cookery books in my collection. There are also a number of websites and blogs that will guide you through the process. It isn’t easy and although I had fun trying, I am not entirely sure if it is something I would do on a regular basis. It takes about 4 days (or 5, depending on which recipe you follow).

The first step was to source an angelica plant for my garden. Not as straightforward as I first thought. I tried all garden centres in and around the city where I live, I then widened my search to include the New Forest. Luckily, I did find a garden centre just outside the New Forest, which had recently taken a delivery of the plants.

As soon as it was planted, my angelica took, immediately. This was a huge surprise to me as the raised bed, where I grow all of my herbs and vegetables, has poor soil quality (very stony). In fact it started to grow so quickly I feared one morning I would have a Little Shop of Horror situation on my hands. If you do grow angelica, it is important to support the plant with a bamboo cane to which you should tie, loosely, the central stalk. If you don’t stake the plant, in the British wind and rain the stem will snap very easily. The plant may look hardy but it is quite brittle to the touch.

Make sure that the plant has enough room to accommodate its thick stems and leaves. Although, the plant only really spreads out from the top, don’t crowd its base. I left the plant to grow for about 5 weeks and then decided to take the plunge by cutting-off several of its stems. Cutting these stems served to stimulate the plant’s growth even more and I am now on my second stake!

The candied angelica recipe I chose to adapt came from Preserves For All Occasions by Alice Crang (1953 edition). The recipe recommended coating the stems in fresh sugar syrup everyday, for 8 days. I have to be honest I didn’t do 8 days. Other recipes suggested anywhere from 2 to 12. I decided to go for 3 days.

Candied & Crystallised Angelica

(Preserves For All Occasions by Alice Crang, 1953 edition, p.101)

The stems of the angelica need to be young, tender and green. The roots and leaves should be cut off. I have made Alice Crang’s original recipe more user-friendly for the modern cook.

  1. Soak the stems for 10 minutes in brine made from a teaspoonful of salt to a quart (2 pints) of boiling water;
  2. Remove stems and place in a pan of fresh, unsalted, boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes;
  3. Drain and gently scrape stems to remove the outer skin;
  4. With a sharp knife, split the stems and cut into various lengths and place in a sterilized glass jar;
  5. Make a sugar syrup using 1 pint of water and 10 ozs caster sugar. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Never leave a saucepan of boiling syrup unattended. The syrup is ready when you see the mixture has slightly thickened;
  6. Allow the syrup to cool for 15 minutes and then pour over stems in jar. Seal jar with lid. Store jar in a cool place away from direct sunlight for 24 hours;
  7. On Day 2 of the process, drain the stems in a small sieve over a bowl or jug. Washing your jar in hot water, dry and place the stems back inside. Place the syrup into a saucepan together with 1/2 pint of cold water and 2 heaped tablespoonfuls of caster sugar. Bring syrup to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, allow to cool for 15 minutes near an open window. Pour syrup into the jar and seal the jar immediately;
  8. Repeat step 7, another 2-4 times over successive days;

Stop at this point if you want candied angelica. Continue if you want crystallised angelica. You choice will depend upon the type of finish that you want on your bakes. A frosted or clear design? Of course, you could always store your angelica in the syrup permanently and just bake the stems to crystallise them as and when required.

  1. Drain the stems and place on an ovenproof dish that has been lined with greaseproof paper. Bake at 60C for 4 hours. Check every hour. The sugar syrup will start to crystallise after a couple of hours;
  2. Whilst the stems are crystallising in the oven, sterilise your jar once more and during the last hour of baking, place it in the oven to dry out;
  3. After 4 hours (you can go longer than this if you want your angelica to be less supple and more rigid, for example if you have an elaborate cutwork design in mind), remove stems from oven and leave to dry, covered with muslin or a breathable net cover;
  4. Once the stems are completely dry, place in the jar and secure lid tightly. Stems should be stored in a cool, dry place and will keep for quite a long time.

I have read it can last, in a jar, up to 2 years but since I don’t know this for sure I cannot confirm to you. I am only on my first month!

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Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Bread & Butter Pudding

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  • 1959, husband about to taste his wife’s home-made hot bread and butter pudding (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Bread and butter pudding is as British as, well, rain on a Summer’s day. Definitely not a pudding for those on low-calorie/carb/dairy-free diets but perfect if you are on a low-budgets. It is comfort food at its very best and goodness knows we all need a bit of comforting at the moment.

Using bread in puddings can be traced back to medieval times, it was purely practical, soaking-up sweet and savoury liquids like a sponge. The dish used to be associated with invalid or thrifty cookery canons. This is due to it being easy to digest and a clover way of using-up leftover stale bread. The earliest bread and butter puddings were called whitepot and made with butter or bone marrow.

One of the first cookery books to feature a recipe for bread and butter pudding was Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife of 1728. Below is another recipe by Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) which appeared in her 1747 edition of The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy:

A Bread Pudding: Cut off all the crust of a Penny white loaf and slice it thin into a quart of new milk, set it over a chafing dish of coals, till the bread has soaked up all the milk, then put in a piece of sweet butter, stir it round, let it stand till cold, or you may boil your milk, and pour over your bread, and cover it up close, does full as well; then take the Yolks of six eggs, the whites of three, and beat them up, with a little rosewater, and nutmeg, a little salt, and sugar, and if you choose it, mix all well together, and boil it half an hour. (p. 109)

In my copy of an 1861 edition of A Plain Cookery Book For The Working Classes by Anglo-Italian cook, Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805–10 August 1876), there are two ‘bread pudding’ recipes:

No.42. A Bread Pudding For A Family: Ingredients, a two-pound loaf, two quarts of milk, two ounces of butter, four ounces of sugar, four ounces of plums or currants, three eggs, a piece of lemon-peel chopped, and a spoonful of salt. Divide the loaf into four equal-sized pieces, and soak them in boiling-water for twenty minutes, then squeeze out the water, and put the bread into a saucepan with the milk, butter, sugar, lemon-peel, and salt, and stir all together on the fire till it boils; next add the beaten eggs and the currants; pour the pudding into a proper sized greased baking-dish, and bake it for an hour and a-quarter. (pp.29-30)

No. 43. A Batter and  Fruit Pudding: Ingredients, two quarts of milk, one pound of flour, four eggs, eight ounces of sugar, one quart of fruit (either plums, gooseberries, currants, etc), one ounce of butter, a good pinch of salt. First, mix the flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and a pint of the milk, by working all together in a basin or pan, with a spoon, and when quite smooth, add the remainder of the milk; work the batter thoroughly, and pour it into a large pie-dish, greased with the butter; add the fruit, and bake the pudding for an hour and a quarter. (p.30)

In another cookery book from my collection, Mrs Beeton’s Cookery published in 1948 during the ration book era, I discovered another two recipes. One version suggests baking the pudding, another boiling it.

