Yes, We Have No Oranges (Nor Bananas)…

Last year author Juliet Greenwood (We That Are left, Honno Press)) wrote a guest blog post on the topic of producing and preparing food for the Home Front during the First World War. In her novel, the main protagonist, Elin goes back to her mother’s old recipe book to help her produce nutritious recipes for wartime. Recipes from the period were reproduced at the end of the book, some of which you can find on Juliet’s guest post. I have gradually tried out Juliet’s recipes, most recently the seed cake, which I have blogged about over on Curiously Creatively this week. It was most delicious!

Few Eggs and No Oranges

Reprinted edition

As Juliet pointed out at the time, rationing only came about towards the end of World War I, and lessons learned from this conflict influenced rationing decisions in the Second World War. I was reminded of this when I was browsing recently in Hodges Figgis and spotted a reprint of a Second World War diary. Few Oranges and No Eggs (Persephone, 1991, 2010) was the work of Birmingham born Vere Hodgson (1901-1979) who began work in London in 1935 and stayed there throughout the war. She worked for the Greater World Christian Spiritualist Association in a welfare role and helped to produce the association’s newspaper. The office was in a house (named The Sanctuary) in Lansdowne Road and Vere lived nearby in Ladbrooke Road, though she often spent the nights of The Blitz at The Sanctuary taking a turn on fire watch duty. Although the diary entries continue until VE Day, I have just quoted from the early part of the book to give you some idea of Vere’s life. The diary actually began life as letters sent around to family members and then posted out to a cousin in Rhodesia. Only one batch of letters ever got lost en route. Not bad for a war-time postal service!

As the book’s title suggests, one of the major preoccupations of the author was obtaining food during the lean years of the war. On 9th July 1940, Vere Hodgson was recording that “We are to have six ounces of butter cum margarine, and two ounces of cooking fat” and on 16th July she was writing of the shortage of eggs in London, declaring, “I shall have to switch over to baked beans”.   Rationing restrictions changed over the years, but began in January 1940 with bacon, butter and sugar. Later, several other food products were added to the rationed list and supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables were limited, though not rationed. Tinned products were un-rationed but you needed points to buy the food. The chart I have included (taken from Wikipedia) will give some idea of the range of weekly rationing, from lowest to highest. Not on the chart are eggs (one per week) and milk (3 pints per week). There were increased milk rations for children, pregnant women and invalids and oranges, when available were usually only for children or pregnant women.

World War II Rations

Ration Chart

Vere’s observations marked the daily difficulties of obtaining scarce supplies and the alteration in the rations. Despite fruit not being rationed, imported fruits such as bananas and oranges were obviously hard to come by at all. Prices of homegrown produce varied a great deal as this entry from February 1941 shows, “Bought a pound of apples yesterday for one shilling…what a price. No oranges at all, at all. Very annoying.”  Later that month she notes that the cheese rationing will probably amount to a one inch cube per week. At that point, it was immaterial as none was available in her area anyway.

One of the effects of rationing and shortages appeared to be that people craved that which they would not ordinarily have eaten, such as in this case, onions. “Mr Booker was saying that though he hates onions, when once more we can get them he will sit down and really enjoy one. I think we shall go in for onion binges when the war is over”. (16th February 1941) I have a vision of Vere tucking into endless plates of fried onions after the war. In many entries such as this one, Vere displays that sense of humour and stoicism that enabled many people to carry on despite the shortages. I will just finish with this excerpt from 22nd February 1941, which details the proceeds of a shopping expedition:

Managed to get a few eating apples yesterday to my great joy. I treated myself – they are one shilling and one penny per pound. I carried them home as if they were the Crown Jewels. Also had some luck over cheese. Went for my bacon ration and while cutting it had a word with the man about the Cubic Inch of Cheese. He got rid of the other customers and then whispered, ‘Wait a mo’.’ I found half a pound of cheese being thrust into my bag with great secrecy and speed!

Then going to the Dairy for my butter ration I was given four eggs and a quarter of cheese! Had no compunction in taking it, for I went straight to my Mercury Cafe and gave it to them….they had said they did not think they could open the next day as they had no meat and only a morsel of cheese. I could not resist, when I got in, cutting off a hunk of my piece and eating it there and then. I always sympathised with Ben Gunn when he dreamed of toasted cheese on that desert island.

