Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Wartime Kitchen

As someone who loves cooking and experimenting with ingredients at hand, I have always been fascinated by the Wartime kitchens and rationing. I won't say that I wish I had gone through that, but sometimes I wonder if we are just too used to having everything at our fingertips, to having life be so easy that we have become lazy.

 As with everything else that I go into, I like to research and read and watch as much as I can about certain periods in time, different eras, different ways of doing things. Why? Because I yearn for a simpler time, for a time where we may not have had everything readily available, but family came first, neighbors helped each other and really opened their homes to everyone around them.

Unfortunately nowadays, and I'm speaking from my own personal experience, I've noticed that it's every man for themselves and how can we make a quick buck with the least work possible. Honestly, it seems that if there was a robot that could do everything for us, many would jump on that bandwagon pretty quick.

But back to the topic at hand.  The Wartime Kitchen, rationing and surviving through it.

Rationing was introduced in England on January 8, 1940.  Here is a little info about it:

At the beginning of World War II, the UK imported 55 million tons of foodstuffs per year (70%), including more than 50% of its meat, 70% of its cheese and sugar, nearly 80% of fruits and about 90% of cereals and fats. 

It was one of the principal strategies of the Axis to attack shipping bound for the UK, restricting British industry and potentially starving the nation into submission.

Each person would register with their local shops, and was provided with a ration book containing coupons. The shopkeeper was then provided with enough food for his or her registered customers. 
When purchasing goods, the purchaser had to give the shopkeeper a coupon as well as money.

Rations were the fairest way to ensure people had enough to eat, and many poorer families had the healthiest diet they ever had. Children benefited greatly from this. For example, the number of children in Scotland who died before they reached 1 year of age fell by 27 per cent between 1939 and 1945. In Glasgow, the average height of 13 year olds increased by almost 2 inches (5 cm) by the end of the war.
Weekly ration for 1 adult
  • Bacon & Ham 4 oz
  • Meat to the value of 1 shilling and sixpence (around about 1/2 lb minced beef)
  • Butter 2 oz
  • Cheese 2 oz
  • Margarine 4 oz
  • Cooking fat 4 oz
  • Milk 3 pints
  • Sugar 8 oz
  • Preserves 1 lb every 2 months
  • Tea 2 oz
  • Eggs 1 fresh egg per week
  • Sweets/Candy 12 oz every 4 weeks
In addition to this a points system was put in place which limited your purchase of tinned or imported goods. 16 points were available in your ration book for every 4 weeks and that 16 points would enable you to purchase for instance, 1 can of tinned fish or 2lbs of dried fruit or 8 lbs of split peas.
 Here is the Food Minister talking about the food rationing in 1939.... 

He explains what the Ration books are and how to use them.

Women really had to become inventive, they had to learn to make do with the little they got and food was stretched as far as it would go.

Aside from the ingredients, there were ways to save on fuel as well while cooking, things like "cooking two at a time", which meant covering a cooking pan with a biscuit tin lid then standing a second pan on top.  I don't know how safe that would be or how well the food would turn out, but I think in those days and time, it was a matter of survival.

From 1942, there was no more white flour available, so that meant that everyone was consuming the National Wholemeal Bread.

There were no supermarkets, so shopping for groceries would mean going to different stores, such as the butcher, grocer etc.

Actually, growing up I remember that is the way we did food shopping too, we went to the butcher, we went to the market and the bakery etc.

Eggs were extremely hard to come by, so most people used powdered eggs.  One packet would be equal to 12 eggs and those had to last you at least 8 weeks, as even the powdered eggs were rationed.

 One of the items not rationed and available probably most of the time, were potatoes.

The Government even came up with a "Dig for Victory" campaign, encouraging everyone to grow vegetables in their gardens or on any spare piece of land they could find.

The Ministry of Food organized local cookery classes and demonstrations to teach people how to cook with what they had and how to use the vegetables they grew in meals.

