Tuesday, September 13, 2011

World War II Rationing – The Original Diet

I know, bad taste old chap, but I can’t help thinking that those of us who were born in Britain during the war should, according to dieticians, live forever.
Starting in 1940 bacon, butter and sugar were rationed and this was followed by meat, tea, cheese, eggs, lard, milk and canned fruit.
One of the few items not rationed was fish.

Not much in the way of fried food either because fat was virtually unobtainable and there was not enough meat in the weekly ration to be able to scavenge the fat for the fryer.
In other words, all the things deemed bad for us in this day and age were either not available or available in very limited quantities.
Rationing in Britain did not officially end until 1954 when I was 9 years old so my memories are mostly of the bleak austerity of the post war period.

In fact the peace time rations were, at one time, reduced to below wartime levels.

Now despite the rationing we did not starve, children were provided with dietary supplements but mostly we ate what we could grow. I hated standing in line with my siblings for a tablespoon of malt and a tablespoon of cod liver oil dispensed, with great seriousness, by my mother from huge and threatening jars kept on top of the piano.

As soon as we were physically able we were sent off into the garden to pick berries and that progressed to weeding, mulching and harvesting as we got older.
I think that this is where I developed both a green thumb and a love of gardening!

We practically lived on home grown salad, potatoes & green vegetables and these were supplemented by wild mushrooms and other wild edibles in season.
Many a country walk was taken in search of wild strawberries, elderberries etc., and if a country friend should surreptitiously bag a rabbit with a wire snare we would have extra meat on the table.
Blackberry, gooseberry, raspberry and rhubarb tarts were the desserts of choice (or of availability).

I just loved the smell of fresh earth, the colors of the growing things, the orderliness of the garden surrounded by the chaos of daily life.

One of my favorites was banking up the dirt around the celery to keep the stalks properly blanched, too much dirt – dead celery, too little - sore bottom from a paternal spanking.
My reward for this chore was the celery "cob" with my Sunday salad.

I think that living on the fine edge between famine and plenty in those years is the reason why I now plant far more than we can possible consume. However the excess is not wasted, it goes out to friends and neighbors.
The pity of it is that food banks do not accept fresh produce, how much better would the health of the needy be if they were not eating out of cans.
Midsummer Garden

Monday, September 12, 2011

Americans & Food

I find it quite disconcerting when American visitors to Britain criticize British food. 

This is especially so since most of them have barely set foot outside the designated venues on their tour of “Ye Olde Tea Shoppes of Shakespeare Country” and “ Old Ma Gwyns House” in St Martin in the Fields. And they seem to think we all go around wearing smocks and knee breeches, tug our forelocks and say  things like “Oo Arr m’lud ‘twas that bloke over yonder what shivered me timbers”.

Equally disconcerting is the American aversion to organ meats in a country that is blessed with the finest farmed and wild meat bearing beasts on the planet.

They will eat factory floor sweeping  chemically enhanced dross called a hot dog, have no problem devouring acres of plasticized muck known as cheese slices, slather everything with genetically altered tomato waste (oops sorry Ketchup) but get a case of  the shudders at the thought of biting down on a nicely sautéed kidney.

As a result it is almost impossible to buy suet for a nice Steak and Kidney pudding over here.
Yes you can get universally awful vegetable suet but what about a good old chunk of hard fat from a healthy beef kidney, nicely minced, ready to enhance a proper pudding pastry.
An unabashed plug is about to follow:

I had almost given up on having a decent steamed pudding until I came across U.S. Wellness Meats.
I purchased a goodly supply of suet from them and, to make up my order, added some lamb and beef kidneys and a healthy portion of ox tail.

Oh my goodness what wonders did I behold when my shipment arrived.
Huge 1lb Beef kidneys, meaty oxtail, luscious lamb kidney, visions of puddings and pies galore.
Now for you who are used to AtoraTM beef suet, the US Wellness product is rather coarsely ground so immediately upon receipt you need to chop it into smaller (still frozen) chunks, bung it in your food processor and reduce it to the nice “AtoraTM sized”  grains needed to make a nice smooth pastry.

Immediately after I got the goodies, from a recipe given to me by my daughter, was born the most delicious Steak & Oxtail Pudding.

My family drooled over it (not for long, drooling ended where devouring began) but when I described it to an American friend he got all pale about the gills.
Funny lot these Yanks.
Steak & Oxtail Pudding

To Gadget or not to Gadget, that is the question.

"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind" etc. (With apologies to Billy S.)Preparing food for the table has been made so much easier by the invention of numerous helpful doodads, widgets and gadgets that there are times when I think that giving up and opening a can of "chemically enhanced" Spaghetti O's is a lot less technologically daunting that making a wholesome meal.
There are machines for just about everything and, whilst I am not opposed to the presence of a really good vegetable peeler or a mixer that will ease the ache in my arthritic fingers, I do think that the advance of technology has taken the feeling out of food.
Bread makers are my pet hate, if one wants a bland brick of white "stuff"' then one should go to the supermarket and buy a loaf, at least you won't be fettered with the awfully strenuous chore of slicing the bloody thing.
Now I am not a die hard "beat the clothes on a rock" anti-technology nutter (although according to my beloved daughter I am a nutter) but somehow feel that if you can't be bothered to knead the dough for a loaf of bread then you really have some issues in your life that a psychologist should examine.
There is something about kneading bread that makes all the niggling little stresses of the day go away.
The obnoxious twat that tail-gated you on the way home no longer matters.
Mushroom Bread
The bloody awful woman at the supermarket checkout who had to find her cheque book at the bottom of a cavernous handbag, and who didn't start looking until after all her purchases had been rung up, is now a misty memory.
The soothing rhythm, the changing of the texture as the gluten forms, and knowing that it is ready from  the way it feels, not from the clanging of an awful electric timer.
And in the end, and what is most important, wrapping your gob around a texture filled flavorsome chunk of home baked delight.
No machine in the world can reproduce that.

The Last of the Summer Wine.

Tomato and Sausage Ragu with Pan Pugliese
I  was reminded, watching the program of this name on PBS, how much I miss just plain ordinary folk and just plain ordinary places.
Our lives are filled with images of so called superstars playing in televised roles about ordinary people, and not one of them has a scab, deformity or any other affliction that might make them seem real.
Thanks to the good old BBC, our affectionate Auntie Beeb, for creating a series about ordinary (and delightfully eccentric) people played by actors who look like ordinary people.
The indomitably scruffy Compo, mild and thoughtful Cleggy, Truly of the Yard, people that you could meet in your local on an every day basis.
The wives too, good old plain talking women who will give you a piece of their mind whether you want it or not.
And the delightful setting in the Yorkshire Dales, no studio sets of overpriced & over furnished Manhattan apartments here.
What brought all this to mind was that I am just harvesting the "Last of the Summer Veg".
Cool evenings are starting to creep slowly in and the summer plants have pretty much given their all.
Time to gather the last of the tomatoes, pole beans and such and consign them to simple folksy Al Fresco recipes.
A casserole or two, tomatoes slow cooked with game sausages, zucchini with pasta.
All brought to the table with slabs of freshly baked crusty Pugliese bread.
Ordinary food can be so satisfying if cooked with passion (and a wee bit of talent).