I am making transcripts for The Wartime Kitchen and Garden, a fascinating series starring Ruth Mott and Peter Dodson, with a voiceover by Peter Thoday. This is episode five (of eight). [You’ll find the other transcripts, and other relevant posts, under the Home Front tag.]

Episode 5 transcript

00:55 [Peter Thoday] 1942 was a drab year. People needed any lift to the spirit that colour and flowers could give. The worst of the Blitz was over, but the war dragged on with no apparent end in sight. At Chilton, Harry Dodson has assured the survival of the herbaceous border by planting vegetables among the flowers.

01:24 [Peter Thoday] Producers at the BBC used comedy sketches to make wartime recipes more palatable. The Buggins family, popular from pre-war radio, were enlisted.

01:35 [Radio voices]
“I know, I’ll make a Connaught Pie.”
“Another disguise for parsnips?”

01:40 [Peter Thoday] Ruth Mott and her evacuee Joyce tune in to The Kitchen Front.

01:47 [Radio voices]
“5 ounces flaked oats, a pint of water”
“Well, that’s one thing they ain’t rationed yet!”
“Oh, grandma, you’ll make me lose me thread. Where was I?”
“5 ounces flaked oats and a pint of water”
“Then there’s ‘alf a leek, one teaspoonful of mixed ‘erbs, and one teaspoonful of salt. Two ounces of leftover meat, cut in slices. Two ounces of cheese and one pint of sauce.”
“What kind of sauce?”
“Well, you make it with three ounces of national flour and a pint of vegetable stock or water, and the two ounces of cheese.”
“Sounds alright. What are you going to do with that lot?”
“Well, you put your flaked oats, and the leek, and the seasonings and the mixed herbs and the water in a pan, and bring it to the boil. Boil it ‘til it’s thick – 20 to 30 minutes. Then you turn it onto a flat plate and let it cool. When it’s cold, cut it into small shapes, and sandwich the cold meat inbetween the shapes. Then you arrange them in a flat dish, and pour the cheese sauce over. You grill it, or brown it in the oven. “
“That sounds very tasty. Very tasty indeed.”
“Would you like to make all that fuss over Mariah? I wouldn’t. Besides, it might tempt her to stay, if your cooking’s too good! Don’t do to cook too well. That’s what made Louisa Nutbutton’s husband marry her. She’s said to me, time and again, with tears in her eyes, ‘I’m afraid Clara’, she said, ‘that Henry only married me for me cooking.’”

03:42 [Harry Dodson] Oh, this is taking rather more growing material than I thought for in the beginning, Annie.

03:47 [Peter Thoday] The government valued the vitamin content of tomatoes. In the English climate, their outdoor season is short and unreliable. So every available glasshouse space was requisitioned. With the flowers gone, Harry must somehow convert the staging to carry a crop of tomatoes.

04:09 [Harry Dodson] With two walls of the well-rotted manure, placed on like this, and in the middle of the manure is placed the loam. And the loam is firmed, fairly firm, otherwise you just get a soft, lanky growth to the tomatoes. The real idea of the tomato walls is to keep the loam together, and you will be able to keep the moisture in better than you would if it was just a mound of loam.

04:30 [Peter Thoday] The Ministry of Food was worried that shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables might lead to vitamin deficiencies, particularly among children.

04:47 [Food Flash film]
“Hi natives, this is your chin-up boy to tell you…”
“Charlie, there was something I wanted to tell you. I made a note on my cuff, let’s see. Children, under five, need protection from illness.”
“I quite agree.”
“And they also need good health…”
“Yes”
“…and if you need a thing then you have to fish for it, don’t you? Fish, fish… cod! COD! Cod liver oil!”
“Cod liver oil!”
“It’s a fine thing.”
“They do say that it builds good strong teeth and bones, and good bones mean good support. Let’s see… support. A man supports his bride. “
“Exactly.”
“Bride. Bride, that’s it. They give it away, for free!”

05:29 [Peter Thoday] Cod liver oil rich in vitamins A and D, was made available to all children under five. Good for them though it was, it was no fun to take.

05:42 [Joyce] Can you stop a minute now? I’ve got your medicine for you.

05:44 [Ruth Mott] I suppose it did make up for a deficiency, really, but it was getting it down little children’s necks that was the problem!”

05:50 [Joyce] Open wide!

05:51 [Ruth Mott] Well it tasted so horrible, didn’t it? It was like neat fish going down.

05:57 [Joyce’s son] No! I don’t like it!

05:59 [Joyce] What’s the matter with it?

06:00 05:57 [Joyce’s son, crying] I don’t like it!

06:03 [Peter Thoday] Much more fun was the chance to play in the rubble of a bomb site, or to have a go at growing vegetables. The shortage of seeds in the shops made a gift from America particularly welcome. But some of the vegetables were unfamiliar to the British gardener, like squash and sweetcorn. While others had horticultural problems.

06:26 [Harry Dodson] I think some of the lettuce varieties were not suitable to all areas in this country. Lettuce – there’s more to it than meets the eye. Some of the varieties that came over, it was not too certain what some of them were, and the light in this country being different to the seed-saving areas of America – which was California and those places where it was hot and dry – it was different. And some of them, instead of making good hearts they made blousy plants, and they were different.