Bread And Butter Pudding, Baked: Cut off the crust of 5 or 6 thin slices of bread and butter and divide each slice of bread into 4 squares, arrange them in layers in a well greased piedish, and sprinkle each layer with sultanas or whatever is being used. Beat 2 eggs, add 1 dessertspoonful of sugar, stir until dissolved, then mix in 1 pint of milk and pour gently over the bread, which should only half fill the dish. Let it stand at least 1 hour for the bread to soak, then bake in a moderately cool oven for nearly 1 hour. (p.163)

Bread Pudding, Baked Or Boiled. Break 8oz of stale bread into small pieces, cover them with cold water, soak for about 1/2 an hour, then strain and squeeze dry. Beat out all the lumps with a fork, and stir in 2oz of sugar, 2 oz of finely-chopped suet, 4 oz of raisins or currants, clean and picked, a good pinch of nutmeg, and mix well. Add an egg, previously beaten, and as much milk as is necessary to make the mixture moist enough to drop readily from the spoon. Pour into a greased piedish and bake gently for about 1 hour. When done, turn out on to a hot dish, and dredge well with sugar. If preferred boiled, the mixture should be put into a greased basin and steamed or boiled for about 2 hours. Serve with a sweet sauce if like. (p.163)

Below is my version of bread and butter pudding. I would class it as a luxury version, on account that I have included some slightly more pricey ingredients, i.e. brioche and pecans. However, using ordinary bread and swapping pecans for 110g of sultanas will still produce a delicious dessert. Remember bread and butter pudding is also delicious when eaten cold, in slices. Adapt the recipe according to your budget at the time, either save or splurge:)


Ingredients: 1 loaf of brioche bread; unsalted butter; glace cherries; 2 large handful of pecan nuts; freshly grated nutmeg; 1 teaspoonful ground cinnamon; 2 tablespoons of Demerara sugar; 1 and 1/4 pints of milk; 4 beaten eggs; cold water.


  1. Preheat oven to 180C;
  2. Grease an oven-proof dish. Lasagne or rectangular dishes work best;
  3. Mix together in a jug: the milk, beaten eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans;
  4. Generously butter bread slices;
  5. Arrange the bread slices, buttered side up, in an oven-proof dish;
  6. Pour the wet mixture over the bread and leave for at least 30 minutes;
  7. Sprinkle the pudding with Demerara sugar and chopped glace cherries;
  8. Cover dish with oven-proof foil;
  9. Place dish in a roasting tin or larger dish with high sides. Fill that tin or large dish with cold water until it reaches just over half-way up the sides of your main pudding dish. Do not go any higher as you don’t want to waterlog your pudding. Placing your pudding in a water bath like this, helps cook the wet mixture so you do not end-up with a really sloppy pudding. The pudding should be set firm;
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Discard the foil and return dish to oven and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes until it is set and lightly brown;
  11. Serve with fresh cream or ice-cream.


Blancmange, Food History, Get Creative, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Fanny Cradock’s Bavarois A La Zizi

I should really rename this post, ‘Pimp My Blancmange’. Once I made this dessert, I went on to add lots of glitter and floral embellishments. I couldn’t resist. Not really sure Mrs Cradock would have approved of such vulgar gilding. Anyway, retro food should be fun and I certainly had a lot of fun with this dish. A word of warning though, it takes a long time before the final dessert is ready to eat. Each layer needs plenty of time to set.

So, what is a Bavarois and what does à la zizi mean? According to the chef’s bible, Larousse Gastronomique (1961 edition):

Bavarian Cream. Bavarois – In the past this cold sweet used to be called fromage bavarois. This is the name Carême gives it in his Traité des entremets de douceur … The dish, of solid consistency, should not be confused with the liquid preparation known as the bavaroise, which used to be called crème bavaroise (Bavarian cream), and according to culinary historians, was invented in Bavaria towards the end of the seventeenth century.

The bavarois in the olden days were prepared quite differently from the present-day method. The mixture was not bound with yolks of egg, but only with clarified isinglass. (p.108)

Cradock’s recipe takes the bavarois to another level. Striped bavarois was not an uncommon sight on historic dining tables but à la zizi is a tad more radical. Simply translated this means, ‘at a slant’. The recipe I used appeared in Cradock’s 1967 booklet, Problem Cooking With Fanny Cradock – BBC TV.

I wouldn’t necessarily classify a bavaroisà la zizi as ‘problem cooking’ but it is not without a few issues. It takes a long time to make, so plan ahead if you are hoping to have it at a special occasion or dinner party. Cradock writes:

When you have time to spare there is a very impressive and absurdly easy method of presenting different gelatine mixtures or Bavarois cream mixtures in decorative layers. This was created by the famous chef of the Reform Club, August Soyer, who had an obsession for everything at the slant or à la zizi  – from his ties and waistcoats to his sweet and savoury gelatine confections.(p.14)

Take a plain jelly mould or basin. Rinse with cold water for jellies or aspics, or brush with olive oil for creams and mousses. Stand container on the table with an inverted tablespoon underneath one side, so that the container is fairly steeply tipped. Pour in yellow mixture until it covers the base of the up-tilted side. Leave until set. (P.14)

Reverse basin so that the opposite side is tilted by upturned spoon. Pour in second layer of green mixture. When set, reverse container and add an orange layer. Continue this process reversing the basin after each layer has set and until the container is filled.  (P.15)

Cradock’s recipe colour scheme consists of alternate layers: orange, green and yellow. I decided to opt instead for a Neapolitan style colour scheme, i.e. chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. I chose a pudding basin rather than a mould. I did find it tricky to hold the basin ‘on the slant’ after each layer. As the basin became increasingly full, the weight of the contents meant I had to shore-up each slant of the bowl so it didn’t slide back down.

