Rational

Over the last week I’ve been taking part in a World War II rationing challenge organised by Cambridge Carbon Footprint. Their website explains:

“A rather surprising outcome of rationing in Britain was that despite the queues, shortages and lack of variety, people were healthier during the war years than they are today. They consumed less meat and dairy products, fewer processed and out of season foods.

“This food challenge explores the common ground between a diet from the forties/fifties and eating sustainably today. Our current consumption of meat and dairy products, processed goods, out of season fruit and vegetables and foods that are flown in from all around the world have a huge impact on our carbon emissions - an eyewatering 30% are linked to food.”

headscarf rationing

I do try and to eat seasonally but could definitely do better. And ever since James read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals we’ve been saying we should eat less meat. This seemed like a good place to start. Plus an excuse to channel my inner Land Girl and learn how to tie a headscarf.

Although once I’d received my ration book and stocked up for the week I didn’t feel quite so jaunty.

The rations, per person, per week were as follows:

Sugar: 8oz/227g
Margarine: 4oz/113g
Bacon and ham: 4oz/113g
Cheese: 2oz/57g
Oil/Lard: 2oz/57g
Tea: 2oz/57g (this came out at 21 tea bags)
Meat: 12oz/350g
Butter: 2oz/57g
Milk: 3 pints/1.71 litres
Sweets (per month): 12oz/340g
Jam/preserves (per month): 1lb/450g
Eggs: 1

ration book

Then on top of that you can have as much seasonal fruit and veg as you like. I took this to mean only stuff grown in the UK. James sort of joined in, meaning that since I was cooking for two of us, there was double the amount of bacon, cheese etc. Also not pictured is a chicken leg (James's 350g meat ration) as I wanted it to show the amounts for one person. 

rations

So I kept pretty strictly to the rations but decided there was no reason for me to eat actual wartime recipes. I was pretty sure I could come up with something tastier than “Woolton Pie” which CCF’s notes “involved dicing and cooking potatoes (or parsnips), cauliflower, swede, carrots and, possibly, turnip. Rolled oats and chopped spring onions were added to the thickened vegetable water which was poured over the vegetables themselves. The dish was topped with potato pastry and grated cheese and served with vegetable gravy. The recipe could be adapted to reflect the availability and seasonality of ingredients.
“By all accounts it was not well received and was quickly forgotten after the end of the war.”
I figured it could stay that way.

Instead I tried to bring flavour to what I had with herbs and spices and make the small amount of meat and cheese go as far as possible. I used my marge for cooking where possible, saving the oil for salad dressings.

My usual breakfast is a green smoothie (pineapple, mint, cucumber, avocado, spinach, coconut water) and I stuck with that, leaving out the avocado, using water instead of coconut water and British strawberries instead of pineapple. The rest of the week went as follows:

Monday
Lentil, carrot and tomato soup (I made a big pan of this and it did for four lunches)
Pasta, bacon and bean stew

Tuesday
Met a friend for lunch at a Jamie’s Italian and had a Market Superfood Salad which was a bit of a cheat but the only thing available that was veggie and seasonal.
Tarragon-roast chicken leg, salad

Wednesday
Lentil, carrot and tomato soup
Bacon and onion cauliflower cheese, boiled new potatoes, cabbage

Thursday
Lentil, carrot and tomato soup
Pasta, bacon and bean stew, turned into soup with stock made from the chicken bone and cauliflower leaves.

Friday
Lentil, carrot and tomato soup
Leftover cauliflower cheese

Saturday
Puy lentil thing, roasted beetroot salad, asparagus
Cheated and went out for pizza. Sorry!

Sunday
Soft boiled egg, marge and Marmite soldiers
Cold puy lentil thing, roast tomato and asparagus salad
Spring lamb stew

Obviously the whole thing is a slightly forced kind of novelty exercise but anything that makes you examine your actions is a good thing and I found it pretty illuminating and realised that my diet could be considerably more sustainable.

I thought a wartime diet would be pretty stodgy but it doesn’t have to be. I managed to avoid puddings and pies, instead using plenty of veg with pulses providing a middle way between the lean protein I'm used to eating and the heavy-sounding recipes on the website. I can not pretend they were locally grown lentils though. 

I don't have too much of a sweet tooth so at the end of the week hadn’t used any jam at all and only a few pinches of sugar. I’d lost a couple of pounds, saved a bit of money, and, although I’m happy to see the end of rationing, will definitely be making an effort to reduce our meat intake in future. And wear a headscarf more often.

(Apologies for the lack of photos. Technology issues...)
 

Lentil, Carrot And Tomato Soup
A frugal, all-purpose sort of soup. Nearly any sort of pulses would work here. Just make sure to add some spices and herbs for interest.

Ingredients

  • 1tbsp margarine
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 6 carrots
  • 1tsp ground turmeric
  • 100g red lentils
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 litre stock
  • handful dill fronds

Method

  1. Chop and sweat the onion in the margarine until tender and beginning to get a bit of golden brown colour.
  2. Add the chopped celery and carrots and cook for a few minutes. When they start to soften add the crushed garlic and turmeric, cooking for a minute or so until they become fragrant.
  3. Add the tomatoes, stock and lentils and cook for half an hour or so until the lentils are soft.
  4. Add the dill, blend until smooth, season with salt and pepper.

