Throughout my time at school I hated history despite loving to watch documentaries and read books about history. Only now do I know that this is because history at school focuses on war and monarchy and dates whereas I’m more interested in the realism of social history. After watching the Back in Time for Dinner series on BBC2, I became obsessed with how the people of the past ate. I was interested in what ordinary people used to eat every day and how healthy they were as a result.
So, after doing some research and watching Back in Time for Dinner, Further Back in Time for Dinner, and The Supersizers Go Wartime, I came up with enough recipes to get me through the week only eating as someone would have done in the 1940s. My main source was the blog The 1940s Experiment, which is full of delicious hearty meals.
I started with a breakfast I would eat now. Porridge with water instead of milk and agave nectar instead of honey, an apple, and a glass of orange juice. I wouldn’t usually have the apple and the orange juice but I found that it filled me up so much more than just porridge and I enjoyed my breakfast more.
For lunch, I was a bit more adventurous. I tried the Oslo meal, a meal designed to be nutritious and which was so successful in schools that parents started making it for children as a quick and easy lunch. I had wholegrain bread instead of national loaf and Sainsbury’s vegan cheddar instead of cheese but the rest of the meal is just tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and carrots. The meal would have been served with milk so I had soya milk and overall I was shocked at how wholesome the meal was. I would never imagine that such a simple salad sort of lunch would fill me up but it really did and I felt so healthy afterwards. I was initially confused by the cheese but I found that, because the rest of the meal was so healthy, the cheese was probably added as a bit of a treat and I enjoyed it so much more with the cheese.
I tried a variety of different dinners throughout the week. The first one I tried was vegetable turnovers, which are essentially Cornish pasties. The pastry was easy to make as it was just flour, margarine, and water and the filling was potatoes, carrots, and onions. The turnovers were enough to make a full meal and I’ve made them a few times since as they’re a quick and easy dinner.
I also tried some simple light dinners which were surprisingly tasty. I got this recipe from Back in Time for Dinner and the family hated it but I tried it anyway. I found it oddly satisfying, almost like a simple chip butty with ketchup because I decided to put the potatoes and tomatoes in the bread to make a sandwich. I would definitely eat this again if I wasn’t very hungry but wanted something to eat before bed.
Finally, my favourite meal of the week was wartime pumpkin soup. It was the most simple recipe: pumpkin, onion, and stock. I can’t remember ever eating pumpkin before but I loved the soup and I’ll be sad when pumpkins disappear from the shops again.
Trying these recipes has given me a new appreciation for those affected by rationing. It can’t have been easy finding ways to beat hunger during rationing but living off the land and focusing on nutrition meant that people were more healthy during the war than they were before or after it. I think we could all learn from the 1940s and eat more locally grown produce and make meals simpler. My food shops have halved in price since I did the week as I’m buying more vegetables and cooking more simple but tasty food. Shopping like this has also reduced the amount of plastic I buy because I can buy loose vegetables and I’m not buying pre-packaged vegan junk food. I just want my own vegetable patch now!