The inverted spoon suggestion by Cradock doesn’t really work on a basin. Gravity issues I’m afraid. I suggest trying this recipe with a small bowl or mould first before progressing straight to a pudding basin as I did. This is such an attractive and fun dessert. Don’t worry if your slant lines are wonky, you can always cover any mistakes with a bit of glitter and a couple of edible flowers:)



Get Creative

Vintage Crafting – Make Do & Mending.

DSCF5435I craft, a lot. A majority of these projects are inspired by my collection of vintage magazines, books and ephemera. I also have a vast collection of post-war dress and knitting patterns. I am certainly no expert but give me a collection of fabric scraps, trimmings and a few buttons, I will hand you back something pretty and gift-worthy that has cost virtually nothing except my time. Over the last few years I have made quite a few items that I am particularly proud of, so I thought I would share some of those with you here.

The first was a 40th birthday present for one my best friends, I made a smocked evening bag with an original 1960s gold-plated handle and clasp. This was not an easy craft project. I have never smocked before but would definitely do it again. It is actually quite easy and gives a very pretty finish (once you get your head around all the precise marking-up and tacking). The 1960s handle and clasp had been lurking at the bottom of my craft box for ages and it was very easy to sew onto the bag.  The difficult aspect of this project was actually the lining. Getting it neatly inside was not easy and this took the most time to complete.

To go with the handbag, I made a 1930’s inspired felt flower corsage. I love working with felt. In fact if you are new to crafting and want instant results to get your confidence up, then purchase some felt and start experimenting. Felt is very cheap to purchase, usually 50p per square and it comes in a wide range of colours. Some of the many benefits of working with felt include: easy to hand sew, edges don’t fray, easy to cut and shape, perfect for craft projects.

A few years ago, I attended a free craft workshop to learn how to make felt (wet felting method). It was brilliant fun! So easy to do. If you cannot find a suitable workshop to attend, then take a look at this blog tutorial which clearly explains how to wet-felt. Below are pics from my first attempt at wet felting.

Felt flower corsages were incredibly popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Women’s magazines from this period were full of felt flower crafting suggestions. A 1927 edition of Woman’s Weekly printed instructions on how to make ‘flowers of felt, everybody admires these little cloth or felt buttonholes, and they are so easy to make at home.’ The article then goes on to suggest:

You can make the daintiest roses and marguerites for buttonholes from an old felt hat. If you have no old hats to cut up, then ask your special tailor or dressmaker for some cuttings of velour cloth, duvetyn, or heavy coatings. Make the little flowers in two shades, such as mauve and blue or brown and gold. If you make them all one colour, then they must match the coat with which they will be worn.

In 1937, another Woman’s Weekly ran an article on how to make ‘gay felt anemones, to wear under your chin!’.

Felt is the most popular fashion fabric of the moment, and flowers are the most popular accessory. So we have combined the two with charming results! To make these enchanting felt flowers you will need: 1 piece each of purple, royal blue, jade green, and dark green felt.

Cut 5 petals from the purple felt. Be sure to cut them on the cross. Cut a strip of purple and a strip of blue, both 1 and 1/2 inches wide, and 4 inches long, and fringe one side. Next cut a half circle of dark green. Slash this evenly (for the foliage).

Roll the long fringed pieces together and sew the base firmly. Sew the petals around the centre, then stitch the green foliage to the backs of the petals. Make a jade green flower, with a jade green and dark green centre and a blue flower with a blue and purple centre. Sew the three flowers together and add three strips of dark green, 4 inches long and 1/4 inch wide, for stems. Stretch the petal edges, so that they curl slightly.

Regular readers will know, I often appear on Solent News Now with my vintage household hacks and retro thrifting tips. I often demonstrate crafting on a budget too (above are a few examples of my recent crafts), upcycling fabric scraps and accessories.  Below are pics of some of my best upcycled craft projects.

A couple of years ago, I started collecting retro-style full and short aprons. It has become somewhat of a tradition amongst my family and friends to give me this type of apron for birthdays and Christmas. I have quite a few original post-war apron patterns as well as reproduction ones too. One of my favourite apron makes was Simplicity reproduction pattern number 3544. The pattern in based upon examples stored in Simplicity’s archive and includes apron styles from 1948 and 1952. I made view A.

There is a lot of fabric in this apron as well as being one of those ‘head scratching’ patterns containing multiple pieces. But having said all of that, it was easy to follow and relatively inexpensive to make. The cotton I chose cost £1.99 per metre, this apron required 2 and 1/2 metres (115 cm width). All of the trimmings I had in my box of oddments. I also purchased  6 metres of hot pink satin bias binding which cost approximately £2.20. All in all the apron cost less than £8!

Happy sewing and do share any pics of your upcycled sewing endeavours either via the comments box below or Twitter (@emmahistorian).


Get Creative

My First Flower Arrangement, A Homage To Constance Spry & Floral Crowns.


To cheer myself recently, I had a go at making a fresh flower arrangement. It was my first ever attempt. It cost me £1.80 for the oasis and all flowers sourced from my parents’ garden. Recent rain had well and truly battered my mother’s roses so it was a nice way to give those blossoms, which were on the cusp of being lost for another year, a second chance at life.

