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World War Two: Meals at home

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The tiny meat ration in WW2 UK: creative alternatives

Meat rationing lasted years after the end of WW2. Hence my aversion to the awful gristle that passed for mince in my school dinners in the 1950s.

All the following meats and meat recipes show ways of padding out what little meat there was in wartime and the post-war austerity. Keeping chickens and rabbits in back gardens is described on another page.

Meals including meat

Guest contribution

Spam and how to eat it

Spam was a precooked meat product which came from America in tins which were opened with a metal turn key. Spam 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 and deep fried. (Incidentally English girls who went with American soldiers were also known as Spam.)

1940s magazine advert for Spam

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

Peter Johnson



Guest contributions

Wild game

The occasional rabbit was a treat, 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

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 stew to make it go further. The results were known as dumplings.

Peter Johnson

Pearl barley was used a lot to pad out stews.

Marion Cole



Guest contributions

Meat you have probably never eaten and would not consider eating

Any form of meat was welcome in the rationing and shortages of WW2. Horse meat and whale meat were available from time to time. I have eaten both.

Peter Johnson

My gran would use bits from cow heel and pigs' feet, to make brawn. The bits were 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 - the stomach lining of animals like cows, pigs, sheep, and goats -with lots of vinegar and pepper - eurghh.

John Cole

Meals 'pretending' to be meat

Today, stock cubes come in a variety of flavours, but as far as I remember, the only stock cubes available in WW2 were the beef ones. They were simply known as just Oxo and were widely used without meal to give the taste of meat.

Guest contributions

No-meat shepherds pie 1

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

No-meat shepherds pie 2

Our no-meat shepherds pie was mashed potato on a base of either Bisto or Oxo gravy made very thick with water on the bottom of a baking tray. This was baked in the oven until the gravy was judged to have gone solid.

Peter Johnson

Bread and dripping

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

Pamela Brierley


Meals without meat

Housewives' creativity meant that there were many different ways that full meals could be made without meat for protein.

Cheese and eggs supplied protein but they were rationed. However, they could be bulked out with vegetables. From today's point of view, you might think that there are numerous snacks that don't contain meat, but there were no snacks in WW2, only women's creativity with meals from next-to-nothing apart from vegetables.

The vegetarian option

Mashed potato with grated on-ration cheese mixed in was a standard meal.

Marion Cole

Text and images are copyright

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.



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