07:19 [Harry Dodson] I’m pollinating them [the tomatoes]. On a nice morning like this, this requires doing two or three times a week. The pollen is dry, the atmosphere of this house is reasonably dry this morning, and the pollen is on the stamen. It needs shifting, and just a tap like this moves the pollen, which falls on the stigma, and you get a pretty good set.

07:51 [Harry Dodson] Once you’ve done the pollinating right through, then you get hold of a watering can or a hosepipe and just damp the floor down. Shut the house up for a few minutes, it creates a closer atmospheric conditions that’s just enough to start the pollen running, and it does assure you a pretty good set. This costs you nothing, other than the labour.

08:31 [Peter Thoday] Belt tightening continued throughout 1942, and another new word crept into the language: austerity.

08:21 [Video clip] “Two skirts, ladies.”

08:24 [Peter Thoday] Clothes, already rationed, were now severely restricted in design. Even the number of pleats and seams were fixed, and lace was forbidden.”

08:33 [Joyce] And look at this dress I got down the town, secondhand.

08:36 [Peter Thoday] Some women took to hunting through secondhand stalls in their search for the glamour of pre-war fashion.

08:44 [Joyce] I’m pleased with it.
[Ruth Mott] We’ll wait ‘til we see it on. I’ll give my final verdict then, when the legs and all are done to match.

08:55 [Peter Thoday] Harry’s saved every bit of wood ash he can, to lavish on his tomatoes. It contains the potash necessary for healthy growth.

09:07 [Harry Dodson] Potash during the war was extremely difficult to get hold of, and very costly. But a useful crop of tomatoes must have a goodly supply of potash, and the potash prevents the greenback, as we called it, in tomatoes. That’s a green ring round the top of the tomato where the stalk is joined. And that, of course, wouldn’t ripen, if the plants were lacking potash.

09:40 [Peter Thoday] In May, the board of trade asked women to wear socks for the summer, instead of stockings. Many preferred to give the impression of wearing stockings, by painting their legs. All manner of recipes were tried: suntan lotion, gravy browning, and even onion juice. The final touch needed a friend with an eyebrow pencil and a steady hand.

10:29 [Peter Thoday] A popular part of any wartime dance was the raffle for some coveted luxury. Tonight, Joyce has been lucky. She’s won a banana, a fruit unseen by most people since the war began. But, as ever, wartime ingenuity naturally found a substitute.

10:53 [Ruth Mott] Parsnip mashes up, and it looks like banana when you’ve got it mashed up. And if you’ve got a little bit of banana essence leftover from where you’ve used it before, two or three drops of that into a parsnip – the parsnip being already nice and sweet – you could mix it up with a fork and make an imitation banana sandwich. But whatever you do, don’t put in too much essence, as it’s very, very strong.

11:23 [Ruth Mott] I don’t remember using it at the end of the war. Well, you couldn’t get any more banana essence, and they forget very quickly, children. They soon forgot the flavour of the banana. When the banana did come back in again, a lot of children didn’t like it.

11:28 [Film clip]“A great day for Bristol, and for the young people of Britain, as the good ship Tilapa comes into dock with a cargo of eight million bananas, and advance unloading begins at once. And this shows you what six years without a banana has done for this young man! He’s forgotten how to tackle the darn thing.

12:39 [Harry Dodson] This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. They’re [the tomatoes] dry and ready for picking now. So pick them carefully, keep the string on them, whatever you do, otherwise that spoils the quality. It’s a bit warm in here. I’ll put some more air on while you start picking.

13:13 [Harry Dodson] Picking tomatoes is like anything to do with tomatoes, it’s a dirty job, and it was never very popular. Your hands go black. There’s a film comes off of the tomatoes which stains you, and the foliage stains you even more. Whitefly left excreta on the leaves, which mingled in with the natural bloom off of the leaves, made it even worse. Your hands were stained something terrible. Ordinary soap wouldn’t move it. One of the finest things to move it was to get a really ripe tomato and rub it in your hands like a bit of soap. It would all squeeze through your hands, it looked pretty revolting, but it was – done immediately you finished the job – it was a very good thing.

14:05 [Peter Thoday] If a garden was registered for food production, the bulk of what it grew had to be sent to official wholesalers. But there was always something for local callers.

14:16 [Harry Dodson] Hello Ruth. What brings you this afternoon?

14:17 [Ruth Mott] Hello. A little bird told me that you might have got some tomatoes.

14:23 [Harry Dodson] Well, I have got some. I can let you have some, but I’m really supposed to send them all to the pool.

14:28 [Ruth Mott] Oh, there must be some that aren’t ready to go to the pool.

14:30 [Harry Dodson] We’ll see what we can find.

14:32 [Ruth Mott] I can soon squash a few, if you want!

14:42 [Harry Dodson] That will make it legal, will it?

14:43 [Ruth Mott] Oh yes, because you can’t send squashed things to the market.

14:46 [Harry Dodson] Alright, well we’ll see what we can find for you. Mind the step, won’t you.

14:54 [Ruth Mott] Be nice if we could just have a few.