If you are having friends and family round for dinner, then a simple flower arrangement can make an attractive focal point on your dining or coffee table. A few flowers in a jam-jar brighten-up even the most sparse of interiors. My mother is excellent at flower-arranging but I have no clue whatsoever what I am doing. Here are few basic tips for anyone wanting to have a go  from both my local florist and mother:

  • Purchase some oasis. Most florists sell blocks to the public. You need oasis that can soak-up water (wet foam), the other type (a buff colour) is not suitable for water and is used for dry or synthetic flower arrangements.  Shop around for your oasis, I have since purchased another block of oasis from my local indoor market for £1. My arrangement pictured here used a whole block but if you want a smaller arrangement, each block should give you 3 smaller table arrangements;
  • Choose a suitable container. Anything will do, as long as it is waterproof. If you use a wicker basket or other natural materials, then you will need to double line the container with plastic;
  • Always leave at least 1 inch of the oasis block above the top edge of your container. Don’t be tempted to mould oasis flush to the outer rim. This tip came from my florist. She said it was a common mistake beginners make and end-up with a small piece of oasis, lots of flowers in it and wonder why it only lasts a few days;
  • Don’t be stingy when you add the water to your oasis. Add water to your oasis before you begin arranging. One block took several large jugs of water. You need to top-up the water in your oasis in subsequent days to keep your flowers etc fresh. Don’t over water though as any excess water not soaked-up into the oasis will go stagnant;
  • Start with your greenery. Build a base before putting in your first flowers;
  • Only puncture the oasis once with the stem. This is a useful tip that the florist told me. If you put a flower or greenery into the oasis and change your mind about its position, remove and make another hole close-by. If you don’t and reposition in the same hole, that hole can become stagnant and water-logged;
  • Don’t put flowers that have recently been rained upon immediately into your arrangement. Flowers are best picked when dry. However, our wet Summer at the moment may mean that you have no choice here. Therefore, tap excess water off of your cut flowers and leave to drain on kitchen paper for about 20 minutes. This is what I did. The florist told me that roses with water inside the heads will rot from the inside very quickly. I had a couple where I obviously didn’t manage to get all of the water out of and these died first.

  • British Pathé film, ‘Flowers For The Home’ (1955).

Domestic flower arranging or floral design as it is now more commonly referred to, has fallen in and out of fashion since World War Two. In the 1950s, arrangements were relatively conservative. I have a 1955 copy of Pins and Needles Treasure Book of Home-Making edited by Christine Veasey.

Veasey devotes an entire chapter to what she calls, ‘Indoor Gardening’ which is essentially decorating your home with flowering plants, flower arrangements, terrariums, miniature gardens and ferns. Popular indoor plants included hyacinths, narcissi, lily-of-the-valley, African violets, foliage plants, azalea, abutilon, cyclamen, clivia miniata, chrysanthemum and cineraria.

Pins and Needles Treasure Book of Home-Making edited by Christine Veasey (1955)


On the subject of miniature gardens, Veasey suggests:

Dish gardens may be made in deep plates or shallow bowls of glass, porcelain, pottery, brass, or pewter; or in baking pans painted to harmonise with the furniture. Requiring no drainage, dish gardens can be kept on polished tables and window-sills….The simplest dish garden contains a single plant such as an aloe, Chinese evergreen sansevieria, or desert cactus. Fill dish partly with soil or fibre; set plant in it, spreading the roots as much as possible; and cover with enough soil or fibre to hold plant upright.

A slightly more elaborate garden-popular for breakfast and luncheon tables and desks-may contain several plants, perhaps a sansevieria, an aloe, and a Chinese rubber-plant-all very small plants. Miniature forests grown from seed of grapefruit, oranges, dates, from berries or juniper, or from seed shaken from the cones of the Christmas tree are lovely in dishes. (pp.155-6)

  • British Pathé film, ‘Flower Piece’ (1945), featuring Constance Spry.

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  • British floral expert Constance Spry creates a centrepiece for her home, 1953. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The Queen of post-war flower-arranging was society florist, Constance Spry (1886-1960). Often ridiculed now on account of her rather prissy and straight-laced floral designs. However, to write Spry off in this way is to completely misunderstand her design style. Although hugely influential in 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, many of her arrangements were cutting edge.

Her designs have influenced generations of professional and amateur flower arrangers. In many respects she was ahead of her time. For example, Spry often used a single flower in a vase or fruit, vegetables (including rhubarb leaves) in her arrangements. We now think of these design choices as a modern invention but no, it was Spry who first suggested their use.

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  • Spry with some sewing, 1953. Published in Housewife magazine – October 1961. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Despite a prim and proper appearance, the married Spry, had a lifelong companion, the cross-dressing lesbian artist, Hannah ‘Gluck’ Gluckstein (1895-1978). Gluck was known for her floral paintings and enjoyed many commissions from Spry’s society friends. Spry also helped to re-style Gluck, transforming her rather androgynous look into a couture-wearing (Stribel, Shciaparelli) glamour puss. Spry ended their relationship in 1936.

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  • Shop assistants at Constance Spry Ltd, a flower shop at 64, South Audley Street, London, June 1947.

Spry was a brilliant businesswoman who also wrote many cookery books with business partner, Rosemary Hume (1907-1984). Hume is credited with inventing the iconic Coronation chicken in 1953. The original recipe appeared in Hume and Spry’s The Constance Spry Cookery Book. In 1934, Spry opened her famous shop, Flower Decorations, in South Audley St, Mayfair, London. An English Heritage blue plaque marks the shop’s location.

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  • Constance Spry Ltd, a flower shop at 64, South Audley Street, London, June 1947. (Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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  • Spry wraps a bouquet in her flower shop, June 1947. (Photo by George Konig/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A few fun flower-arranging facts:

  • Oasis was invented by V.L. Smithers in 1954. In the same year, Smithers founded his company, Smithers-Oasis, to specialise in creating and selling floristry products. Smithers-Oasis are located in Kent, Ohio.
  • Floral tape was invented during World War One.
  • The National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies was formed in Britain in 1959 and now has a membership of approximately 72,000.
  • The world’s largest flower arrangement was created in January 2014 in Tangshan China. The arrangement at Tangshan Sihai Culture Communications Co., Ltd measured 7.16 x 10.65 x 1.41 metres;
  • The most expensive rose is the Juliet Rose, first introduced to the world at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2006 by rose breeder David Austin. The Juliet Rose took 15 years to create and more than £3 million to produce. Bouquets containing the rose start from around £90.

