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World War Two: Meals at home

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

Meals based on vegetables were the norm in WW2 because vegetables were not rationed and grew well in the UK. So they were used to pack out meals with rationed foods. After the war, when shortages were even more severe, potatoes were rationed for a year.

So people grew their own vegetables and potatoes in their back gardens - see the page on 'Dig for Britain' - and housewives became very creative at using them as a the main part of family meals. No doubt everyone's health benefited.

How shops managed to get vegetables during the shortages

Guest contribution

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

Potatoes

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.

Swedes

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

Beetroots

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 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

*Gas coppers were later than the traditional coal fired coppers and were not built-in as they didn't need a chimney.

I remember the cooked beetroot that Alan Talbot mentions, but ours was 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 greengrocers or seed catalogues. I am pleased that Neil Baker and Peter Johnson have been able to give me two examples - see below.

Guest contribution

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


Guest contribution

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


Vegetable meals

Housewives' creativity meant that there were a large number of different ways that complete meals could be made from vegetable.

Woolton pie

Particularly well-known even now is Woolton pie. It was a deep pie made with regular pastry and a mixed vegetable filling which could be varied according to what was available. It was named after the Earl of Woolton who popularised the recipe after he became Minister of Food in 1940.

Meals of raw and cold cooked vegetables

Guest contribution

Raw 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


Guest contribution

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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