Blancmange, Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Food Hoarding & Rationing – First World War

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No Hoarding: A Fair Share For Everybody

The Government is endeavouring to see that every person has a fair share of food and it is therefore of the greatest importance that every member of the public should assist in maintaining a fair distribution of supplies. They should do this by refraining from buying more than their usual quantities of foodstuffs. Retailers should co-operate in securing a fair distribution of their stocks. Bakers generally are holding satisfactory stocks of flour and coal. The Executive Committee, appointed by the London Division Exchange, unanimously agreed that all market prices established on Friday last for all kinds of butter, cheese, bacon, ham, and lard shall remain the maximum prices until further notice. In some parts of the provinces there seems to be an inclination to put up prices, partly caused by a certain amount of panic buying, which, however, is being checked by traders and Co-operative Societies themselves. Some fish has been sent to London from Lowestoft by sea. Milk services are being well maintained.

(National Food Journal, 13th March, 1918)

When the First World War broke-out in 1914, Britain relied heavily on food imports, particularly from Canada and America, two-thirds of her food was imported. Keeping the shipping lanes open in the Atlantic and North Sea became vital. Germany were determined to starve Britain into surrendering and consequently sent many submarines to sink supply ships operating along these routes. Between 31st May and 1st June, 1916, one of the greatest sea battles in naval history took place, The Battle of Jutland. A vital campaign fought to ensure that the people of Britain continued to be fed.

At one point, two years into the war, Britain found itself with only six weeks’ worth of food and on the verge of starvation. However, it wasn’t until end the of 1917 that food rationing began to be introduced and by February 1918, general rationing was in force. Sugar had been rationed from 1916 and in parts of the country in 1917, potato stocks were running low. Sugar and butter remained on ration until 1920.

Men fighting in the trenches fared considerably better than those on the home front with regards to their food intake. The daily ration for a soldier was twenty ounces of bread, three ounces of cheese, four ounces of jam or dried fruit, eight ounces of fresh vegetables, two ounces of dried vegetables, four ounces of butter or margarine, half an ounce of salt, a thirty-sixth of an ounce of pepper and twentieth of an ounce of mustard.  Mealtimes were important in the trenches and a temporary ceasefire/unofficial truce would take place at breakfast times or when food was being delivered.

“The man or woman who does not live within his or her ration is gambling with the lives of the glorious men of our mercantile marine,” said the Bishop of London in a food economy sermon. Our soldiers at the front, and our sailors watching, watching, and ceaselessly waiting day and night in all the seas of the world, endured hardship indeed. …If the nation at home failed, not all the armies and navies in the world would win the war.

“We may be starved out. It is only the superhuman courage of our mercantile marine that has saved us so far, and I have no doubt will save us in the end, but we have no right to gamble with the lives of these men.”…The food question was going to be the deciding factor in the war….Compulsory rations, said the Bishop, might be found essential. The present appeal to the honour of the nation would be the last. Let each answer it for himself and say, ‘If there is going to be a traitor in this country to sell the pass, let it at least be not myself; if there is going to be a traitor in the beleaguered garrison who is going to steal other people’s food in additions to his own, let it not be me.’

(The Northern Times, 4th March, 1918)

Food hoarding was a real problem during the war. Authorities, as well as the general public, took a dim view of anyone engaged in such practices. Naming and shaming in the press was common, penalties were harsh and imprisonment a real possibility:

A Bromley (Kent) Police Court, Mrs Jessie Klaber, of Shortlands House, Beckenham, was on nine of fourteen summonses convicted of food hoarding and fined £10 and costs on each, reports the Daily Chronicle. It was stated that her store cupboard contained nearly a ton of food…It was evident, that Mrs Klaber was a very wealthy woman. Mr Ernest Jackling, the Food Control Executive Officer, recited the ‘list of food-stuffs (apart from margarine) which he found on the premises. Defendant, giving evidence, said there were always at least fifteen persons in her house-hold, and if she included the gardener, the chauffeur, and their families, and two dress-makers, the household comprised twenty-six persons. In cross-examination, she admitted that, having forty-seven tins or packages of cornflour in the house, she went to Selfridge’s to buy more. She did so because she was using cornflour very freely. She also brought more golden syrup, although she had a lot in the house. Notwithstanding that she had a lot of sugar in the house…During the hearing Mr Oliver stated that while the possession of a hoard of food before the promulgation of the order was not an offence, the order was designed to dissolve hoards. If people with a quantity of food in their possession bought even a pound of food on top of that it would be “acquiring food in excessive quantity.”

(The Maitland Weekly Mercury, 4th May, 1918)

The mind boggles as to what culinary delight Mrs Klaber was planning to create with all that cornflour and golden syrup!