  • A 1960s housewife creates an abstract flower arrangements for her suburban home. British Pathé film ‘Flower Sculpture’ (1969).

As the above film demonstrates, 1960s domestic flower arrangements become more abstract, minimalist and broke-free from formal design constraints popular in the 1950s. The 1960s was all about expressing one’s individuality and containers were less traditional, leaving the arranger to be inventive. Local florists offered a limited range of flowers, unlike today. Carnations, chrysanthemums, daisies, lilies, gladiolas and roses as well as blossoms sourced from the garden, were all popular choices.

  • Plenty of ‘flower power’ at this 1967 love-in at Woburn Park, Bedfordshire.

As you might imagine, in a decade that introduced the world to ‘flower power’ and hippies, 1960’s youth culture created a whole new language of flowers. The colour palate of domestic floral arrangements moved away from earthy tones, bright yellow, burnt orange and browns to hot pinks, electric blue and vibrant greens.

The 1970s also witnessed a decline in the use of freshly cut flowers. Instead, artificial flower arrangements became popular, a trend that continued well into the 1980s. I remember my own mother going crazy for silk flowers. On every windowsill and bedroom in our house, there was a faux-flower arrangement.

Flower-arranging is no longer associated with the twin-set and pearls brigade of 1950’s middle England. Millennials are also enjoying getting creative with fresh flowers. Floral crowns are a sought after accessory on the festival scene. Influential Vlogger, Sprinkle of Glitter (AKA Louise Pentland) recently posted a floral crown tutorial on her main You Tube Channel. Since May, the video has received over 120K views.

If you are looking for a fun, easy and cheap hobby this Summer, then have a go making an arrangement. Get creative and let your imagination run wild.

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Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

BBC Radio Wales, WW2 Ration Book Diet, Post-Brexit Food Woes, Wartime Eggless Recipes.

  • Interesting 1944 film about food rationing which also includes details of Britain’s pre-war reliance on imported food. Seems relevant again now in Post-Brexit Britain.

By the time this book appears I hope many of you will be looking forward to digging up some of your own early vegetables. Those who have “dug for victory” will surely be interested in new ways of cooking and serving their young carrots, their early peas and new potatoes, not to speak of all the wealth of green stuff that will be coming along with the late spring and summer. To those who do not know it, therefore, here is a new and delicious way to cook all vegetables.

(The Stork Wartime Cookery Book by Susan Croft, c.1940, p.52)

On Tuesday 31st May, at the crack of dawn, well 7.55am to be precise, I appeared on BBC Radio Wales to discuss the British diet during World War Two. The interview is available on BBC iPlayer for a few more days, until Thursday 30th June. You will find my interview approximately 1 hour 24 minutes into the programme.

Inspiration for the segment was William Sitwell’s, Eggs Or Anarchy: The remarkable story of the man tasked with the impossible: to feed a nation at war, recently published by Simon & Schuster (UK). Sitwell’s book reveals the heroic tale of how Lord Woolton (1883-1964), Minister for Food, fed Britain during World War Two. Lord Woolton even had a recipe named after him, ‘Lord Woolton Pie’ (printed at end of this article).

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  • Lord Woolton in 1940 reviewing some of the Ministry of Food’s, ‘Kitchen Front’ campaign literature.

It is no surprise to learn, that many Brits in modern times appear to have lost control of their relationship with food. The obesity epidemic (pandemic!) is already upon us, putting a tremendous strain on our already burdened NHS not to mention other public resources.

I recently had to make almost daily visits to my local hospital and was struck by just how bad the obesity problem had actually become. Fat seems to be the new normal. Hospital wards, corridors and communal areas were a veritable parade of lard.

On one heart-stopping occasion, I got into a lift suitable for only 13 persons, it was a stiflingly hot day. We are all crammed in like padded sardines, I looked around and counted 8 heads. There was no room, whatsoever, for a 9th person, let alone another 5! In the immortal words of Private Frazer I thought, “We’re doomed!”.

It is no secret that I have never been a skinny girl. In fact, I have spent most of my adult years either slim, curvy or on occasion, plump. When my scales tip into unacceptable territory, I do something about it, straightaway. My downfall is not junk food, carbs, excessive sugar, fizzy drinks or poor eating habits. In fact, I eat very healthily, rarely get sick, catch a cold or flu, my problem is  lack of exercise. Will the government’s new Sugar Tax stop me putting-on weight? Absolutely not but a free gym membership might.

Those recent hospital visits were a complete eye-opener to me. It wasn’t just visitors and patients carrying too much timber, it was staff as well. A quick visit to the canteen revealed a limited range of ‘healthy’ menu options, perhaps therein lies one reason behind so many overweight staff and visitors? The meals being served to patients were stodgy at best and totally unappetising at worst.

The wards were so understaffed, it is no wonder that meal breaks are probably a luxury rather than a necessity whatever the law otherwise dictates. No medical professional worth their salt is going to abandon a patient in need of assistance just so they can dash-off for their dinner!

Staff need to be given proper rest breaks of a length suitable to be able to sit down and eat a proper meal rather than a ‘grab and go’ snack. Concentrated in one building was a very sad example of how broken down our relationship with food has become. If a hospital cannot set a healthy example then there really is little hope for the rest of us.

So, does revisiting past food trends and models, such as those created by Lord Woolton and his Ministry of Food in World War Two, provide us with possible solutions to our current obesity epidemic? I think the answer is, maybe yes.