It was hard to come by food.  Once you registered with a certain shop, you couldn't really go anywhere else to get your rations, so it usually meant standing in long lines for a very long time just to get your food.

It was about this time that the Black Market came into play, and even though if you were caught you were punished with huge fines, people still risked it in order to get butter, sugar and even cigarettes and often times at exuberant prices.

Rationing officially ended July 4, 1954.

I've often thought about trying to cook just Wartime recipes for a pay period, and seeing how we do.  I think the only thing that has held me back from trying, is the family, I'm not sure my husband and children would be interested in this sort of experiment.

I may just come up with a menu anyway and introduce a few meals here and there, might be easier to do it that way than shock them into it LOL

When it comes to wartime cooking and depression recipes, there are a few places online you can go to.  I think one of my favorite YouTube Channels is the Great Depression Cooking with Clara.  Love it :)

Great Depression Cooking with Clara Season 1

Another great one to watch is Granny Doris, though I've only found 3 episodes so far.

Here is a PDF booklet with some recipes for you....

Home Front Recipes

You can find many on Clara's videos and by googling for wartime recipes.

I think if anything, after all the reading and the video watching I've done, it's taught me that I need to be more flexible in the kitchen, to really push myself to use what I have on hand and not just ignore the ingredient because it doesn't fit into a specific dish or recipe.

I don't know about you all, but I will admit that I have stuff in the freezer, refrigerator and pantry that tends to just sit there and not get used, and yes, I've even had to throw something out because it's past it's due date.

In a day and time where everything is getting so expensive, I want to be able to use what I have available and not be wasteful.  Will I succeed every step of the way?  Probably not.  But I am determined to give it a good try.

I'm going to continue researching, applying what I have learned and strive towards a more self sustainable way of life.  Growing some of my own vegetables is definitely a step in the right direction.

I do hope you have found some of this information interesting, matter of fact I'm using it with my kids for homeschooling and they find it just as fascinating as I do.  Though with them, we're not just concentrating on the cooking side of the wartime and depression eras, but on everything else too.....the war itself, air raids, etc.

I'm off to watch The Wartime Kitchen and Garden.  It is quite an old series that unfortunately was never made into DVD or sold to the public (much to my chagrin).  I managed to find a few episodes on YouTube so you can watch too if you would like :)

Episode 2
Episode 3

Hope you enjoy it :)

Images found online through BBC.  Videos from YouTube


  1. Wow - that's really interesting. I can't imagine being rationed like that. I agree with your first comments. We are spoiled and I'm afraid we're too often lazy as well.

  2. What an interesting post, I didnt realise that rationing lasted so long.
    I remember watching the Wartime kitchen with my Mother, I too am surprised it wasnt made into a dvd, there was also The Victorian Kitchen Garden I seem to remember.

  3. I have a wartime rationing cookbook for the USA from the era. I wanted to work out of it for my family for an experiment, but I was turned off by a couple of things:

    1. They probably wouldn't eat it.
    2. A lot of the foods we choose not to eat because they are ultimately unhealthy, like powdered eggs.
    3. We have certain digestive issues in the household that we have to be mindful of.

    Still, the concept is a good one. It can help put us in focus for making do, making our own, and holding to a stricter budget.

  4. you and your children may be interested in an interesting bbc(?) show we borrowed from our local library called "the 1940s house". the people on it had to live just like a british family during the war, complete with rationing, blackouts and air raids. a really interesting show!

  5. Thank you so much for a fascinating piece on wartime rationing! I have been a student of the WWII homefront for 20+ years. I've also collected numerous cookbooks from that time period. There's so much from that era that can be applied in our kitchens today~thanks again!

  6. This is a great article. It really makes me think of all the food we waste and reminds me why we can also. I think this would be a great unit study for all 4 of my homeschooled children.