If you’ve never come across this diary, I recommend it for the day-to-day picture of war-time life. The experiences are particular to one educated, middle class woman but it does give you a vivid picture of what life must have like for Londoners and Brummies in all walks of life as they coped with the destruction and privation on the Home Front. This is one book that I am sure I will dip into again and again. Vere Hodgson’s voice is lively and compassionate; her conscientious recording of all that happens draws the reader into her world.

I have also written a piece for Headstuff if you would like to read it too: http://www.headstuff.org/2015/05/exploring-a-wartime-diarist-vere-hodgson/

Until next time!

Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

While I was working on Juliet Greenwood’s guest material, I was reminded of a short review that I wrote of Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith (my edition is Virago). This was published in the reader review column of Herstoria in 2009:

One of my all-time favourites...

One of my all-time favourites…

 

Not So Quiet  Helen Zenna Smith (Feminist Press at the City University of New York)

I first read this novel sixteen years ago and it has since stayed with me, literally and metaphorically. The title first caught my attention, its nod to Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) intriguing. I discovered that the author Evadne Price, a children’s writer and journalist had been asked to write a parody of All Quiet.  Fortunately for the canon of First World War literature, she declined to do so. She said, ‘that wonderful book…. anybody would be mad to make fun of.[it]’.  Instead Price, in the guise of ambulance driver Helen Smith wrote a vivid, unforgettable novel (1930) based on the war time journal of Winifred Young.

Price gives a view that complements that of Remarque‘s book. She graphically illustrates the experiences of the women struggling to get wounded soldiers to the field hospitals. They slogged day after day, night after night in appalling conditions, the night  driving often in blackout conditions under heavy bombardment. They had poor rations, lice infestation, very little sleep and a tyrannical commanding officer, nicknamed ’Mrs Bitch’ by the ambulance drivers. They may not have seen themselves as heroes, but they were. This makes it for me an inspiring read, written as it is without sentimentality.

Young’s family were proud of her ‘doing her bit’, but not keen to face the reality of her experiences. In having her journal reworked as a novel she publicised the truth. The attitude of  armchair patriots is clearly condemned in the novel. There is a terrible, chilling competitiveness amongst the committee sitting, sock knitting mothers,  about who is giving the most (in the form of their offspring) to the war effort. The book is harshly critical of both war itself and those patriotic souls who pressured others into risking both their lives and their sanity. But it also shows us the toughness, resilience, camaraderie and humanity of the women who volunteered. There were clashes of personality and perspective but the women functioned as a courageous team. I often wonder how I would have fared in the same situation.  I like to think that if the need ever arose, I would do as well as they did.

 

Since this is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, it seems a good occasion to re-read Not So Quiet in tribute to the women who worked so hard for the war effort and faced dangers that they could never have imagined…

Landing Author: Juliet Greenwood on WWI Food

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.

Rosehip Syrup

Full of vitamin C…

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…

WWI Seed Cake  WWI Seed Cake

Original version:

2½lb Flour

2lb Refined Sugar

12ozs Caraway Seeds

2lbs Butter or Margarine

4 teaspoons Orange Flower Water

10 Eggs

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

3 Eggs

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:

Website:     http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/We that are left

Blog:            http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook:    https://www.facebook.com/juliet.greenwood

Twitter:      https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

If you want to check out other books published by Honno Press:

 http://www.honno.co.uk/index.php

I’d love to know about what World War I fiction you’ve read and would recommend. Do drop me a line… 

 

 

 

Introducing Landing Author Juliet Greenwood

As there are still plenty of summer days left for reading (albeit that you might be reading in mac and wellingtons) I thought I would feature one of my recent library reads which I flew through recently. We That are Left by Juliet Greenwood (Honno Press 2014) is set  during the First World War, which is a very topical subject just at the moment. The action moves between Cornwall, Anglesey and France as the war unfolds and opens at Elin Helstone’s  Cornish home Hiram Hall just before the outbreak of hostilities:We that are left

 

Elin lives a luxurious but lonely life at Hiram Hall. Her husband Hugo loves her but he has never recovered from the Boer War. Now another war threatens to destroy everything she knows.

