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 six (of eight). [You’ll find the other transcripts, and other relevant posts, under the Home Front tag.]
Episode 6 transcript
00:54 [Peter Thoday] 1942, and a Lancaster bomber flies over Chilton gardens. Heavy bombing raids against Germany now became more frequent.
01:05 [Harry Dodson] I, for one, I know I felt well, he’s getting now what he deserves, and if it will shorten the war, I think it should be done. Although, at the same time, there’s no doubt many of us felt that it was wrong.
01:23 [Peter Thoday] By November, there was a growing sense that the tide was beginning to turn. In North Africa, the 8th Army defeated Rommel at El Alamein.
02:00 [Peter Thoday] But if spirits got a lift, the stomach got no such comfort. The Battle of the Atlantic continued, and to save on wheat imports, the Ministry of Food produced the National Loaf. As Ruth Mott recalls, it wasn’t popular.
02:15 [Ruth Mott] It was so dry, always, because of course they’ve left so much more in it than when we have our bread like today. I used to rub it through a sieve sometimes, and try and get some of the husk out of it. But it dried so quickly. It was quite nice if you ate it today when it came, but the next day it was very dry.
02:40 [Peter Thoday] A greater percentage of wheat germ was left in the bread, reducing the amount of flour used. A lot of effort went into persuading people that the loaf was good for them. Chorus girls at the Windmill Theatre were photographed eating it. But to the British, brought up on a diet of fine white bread, the coarse grey loaf remained unappetising. Yet the British passion for a cooked breakfast remained as strong as ever. Even if the ingredients included the National Loaf, and a new arrival – reconstituted egg.
03:12 Ministry of Food ‘Food Flash’:
“Ah, here’s a date for you. No, I’m sorry – this is the date I meant. December 14th. Now you can get your new lot of dried eggs. Here’s the date, and here’s the tin. And there’s that other date!
03:31 [Peter Thoday] The war stimulated research into techniques for dehydrating food. Put into practice, this saved huge amounts of shipping space. Powdered egg from North America now replaced shell eggs. Each person got a tin a month, the equivalent of 12 eggs.
03:49 [Ruth Mott] Well, I think like everything else, you grabbed it with glee and thought you’d got something. It was very nice really, dried egg. A lot of people still say they liked dry egg. It helped you make cakes, you could make an omelette with it, you could make scrambled egg. It did eke out your egg ration, if you hadn’t got any other source of eggs available.
04:12 [Peter Thoday] At Chilton gardens, the battle against pests continues. With a shortage of pesticides, vigilance was the best defence. Harry Dodson nips an old enemy in the bud.
04:28 [Harry Dodson] This wretched thing – black fly. Broad bean black fly. And one seldom gets away without it appearing, especially in a garden like this. You’ve got to be very vigilant, and a little bit earlier than this, although these were free of it last weekend. And as soon as you see it, you want to take the tops out. Removing the soft tops at about this length is sufficient to stop it spreading. It’s a messy job to do altogether, but it pays. Otherwise it gets onto the bean, and the beans wouldn’t be very pleasing to the cook, and certainly no use to the market.
05:18 [Peter Thoday] In country areas, there was always plenty of fresh vegetables. But it was often difficult to get fish. The fishing industry was hard pressed. The best of its boats had been requisitioned by the Navy. And the fish that was caught was sold close to where it was landed. As supply couldn’t be guaranteed, fish was never rationed. “First come, first served” produced long queues.
05:44 [Ruth Mott] We queued for everything in the war. We took no notice of it at all, it was something that developed in the war. And if you saw a queue, you hung on the back of it, whether you knew what it was or not, and tried to find out as you shuffled along what you were queuing for!
06:04 [Joyce] Hello!
[Ruth Mott] Hello.
06:08 [Ruth Mott] Oh, what a day. Out at 10, back at 4. It looks like it, too, the state of this table.
06:16 [Joyce] It’s not that bad.
06:17 [Peter Thoday] Fish became more readily available with the arrival of fresh salted cod from Iceland.
06:26 [Ruth Mott] Alright, how about this, a nice bit of fish.
06:27 [Joyce] Where did you get that from?
06:29 [Ruth Mott] Up Smelly Alley. It’s quite nice.
06:30 [Peter Thoday] Fish is highly perishable, but once salted it could be more widely distributed. In promoting it, the Ministry of Food emphasised it was fresh, not dried. But cooks found it needed a good soaking, creative recipes and plenty of garnish.
