What did you eat as a child that your grandchildren – or, in my case, great-grandchildren – have never experienced?
Well, that shouldn’t be too hard to answer: not only did I grow up in an entirely different age but also in a different country, so not only the historical circumstances but also the cultural context are very different. My eldest granddaughter’s kids are enjoying a healthy lifestyle in rural Switzerland – you can’t get much better foodwise than that! My youngest great-granddaughter is in suburban France but not yet properly weaned, so can’t really be included in this mini-survey.
I, on the other hand, grew up in an English industrial town during WWII with rationing at its strictest during my earliest years because very little food could be imported and we had to rely on the limited amounts that could be produced domestically. Added to which, I was a fussy eater and didn’t like most of the few things that were to be had, especially meat. However, some of the things I did like would probably make my great-grandchildren shudder. Dried egg, for instance, which I would surreptitiously teaspoon out of its tin behind my mother’s back. My lasting memory isn’t of the taste but of the texture of this strange dry powder that clung to the roof of the mouth. And rationing continued long after WWII ended in 1945: sweets didn’t come “off ration” until 1953 and meat until mid 1954.
To put you in the picture, this is a typical weekly food ration for an adult in the 1940’s:
- Bacon & Ham 4 oz (120 g)
- Other meat value of 1 shilling and 2 pence (equivalent to 2 chops)
- Butter 2 oz (60 g)
- Cheese 2 oz (60 g)
- Margarine 4 oz (120 g)
- Cooking fat 4 oz (120 g)
- Milk 3 pints (1.5 l)
- Sugar 8 oz (240 g)
- Preserves 1 lb every 2 months (480 g)
- Tea (loose) 2 oz (60 g)
- Eggs 1 fresh egg (plus 12 portions of dried egg every 2 months)
- Sweets 12 oz every 4 weeks (360 g)
Bread, fish and chips weren’t rationed, but of course fish and potatoes were available in limited quantities so portions were small. Fishermen definitely weren’t so keen to go out with German U-boats lurking in their fishing grounds. Bread was not what we think of as such nowadays. People supplemented their rations with what they could grow in their gardens and allotments, but even seeds were limited in variety as well as in availability.
Children received a few little extras: 3 eggs a week, for example. We were supplied with medicine bottles of “Welfare” concentrated orange juice imported from the USA, and cod-liver oil. A spoonful of a brown sticky stuff called “Vimaltol” “Virol” or “Radio Malt” was also administered daily – this was a vitamin supplement made from malt extract to prevent us getting rickets. Would little kids nowadays enjoy this sickeningly sweet goo?
It all sounds pretty awful, but in fact rationing had a positive effect on both health and longevity among the British public, and obesity was definitely not a problem!
So what other things did I eat that my great-grandchildren have never heard of?
They may have come across Spam in some form or other, but I doubt if they have tried whale meat, which also came in tins. Another tinned (or canned for my US readers) item was very overcooked spaghetti in tomato sauce, which we ate warmed up on toast. I think this was sometimes included in Sunday breakfast, along with sausages, bacon and egg as an alternative to baked beans. Or perhaps that was just me. The toast was made by holding a slice of bread on a toasting fork over the red-hot embers of a coal fire, which gave it a distinctive taste you just don’t get from an electric toaster. There was a knack in the way you put the bread onto the toasting fork, as if you did it wrong your toast would fall off into the fire.
A big treat at birthday parties was jelly and blancmange. Although they may be familiar with jelly I don’t think my kids know what blancmange is, and the idea of eating tinned fruit (peaches or apricots in particular) using tinned evaporated milk as a substitute for cream with a slice of bread and butter on the side would seem very weird to them, but real cream was an unknown luxury.
This has made me reflect deeply about the changes in my diet over my lifetime: maybe I should go back to some of the principles on which the Ministry of Food based its decisions in that very difficult decade of the 1940’s. Most of all, portion size!
More on this here for those interested
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationing_in_the_United_Kingdom and https://www.cooksinfo.com/british-wartime-food/