As I promised here is Juliet Greenwood’s guest post. Picking up on my interest in the theme of growing and preparing nutritious food during the war, I asked Juliet to talk about this aspect of We That Are Left (Honno Press) and her background research. At the end of the post I’ve added the recipes that Juliet sent me. If you buy a copy of the book you will find a few more authentic recipes to try for yourselves.
The Role of Food in World War I
When I was first thinking of writing about the First World War, I knew I wanted to write about the lives of civilians, and especially the women, who moved out from being simply wives and mothers to take over the roles of the missing men at home, as well as working on the front line as ambulance drivers and nurses.
Among the many roles of women at home was ensuring that there was enough food at home for the population to both survive and be strong enough to continue, as well as sending supplies to the soldiers at the front. Like today, much of Britain’s food was imported, and fashionable and convenient new foods, like tinned fruit, had begun to replace the traditional ways of cooking.
There was no rationing in WWI until the very end of the war, but many staples immediately became expensive as there was panic buying, and there were shortages too. This was a new kind of war, not fought in countries far away, like South Africa, but one into which the civilians were drawn as well (it was also the first time bombing was experienced from both Zeppelins and bi-planes). This war on home soil was something that hadn’t happened In Britain since the Civil War in the 17th Century, and the response seems to have been quite chaotic at first, but it was the lessons learnt that led to the efficient rationing systems of the Second World War.
I did much of my research in the online British Newspaper Archive, looking at newspapers of the time. It’s noticeable that from 1916 onwards there is a real obsession with food. Articles appear about allotments, along with means of preserving with the little sugar available – and there are arguments too about where allotments should be allowed by disgruntled residents who clearly think it lowers the tone of the neighbourhood!
It wasn’t just food, but medicines too. So women, especially those in the countryside returned to the old ways of their grandmothers. They grew and preserved as much as they could and foraged for things like blackberries and rosehips, which are an excellent source of vitamin C and wonderful home remedies for coughs and colds. As well as women working the land, schoolchildren were drafted in to help, growing food wherever there was space.
The upper classes and the rich didn’t escape, either. The army of servants needed to run a Downton-style house were gone. Meals became simpler. Even restaurants limited the number of courses as part of the war effort. Before the war vegetarianism was a sign of being a Fabian and a serious crank, like the playwright George Bernard Shaw. It’s a sign of how things changed that the recipes in the newspapers begin focusing on meatless meals and how to make delicious things from vegetables. As a vegetarian I loved trying out the Cornish Lady’s Meatless Meal, which was delicious!
For Elin, the heroine of We That Are Left, learning to run the family estate in Cornwall and particularly the kitchen garden, leads to her developing her passion for baking and creating recipes from the ingredients available. It’s something that takes her to places she could never have imagined – and that includes racing through France in a beaten up ambulance, braving bombs and enemy soldiers to save the lives of both strangers and those she loves.
In researching the recipes of The Great War I found that, as for Elin, the changing role of food reflected a deeper change in a society that would never be the same again. On the one hand, the opulence of the Edwardian upper classes had gone. On the other, recruiters for the army were shocked at facing the reality of the appalling state of health of the poor in such a prosperous country. And women could never be quite seen again as the fragile little woman standing in the shadow of her husband and incapable of being a citizen in her own right.
And here are the recipes…
2lb Refined Sugar
12ozs Caraway Seeds
2lbs Butter or Margarine
4 teaspoons Orange Flower Water
½lb Candied Peel
Modern (scaled down!) version
8oz 230g Butter or Margarine
8oz 230g Sugar
2oz 60g Caraway or Poppy Seeds
8oz 230g SR Flour
2oz 60g Candied Peel
Rind and juice of 1 Orange
Rind and juice of 1 Lemon
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with flour alternately, then add juice of one orange, caraway/poppy seeds, candied peel. Spoon into a greased 7inch/ 18cm tin and bake in oven at 180 degrees (160 for fan assisted)/ Gas Mark 4 for one hour or until a knife comes out clean. When cool cover with butter icing (Vanilla or lemon both worth well).
This is one that sounds really tasty (and we are growing leeks in the garden!)
A ‘Meatless Meal’
Based on a 1918 newspaper recipe but on more manageable lines and with the addition of cheese to improve tastiness. Serves 2 or 4 depending on how hungry you are (but be warned, it is delicious!). Adjust the amounts (especially the cheese) to your own taste.
Chop three leeks. Fry gently in butter until soft. Add a clove of garlic and ten chopped mushrooms (add more if you like mushrooms).
In a saucepan melt two tablespoons of butter, slowly add one tablespoon of floor and stir for one minute. Then add approximately ½ pint (284 ml) milk slowly until you reach a consistency of double cream. Add approximately 4oz (113) grated cheese. Stir in leek and mushroom mix. Pour over 2 – 4 large pieces of toast. Place in a fireproof dish, scatter grated cheese on top and place under a hot grill until golden brown. Serve hot.
Many thanks to Juliet for kindly contributing to The Landing Authors posts. If you want to know more about her work and inspirations, then here are all of the links you need:
If you want to check out other books published by Honno Press:
I’d love to know about what World War I fiction you’ve read and would recommend. Do drop me a line…
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