William Sitwell is certainly on to something here. He argues that we should declare war on modern dietary habits and bring back a form of food rationing, a revised model that could work in harmony with our busy lives. Let’s take a look at the evidence for this argument. During Britain’s food rationing years (1940-1954):

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  • People were better educated on diet, roles of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats;
  • The need to keep healthy was emphasised. No fad diets or use of pretentious, over-priced, ingredients;
  • The government issued information pamphlets and easy-to-follow cookbooks (Hard Time Cookery – 1940 was particularly popular a mix of food education and nutritious recipes) for everyone;
  • Food Advice Centres were set-up everywhere so that anyone had access to free diet and cooking advice for working with restricted ingredients;
  • Many women worked, even married women. So the modern argument of ‘I have no extra capacity to prepare meals, from scratch, for my family as well as working full-time’ really doesn’t fly;
  • Food waste was lower. Nothing was wasted. Leftover food was either recycled or given to domestic pets. Bones, scraps, giblets, gristle went into the stockpot;
  • Rationing was a social leveller. The less well-off ate better and could afford all ingredients and therefore had access to healthy dishes;
  • The British diet contained virtually no fat, very low-levels of dairy, sugar and red meat;
  • Alternatives to sugar included carrots, potatoes and beetroots;
  • Child mortality  was at an all-time low. In 1939 it was 62 in every 1000, in 1944 this figure fell to 45 in every 1000;
  • Average calories contained in a school meal during World War Two was 1,000, as opposed to now where they contain 530 calories and 20 grams of fat;
  • Children were more active and walked or cycled everywhere so easily burned-off their lunchtime calorie intake;
  • Children didn’t consume afterschool processed snacks or fizzy drinks to tied them over until dinner. Most children had either a home-cooked meal in the evening or a healthy tea;
  • Children were well-nourished, taller, sturdier and rates of tooth decay during the 14 years of rationing were extremely low;
  • The Vitamin Welfare Scheme (introduced in December 1941) enabled all children under the age of 2 to receive cheap or free fruit juices and vitamins including cod liver oil;
  • People grew their own vegetables, organic foodstuff is NOT a modern invention, prior to the 1960s, everyone ate organic, unprocessed foods;
  • Hardly any food containing chemicals and preservatives were consumed. Although some tinned goods during the war years did have questionable contents to be sure;
  • People moved more, walked everywhere. Excess calories were burned-off with ease, no expensive gym memberships or ‘fitkit’ was required;
  • Waistlines were smaller and obesity virtually unheard of.
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  • Children eat carrots on sticks, a popular, sweet, wartime snack.

The above does make you think again about bringing back food rationing, doesn’t it? Not quite such a silly idea as it may first appear. Some of the current food trends, specifically those in the ‘free from’ or ‘raw food’ canon, are already doing some of the above.

In 1989, the BBC’s It’s That Meal Again, challenged Southampton families, the Harbers and the Lawrensons, to only eat wartime rations from 1942 for a 6 week period. At the end of this period, participants experienced  a small reduction in weight and a drop in cholesterol blood. This proves, in a relatively unscientific, reality show way, that food rationing does have health benefits in modern times.

Perhaps, we are, inadvertently,  already heading towards a pattern of food consumption based upon the principles of a restrictive diet. The paleo diet, Dukan diet, veganism, vegetarianism, clean-eating, gluten-free, dairy-free, soya based diet are all examples of this. Although, most of these diets are socially divisive, with only the wealthy being able to afford all the ingredients required to participate. I associate these types of dietary  behaviour with under 35s or the hipsters of Hoxton rather than as a leveller across all socio-economic groups.

Highly seasoned foods and drinks, sweet and stimulating, iced or unnatural hot, gave an immediate and fictitious sense of well-being and are very popular. Many of these delights have vanished or are restricted in amount and will become ever more rare as the war goes on. Luckily they are unnecessary and their absence may toughen rather than weaken our fibre and powers of resistance. In spite of many inconveniences, we have suffered no limitations that will undermine health if the foods that are available are suitably combined.

(Violet G. Plimmer, writing in January 1941. Violet was co-author, with RHA Plimmer, of Food, Health, Vitamins published in 1938).

My ration book feast created for filming V.E. Day 70th Anniversary segments with Solent TV and additionally my You Tube Vlog. ©Viva Blancmange 2015

Education lies at the heart of a wartime food rationing model. First of all the wider public needs to understand what constitutes a balanced diet and more importantly how to cook meals that reflect such a diet. Cost is also key. If you want everyone to eat healthily then all basic ingredients should be sold at an affordable price, one which doesn’t leave a dent in your budget, particularly for anyone living off-of the minimum wage.

As the situation begins to unravel post the EU Referendum and we possibly head towards another recession, budget cookery will be put firmly back on the food trend agenda, like it was in 2008-2011. In this post-Brexit era of uncertainty, purchasing cacao nibs and chia seeds are no longer likely to be top of the Millennials’ shopping list,  as many will now be forced to make their pay-packets stretch further.

I predict that, over time, consumption of luxury, novel foods will soon start to fall by the wayside together with pretentious, fad diets (Huzzah!). There may well be a gap in the healthy-living market and looking back into our more recent past could provide us with an affordable alternative food consumption model. If the likes of Messrs Farage, Corbyn and Johnson can bring a country to its knees, then anything is possible, isn’t it?

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  • London exhibition, organised in March, 1946 by then Minister of Food, Sir Ben Smith (1879-1964). The exhibition informed the population about food rationing during the post-war period.

Brexit will, absolutely, result in a rise in retail food prices, probably before the end of this Summer and certainly by Christmas. This is not scaremongering, it is fact. Taxes are likely to go up following an emergency Autumn budget and wages will stagnate. Interest rates will likely revert to zero, possibly by next year and quantitative easing (QE) could be put in place once more, not seen in Britain since the financial crisis of 2008. That is how the economic model works in these types of extraordinary set of circumstances.

People will have less disposable income, spend less, save less and look to make cuts in the family budget. Food is often one of the first household expenditures to suffer in an economic crisis.  Britain currently relies heavily on food imports particularly from Europe and we only produce 60% of the food we consume. This latter figure will need to go up as we move towards an official Brexit in 2018.  A quick historical fact checking exercise shows:

  • 1914 – we imported 60% of our food. We all know what happened to the nation’s health and nutrition in the First World War, we nearly starved to death!;
  • 1939 – we imported 70% of our food. Thankfully, with the likes of Lord Woolton and the Ministry of Food’s efforts, distribution of food, via rationing, was put in place from the get-go. This strategy avoided the dreadful situation during the First World War.

