Friday, 15 July 2011

North Arden Local History Society - Report from June 2011


The members of the North Arden Local History Society were transported back in time to the days of their childhood and a time of what has rapidly become History for our grandchildren and (fond?) memories for the rest of us. We were visited by Mrs Jane Arnold and her companion, Mrs Thompson, posing as representatives of the Ministry of Food who had come along to explain the Wartime (1943) Food Regulations and Rationing and to advise us on how to make the most of it. The talk also included food recipes with demonstrations with a sample tasting at the conclusion – and very appetising it was; - no wonder it is said that people were generally healthier 70 years ago!

Our Guests, who were wearing authentic 1940’s clothing, had also brought along a wide variety of genuine wartime artefacts for the audience to browse through. Many of these items were very familiar to our members and certainly brought memories flooding back. To begin the talk Mrs Arnold explained clothing coupons and how these played a significant part in our daily lives using the 1940’s clothes she was wearing, and others that Mrs Thompson was ‘sorting for ironing’ in the background. Naturally this section was directed at the ladies in the audience but similar restrictions also applied to male population. In 1943 each adult person was allowed 48 coupons per year; (in 1941 when clothing ‘points’ were introduced the allowance was 60 points/coupons per person per year, but later reduced.)

Her outfit from head to toe, including underclothes amounted to 41 of a year’s allocation of 48! For example a Tailored (Suit) Jacket = 11 points: matching Skirt = 7: Shoes =5: Blouse = 8: even 4 points for a single pair of Knickers. No wonder many families used to make a lot of the own clothes by sewing or knitting; downsizing adult garments for children and unpicking large knitted items to recycle the wool. ‘Make Do and Mend’ was one of wartime slogans that many readers who lived through the 1940’s will no doubt remember. Mrs Arnold also reminded us of the CC41 Utility symbol: initially introduced by the authorities for clothing it stood for ‘Civilian Clothing (1941)’ and guaranteed that an article used the Minimum amount of material of the Maximum quality – and displayed several items of clothing bearing this once well known label: This practice was later extended to (Utility) Furniture – but coupons/points for furniture had to applied for and were only granted if you had been bombed out, were pregnant or newly wed.

The main body of this talk consisted of demonstrations of preparing several wartime dishes from the food ration that was available but please note many were dependent on a good supply of root vegetables that were home grown. ‘Dig for Victory’ (another well known slogan) encouraged us to dig up pour lawns and plant root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, unions, leeks, parsnips and so on) or rent an ‘allotment’ and the recipes reflected the use of these as they were not part of your food ration – neither were eggs if you kept a few chickens!

Mrs Arnold showed us how to prepare several dishes many of which required grated, carrot, apples, potatoes’, or parsnips. This laborious task was passed to Mrs Thompson while we heard about the various artefacts on display and as many of dishes required longer cooking times than that available for the talk (and no facilities) it was a case of the Blue Peter adage ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’ – Did that begin in the War and Blue Peter borrowed it? Several original labour saving graters were shown. Before actually beginning the demonstrations Mrs Arnold gave us the ins and outs of the points/coupons per person per week; these would require too much space to detail in this report (but they are available on dedicated web sites). For example: Meat about £0 – 1s – 2d (£0.07) that equated to 1 Pork chop and couple of sausages with the weight made up with slice(s) of Corned Beef: [no doubt Mr Jones the Butcher in Dad’s Army comes to mind…]; - Bacon or Ham 4 oz (113gramme): 2 oz of Margarine: 4 oz of cooking fat or lard, When baking cakes, tarts, puddings etcetera save up the paper wrapping off the margarine, butter and fat/lard and use this to put a layer of grease inside the utensil (I remember my mom doing that!).