  7. I think there was wartime rationing in the US as well. My mom said that one of her early memories was a butcher giving her a hot-dog from behind the meat counter, off the books. Also, one time my grandma saved her meat rations for long enough to send a salami to my grandpa who was serving overseas. Unfortunately, he'd never seen salami, and thought it had gone bad, and threw it away! They managed to laugh about it in their 80s.

  8. What a great post and I loved that ladies video..I'm going to try that with potato peels. I'm going to share it with some friends of mine (we have a FB page called Thrifty Green Girls and this would be fun to share...the video...since I forgot your blog was private)

    Thank you for sharing this. You really did your homework. We are down to the last of what's in the house before I go grocery shopping and I'm trying to use what I have instead of scrounging for money somewhere to go get something. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this...and boy are we spoiled today, with an overabundance of food at our disposal.

    I have a friend who came over from Romania several years ago and she was in awe of our grocery stores and the variety of items that could be bought. Her mom came over a year ago and felt the same way. It was quite overwhelming.

    I recently watched a cooking show by Nigella lawson and she was sharing how she had to buy her peanut butter chocolate chips online. I was like "what?" they're on every shelf many options of chocolate chips...I just assumed they were available everywhere. A friend said when a relative of theirs came over from some country (I don't remember which one) they would bring back tons of chocolate chips

  9. I'd love to have a garden, but "rogue" rabbits eat every veggie I've tried to grow, so no Victory Garden for me...I found this all very interesting. We are certainly a "spoiled" society aren't we?! Can't imagine food being rationed.

  10. You might be interested in the fictional story "Coming Home" by Rosamunde Pilcher. It's about a young girl coming of age in England during WWII and covers a lot of the subjects you've mentioned here. There is also a movie, but read the book first! I promise you will fall in love with it!

  11. Look up the BBC series "Supersizers go....wartime".

    It is a great series from 2008 where previous eras are relived by food, clothes etc and brought into relation with today, the health aspects of it etc.

    Really great!



  12. I have been a lurker on your blog for quite some time now. After watching this I just had to tell you I found it very interesting and thank you for sharing!

  13. I LOVED this post! It's one of my favorite eras of history to learn about. My girls love the Molly (American girl) books and we did a victory garden this year. We also gave her cooking/craft book from that time period. Many years ago my dad gave me my aunt's war ration book..with stamps still's been such an awesome piece of history to have and pass on to my girls :) I love your blog and look forward to your posts.
    In Him,

  14. Love this post! We are certainly spoiled today. My grandmother grew up during the depression and was a young bride during WWII. I would have loved to have be able to spend some time in my Granny's kitchen!

  15. I just wonder.. what would this woman (in the upper most picture, standing in her kitchen), think of Martha
    Stewart's kitchen? lol..

    I mostly cook with what I have on hand because we're poor and we were poor growing up and so was my mother and my cooking style is generational, we all learned to cook that way. I do use recipes, but I often cook with what's on hand as well. I also think it would be interesting to take a month to live off my food storage and use emergent ways of food prep as a trial, just to see. I mean natural disasters happen all the time, it would be nice to be prepared.

  16. Just found this blog and am enjoying this post! It serves as a great reminder to use what is in the pantry -- I forget all the time. It's a strange way of being lazy, isn't it? Going out and buying more instead of using what's at home.
    The other thing that really struck me is the total lack of vegetables. I know people then grew them, but thinking about that line about how for some people, all that meat and those fats were the healthiest diet they may have ever had. Fascinating!

  17. This is one of my interests also. Really enjoyed reading this. I also have an app for my phone that lists the use by dates and such on my pantry goods (which is empty at the moment) to help keep from loosing any food.

  18. This is an account of a lady who tried this in the UK, some of her insights might help you if you do go ahead and try it. Also on that forum is a woman who tried to live on the USDA food stamps allowance if you want another one to do!

