Going vintage for VE Day 75

We’ll eat again! OK so we haven’t had to cope with rationing but there are some parallels when it comes to food and diet between WW2 and where we find ourselves in 2020. In Covid lockdown, as in wartime, people are reminded that farmers, producers and cooks all matter when the world is shifting beneath your feet, there is a threat to the status quo and you are trying to keep yourself nourished through food.

In celebration of what we can do with what we have and not dwelling on what might be in short supply or currently out of our reach, Bank Holiday Friday (there’s a novelty) saw the preparation of a VE Day pause for thought 75 years on.

Everything stopped for tea to commemorate the end of WW2 on the 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8th May 2020.
Out came the bunting, vintage crockery and the we-had-one-like-that tea cosies.
Sentimentality aside, it was an opportunity to pause in remembrance of those who had given their lives and simply to be thankful. An additional dimension in 2020 was the Covid-19 lockdown which didn’t dampen the spirits as neighbourhoods celebrated at a social distance.
Dig for victory – salad leaves, radish and carrots from the garden, back yard or allotment would not have been uncommon as people were encouraged to be self-sufficient and grow their own.
The choice of pizza here was a bit of a stretch, but is included to commemorate the fact that pizza would become popular in the UK after the end of the war when soldiers returning from overseas brought back foods they had loved. Basically bread with cheese, tomato and mediterranean herbs – no looking back.
Butter was rationed during the war so a fatless sponge would have been a treat making use of the sugar and flour ration. Eggs too were “on the ration” but imported dried egg was a decent substitute for baking. Preserves would have been home-made like the damson jam used to fill this Swiss roll.
During the war it was advised that a good pot of tea only needed a spoonful of tea per person and none for the pot – what do you mean tea-bags?

Feeding their families was a daily challenge for women during the war. Real inventiveness, skill and home economy were needed to beat the monotony of the daily diet and there was a big emphasis on planning meals to avoid waste. Pretty much the only public information was via “The Kitchen Front”, a daily radio broadcast pioneered by Lord Woolton who headed up The Ministry of Food (1940-1943), providing tips on how to put together nutritious food during rationing. Forget the Internet – most public information was through the wireless and by that I mean radio broadcasts, not wi-fi.

Cheers m’dears as we raise a glass to two of life’s great observationists – Nella Last and Victoria Wood. Nella Last, a housewife and mother from the NW English town of Barrow-in-Furness, was a resourceful manager and imaginative cook as well as a prolific writer and observer. As one of a number of volunteers who submitted diary entries to Mass Observation (a project to record everyday life in Britain) Nella effectively became a social commentator of her time. If it’s ringing bells maybe it’s because Nella’s wartime diaries were brought to life in the film “Housewife, 49” by the immortally fabulous Victoria Wood.
Who knows what Nella Last’s blog would have looked like had she been writing today.
The end of the war was not the end of rationing – it continued until June 1954. I now understand where the “just-in-case” mentality of some friends and family comes from – it was inherited from their early life experiences and the thrifty habits that had taken root.  

Lessons from history? Western society is one of consumers and discarders. If our response to the current crisis is to make do, waste less, source locally, develop skills of eating healthily, savour food moments – whether by ourselves or with others – might these form part of the “new normals” of good physical and mental health?