In both wars but particularly during World War Two, Britons were encouraged not to waste food and ‘dig for victory’. I think we all now need to get better educated about self-sufficiency on the home front. I am not suggesting we all turn into Tom and Barbara Good but the sooner we change our mind-set the quicker we can all ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. Let’s put away our swords and quite literally, turn them into ploughshares.

In April this year, Professor Tim Lang (City University, London) and Dr Victoria Schoen (Food Research Collaboration – FRC) published the briefing paper, ‘Food, the UK and the EU: Brexit or Bremain?’. If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend reading Lang and Schoen’s report, it is a sobering read. At the time the report was published, Professor Lang predicted:

It is not simply a choice about farming – the decision will affect the entire UK food system and all of our daily lives. Food prices will almost certainly go up, affected by a weakened sterling.

The UK is in a vulnerable position already with a food trade gap of £21billion in the red – we import far more food than we export. This is particularly important for health, with a heavy reliance on EU fruit and vegetables now exposed.

If the people vote for Brexit, there’ll need to be a ‘dig for victory’ on an unprecedented scale. And this won’t be using the EU labour that currently grows, picks and processes so much British food.

The public has been woefully ill-informed on this subject by politicians, for instance DEFRA has seven times more civil servants, despite massive cuts, than has DG Agri in Brussels. Yet food is perhaps the most immediate link between the EU and ordinary British people.

A few interesting facts contained in Lang and Schoen’s report:

  • 40% of UK’s total food supply of fruit and vegetables comes from the EU;
  • 55% of UK’s supply of pigmeat comes from EU;
  • Diet now accounts for 10.8% of the nation’s total disease burden (tobacco is 10.7%);
  • UK is currently 60% self-sufficient when it comes to food production;
  • UK suffers a huge food trade gap of £21bn. Not only is the UK reliant on the rest of Europe for food but this imbalance is a drain on the national balance of payments;
  • The post-Brexit food world will be characterised by volatility disruption and uncertainty. Food import costs will rise if the price of sterling falls.
  • In World War 2, the UK learned fast that it needed to produce more food itself and ensure it was fairly distributed. It learned the cost of wasting food and taking the short-term view that cheapness is the only important goal in food policy (P.5);

Now, more than ever, we need to support British farmers and buy local produce where possible. It isn’t such a far-fetched idea as it might have been a week ago, to suggest we should all be encouraged to create a vegetable plot in our garden or sign-up for an allotment pitch. If you don’t have a garden then many vegetables do grow well in tubs too.

We will need to be more self-reliant as a nation when it comes to food production, so lets roll-up our sleeves and get on with preparing for the future. We mustn’t waste our time focussing on the dog and pony show that is currently taking place in Westminster. Neither should we be spitting feathers at our friends, family or work colleagues who voted differently from ourselves.

Despite the wish by many for a second referendum, along the same lines as we have just had, it is extremely unlikely to happen. You cannot keep spinning the wheel until you win, we live in a democracy folks. Let’s not talk ourselves into a recession but on the other hand let’s not bury our heads in the sand. Fail to prepare otherwise we should prepare to fail. As a gastronomist, I will be keeping a very close eye on the impact of Brexit on our retail food sector. Watch this space!

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  • A few words on Brexit’s fall-out from The Good Life’s Tom and Barbara Good and neighbour Margo. 1970s, BBC comedy at it’s finest. Never more apt than now.

Below are a few excellent guides, produced by the BBC, covering a range of topics regarding cooking on a budget and thrifty kitchen management. These guides make some of the above points relevant in modern times:

What did Britons eat during World War Two?

In 1939, nearly half the people of Britain were suffering with some degree of malnutrition. Recently, there has been an increase in cases of scurvy and rickets amongst schoolchildren due to over-consumption of foods containing little or no nutritional value, in other words junk and refined products.

A typical diet in wartime Britain was low in sugar, red meat, fat and dairy but high in fibre and carbohydrates. Hearty stews and soups containing vegetables, pulses and offcuts of meat. Cakes were flatter, less sweet and lacking in rise. However, many housewives tended to wait until they had enough ingredients for a decent cake rather than create recipes issued by the Ministry of Food’s pamphlets from the get-go.

Fresh eggs were available but severely restricted hence the infamous and sulphurous powdered egg. Milk was rationed and dry, skimmed milk  often used in its absence. Bread, from 1942, was a National Loaf, legally adulterated with chalk to aid calcium intake. Overall, to a modern palate, wartime food could be bland and stodgy. Spices were available, such as nutmeg, cloves, mace, caraway, dill, pimento, allspice, cinnamon, paprika, red peppers, curry powder and chilli pepper but not in plentiful supply.

Potatoes and carrots were two of the most popular vegetables in wartime. The government’s food propaganda campaign featuring Dr Carrot (‘the children’s best friend’)and Potato Pete was very successful at promoting these versatile vegetables. Carrots on sticks were provided as a sweet alternative to lollipops. Onions were a rare sight and fruits such as bananas, oranges and lemons, virtually non-existent. Offal and tripe also appeared regularly on the dinner table as neither were ‘on the ration’.

Which wartime dishes have been left behind?

Until quite recently, I would have added offal and rabbits to this list but slowly these ingredients are coming back into fashion. Margarine is no longer popular in baking or for buttering sandwiches. Suet-based recipes, either savoury or sweet, are still thought of as comfort foods which require quite a lot of treadmill pounding to burn-off extra calories consumed. Macaroni is still eaten but we are not quite as in love with this type of pasta as the previous generations of cooks once were (or indeed the Americans still are).

Tapioca, semolina and sago puddings have also fallen out of favour, neither do we currently relish in eating rooks or squirrels. The last time I visited Starbucks, I don’t recall drinking ground acorn coffee! Nettles, chestnuts, bloater paste and herrings are no longer staple foods but are still eaten. Interestingly, many wartime foods which were once associated with lower socio-economic groups (e.g. herrings, nettles, squirrels, offal and chestnuts) can now be found on plates in high-end restaurants.