Pasta, Bacon And Bean Stew
This was sort of inspired by the classic Italian dish Pasta e Fagioli. Cooking the onion in the bacon fat means you save some of your precious butter for another day. The fennel seeds give an impression of herby sausage or similar in the mix when really it is just a small amount of bacon.
You could wilt some spinach in at the last minute for a one-pot meal with greens.

Ingredients

  • 3 rashers bacon
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 litre stock
  • 200g small pasta shapes or broken spaghetti
  • 1 tin white beans, cannellini or similar, drained
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar

Method

  1. Chop the bacon into small pieces and cook over a medium heat until the fat begins to run.
  2. Add the chopped onion and cook until soft. Then add the garlic and the fennel seeds, crushed in a  pestle and mortar.
  3. Pour in the tomatoes and stock. Add the beans and pasta.
  4. Simmer until the pasta is cooked through and check seasonings before serving.

 

Bacon & Onion Cauliflower Cheese
I used both our cheese ration in this but it would be fine with less. I liked how by gussying something up with a bit of bacon, what is usulally a side dish could become a main.

Ingredients

  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 500ml milk
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • a few gratings of nutmeg
  • 100g cheddar cheese, grated
  • handful of breadcrumbs
  • 1 cauliflower
  • 3 rashers bacon
  • 1 onion

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and add the flour. Cook until thick then add the milk a little at a time, stirring until each splash of liquid is absorbed before adding the next. By the time all the milk has been used, the sauce should be smooth and the consistency of thick pouring cream.
  2. Add the cheese, mustard and nutmeg. Check for seasoning.
  3. Meanwhile, chop the cauliflower into florets and parboil for three minutes. It should be beginning to soften but retain a bit of bite.
  4. Then chop the bacon into small pieces and fry over a medium heat. When the fat has melted a little add the onion, chopped into slices rather than diced.  Cook them together until the onion is soft and golden brown. You may need to add a little more marge or butter to help it on its way.
  5. Put the cooked cauliflower florets in an oven proof bowl, scatter over the bacon and onion then cover with the sauce.
  6. Make sure everything is well combined then top with the breadcrumbs and grill until they are golden and crunchy and the sauce is bubbling up underneath.



Puy Lentil Thing
Another all-purpose dish, hence it’s vague name. This is good warm from the pot, but equally nice cold for lunch as a kind of salad the next day. I will admit though that it would have been way nicer with a little bit of feta or goats cheese crumbled on top.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp margarine
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 200g puy lentils
  • 500ml stock
  • 2 sprigs tarragon
  • 1 bay leaf

Method

  1. Dice the onion and sweat it in the marge until translucent. Add the crushed garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Put the lentils in the pan and cover with stock. Add the herbs.
  3. Simmer until the stock has been absorbed and the lentils are tender.
  4. Remove the bay leaf and tarragon and check for seasoning.
  5. If you're eating it cold, it's good with chopped herbs (parsley, chives and mint) stirred through.


Roasted Beetroot Salad
This went well with the lentils

Ingredients

  • 3 medium sized beetroots
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • pinch salt
  • 3 grindings black pepper
  • pinch sugar

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Roast the beetroots whole with their skins on for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave until cool enough to handle.

  2. Skin the beetroots (it should peel away easily) and chop them into chunks.

  3. Mix the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar together and dress the beetroot chunks while they are still warm so the flavours are absorbed.

 

Spring Lamb Stew
An attempt to make a small amount of a cheapish cut go as far as possible. Hearty but with fresh flavours for the time of year.

Ingredients

1 tbsp marge
2 onions
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
250g chestnut mushrooms
4 garlic cloves
1 lamb shank
50g pearl barley
1 glass wine
500ml stock
500g broad beans in their pods
2 handfuls spinach
2 sprigs mint
1 tbsp lemon juice

Method

  1. Melt the margarine in a heavy-bottomed pan and brown the lamb shank on all sides. Remove it and set aside.
  2. Chop and sweat the onion. It should be soft but picking up brown colour.
  3. Chop the celery and carrots, halve the mushrooms and crush the garlic. Add them all to the pan.
  4. Mix in the pearl barley and put the lamb back in the pan. Add the wine and the stock and leave to simmer on a low heat, with the lid on, for an hour. Check the lamb is tender (if not, give it a little longer) and remove until cool enough to handle then strip the meat from the bone.
  5. Meanwhile pod the broad beans and boil them. When cool remove their little grey skins. (This double podding isn't entirely necessary. You could just add the raw, podded beans to the stew and cook for a few minutes. But they are sweeter and tenderer if you be bothered to do it.)
  6. Add the double-podded beans to the stew along with the spinach, the mint, finely chopped, and the lemon juice. (This is a bit of a cheat as the lemon was definitely not locally grown but it was hanging around in the kitchen and really lifted the flavour of the stew).
  7. Season and serve.