Last year I wondered how well we would cope with rationing, and now Ryan and I have decided to try living on a modern version of WW2 rations for a while. We’re both interested in the wartime era, although from different perspectives. Ryan loves the aircraft and more militaristic aspects of it, I’m fascinated the Home Front and Digging for Victory.
Rationing in WW2 was complex. As supplies fluctuated over the years, so did the ration. Foodstuffs for which a regular supply could not be guaranteed were rationed using the Points system. Each person had a certain number of points each month, and goods were allocated a points value. The points value would vary according to supply, but the aim was to give consumers a bit more choice, and a bit more variety. You still had to pay for everything, of course, so poorer households would still have been limited, but the points system and fixed prices meant more things were within their reach. Every person was issued a ration book, and as you used your ration it was cancelled out by the shopkeeper.
Everyone had to register with one supplier for their rationed goods – one dairy, one butcher, one grocer. Domestic fridges were rare, and domestic freezers unheard of, so people bought perishable goods on a daily basis. For many this meant a daily walk or cycle to the shops, but deliveries were also common. Suppliers were allocated a route, specific streets in which they were allowed to deliver, and different suppliers covering the same area pooled deliveries to save on fuel. So the butcher’s van may well have brought your groceries, and even your milk.
These days, most people shop in supermarkets. The trend for one large weekly shop is declining, with more people nipping to the ‘express’ supermarket after work to pick up what they need. And more people are once again having their groceries delivered, although from one supermarket rather than smaller suppliers. We use Ocado, and have our main shop delivered midweek. If I can I opt for one of their ‘greener’ deliveries, where the system indicates they will be in my area anyway. It helps that we have at least one neighbour who is also an Ocado fan!
A lot of recollections from WW2 indicate that people were always hungry, and that portions were smaller. They were getting more exercise, of course, as the lack of petrol meant people were encouraged to walk or cycle everywhere, and even public transport was only used when absolutely necessary. Housework would have involved more manual labour, with no labour-saving devices such as washing machines, and in their spare time the entire population was digging for victory. Even so, according to BBC iWonder, the ration aimed to give adults a daily intake of 3000 calories. The NHS now recommends 2500 kcal per day for men and 2000 kcal for women, dropping to 1900 kcal for men and 1400 kcal for women for healthy weight loss.
With meats, dairy, eggs and fat all rationed, the extra calories in the wartime diet came from carbs – brown bread and potatoes. Bread was made from imported wheat, and Brits were encouraged to eat less bread to save on shipping. Instead, they were encouraged to eat 340-450g potatoes a day , which equates to 260-350 kcal. We have more variety in our diet, and considering substitutes in terms of calories only, both basmati rice and brown pasta are 350kcal per 100g (uncooked). We tend to allocate 90g pasta per portion, and only about 60g rice.
We’re going to have to be careful not to pile on the carbs, so the main benefits of a more wartime-style diet for us will be higher levels of fresh veg and fibre. We have a pair of ‘healthy portion’ plates, which are divided into 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbs and 1/2 veg, so I think those will be in use a lot!
Confectionery and snacks
In WW2 Each person was allocated 12 oz (340g) of sweets/chocolate per month.
I’m not a big sweet eater, but I do have a soft spot for The Coconut Collaborative’s Dairy Free Milk Chocolate Ganache Pots. They’re small (45g) pots of lovely chocolatey goodness, the kind of treat I missed out on for over a decade due to my cow’s milk intolerance. So I am cashing in my monthly sweetie allowance on choc pots, and I can (almost!) have one per week, which is fine.
Wartime snacks would mostly have been an apple or a carrot, or bread and jam (but people did tend to eat breakfast, lunch/dinner, tea and supper). People would have used some of their points ration to buy biscuits (tea and biscuits being one of the driving forces of the British population at the time!) and I’ve read that each person probably consumed a ‘small packet of biscuits’ per week. What’s a ‘small packet’ of biscuits? We’ve guesstimated at 125g packet. Neither of us really eats biscuits, so we’re substituting them on a calorie basis.
I have a penchant for crisps (US: potato chips), which did not exist in the 1940s. A 125g packet of Rich Tea biscuits (which you can’t get, this is for illustration only) would be 574 kcal. The crisps I like are 484 kcal per 100g, which gives me a crisp allowance of just about 120g per week. According to the crisp packet, that’s 4 portions, but I will weigh mine out into smaller portions.
Ryan snacks on dried fruit, salted nuts and a variety of dried veg snacks (Hodmedod’s Light Sea Salt Roasted Peas are popular with him at the moment, and when he can get it he likes Grape Tree’s Roasted Salted Giant Corn). We’re going to ration out his fruit and nuts according to the same calorie calculation, but I’m happy for him to have the veg portions ‘for free’. We have a lot of popping corn, so if he’s short on snacks he can whip up a batch of plain popcorn (providing we still have cooking oil left in the ration.!). This week he’s weighed out plain dried fruit as his snack ration, and yoghurt-covered raisins as his confectionary ration.
Ryan buys his lunch from a shop near work, so we’ll consider that ‘off ration’ eating; in wartime many people ate their main meal of the day in the company canteen, or at a ‘British Restaurant’, so a sandwich and a bag of crisps from the shop isn’t a massive leap.
I mainly have lunch at home, but occasionally need a packed lunch, so my lunches will come out of the rations, which may prove interesting.
Last week we weighed out the rations, and I planned a week’s menu:
- Chicken casserole (4 portions, 2 nights)
- Woolton pie (4 portions, 2 nights)
- Chicken stir-fries (2 nights)
- Pasta & pesto, with a sprinkling of cheese
In WW2 the meat ration was mainly beef, pork or lamb. We’re not big red meat eaters, and I had chicken in the freezer, so I based the menu around that. The chicken casserole used 3 chicken thighs; once it was cooked I took the meat off the bone and shredded it, which makes it easier to stretch 3 thighs into 3 portions!
The rest of the week went a bit… awry. Some gruelling days at work meant we had 1 Chinese take-away, and one night making tortilla ‘pizzas’. Those used up some of the cheese and cooked meat ration, but I never defrosted the other half of our meat ration from the freezer. We also ate out on Saturday lunch time (a family event) and so just had freshly made scones for supper in the evening.
So, at the end of the week – we had most of the cooking oil left, and half of the hard butter (I used some for the scones). We’d used a lot of the spreadable butter (‘margarine’), but not all of it. We had a lot of sugar left, and Ryan even had some of his dried fruit left. We’d forgotten to weigh out the cheese ration, but although we used some I don’t think we used all of it (having weighed out this week’s and seen how much you get).
Yes, we used some ingredients and recipes that weren’t available during the war, but tortilla pizzas aren’t a million miles from cheese on toast, and wartime housewives certainly knew about macaroni, so pasta is not too much of a stretch either. For a more authentic experience, we could have made our own pesto out of the oil and cheese ration; basil wasn’t a well-known herb in wartime Britain, however.
This week’s menu:
- Chicken stir-fry (4 portions, 2 nights)
- Black pudding hot pot, a wartime recipe (4 portions, 2 nights)
- Bolognese sauce (4 portions, 2 nights)
- Pasta and pesto and cheese
(Having run out of basil pesto last week, we’re on to a more wartime recipe – nettle! We still didn’t make it ourselves, though.)