Mrs Bird’s VE Day Memories and Recipes
Homemade Beef Roll
- 8oz (250g) minced beef
- 4oz (125g) ham or bacon – very finely chopped or minced
- 3oz (75g) fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
Mix all the ingredients together well. Add herbs or other seasonings of choice. Pack this meat mixture into a stoneware jar. This must be tightly done to ensure that the roll can be sliced when cooked. Cover the top of the jar with greaseproof paper and foil. Tie this on tightly.
Stand the jar in a large pan and fill the pan with boiling water up to where the meat mixture comes in the jar. Boil the meat roll for 2 full hours, topping up the water with more boiling water as and when necessary. After the two-hour cooking period remove the jar from the water, remove the paper covering and turn out the meat roll while the mixture is still hot. If allowed to go cold in the jar it will be impossible to remove in one piece.
The original recipe states that at this point golden breadcrumbs should be used to coat the outside of the meat roll and then the whole should be allowed to go cold. We didn’t do this, the breadcrumbs were seen as an unnecessary extra. This would be eaten cold with a salad for tea. If this was the case, then only a very thin slice would be served to each person. If served as the meat for a dinner, then a slightly thicker slice would be served. It was also useful as a ‘luncheon meat’ for sandwiches.
Sent in by Malcolm from Ulverston, Cumbria
Note from Mrs Bird
I just had to try this! Surprisingly it is very good. What an excellent way of making a small amount of meat stretch an awfully long way. For modern-day tastes perhaps additional flavouring could be used. I used Worcestershire Sauce and a splash of Tobasco along with some fresh thyme and chives. If you want to make something that is very different from today and will save you money – give this a try!
Dorset Apple Cake
- 8oz (250g) grated cooking apples
- 4oz (120g) granulated sugar
- 8oz (250g) self-raising flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4oz (120g) block margarine
- Mix the grated apple and the sugar together in a bowl and leave to allow juice to form for 30 minutes before making the cake
- Sieve dry ingredients together. Rub in the margarine, stir in the grated apple and sugar and all the juice which has formed
- Put mixture into a 2lb lined loaf tin, level the top and sprinkle with Demerara sugar
- Bake at 180C, 170 fan, Gas Mark 4 for 3/4 – 1 hour. Allow to cool fully before removing from tin.
A few notes about this.
I know that any fat was scarce and so sometimes the amount used in the cake was less than the recipe states. A little margarine or butter was sometimes spread on the slices, but only after it was a few days old! Slices were, like many other things – rationed. One thin slice per person and no eating between meals!
This amount of grated apple is roughly one large cooking apple peeled (you don’t have to do this if the skin is thin) and cored. A modern-day addition to this recipe is – before baking sprinkle the top with Demerara sugar. This would have been an extravagance and wasteful in wartime!
This is an eggless cake. Fresh eggs were difficult to get during the war. When our farming relatives visited, they would often bring a couple of fresh eggs as a little gift. But shhhh . . . . . don’t tell the Ministry of Food! Recipes from Mrs Bird’s Kitchen.
The next two recipes come from the book pictured above. Note the special comment about the printing and binding methods used! Everything in wartime was regulated! The original book was published in 1920 but the wartime edition gave a mixture of recipes some specifically designed for wartime and others which had been common in better times. Even for these ‘better times recipes’ there were suggestions as to how they could fit in with rationing.
These were sent in by Paul from Nottingham
This is a dish designed for breakfast – you may not want to try them!
- 2oz self-raising flour
- 1/2 Gill milk – Gill is 1/4pr (125ml)
- 1/2 dried egg
- Chopped parsley
- Fat for frying
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the milk to make a dropping consistency. Shallow fry in small rounds until puffed up and golden. Serve with bacon. The following suggestion is made that these should be fried in the frying pan after the bacon has been cooked which means that no extra fat needs to be used and the bacon fat will at least give some flavour!
Now a recipe for ‘better times’ but with wartime suggestions!
- 6oz shortcrust pastry
- Apricot jam
- 2 egg whites
- 2oz ground almonds
- 4oz caster sugar
- Almond Essence
Line small bun tins with the pastry and put 1/2 teaspoon apricot jams into the bottom of each. Beat the egg whites until stiff with a pinch of salt and then fold in the ground almonds, sugar and a few drops of almond essence. Put a little of this mixture into each of the tartlet cases and bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes until pale brown and firm to the touch.
This, in wartime, would have extravagant. The ground almonds would have been replaced with stale breadcrumbs or cake crumbs and more almond essence. This could have been mixed with some reconstituted dried egg and a pastry lid added. It is certainly the kind of dish made as per the recipe for the most special of occasions.
