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World War Two: Meals at home


Vegetables, the off-ration mainstay of meals in WW2 UK

vegetables as the basis for meals in WW2

Meals based on vegetables were the norm in WW2 because vegetables were not rationed and grew well in the UK. However, the demand was great, so they were sometimes in short supply. After a brief introduction to home-grown vegetables, the page describes how shops managed to get hold of enough vegetables to satisfy demand. It then describes how housewives managed to produce nutritious meals based on whatever vegetables were available at the time.


By the webmaster: her childhood recollections with contributions from others who lived at the time

Home-grown vegetables

Most of the homes that I visited during the war had either given over their entire back garden to growing vegetables and fruit or were keeping a small area back for flowers to cheer themselves up. My mother was in the latter group. It meant that she had to buy most of her vegetables from the greengrocer, but whenever I went with her, the greengrocer was doing a rapid trade.

So people grew their own vegetables and potatoes in their back gardens - and housewives became very creative at using them as a the main part of family meals.

How shops acquired their vegetables to sell

My family owned a small greengrocers shop during the war and the years of austerity afterwards - so I know the following from experience.


Potatoes were often in such short supply that it was difficult for retailers to get hold of them. I sometimes went with my father to the wholesale market, and we had to be there very early to have any chance of getting them. If we found a stall with them, we had to buy something else first or be told that all the potatoes where sold. After the war, when shortages were even more severe, even potatoes were rationed for a year.


Swedes, which in the north of England we called turnips, were plentiful and no problem to buy or sell on because they were a basis for the wonderful soup described on this website.


Beetroot was also plentiful, but it needed so much cooking that housewives wouldn't buy it unless it was already cooked and prepared. My father bought a second-hand gas copper, and every Saturday afternoon boiled a copper full of beetroot ready for skinning when cold on Sunday morning. In this form, the beetroot sold very well. Customers brought along their own containers for it, as the red juice stained badly and would leak through paper bags in no time.

Alan Talbot

I remember the cooked beetroots that Alan Talbot mentions above, but ours were always shop-bought and steeped in vinegar. I hated it as it was like eating solid vinegar.

Spring greens

'Spring greens' deserve a special place on this page, as "A pound of spring greens please" was my mother's regular purchase at the greengrocers.

Although I remember very little about meals at home during the early 1940s, I do remember complaining, "I'm sick of greens!", as if it was my mother's fault. She never explained, presumably because she thought I was too young to understand that she had to make use of what whatever was available and waste nothing.

What spring greens were

'Spring greens' were very dark green leaves, obviously from some sort of cabbage, and in later years I often wondered what they were because they no longer seemed to be on sale or in shops or seed catalogues. I am pleased that Neil Baker and Peter Johnson have been able to give me two examples - see below.

Spring greens from regular cabbages

After the head of a cabbage had been cut for use - never pulled up - a cross was cut into the top of the stump with a sharp knife. The stump was left in the ground and from the cuts grew new green leaves. These we called 'spring greens'.

Peter Johnson

Spring greens from seed

Spring greens are particularly hardy varieties of cabbage which survive through the winter and produce lots of leaves rather than hearts. Ones bought in supermarkets can be rather tough but home-grown ones eaten fresh are much better. Seed is still available if you look for it.

Neil Baker

Hot vegetable-based meals

Vegetables were used to pack out meals of rationed foodstuffs. Housewives' creativity meant that there were a large number of different ways that complete meals could be made this way. No doubt everyone's health benefited.

I understand that the Government helped by publishing recipes with available ingredients, designed to be filling. However, as a child growing up at the time, I never saw any of them. I suspect they were of most value for large families, as my mother often complained that it was easier for them as they could use what she described as 'one bit of food in with another'. While my father was in the army, we were a family of three - my mother, my grandmother and me.

How 'one bit of food in with another' helped

During the war, I was registered for rationing as a vegetarian which meant no meat but extra cheese. But I shared the family's meat in the usual way and they shared my cheese. Small families of course didn't have this sort of luxury.

Neil Cryer

Woolton pie

Woolton pie was a deep pie made with a cooked mixed vegetable filling which could be varied according to what was available. This was topped with mashed potato - or pastry if the ration could stretch to it - and baked in a hot oven for about half an hour. It was named after the Earl of Woolton who popularised the recipe after he became Minister of Food in 1940. Yet, popular as it seems to have been, I never heard mention of it among the people of all ages who I knew during the war or afterwards. Perhaps they just called it vegetable pie.

Cold vegetable-based meals

Cold cooked vegetable sandwiches

As a child in the summer holidays my lunch was often sandwiches with cooked runner beans inside. The runner beans came from our garden. There was of course no butter, and our very little margarine was saved for cooking. However the moisture in the cooked runner beans did stop the bread from being dry.

Jane Bartlett

Vegetable salads

'Oslo' was a salad, served on hot toast, consisting of grated raw vegetables and with whatever was available salad stuff. We used to have it for breakfast or for tea.

John Cole

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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