06:53 [Peter Thoday] After an overnight soaking to remove the salt, the cod is ready for baking.
07:05 [Ruth Mott] Right, Joyce, hurry up with those nettles, won’t you?
07:27 [Ruth Mott] Well it didn’t really come into the villages at all. We used to go into the town for it. It didn’t come into the town every day, but most days would be something in one of the fish shops. And of course you got a choice of several of them in those days. It wasn’t very delicate fish as a rule, it was usually sort of cod or herrings. Sprats, perhaps, things like that. And salt cod if there was some available.
08:11 [Ruth Mott] Cook them (the nettles) just like spinach, with about a quarter of a pan full of water and a little bit of salt, and pop them in very quickly and don’t leave them in too long, so that they keep a nice bright green. If you just feel them between your first finger and your thumb, and they sort of split easy, then they’re ready to dish up.
08:30 [Peter Thoday] Nettles were not only eaten, they were also important in the treatment of asthma. The country’s stock of drugs was becoming dangerously low, and nettles were on the list of wild plants the government wanted collected.
09:09 [Ruth Mott] Most of the things you reckoned to eat and finish there and then, sort of thing, don’t try and save any for tonight or tomorrow. Just eat it, and enjoy it as much as you could.
09:26 [Peter Thoday] The nation’s hen population was facing its own crisis – the growing scarcity of feed.
09:35 Wartime video clip:
Grocer: “I’m sorry madam, I’m only allowed to supply you with your ration of poultry food. I know it’s small, you’d better see the Ministry of Agriculture.”
Hen: “Alright. Good afternoon!”
Civil servant: “I appreciate your predicament, Mrs. White, but you’ll be glad to hear that we’ve found the solution. The government have organised a nationwide collection of household scrap to be turned into chicken feed. It’s ration-free, and it solves the poultry keepers’ problems. You’ll do your bit, I know, if human beings will do theirs, and save every bit of scrap they can.”
Hen: “I know they will. Good day, and please accept this small token of gratitude on behalf of the hens.”
10:40 [Annie] Oh hello, Joyce!
10:41 [Joyce] I’ve brought your chicken swill.
10:43 [Annie] Oh, that’s wonderful, thanks.
10:51 [Annie] Oh gosh, that looks good, doesn’t it?
10:53 [Joyce] Yes it’s got bits of cabbage in it, breadcrumbs, bacon rind, all the scraps.
11:00 [Annie] Let’s go and have a look at the chickens then.
11:03 [Joyce] Are they laying all right?
11:04 [Annie] Yes, they’re doing really well.
11:12 [Joyce] How often do they lay, then?
11:13 [Annie] It’s usually one each day.
11:17 [Joyce] So how many are there?
11:18 [Annie] Let’s see… one… two… three… four, five six. Oh, that’s very good.
11:22 [Joyce] Six?! You can spare a couple then!
11:26 [Annie] For you, Joyce, yes. Here you go then.
11:29 [Joyce] Thanks!
11:32 [Annie] Right, and now you must come with me, because I have something else to show you.
11:35 [Joyce] Really?
11:46 [Annie] What do you think of these then?
11:50 [Joyce] You need a few more though, don’t you?
11:51 [Annie] Oh, I’ll get some more, look, these small….
11:52 [Peter Thoday] A bucket of mushrooms from the Anderson shelter may not have been a feast, but it was a small luxury for the family, and a triumph for the gardener.
12:02 [Joyce] Oh, I know what I wanted to ask you. Have you been to see that film yet, The Great J?
12:08 [Annie] No, what’s that about?
12:10 [Joyce] It’s about a land girl, and she gets involved with this rich, young farmer. He’s very keen, and he marches her off to to the parson.
12:17 [Annie] Oh, I’ll keep my fingers crossed then!
12:19 [Film clip]
Land girl: “How are we doing?”
Farmer: “We ought to get over to the ten acre before dinner.”
Land girl: “We’re lucky. Ooooh.”
Farmer: “OK, you’d better take a rest. Run along home and get some sleep.”
Land girl: “No, I’m alright.”
Farmer: “Well, you were up most of the night with the calving.”
Land girl: “That’s nothing, it was thrilling.”
Farmer: “Thrilling? I’d like to hear one of the men call it that! You know you’ve done something to this farm, Margaret.”
Land girl: “Demoralised it?”
