Taking a break from space for a while, I have made a transcript of the third episode of The Wartime Kitchen and Garden, a fascinating series starring Ruth Mott and Peter Dodson, with a voiceover by Peter Thoday. [You’ll find the first two transcripts, and other relevant posts, under the Home Front tag.]

Episode 3 transcript

00:56 [Recording of Churchill] “And now, it has come to us to stand alone, in the breach, and face the worst that the tyrant’s might and enmity can do. Bearing ourselves humbly before God, but conscious that we serve an unfolding purpose, we are ready to defend our native lands against the invasion by which it is threatened.”

01:14 [Peter Thoday] In June 1940, Hitler knew he had to gain command of the skies over Britain before he could invade. This meant destroying the fighter stations that protected London.

01:37 [Peter Thoday] Throughout the summer, workers in gardens like Chilton carried on under the deadly battle raging in the skies above them.

02:05 [Peter Thoday] The airfields were almost destroyed when Hitler’s bombers unexpectedly turned their attention to London. It gave a vital breathing space. Fighter Command’s victory on September 15th finally persuaded Hitler to call off the invasion.

02:23 [Peter Thoday] During these anxious weeks, people on the ground were keen to help in any way they could.

02:32 Knocking at the door

02:33 [Ruth Mott] Oh Joyce, go and see who that is at the door, will you please?

02:36 [Peter Thoday] Ruth Mott, in her kitchen, receives a visit from volunteers collecting aluminium pots and pans to turn into planes. This was the brainchild of newspaper tycoon Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production. Everybody, including the Royal Family, loyally handed over their saucepans.

02:58 [Ruth Mott] Oh, this old one with the string handle can go. Get rid of that. That one isn’t much good, either, they can take that one. And, I think, this aluminium jug. That’ll do for today. If I find anything else, we’ll let them know. Alright?

03:18 [Joyce] Alright then.

03:19 [Ruth Mott] Everybody rustled round and tried to find something, ‘coz you felt that were helping the war effort, you know. You sort of felt that it wasn’t going to terminate unless you’d done something to help it.

03:32 [Peter Thoday] The appeal yielded a thousand tons of metal. How much actually went into building planes is uncertain, as much of the aluminium was of low grade. For the housewife, it meant yet another shortage. Few saw aluminium saucepans again until after the war.

04:00 [Peter Thoday] Faced with heavy losses at sea, the Minister of Agriculture renewed his efforts to get people to grow their own food.

04:08 [Radio recording] “Today we begin a new Dig for Victory campaign. Mayors from all parts of the country took part. We carried it through during an air raid, one of the many London has been having today. But we were all agreed, that a successful Dig for Victory campaign this autumn is one of the best answers to Hitler’s attempt to damage our overseas food supplies, and interrupt our communications.

04:34 [Peter Thoday] Originally called Grow More Food, the campaign now became known as Dig for Victory. Its famous logo immortalised the spadework of London gardener W H McKay.

04:46 [Radio recording] “In peacetime, the Continent sends us over a quarter of a million tons of vegetables a year. Hitler has cut them off for the moment. We must now grow them ourselves.”

05:00 [Peter Thoday] Alongside the Dig for Victory movement, the men from the Ministry of Food pursued their campaign with equal relish. Their boss, Lord Woolton, was another frequent broadcaster.

05:14 [Recording of Lord Woolton] “As you have just heard, it is to you – the housewives of Britain – that I want to talk tonight. And I am going to be very practical, and a bit personal, too! But first, you musn’t waste any food. We want all the ships that we can get to carry munitions. And I tell you in plain and direct language that you are risking the lives of our fighting men if your waste of food takes up extra shipping space. Now, don’t tell me that you never waste a thing.”

05:54 [Peter Thoday] Lord Woolton had been brought into the Government because of his considerable experience in running a chain of department stores. His friendly manner, and homely turn of phrase, established him in the minds – if not always the hearts – of his listeners.

06:10 [Recording of Lord Woolton] “Sugar… now, now, really. I’ve heard a lot about sugar. Really, can’t you cut it down in wartime? I have done. I’m well below the ration. And tea takes up a lot of space. Now here’s a new slogan for the Kitchen Front: ‘One for each person, and none for the pot!’. In wartime, let’s have the ships instead.