What wartime food trends should we bring back?

I would like to see offal products more widely available in not only farm shops and butchers but in a greater number of supermarkets. Edible flowers such as nasturtiums and dandelions should be used more in salads and not just as decoration. A wartime delicacy which is actually quite tasty is sardines wrapped in dandelion leaves. Sardines and pilchards are still readily available in all major supermarkets and are very cheap, -don’t be put-off by the smell, both are delicious grilled on toast in fresh tomato sauce,

Growing your own fruit and vegetables is growing in popularity with waiting lists for Council allotments at an all time post-war high. However, more must be done to encourage those who live in properties without the benefit of a garden to grow their own produce. Vegetables can be grown in tubs, plastic/hessian sacks or hanging baskets. Some vegetables can be grown indoors. Herbs like the warmth of a kitchen windowsill.

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Many culinary techniques, long forgotten, are worth reviving. For example eggless cookery offers some interesting egg substitutes. Eggless mayonnaise containing baked potatoes, mustard, salt, vinegar and salad oil. Eggless salad dressing containing evaporated milk, olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard, lemon juice and vinegar. (More recipes can be found below).

Fuel less cookery is a terrific invention. I wrote about low energy cooking, some years ago, on my social history blog, Come Step Back In Time. During wartime, this cooking method came into its own particularly when saving fuel was a priority. The hay-box was a popular option, a portable version could be made from a gas-mask carrier. Have a go at making your own hay-box.

A meat stew would be cooked on the stove for 30 minutes and left in the hay-box, to finish cooking, for 3 and 1/2 hours. Boiled suet pudding took 30 minutes on the stove, followed by 2 and 1/2 hours in the hay-box. Pressure cookers were also widely used and are excellent for boiling bones to make stock.

One of the most charming methods of low energy cookery from this period that I have come across in my research is ‘cosy’ cookery. In my collection I have a copy of The Bickton Cooks’ Book by Margaret Hussey (1947). Ms Hussey, food writer and educational advisor on domestic science subjects to Essex Education Committee from 1925-1943, lived at Bickton House, Fordingbridge Hampshire. She ran her guest house at Fordingbridge during the post-war rationing years and was expert at dealing with providing nutritious meals on limited rations. Her thoughts on cosy cookery:

A good many foods of fairly light texture, e.g., potatoes, fruit, oatmeal, do not really need to have heat supplied to them underneath for the whole time of cooking, they will cook in most cases in the same length of time if the heat supplied to them by preliminary cooking can be retained all round and wastage prevented…It seems that the small amount of heat provided underneath the pan during ordinary cooking only replaces that which passes off into the air from its sides and top. The time of cooking in this way, after the pan has been removed from the stove should be the same as usual, so that Vitamin C is not reduced but the fuel consumption is.

Not necessarily new, but the thicker the better-felt, cloth, blanket, rugs or mats, curtains or carpet, or old tea cosies or felt hats. If the material used is very old or worn, it should be double and interlined with newspaper.

(The Bickton Cooks’ Book by Margaret Hussey, 1947, p.16)

Lord Woolton Pie

Ingredients: 450g each of: diced potatoes, cauliflower, swedes and carrots; 3 or 4 spring onions; 5 ml vegetable extract; 5 ml oatmeal; a little chopped parsley; 225g cooked, sliced potatoes or wholemeal pastry for topping.

  1. Place the diced vegetables, spring onions, vegetable extract and oatmeal into a saucepan;
  2. Add just enough water to cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally;
  3. Allow to cool;
  4. Put mixture into a pie dish and sprinkle with parsley;
  5. Cover with the crust of potatoes or wholemeal pastry;
  6. Bake in a moderate oven until the topping is nicely brown and serve hot with gravy.

Eggless Pancakes

Ingredients: 30 ml flour; pinch each of salt and sugar; milk and water to bind; lard or dripping.

  1. Mix the flour, salt and sugar with some milk and water to make a thick batter;
  2. Heat the lard or dripping until smoking hot;
  3. Drop in about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and cook until brown;
  4. Turn the pancake over and brown the other side;
  5. Eat with jam, treacle, orange or lemon juice.

Eggless Mayonnaise

Ingredients: 1 small baked potato; 1 teaspoon mustard; salt; a little vinegar; 1/4 pint salad oil.

  1. Peel and mash the potato, stir in the mustard and salt;
  2. Add the vinegar gradually, beating well;
  3. Last of all, beat in the salad oil slowly, mixing well.

Eggless Salad Dressing

Ingredients: 3 tablespoons evaporated milk; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 1/2 teaspoon salt; pepper; a little mustard; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 2 teaspoons vinegar.

  1. Whip the evaporated milk until frothy;
  2. Add the oil very slowly beating hard all the time;
  3. Continue to beat until the sauce thickens;
  4. Add the seasonings, mustard, lemon juice and vinegar and blend thoroughly.

Eggless, Fatless Walnut Cake

Ingredients: 4 cups flour; 1 cup chopped walnuts; 1 good cup milk; 1 cup sugar; 4 teaspoons baking powder; 1 good pinch of salt.

  1. Mix flour, sugar and chopped walnuts together;
  2. Add salt and baking powder, and then the milk;
  3. It should be slightly wetter than an ordinary cake mixture;
  4. Poor into a greased cake tin and leave to rise for 10 minutes;
  5. Bake in a slow oven until risen and brown.

Eggless Soda Cake

Ingredients: 1/2 lb plain flour, 3 ozs beef dripping, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda; 1/4 lb brown sugar; 1/4 lb fruit (sultanas and currants), 1/4 pt. milk.

  1. Add soda to milk and leave to dissolve;
  2. Rub fat into flour, then add fruit and sugar, mix to a stiff dough with warmest milk;
  3. Put into a greased tin, scooping the mixture away from the middle;
  4. Bake in a moderate oven for 3/4 to 1 and 1/2 hours, according to size.
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