With Hugo at the front, and her cousin Alice and friend Mouse working for the war effort, Elin has to learn to run the estate in Cornwall, growing much-needed food, sharing her mother’s recipes and making new friends – and enemies. But when Mouse is in danger, Elin must face up to the horrors in France herself.
 And when the Great War is finally over, Elin’s battles prove to have only just begun.

 

I have read many novels from this period, but ever since reading Not So Quiet by Helen Zennor Smith some years ago, I’ve tried to  read more about women’s role during the great conflict. Juliet Greenwood’s novel combines love (as opposed to romance) with the hard realities of war for both soldiers and civilians, against a background of women’s wartime activity. Whether it’s growing food, driving ambulances or running a hospital and foraging for medical supplies, Greenwood’s women step up and are counted. It was a time when women were challenging social roles and agitating for the vote, and it was ironic that it took a war for women to have the opportunity prove what they could do. It is also worth pointing out that after the war many women who served in the war effort would have had just the same difficulties as the men in returning to peace time after all that they had seen and endured.

I haven’t hosted a Landing Author for a while, so I thought I would ask Juliet Greenwood if she would be kind enough to write a guest post for The Landing. After seeing a cookery demonstration recently at TCD’ s World War I day of talks and events, I decided that it would be interesting to focus on food as a post topic. At the cookery demonstration, Domini Kemp and Catherine Cleary from RTE’s History on a Plate recreated some recipes from the Ireland of that period. In Juliet’s novel, Elin has her Welsh mother’s collection of tried and tested recipes which she puts to good to good use when ingredients are scarce. A nice feature of We that are left is that Juliet has included some of the recipes that she mentions in the story. I’m planning to try out some of them myself and will be posting the results on Curiously Creatively in due course.

I’ll be posting up Juliet’s guest post, complete with recipes to tempt you into the kitchen, in a couple of days so do look out for it. Juliet Greenwood is the second Honno Press author that I’ve hosted here, the first being Jacqueline Jacques so check out her guest posts too if you have the time.

In the meantime, here’s a little information about Juliet Greenwood if you haven’t read her books before:

Juliet Greenwood

At Blist’s Hill Victorian Town

 

Juliet lives in a traditional quarryman’s cottage between the mountains of Snowdonia and the island of Anglesey. She has a large garden and attempts to grow as much as she is able and experiment with the results. When not writing Juliet works collecting oral history, before such stories are lost forever.

‘We That are Left’ is her second Book for Honno Press. Her first, ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’ 2014. Both books were Kindle top 5 best sellers in June and July 2014.

Juliet also writes serials and stories for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’.

 

Juliet’s Media Links:

We That Are Left Honno Press, 2014

The Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month, March 2014

The National Museum of Wales Book of the Month, March 2014

Waterstones Wales Book of the Month March, 2014 http://www.amazon.co.uk/That-Are-Left-Juliet-Greenwood/dp/190678499X

Eden’s Garden Honno Press, 2012

Finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’, May 2014

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edens-Garden-Juliet-Greenwood/dp/1906784353

 

Website:     http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/

Blog:            http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook:    https://www.facebook.com/juliet.greenwood

Twitter:      https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

I hope all of that has whetted your appetite before Juliet Greenwood’s guest post on writing about women and food in the First World War!

 

 

#PoetryinJune: Wilfred Owen

My choice of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) today is another nod to the GCE ‘O’ Level syllabus of x number of years ago when I was at school in Birmingham and would have been knee-deep in exams at this time of year. If I tell you that I took mine in the year that Virginia Wade won the Women’s Singles title at Wimbledon….well I will leave you to work it out.

As I don’t have the original copy of the poetry book from school (we didn’t have to buy our own text books) then the next best thing is the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (edited by Philip Larkin, 1973, 1985). This is stamped as once belonging to a college in Coventry but I promise that I came by it honestly, via a second-hand book shop.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?

