Keep Calm and Carry on

As this blog is to focus on childhood as well as sweet foods in literature, I decided to look back to the childhood of my Grandparents. Growing up during World War Two, they were directly subjected to the hardships of war and rationing on the home front. As war broke out in 1939, it became clear that the acquirement of food would become difficult for Britain. The country imported 60% of its food from abroad, a fact that would be exploited by Germany as the U-Boats would be sent to destroy as many ships as possible. As such, rationing was first introduced on the home front in January 1940.

Weekly food rations by the end of 1942 (about half way through the war) were as follows:
  • 113g Bacon or Ham
  • 1S 2d Meat (meat was rationed by price)
  • 57g Butter
  • 113g Cheese
  • 113g Margarine
  • 113g Cooking Fat
  • 226g Sugar
  • 57g Sugar

Milk and Eggs generally varied with supply but were available as follows:
  • 2 ½ Pints of milk and a tin of dried skimmed milk every month
  • 1 egg per week and one tin of dried skimmed milk every month

The food shortages caused people to turn to the less traditional forms of food. Offal (the internal organs of animals) became incredibly popular but were difficult to find. Nevertheless, these changes in diet actually introduced a more balanced and healthy eating regime to the British nation. Its agricultural schemes were one of the home fronts biggest successes, as it taught self sufficiency to a country that seemed to rely heavily on its imports.

For children, the biggest hardship of rationing was that of sweet foods. The amount allowed fluctuated throughout the war, although there were some absent entirely. Ice cream had completely disappeared, as had bananas; an entire generation grew up in ignorance of what they were. As milk was in short supply, chocolate became noticeably less smooth and more powdery.

The U.S soldiers were generous with giving children their sweet foods and chewing gum. Children would call out to them “got any gum chum” which became a popular catchphrase.

After speaking to my grandparents about the sweet foods they enjoyed during war time, they confessed that they couldn’t really remember many. However, they recalled milk based puddings, such as rice pudding (something which remains a staple in my house!). What they did say was that when sweets were available, you had to get them fast or do without!

On visiting the reading rooms at the Imperial War Museum, I discovered many pamphlets and books focused entirely on cooking for children during rationing. The various instructions and recipes reflected this, with minimal ingredients and quantities to ensure that food could go that extra mile. I found two recipes that interested me in particular; ‘milk pudding’ and ‘rusk trifle’. The recipes are as follows:

It was interesting as the recipe for ‘milk pudding’ is almost identical to the one used in our house today, and rusks are still found on the shelves of all supermarkets to cater for the nutritional needs of children. Dietary requirements for children have arguably not changed drastically in 70 years. I decided to give both recipes a go, and was pleasantly surprised to say that they didn’t taste too bad. The basic instructions made it slightly difficult to be sure if I had gotten them right. These recipes reflect the foods that were more readily available during rationing, and cater for a child’s desire for sweeter foods.

Something else that caught my eye in the reading rooms was the rationing books produced specifically for children. It shows that children were not only affected by the rationing, but were actively involved in it. They were policed in the same way that adults were, shown by the rationing book. This individual was ten years old when she owned this, and there were several others to follow. Not even children were exempt from rationing.

Luckily, it did not last forever. The rationing of sweet food ended on 5th February 1953, eight years after the end of the war. 

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