06:37 [Peter Thoday] Under pressure from Lord Woolton, the BBC started ‘The Kitchen Front’, a series of daily broadcasts about cooking. The recipes proved popular, and were eventually published as a book.

06:53 [Joyce] Right, I’m off to the village now.

06:55 [Ruth Mott] Alright then. Take the ration book, then.

06:59 [Joyce] Anything you want in particular?

07:00 [Ruth Mott] Yes, we must have the butter today.

07:02 [Peter Thoday] Ruth has chosen the Wartime Chocolate Pudding. The recipe uses syrup and cocoa, both still unrationed. It also includes carrot, often used to save on sugar.

07:14 [Ruth Mott] If you see anything else, you think we ought to have, that’s not on the ration, bring it along.

07:20 [Joyce] Right, see you later then. Bye!

07:29 [Ruth Mott] I’m just grating this [carrot] up to finish it up and then I think I’ve got about two teacupsful here by then, and that should be enough to go in our pudding for today. Carrot, basically, was used a lot in the wartime as a sweetening agent. So we’ve cut down the sugar to one ounce, and so we’re going to put in two ounces of margarine, and the one ounce of sugar which we’ve got ready. And we’re just going to beat that up until it all mixes in nicely together. It’ll take a minute, as we’ve got it nice and soft. And into that, we’re going to put our two cups of grated carrot. It’s a teacup we’re using, so if anyone wants to make it now that’s equivalent to four ounces, one teacup. And we have no egg in this pudding, either, so we’ve got to use extra raising agent for it. We wind this all up together. Cooks are allowed to take it off with hands, with fingers. Into that we’re now going to put the four teacups of flour. We just add it by degrees, about a cup at a time, and then it will be easier to work in. Followed by a good heaped tablespoonful of cocoa, and a little bit for luck. A teaspoonful of bicarb [bicarbonate of soda], which will give it a raising agent, and some baking powder. So this will help make it puff up in the basin. It should make a very light pudding actually, I think it will.

10:17 [Ruth Mott] Now we’ve got a couple of tablespoons of treacle [Golden Syrup}, We’ll be fairly generous with it, because it’s not on the ration , but I expect it will be eventually. And I shall now change spoons, because it will work in better with this one, which has got a cutting action. And half a pint of milk. It may not take all the half pint, so we’ll see how it goes. I shall only add a drop of milk at a time, because all flours don’t absorb the same amount of moisture, so that we might be able to save a little drop of that milk and have a cup of tea.

11:30 [Ruth Mott] That I would consider was about right. Then we just put it into the basin. And when that’s cooked, you won’t find any of that carrot. It steams for about two hours. That should take it, and make it very nice. There we are. Put the margarine paper that we’ve saved carefully over the top, and then we’ll tuck it down round, and then we’ll steam it with that. That steams for about two hours.

12:22 [Peter Thoday] Chocolate puddings were a luxury that could be ill-afforded later in the war. By 1942, syrup and cocoa were both rationed. Now, homegrown vegetables were going to be the mainstay of a family’s diet. But digging up the back garden would barely produce enough. Local authorities were encouraged to provide allotments. The hunt for land produced some strange settings for a cabbage patch, including the moat at the Tower of London!

12:52 [Radio recording] “We’ve got over a million allotments now. I want another half million by next spring. Now some of you may think that growing vegetables is too difficult. Well, it isn’t. Every council office will help you. There are lots of knowledgeable people about to lend you a hand. The old, skilled allotment holders, county horticultural superintendents, park superintendents, gardeners private and public.

13:20 [Annie] Hello Mr Dodson.

13:21 [Harry Dodson] Hello Annie, let’s have a look at this problem you’ve got. My, he is active, isn’t it? Well, we’ve got to find the run in. It’s no good thinking we can set a trap there. He’s has got a run somewhere which he uses. You want a stick, or a rod.

13:47 [Peter Thoday] The back garden of the house where Annie’s billeted has been invaded by a mole. With no knowledge of how to deal with the hidden enemy, she’s asked her employer – Harry Dodson – to help her.