14:58 [Harry Dodson] About a pound and a half, that’s what I’m measuring it out as.

15:15 [Ruth Mott] …those scales go down a bit heavy,

15:18 [Harry Dodson] Yeah, he’s gone down. There you go. That’s one and sixpence.

15:26 [Ruth Mott] Have you got any more nice goodies about?

15:27 [Harry Dodson] Well, we’ve got a cucumber here. This one’s perfectly legal, it’s been grown without any artificial heat, something we’re allowed to do. Controlled at tenpence a pound.

15:39 [Ruth Mott] It’s nearly like a marrow.

15:40 [Harry Dodson] Well it is very early.

15:42 [Ruth Mott] Put it in there, then. I’ll keep the bag shut on my way home. There you are, then. That’s all you’re getting today.

15:49 [Harry Dodson] Thank you very much.

15:51 [Ruth Mott] Alright?

15:52 [Harry Dodson] That’s about right.

15:53 [Ruth Mott] There won’t be too much. It will be just right. So can I come and have a look again next week?

15:58 [Harry Dodson] I was just about to say, I expect to see you next week, and no complaints about today!

16:03 [Ruth Mott] No, alright, I’ll make sure.

16:04 [Harry Dodson] Bye bye.

16:23 [Peter Thoday] Wartime leaflets urged people to preserve tomatoes whenever they were plentiful. Although they lost some of their vitamins, they added flavour and a welcome touch of colour to recipes in the long winter months. One method was to bottle them in Kilner jars.

16:44 [Ruth Mott]  When you’ve got your jar full, roll up a cloth and put it underneath, and then give your jar a good bang and you’ll be surprised how far your tomatoes will drop down. You’ll probably get in another three or four. Try and do this if you can, because it stops so much shrinkage when you cook them.

17:23 [Ruth Mott] If you’ve got a spare jar of assorted sizes, leave those and put them in with the rest because then you can carefully spoon them into the jars when they’re cooked and fill your jars up again.

17:40 [Ruth Mott] Joyce, can you come and take these lids up for me, please?

Turn the gas out for me. Thank you.

17:56 [Ruth Mott] Then you’ve got the brine to do. That’s about two tablespoonfuls of salt to a pint, a pint and a half, of water. Also put in with this about a dessertspoonful of sugar, because sugar and tomatoes marry quite well together.

18:13 [Ruth Mott] So make sure that they’re really covered up, if you can, because they tend to discolour. They’re a little bit riper than I would actually have liked them, but we’ll just have to check and see how we get on. Use them for soup. Or you can fry with them, but I think they will be a little bit too far gone.

18:32 [Joyce] How long will they last like that?

18:33 [Ruth Mott] Well we’ll just have to watch them really more than anything. Because they’re plenty ripe enough. I like them a bit more underripe than that, really, in a way. But you have to have what you can get. When you put the lids on, screw them up tight, make sure it’s really tight. And then give it a half turn back, then as it cools it will shut itself up again. And then we’ll try them again in the morning, make sure they’re alright.

19:24 [Peter Thoday] During the summer of 1942, the war reached stalemate. The Germans lay siege to the Russians at Stalingrad, and the British confronted Rommel in the deserts of North Africa. On the Home Front, the last luxury disappeared when sweets came on ration. Although the sun shone, the country’s mood was far from sunny. But the BBC did its best to ease the loneliness of separation that so many now felt.

20:40 [Radio recording] “A letter from home for the Forces, from Vera Lynn and Fred Halfclear.

“Dear boys, I’ve been working in the West End all this week, and using the Tubes and buses a lot. I realised how well some of the girls are doing your job while you’re away. I had a pleasant surprise when one of them – a girl on the 23 bus – recognised me. She must of seen a picture of me somewhere. She said she’ll be listening in tonight, and so will her husband. Since I started singing about my man in this letter, a few dozen sweethearts and wives have proudly sent me snaps of the man in their lives. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a girl like that. A girl who’ll stick by you, in all weathers, and all your ups and downs. She’ll stand by you. She’ll take the kicks. She’ll be proud to call you My Man.“

[Sings]Fish got to swim, and birds got to fly
I got to love one man ‘til I die
Can’t help loving that man of mine.

“You can’t expect things to be as good as they were for you in peacetime, so try to make the best of things as you find them.”

Wartime Connaught Pie

5 ounces (140g)  flaked oats
1 pint (1/2 litre) of water
1/2 leek (chopped)
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp salt
2 ounces (56g) cooked meat, slices

For the sauce:
2 ounces (56g) cheese (grated)
3 ounces (85g) flour
1 pint (1/2 litre) vegetable stock

  1. Put the flaked oats, leek, seasonings and water in a pan, and bring it to the boil.
  2. Boil until the mixture is thick – 20 to 30 minutes. Then turn it onto a flat plate and let it cool.
  3. When it’s cold, cut it into small shapes, and sandwich the cold meat inbetween the shapes.
  4. Use the cheese, flour and vegetable stock to make a sauce.
  5. Arrange the sandwiches in a flat dish, and pour the cheese sauce over.
  6. Grill it, or brown it in the oven.