The Proof of the Pudding is in the eating” (well known) proved to be the case very much so when we all had a taste of the pre-prepared dishes our guests had brought along beginning with Carrot Cookies and Mock Banana Sandwiches. Seeing the preparation and ingredients involved our grandchildren would probably make rude noises and turn up their noses – but then there were no bananas in the war. (the basic ingredient was parsnip boiled until very soft, strained and mashed with a drop of ‘banana essence’ mixed in -“very tasty, very nice”…

‘Victory Sponge Pudding’ was grated potato, grated carrot, bread crumbs (from the stale ends of the loaf), flour, home made jam, from your own fruit and reconstituted milk – good old ‘National Dried’ (one tin per person every four weeks): The ‘Mock Duck’ was actually a very good dish for a main family meal consisting primarily of a tin of Canadian Sausage meat (imported on lease-lend from the USA that you could have as part of your meat ration), chopped onion, a teaspoon of dried sage: spring onion, or leek, or chives – from your garden. This mixture when completed could be shaped to look like a duck before baking this was quite acceptable after cooking. There was also ‘Mock Goose’, ‘Mock Crab, Summer Pudding’ and how to make a very convincing ‘Mock Cream’ using Margarine, sugar milk thickened with cornflower and a good ‘cold (marble) slab in the pantry – (NO refrigerators for most people then).

During the preparation stage of these recipes we were shown an ‘Emergency Suit Case’ that mother’s usually kept handy by door leading to the Anderson Shelter in the Garden. This contained a cuddly toy/comforter (Teddy Bear) and spare children’s clothes; personal papers (Ration Books, Identity cards: Insurance policies etc’), Travel size board game(s) such as Ludo or Snakes and Ladders, Story Books that included pocket size ‘Mighty Midgets’ knitting and sewing kits for emergency repairs. In respect of knitting, wool was rationed but concessions were made if you were knitting for the Troops (socks, scarf’s, gloves) in Khaki or RAF blue/grey. Two impressive examples of the old ‘Peg-Rugs were shown to us. Peg rugs were made by cutting up un-reusable old clothes in to strips and using a bodger; each strip would be pushed through a hole in the mesh of an old (hessian) sack and then knotted. It was usual to draw a suitable design on the hessian before starting work and on completion a suitable long lasting backing would be added. Many such ‘Peg-Rugs survived in use for several years after the end of the war and were quite common in the depression of the 1930’s.

Wartime marriages were common but handicapped by many restrictions; rationing meant you could not have a traditional wedding cake and it was common to hire a dummy cake from your baker, this consisted of an open bottom cardboard circular ‘box’ with an icing design of plaster of Paris that could be placed over a wartime sponge, or similar cake, this would look good on the photographs. Mrs Arnold then showed us a small section of white parachute silk that was very popular for clothes for special occasions (probably black market) which instantly brought a host on memories from the audience. Parachute silk was very popular for Wedding Dresses in the 40’s but one had to be careful as parachutes varied widely in the colours of the silks used – many used by the army were Khaki; some one said that ex-German ones commanded a premium price.

Thank you so very much to our ‘Ladies from the Ministry’, Mrs Jane Arnold and Mrs Thompson (we never did hear her Christian name) for a most entertaining evening that reminded all of us of our formative years that were in very trying circumstances. Long may you both be able to continue this excellent work, we are sure our younger generation would benefit from it much more so than violent video games.

This is most humorous as well as nostalgic practical talk that we would have no hesitation recommending to organisations similar to our own but also of benefit to ‘ladies groups’ (WI’s – Ladies Probus) and mixed audiences who have guest speakers.

If any readers would like to follow up on the 1940’s world of Rationing there is a wealth of information on the Internet (type Rationing’ into your search engine) and you can also down load genuine recipes to eek out your shopping budget in these hard economic times. Nella Last’s three books are a good read of the period and very informative. Filmed as ‘Housewife 49’ starring Victoria Wood the first book ‘Nella Lasts War’ covers the war years but personally I found the detail in the book far better than the film that had employed a lot of dramatic licence.

Please note: The Society does not meet in August but we are always pleased to welcome guests and visitors at our meetings. The next meeting will be on 8th September when the topic will be ‘Crime and Punishment in Bygone Times’ presented by Patsie Jarman. The following meeting will be about ‘Restoration work in Kings Norton’ by Mrs Greta Lacey on 13th October. Meetings are held in the Spencer Lounge Bar at Arden Hall, Water Orton Road at 7.45pm.



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