In January 1917, the newly formed Women’s Branch of the Board of Agriculture was formed under the Directorship of Meriel Talbot. In March 1917, a civilian women’s labour force, known as the Women’s Land Army (WLA), was created. Healthy women over the age of eighteen were eligible to join and after four weeks’ of training would initially receive a weekly wage of eighteen shillings.  By 1918, three-hundred thousand women were working as ‘land girls’.  The WLA played a vital role in helping Britain increase its food production and be less reliant on imports.

How glorious to think that the women on the land were sharing the hardships of their men at the front. How it should encourage them to stick to their work, however monotonous and hard and muddy it was, when they remembered that they were fighting to keep from starvation the wives and children of the men who were giving their lives for England.

(The Landswoman, January 1918)

Making Syrup From Sugar Beet (1918)

Method: Wash the roots thoroughly, peel them as thinly as possible, and again rinse them under the cold tap. Cut the beet into small dice’ put these into a pan and cover with cold water. Boil rather quickly for two hours, then very slowly for five hours. If the water boils away and any of the root is uncovered, more must be added, as it is essential that the beet should be covered all the time. If too much water is used the syrup will naturally be weaker. After boiling, strain it while hot through a fine sieve, pressing every drain of syrup from the beet. N.B. If the saucepan used is at all stained it will discolour the syrup. This syrup will turn mouldy if not kept well stoppered. Jam made with it does not keep well, but it is excellent for stewing fruit, puddings – especially milk puddings, porridge and cakes.

Jam-Making With Reduced Sugar (1918)

Method: At the present time, with such a limited amount of sugar to use, jam-making must necessarily be done with a little more care. It is quite possible to make good jam with only half-a-pound of sugar to every pound of fruit, if a little longer boiling be given, after the sugar is added. The cardinal principle to remember at all times is that it is the fruit that requires boiling, not the sugar; this rule has now, however, to be altered a little, and after cooking the fruit first, we give a little longer boiling to the jam – that is to say, boil from 1/2 to 3/4 an hour after the sugar has been put in. Another point to remember is to cover down immediately once the jar has been filled, using a thin paper covering drawn through milk or starch paste. When using glucose, corn syrup, or any sugar substitutes, a fourth of the quantity of sweetening matter should still be pure sugar – the substitutes by themselves will not make good keeping jam, although longer boiling will do much to make-up for diminished quantity of sugar.

Fine Cup Pudding (1918)

Method:  Mix 1 cup of flour (plain), 1 cup of suet, 1 cup of breadcrumbs, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup or two tablespoonful of jam or syrup, dates or figs or apples. Teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda. Steam for 2  1/2 to 3 hours.

Economising Fat In Pastry (1918)

Method: One teaspoonful of vinegar will enable you to use half the fat usually used for pastry.

A Cheap Pastry (1918)

Method: When making pastry, melt the butter, margarine, or lard slightly, beat to a cream with a teaspoonful of vinegar before mixing with the flour. Only half the fat will be required.

Bottling Green Vegetables, Peas, Beans, Leeks, Spinach and Tomatoes (1918)

Method: Perhaps the most reliable method of bottling, etc, green vegetables, such as peas, beans, leeks, spinach, etc., is to boil in a saucepan for one or two minutes with a pinch of carbonate of soda, salt and (for peas) sugar; to pour the vegetables into a colander and let cold water run through them until quite cold, then fill bottles, fill up with clean cold water, cap and screw, and stand in a pan of cold water, bring to boiling point and keep them there for one and a half hours, then lift out, screw tightly and set away. Three days afterwards loosen the screw a little, stand in cold water again, bring slowly to boiling point and boil for half an hour. After second sterilisation the bottles should be tested to assure their being air-tight, the screws removed, then stored away in a cool, dark place. Tomatoes are counted a fruit for bottling purposes, and, like fruit, are not subject to the same bacteria or their spores, therefore need no second or intermittent processing in bottling or canning. They are brought to a temperature a little higher than fruit and given a little longertime – thirty minutes instead of fifteen, then screwed down and set away.

Potato Cheese (1918)

Method: Boil your potatoes; when cool peel and reduce to a pulp. To 5lb of this pulp, which ought to be as equal as possible, is added 1lb of sour milk, and the necessary quantity of salt. The whole is kneaded together and the mixture covered up, and allowed to lie for three or four days, according to the season. At the end of this time it is kneaded anew, and the cheeses are placed in litter baskets, when the superfluous moisture is allowed to escape. They are then allowed to dry in the shade and placed in a large vessel where they must remain for fifteen days. The older these cheeses are the better.



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