Jacket of OUP 20th Century Verse

Horror of War

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
 Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
 The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

I haven’t read Wilfred Owen for a while, though he was my favourite from the syllabus. The problem with studying anything for an exam is that you hack it to pieces until sick of it. I have found that for me, Owen’s poetry  has survived the school experience and that after a certain grace period, I could read it again. I also still read Owen because of my interest in reading about the First World War – in literary fiction, poetry, biography and history. He was the first World War I poet that I read and I could probably trace my interest in WWI all the way back to that stuffy classroom and Wilfred Owen. Perhaps I should do a First World War post in the near future?

That’s all for today’s edition of the poetry reading challenge, but drop me a line with your school literary loves (or hates)….

John Buchan on film: those elusive thirty-nine celluloid steps

Orange Penguin cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

Our edition of The Thirty-Nine Steps

As I mentioned previously, I watched one of the film versions of John Buchan’s classic adventure The Thirty-Nine Steps after reading it recently. The Hitchcock re-telling was one of my favourite screen versions, made in 1935 and starring Robert Donat (as Richard Hannay) and Madeleine Carroll (as Pamela). It was not until I read The Thirty-Nine Steps that I realised just how far were the screen versions from Buchan’s original story. I thought I knew the plot (more or less, a variation here and there perhaps) but now I concede that I knew absolutely nothing. Except that, thirty-nine steps (albeit with variant meanings) were involved and so was a large segment of rugged, almost deserted (except for the baddies) Scottish landscape.

For those of you who have never read The Thirty-Nine Steps, I will give a brief outline of the plot before

Cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

A first edition of the novel

confusing you with the plot of the film: Hannay is a Scot, recently returned to the Old Country from South Africa who is heartily bored after three months. After an evening at dinner and a music hall show, he has determined to leave for the Cape if nothing interesting turns up within another day. Something certainly does turn up and Hannay finds himself fleeing across Scotland in several different disguises while in possession of a secret that could mean the difference between war and peace. Figuring out what or where the thirty-nine steps might be is a vital part of his un-looked for mission. As Buchan wrote the book in 1915, the plot’s threat, which involved the assassination of a European leader, was rather apposite. The Thirty-Nine Steps was Richard Hannay’s first adventure and it involves him in some tight moments and plenty of narrow escapes.

Moving on to the film version: I found to my surprise that whereas in Buchan’s original novel I found a distinct lack of women characters, two feisty ones pop up in the screen action. In the book, an occasional anonymous female supplies much-needed sustenance (fleeing dastardly spies is hungry work), but where, oh where is the glamorous Mata Hari type figure (Annabella Smith, played by Lucie Mannheim) that I saw in the film? In Buchan’s spy yarn, a mysterious American called Franklin P Scudder gives the vital information to Hannay. He does eventually wind up dead, but not as soon and arguably not as splendidly dramatically as Smith does.  In Buchan’s world, spying is obviously strictly a man’s game.

Film poster of Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll

Film Poster

Hitchcock’s film further alters the female/male balance of the cast by adding the cool and elegant Pamela, to function as the ‘love interest’ part of the chase. I wonder what Buchan, who died in 1940 thought of the changes made to his story. He did not live to see the further screen adaptations, none of which was any more faithful than the 1935 film to the original tale. Carroll’s character is noticeably less exotic than the deceased Annabella Smith is but sparks soon fly between her and Hannay. Initially she disbelieves Hannay’s far fetched claims so betrays him to the police before finally realising that he was telling her the truth all along and so she helps him.

One side effect of playing with Google to research for blog pieces is that you find out other snippets of information. I found a site set up in tribute to Madeleine Carroll, who was apparently one of the few film actors to make a successful transition from silent movies to talkies. She was born in West Bromwich, England of an Irish father (Co Limerick) and a French mother and spent part of her early career with Barry Jackson’s Birmingham Repertory Theatre. A memorial was set up in her hometown in 2010 and an account of her life by Derek Chamberlain was published by Troubadour Publishing Ltd. If I manage to get a picture of her memorial next time I am in the area, I will post it up.

Follow the links given in the text for further information. Thanks to Wikipedia for the gorgeous The 39 Steps film poster and the shot of the first edition jacket.

If you are interested in further information about John Buchan’s life and work, I found a link to the John Buchan Society which has plenty of useful material.

Now, after John Buchan, which of the ‘Landing Eight’ shall I tackle next….Any thoughts?