Farmer: “Rejuvenated it. And me. Made everything seem new and exciting. Just like my first spring here. Keep it like that, won’t you?
Land girl: “I hope so.”
13:04 [Peter Thoday] By 1943, land girls had earned the grudging admiration of their employers. Some had even decided that they couldn’t face returning to the city when the war was over, despite the heavy work that went with life on the land.
13:34 [Peter Thoday] Garden routine could be lonely and monotonous. But when there was a chance to work together, singing popular songs helped pass the time.
13:47 [Musical interlude]
14:52 [Peter Thoday] Now there were over ten thousand women working in private gardens. The war was making them question their traditional roles. One contributor to the Land Girl magazine declared it her ambition to buy a farm when it was all over. That day got a little nearer in the summer of 1943, when the Allies landed on the beaches of Italy.
15:15 [Musical interlude]
15:49 [Film clip]
“Mrs Roosevelt, continuing her investigation of Britain at War, and especially the work of women, visited Barham in Kent. Here she saw fine examples of local produce, and among other introductions she met a pig which rejoiced in the name of Franklin, and a hare called Eleanor.”
16:05 [Peter Thoday] As the Allies battled in Italy, the wife of the American president watched another army prepare itself for action. The members of the Women’s Institute gathered to preserve the autumn fruit harvest. The Ministry of Food was concerned about the amount of fruit rotting in orchards. It set up fruit preservation centres, run by the WI. Each year, in village halls and farmhouse kitchens, its members made jam and bottled fruit. America sent over 500 portable canning machines. Now it was a case of “eat what you can, can what you can’t”. Fruit was packed into tin cans, and boiling water or syrup poured over the contents. Then the lid was put in place, and the can slotted into the machine.
17:18 [Peter Thoday] Rollers joined the lid to the can in a continuous seam. A precise 20 turns of the handle were necessary to complete the operation.
17:28 [Ruth Mott] I thought it was a wonderful implement. I think it could be used today quite a lot, if you wanted it to. It was easy, I thought, when once you’d just sort of learned to count to 20, you were alright.
17:52 [Ruth Mott] The sterilisation was the main thing. When you’d got your canning done and you’d got your lids on, they all went into the boiling water for so long so that they’d heated right through. If you hadn’t done this properly, of course after a little while the lids would blow.
18:14 [Ruth Mott] Labelling was very important, whether it was fruit in tins or vegetables, because if it so happened that you put your labels on and you hadn’t really got enough adhesive to them, they fell off. And then you didn’t know what you’d really got and so you used to pick up the tin and shake it and think “oh yes, that’s plums”, only to find when you opened it you’d got carrots!
18:37 [Peter Thoday] It was hot, tedious work, and if there were grumbles about the sugar given to the preservation centres, the results fully justified the allocation.
18:47 [Musical interlude]
19:37 [Peter Thoday] By September, the leaves on the tobacco plants are ready for picking. Harry hangs them up to cure in the dry atmosphere of the potting shed.
19:50 [Harry Dodson] They must dry slowly but naturally. A lot put them in the glass house or somewhere where they’re going to dry quickly. The usual thing to do after that was to take them to a tobacconist, who would shred them up for you for rolling up to make cigarettes, or if you wanted it for a pipe he would cut it coarser for the pipe.
20:25 [Peter Thoday] As autumn gets into its stride, Annie starts on the job that land girls hated most in the garden.
20:36 [Harry Dodson] Picking sprouts is not one of the jobs that I would volunteer to do if I could help it, but the leaves are stripped off and then you should start at the bottom of the stem, and with a couple of fingers below the sprout and the thumb over the top you bend them down or bend them sideways and they should snap off. But that’s the theory. It doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes you’ll find the stem where the sprout is very tough on there and if you’ve got many like it, it is a laborious job and it makes the tips of the fingers quite tender. And if it’s a cold and frosty morning it’s not pleasant at all.
21:30 [Peter Thoday] 1943 ended with the Allies making slow but steady progress in Italy. And there was much talk of a second front being launched in the new year.
21:51 [Harry Dodson] Did you manage to get all that order of sprouts picked?
21:52 [Annie] Yes I did, Mr Dodson.
21:53 [Harry Dodson] Oh, thanks!
21:55 [Annie] They’re all in the greenhouse now.
21:58 [Harry Dodson] Thanks very much.
22:02 [Annie] Well, goodnight then!
22:02 [Harry Dodson] Goodnight Annie