14:09 [Harry Dodson] Yes, that’s it. He’s very deep. Very deep. You’ve got to find the hole out with your fingers, in case you’ve muffled it. He’s got a clear hole now, right through. That should be alright. It’s quite simple to set the trap, look. Alright? Place the trap down in [the hole]. You want the tongue nearly down to the bottom of the run, because it’s that tongue that he’s going to knock out of position, which will trap him. Now these leaves are to hold the soil clear. There must be a clear run through the bottom, because they always have a clear run in.  And you must keep that, with the trap in there, clear. And the most important thing of all is to fill the hole in at the top, because there must be no daylight to show through. If there’s daylight showing through, he won’t have it, he’ll dodge back. It needs, very often, a vey gentle hand to put that [soil] on there, and very light soil, but I think you’ll find that will be alright. Now, when you come tomorrow morning, if that trap is out wide – these two pieces – are out wide to about here, pull the trap out. With any luck at all, your little friend should be on the bottom.

16:28 [Annie] I look forward to it!

16:28 [Harry Dodson] If not, I’ll have to come back and try and find another run in. That would be the best course of action.

17:18 [Peter Thoday] Before the war, much of the country’s stocks of seed came from abroad. When the bulk of these supplies were cut off, gardeners were encouraged to save their own. Unfortunately, they had to be selective. Cabbage and cauliflower produced inferior seedlings. But others, like leek, gave reliable seed.

17:42 [Harry Dodson] It would be late August, early September, before the seed pod would actually begin to crack open.

17:55 [Peter Thoday] The cost of seed soared. By the end of the war, it had reached four times its pre-war level. Despite the efforts of the amateur gardener, most seeds still came from the large companies, who had been forced to expand home production.

18:13 [Harry Dodson] Quite a number of the seeds, you hung them up somewhere dry and the capsule popped and the seed fell out. It was a bit fussy, but when things was hard to come by, and that sort of thing, if you had a good stock of leek and onion it was worth doing.

18:41 [Peter Thoday] 1940 saw an unprecedented boom in weddings. Dunkirk had brought the country’s young men back home, and in spite of an uncertain future ahead of them, many couples felt it the right moment to get married.

19:06 [Peter Thoday] The cake was still the centrepiece of the wedding, but traditional ingredients were hard to come by. One marzipan substitute was made from soya flour and almond essence, mixed with water and margarine.

19:21 [Ruth Mott] I’ll just give that a good beat up. Now that’s getting nice and ready to cool down. It’s too soft to handle to put onto the top of the cake at the moment. To put it onto a fruit cake, for Christmas or a wedding, you’d only do it about a week beforehand and then put it onto the cake. It goes on drying out, so that if you did it longer than that, you’d have a very hard top to your cake.

19:56 [Peter Thoday] A family was entitled to an extra food allowance for each guest invited, but the amounts were small, and so was the cake!

20:04 [Ruth Mott] It didn’t ever get beyond a 10-inch, and that was quite a big one. The most popular size was about an 8-inch cake tin, and you only cut out little slithers, it wasn’t a slice, so it was only a little portion of about an inch by an inch.

20:34 [Peter Thoday] But the heaviest blow came with the Sugar Order of August 1940. This forbade the placing of sugar on any cake after baking.

21:04 [Peter Thoday] The confectioner’s art was replaced by a concoction of cardboard and plaster.

21:17 [Ruth Mott] Well I had a cover like this for my wedding cake. My grocer ordered it for me, in the village, but I had no idea that it was going to be a cardboard cover when it came, so that was a great surprise! I kept it for many years, because I also used it when I made wedding cakes. And it had a little sort of arrangement on the top that tied on with ribbon, so I was able to undo the ribbons, take the top off, put a stork over the top, or a bow of pink ribbon if it was a 21st birthday cake, or something like that. So it was a very versatile piece of equipment, this!

Wartime Chocolate Pudding
Wartime Chocolate Pudding recipe, from the Kitchen Front

Here’s the original ‘Wartime Chocolate Pudding’ recipe from The Kitchen Front booklet:

2 breakfastcupfuls flour
1 cupful grated carrot
1 oz sugar
2 tablespoonfuls golden syrup
1 teaspoonful bicarbonate soda
1 teaspoonful baking powder
1 heaped tablespoonful cocoa
1/4 pint milk
2 ozs margarine
A little vanilla essence

Cream the margarine and sugar together and stir in the grated carrot, syrup, fruit and the rest of the dry ingredients. Add milk to mix to a fairly stiff consistency. Put into a greased basin and steam for 2 hours.

Let me know how you get on, if you try it!