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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Meals based on very little meat
in 1940s wartime Britain & afterwards

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1940s magazine advert for Spam

Magazine advert for Spam. Photographed at Tilford Rural Life Centre 1940s event.

I don't remember any meat from the war years while I was a small child. I think my mother traded the ration in for a cheese ration, which I understand was more generous in terms of the protein than was the meat ration. This trade-off required one to register as a vegetarian. In large families, it was normal for one child to be registered as a vegetarian, even though the whole family shared the meat and cheese ration.

After 1945, when my father was back from the army, we had a roast on Sundays, which always seemed to be a half shoulder of lamb from New Zealand. He then had it cold on Mondays and possibly Tuesdays.

Meat rationing extended into the 1950s. Hence my aversion to the awful mince in my school dinners.

All the following meat recipes show ways of padding out what little meat there was.

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Meals including meat

A type of shepherds pie could be made with mashed potato and scraps of meat, like the odd rabbit and pigeon that we caught. Meat from this source was not easy to prepare but we were used to it.

My mother would get some fresh lard from the butchers and mix it with flour and water, mould into a round tennis ball shapes and drop them into the meat stew to make it go further. The results were known as dumplings.

Horse meat and whale meat were available from time to time. I have eaten both.

Spam was a precooked meat product which came from America in tins which were opened with a metal turn key. It could be eaten straight from the tin, sliced with chips or a salad. The best way to eat it, in my view, was cut into slices, dipped in flour and water a deep fried. (Incidentally English girls who went with American soldiers were also known as Spam.)

Peter Johnson

There was hardly any meat, except for the occasional rabbit, if you were lucky enough to get one. If you 'heard of one going, you immediately set off to get one, perhaps walking miles. My mother used to go on her bike with my sister strapped into a seat on the back. Nothing was thrown away. After the occasional chicken, there was chicken soup for several days afterwards. I still can't bear chicken soup!

Michael Sullivan

My gran would make brawn which was bits of meat, like cow heel and pigs feet, stewed then mixed with jelly and put into a mould to set. It was served in slices. I can see her now sucking off the jelly! My mum would eat tripe, eurghh, with lots of vinegar and pepper.

Hungarian Goulash was a tasty way of eking out meat with a lot of seasoning and vegetables. We seemed to live on it for a while!

John Cole

Pearl barley was used a lot to pad out stews.

Marion Cole

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Meals 'pretending' to be meat

My mother created shepherds pie without having to use any of the strictly rationed meat. The potato topping was not a problem as potatoes were not too difficult to obtain. The 'meat', however, was composed of stale bread (nothing was ever wasted) to which was added dripping along with 'Oxo' (beef extract cubes) and anything else that was available.

Jan Clifford

My mother loved to scrape the 'dripping' that was left in the bottom of the tray that the Sunday roast had been in. She spread it on toast with loads of salt.

Pamela Brierley