  19. Great article. I feel the same way that you do. I admire the simplicity, family togetherness, and the fact that most knew their neighbors back then. I have this in my blood. I don't over schedule the kids so we can be home at the dinner table. I also make it a point to be outside. I have lived many places with the military and some neighborhoods, no one comes out of their homes. I eat a very healthy gluten free diet. But, I do use my Better Homes and Garden, red and white cookbook that was my grandmothers. It has the most basic recipes in there. If I feel like I have nothing to cook, I look to that for inspiration.

  20. Hi
    I loved your post...
    You have put in words the things that I have in my mind..
    Here in India we are developing about now , around 100 years back things where very different and I too love to watch movies or tv serials from that period when life was simpler and right now I am watching one such serial about a life of a girl who is married at 11 to a widower of 32 who is a social reformer.. He educates his wife (women were not allowed to study in some families) and she in turn managed to educate many women of her time too..
    I love to see the costumes, the houses, the day to day life and food made which is depicted in that serial
    would love to know more about the food cooked..during those times and the recipes.

  21. I'm rationed to $50 a week since I'm on food stamps. I grow some veggies, and stockpile sale items, use coupons, etc. I make it work pretty well, actually, especially since I don't eat much meat. I can't imagine being rationed like wartime, though. Thing is, if we all went back to growing our own food, or some of it, we wouldn't have to import so much and the world's oil supply would last much longer.

  22. Thank you so much for this post. I love this kind of thing!

    Your comment about potatoes not being rationed reminded me of the book 1493, which I just finished reading (it's about the Columbian Exchange). In the author's section on potatoes, he cites multiple original sources noting that 17th and 18th century Europeans who primarily ate potatoes were in better health than those who did not eat potatoes but had access to a more varied diet. He then explained that, nutritionally, potatoes contain everything one needs except vitamins A + D, complete protein, and fat. People who had access to potatoes generally had access to milk too, which filled those gaps. That meant that people who lived almost exclusively on a diet of potatoes and milk were better nourished than most other people in Europe at the time. Potatoes are also famous for growing in wretched conditions--making them the perfect famine/wartime food. Provided, of course, that you can keep the crop safe--as Europe learned from terrible experience. The women who kept wartime kitchens in the 1940's had grown up knowing people who were children during the Europe-wide famine of the 1840's, meaning they had access to information and habits that we don't today.

  23. As a 14 year old in 1939 living in London I went very hungry due to rationing. In your list I found some discrepancies, ham and bacon was available on points, butter was 1 once per week, lard was 2 ounces, we were lucky to get an egg every three weeks, tea, preserves were on points. We were glad to get dried eggs, dried milk, spam but had to use food points for these. You had to select the best things needed up to the amount of points that you had. Use them up and you went without. Bread was rationed at one point as were potatoes.Rationing continued into 1940.

  24. What an interesting post, thank you.
    This may be a silly question but with the dig for victory campaign in place, why so few chicken eggs?
    Hens wouldn't have taken up much space but would certainly have increased the egg supply!

  25. Sorry to comment on an old post, but I just had to :)
    The last couple of days, the kids and I (we homeschool too) have been watching various 1940s homefront videos- the 1940s house, The Wartime Kitchen and Garden (well the part I could find online) and Wartime Farm.
    I admit, rationing seems so hard, I have no idea how my grandmother managed!
    I will also admit to having a hankering for the old fashioned wrap around apron after watching all these!

  26. Here's a link to a 4 page booklet of a 1940's garden plan to go along with the rationing. It's designed for a standard size allotment/community garden plot.


  27. Brilliant article! I am going to share it with my 15 year old daughter who is writing a book about World War II. My husband was out of work four months last year. The rest of the year has been lean. Believe me, all it takes is a car repair to blow our budget big time. Everything, I mean everything comes out of food money. So I have to do with what I've got a lot of the time.

    Be blessed!
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage

  28. I came across your blog on Pinterest,and so glad I did! I’m also fascinated by this era,even tho it must Off been hard work and frightening when the air raids went off.
    But everyone pulled together and just got on with it.
    You might like this
    Happy watching jane


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