Raspberry or Blackberry Flummery
- 1 tin Raspberries or Blackberries
- 1 small tin evaporated milk
- 1 packet raspberry jelly. Traditional “Blocks” of jelly work best.
Drain and reserve all juice from the raspberries.
Place fruit in a large bowl.
Makeup the jelly as instructed on the packet, using the reserved juice instead of some of the cold water. Whisk evaporated milk. When the jelly is cool but not yet set, whisk in the evaporated milk. Keep whisking to increase the volume. Pour into the bowl on top of the fruit and set in the fridge.
Note, if the mix takes too long to set, the air comes out and the bottom can become more like a jelly than a mousse. Make sure the Jelly is cool and the fridge cold, and get the bowl into the fridge asap after whisking.
Decorate the top with Almonds or cherries before serving.
Recipe sent in by Peter from Solihull.
Wartime Foodie Memories
It is interesting that quite a number of people mentioned when they contacted us that food was seen as a very precious resource and therefore couldn’t be wasted. So when some women left home for work or to get married as the war progressed many, if they hadn’t been used to cooking before the war, didn’t have many skills. Food was really too important to allow inexperienced cooks anywhere near it in case it was badly prepared and therefore inedible.
One of our senders was Gaynor
Life in Wartime
Vera trained to be a teacher at the start of the war. When she qualified she and her friend Bunny were sent to Portsmouth. Both girls volunteered to be Fire Watchers. This involved working all day, fire watching at night in case any incendiary bombs were dropped, thus starting fires in buildings unoccupied during the night. They were expected to tackle small fires themselves or for larger potentially more hazardous fires to contact the fire brigade. If there were no air raids it might be possible to snatch a few catnaps during the night but as Portsmouth was an important naval base there wouldn’t be much napping. As fire watchers, Vera and her friend were entitled to more food rations.
Vera freely admits she wasn’t a good cook, neither was her mother and therefore had had limited cooking experience before she left home. It was just as well she teamed up with Bunny, a Domestic Science teacher. She remembers these extra rations being cooked up for the two of them in the cookery room at the school where they taught.
Sent in by Peter from Solihull
Food in Britain, because or our island status, what couldn’t be grown at home had to be imported and of course, the convoys which came across the Atlantic were targeted. Many ships and many lives were lost in bringing items to our shores. As the tide of war turned additional help came from America as one story explains.
We had relatives who had gone to America before the war. They lived in New York and once the food situation in Britain was known, they sent us food parcels with many of the items we hadn’t seen since the war had started.
Sent in by Judy
As an addition to the above. Food parcels continued well into the 1950s when food rationing was even tighter than during the war!
A word from Peter from Solihull about food imports
Before the war 1/2 of our food came from abroad. This, of course, couldn’t continue. The Ministry of Food looked at the kinds of food imported in terms of tonnage required to ship the foodstuffs, the nutritional value of each type and the energy value obtained.
Domestic farmers, as a result of these findings, were largely shifted to producing arable crops and wherever possible dairy foods, meat and eggs were imported as they had a higher energy value per ton. All this was aimed at feeding the population using less tonnage of Merchant shipping.
Importing powdered egg and dried milk massively reduced the weight and space needed in ships. Butter and cheese were recognised as already concentrated forms of food. These simple ways of looking at foodstuffs helped a great deal in keeping the nation fed but also freeing up shipping for other supplies.
The Ministry of Food didn’t stop at this. It looked at maximising the nutritional value of food imports and so established long term contracts with Argentina and Uruguay for their meat processing plants to supply us with corned beef.
There was a shortage of refrigerated cargo ships to import frozen or chilled meat. So these were sent to Australia and New Zealand to load with these commodities and transport them back home. Fast cargo ships without any chilled or refrigeration units were used to bring chilled or frozen meat across the Atlantic. The cargo holds of these ships were lined with bales of straw to act as insulation and once loaded these ships, despite the dangers of U-boat attacks, raced home, sometimes as solitary ships, not part of a convoy.
Specific Food Memories
Vera, a teacher in Portsmouth during the war, remembers one of her pupils bringing a banana into school. This pupil’s father had just returned home from the Caribbean on one of the Atlantic convoys. He had brought this banana back with him. For many of the pupils in Vera’s class they had never seen a banana before, never mind tasted one. So the banana was cut up and shared amongst all the pupils in the class.
Sent in by Peter from Solihull
Many people sent in items about sugar. It remains such a basic commodity and really there is no successful substitute. You can have sugar in tea or cakes, not both. This was the ultimatum issued by my mother to the family. The family obviously opted for cakes not realising then how difficult life under rationing was going to be.
Sent in by ‘Mrs Bird’
Sweets and Chocolate
These were very strictly rationed and mothers had ingenious ways of eking them out but also providing treats at special times of the year.
