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World War Two: Meals at home


Unpredictable gas pressure in WW2 and effects on cooking

Gas cooker

In the austerity of 1940s wartime Britain and the years of even increasing austerity afterwards, cooking was not straightforward. Quite apart from having to manage of food rations which were minimal, many women still cooked on a coal-fired range, and coal was rationed.

The gas oven and the unpredictable gas supply

My mother cooked with a gas oven - which was a relatively recent development, and the gas supply was unpredictable. It was never cut off because of the danger if it happened while a gas jet was open. One risk was explosion when the gas came on again and there was a naked flame nearby, for example, if someone unknowingly lit up a cigarette. (Cigarette smoking was not just common, it was normal.)

However the gas supply was frequently lowered without warning, so that ovens couldn't get up to temperature. My grandmother once had to rescue our Sunday roast when my mother was out by taking the meat out of the oven and putting it into a saucepan to boil it.

Baking cakes and pies were often spoilt in cooking when ovens couldn't get up to temperature. This was particularly unfortunate because the ingredients couldn't be replaced because of rationing.

Guest contribution

Government requests to cope with low gas pressure

To save gas we were asked to cook using coal where possible, as many houses still had their old-style kitchen fires or kitchen ranges. Sometimes the gas pressure was so low that it was quicker to boil a kettle on the coal fire anyway.

Sometimes my mother put a large biscuit tin into the grate and piled the hot coal up around it, which made a make shift oven.

In our house making toast was always done with a special long-handled toasting fork on the coal fire.

Peter Johnson

Household gas - poison

The other risk of the gas supply being cut off completely would have been gas filling a room when it came on again - and household gas (coal gas) was poisonous. 'Putting one's head in the gas oven' (without lighting the gas) seemed to be the most common suicide method. During the war, I often heard people saying that they felt like doing it, although I don't think I knew anyone who actually did it. When ovens were converted to natural gas, this particular suicide method was no longer an option because the natural gas was not poisonous.

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