My mother used to go to the local shop and buy the sweet rations for the whole family. She always bought the mixtures which had a variety of sweet types. Any that had chocolate on them she hid away so that at Christmas we had some chocolate. The other sweets the family were allowed to eat, but only as a treat. Where she hid the chocolate ones we never did find, despite our best efforts.
Sent in by Michael from Leeds
Allotments and Digging for Victory
A number of people sent in items which were to do with this so here are a composite of them.
Digging for .victory was a slogan used in the war to get people to try to grow as much produce themselves. So many people had allotments or if they had a garden then lawns and back yards were dug up to grow vegetables and fruit.
Sugar in tea, no one in many families had sweet tea. All sugar was needed in the making of jams and jellies from items either grown in the allotments or picked from the hedgerows if you lived in the country.
Vegetables were the items mainly grown as fruit required sugar and this was more and more difficult to get. Marrows were one of the usual vegetables grown as they were easy to cultivate and could be used in many different ways in the kitchen. If sugar was available them marrow and ginger jam was very common. However stuffed marrow was often seen as it could be stuffed with a meat mixture, there is more marrow than meat or a vegetable mixture. When presented like this is was called Poor Man’s Goose!
Sent in by. Peter from Solihull
Not everyone who sent into the website was of an age to have a clear memory of the war years, one such person sent in the following and I almost defy anyone to be able to cap it!
I can’t believe my eyes!
It was really only looking back on my young years do I really realise just how strange what I thought of as normal could be. I was born in 1942 so therefore have no real memories about food but this is one that will live with me forever. I was born on the family farm just outside Manchester. At some point, a circus arrived and made camp in one of our fields. They were on tour around the country and put up the tents so that they could give performances to the local population.
In the farmyard, we had a large stone trough and a pump to pump water into it. What was quite normal at this time was for me to see a man bring two circus elephants into the farmyard, pump water into the trough and allow the elephants to have a drink. They did this every day they stayed in our field. So to me, a young child at the time, this was just a part of normal life.
Sent in by Francis from Nottingham
Francis’ wife was the first baby born in Manchester in the wee small hours of that momentous day. She was born at 1.30 am. Whether it was a family decision or one decided by the city is not clear, but she was called, obviously – Victoria. If she had been a boy he would have been named Victor.
In a small remote Cumberland village, a munitions factory was established. What the exact munitions made there was information never talked about. There was at that time and for many years. after the war a separate military experimental station nearby so everyone was very used to not asking questions!
One day the munitions were loaded onto a train in the sidings. They were not due to be dispatched until the following day so soldiers were sent to guard the consignment overnight.
The following morning just as the train was slowly moving out of the station the signalman noticed a fire had somehow started in one of the wagons. He quickly pulled the signal stopping the train and dashed out to tell the engine driver the reason for this. The train was long and completely filled with explosive material. The quick-thinking train driver unhooked the wagons behind the one which was on fire, returned to his cab and drove the burning wagon as well as any that couldn’t be unhitched away from the station and the dozen houses which clustered around it.
He was just in time as only a short way down the track the fire really caught hold and the munitions exploded destroying everything around and making a huge crater in the track.
For a number of years after the newcomers to that part of the village were told this story. Really it was to remind everyone how lucky they all were to have lived to tell the tale and that the village was still standing.
Didn’t he get into trouble!
The same munitions factory was, just after the war, decommissioned and the buildings knocked down. It was obviously a wonderful playground for many of the local children. One day one of the boys dug around in the rubble and found a machine gun belt, complete with live bullets still securely in place. The locals now knew one of the items which had been filled at the factory!
Tommy, the boy who found the belt, was very proud of himself and took it home. He was envied by all of his friends. He kept the belt in his bedroom and it was quite sometime before this dangerous item came to light. (No pun intended!). It obviously had to be reported and the local policeman came. Tommy got a good telling off but somehow, as was always his way, he managed to charm his way out of the situation. He was allowed to keep the belt, obviously not the bullets, and he made it into a proper belt which he wore every day until eventually, it fell to pieces.
Sent in by Malcolm from Ulverston, Cumbria
As an Australian living in Britain
..whose Grandparents emigrated to Australia in the early 1930’s I am touched by the story of my Cousins who still remain on Jersey and were ‘Child Evacuees’ to Beeston in Nottingham.
After all these years we must never lose face with our relatives and the heritage they share within our families. After all, my country of birth is mere spring chickens, and Beeston, well coincidentally it is the suburb next to where I have moved to all these years later!’ Toni in Bramcote
‘Today I will be baking ANZAC Biscuits from the kitchen of Mrs Mary-Ann Bird. Whilst my home country celebrates VJ Day I remember all who fought and won for me and mine regardless of the Day!’
Toni in Nottingham