Our Wartime Recipes

Have you seen our World War I Collector’s Edition, yet? Fiction Editor Shirley has dedicated one of her blog entries to her first impressions of this very special issue, and we’re all so proud of the results of months of delving into our vintage volumes. Of course, I loved seeing the old cookery pages, and reading Kitty’s recipes and her letters to and from her devoted “Kitchen Club” members.

It was fascinating to see how the types of dishes altered from the period immediately before the war to the days of austerity and rationing at the end of the conflict. The early pages from 1914 put me in mind of Mrs Beeton there were lots of recipes for sweet and savoury “shapes” and “moulds” of all kinds largely absent from our tables these days. I was staggered, too, by the cooking times. Recipes that needed three or four hours boiling or steaming on the stove were very common I could only imagine the condensation in the kitchens in those days! Deep-frying was also a favourite and the fat was mostly lard or dripping. As the war progressed, the type of recipes changed they became thriftier and readers were much more conscious of how much fuel would be needed to cook the dinner.

How, I wondered, in our own thrifty and fuel-conscious days, might Kitty’s wartime recipes translate to the modern kitchen? It was time to get in touch with an old friend of the “Friend”, blogger Karen Burns Booth of the website Lavender and Lovage, to see if we could recreate some of Kitty’s originals for our readers today to feature in the September 13 issue of the weekly magazine.

Karen’s well used to working with historical recipes, having taken part in a Second World War rations challenge last year. She was delighted to be part of our World War I centenary commemorations and set to work with a will.

We made a shortlist of Kitty’s recipes from the whole of the war and Karen whittled those down to a final half-dozen. Using modern ingredients and equipment, she brought Kitty’s recipes into the 21st century, with only the smallest adjustments where ingredients were slightly different from those available in Kitty’s day. Were they tasty? Oh, yes they were!

I asked Karen for her thoughts about her recreation of Kitty’s recipes.

“I was very excited to be involved in this WW1 cooking project as I have cooked and lived on rations before, as part of a series of “remembrance” articles with the Imperial War Museum. And, in this centenary year of the start of WW1, I was keen to show my support for all the brave men and women who were involved in this “war to end all wars”.

The ingredients for the recipes I chose to make were easily available today, although I discovered through trial and error that dried apricots must have been “harder” than the semi-soft ones we use today. The split peas in the soup also cooked in less time and I used a bicarbonate of soda tablet that was included in my box of peas, which also made them softer. Overall, the cooking methods were similar, although they tended to cook food for longer and their portion sizes were considerably smaller than the excesses of today.

My choice of recipes from the People’s Friend reader’s recipe archive were picked to try to represent different courses of meals, so, we have a homely pea and vegetable soup with croutons, a comforting family pie made with leftovers, a spicy curry to liven things up a bit, a fabulous fruit cake that would have been very welcome when added to “pack -up” on “Fire Watch”, a very versatile sandwich filling made with cheese and lentils and a colourful baked apricot pudding made with stale bread – something for everyone, and all different cooking techniques too.

I hope that you feel inspired to try these recipes too, as they were all extremely tasty and satisfying, and I found them to be filling but in a lighter and healthier way. Where dripping was suggested, I used butter and wherever possible I used brown (wholemeal) bread as well as white pepper and not black pepper, which was more common in that era.

I thoroughly enjoyed “test-driving” these 100 year old recipes, and it made for a very tangible connection with the housewives of the day, as well as making me feel that in some way I had contributed to the First World War’s centenary in a very personal way.”

You can see Karen’s fantastic results in this week’s issue, and there’s an exclusive recipe from this collection in the Recipes section of our website. Do pop over to Karen’s own blog for her further thoughts at www.lavenderandlovage.com.

I know that Karen and I were both filled with admiration for Kitty and her wartime readers who adapted to such difficult circumstances with such ingenuity and generosity of spirit. I hope we’ve been able to do them justice.

Our World War 1 Collector’s Edition will be on sale September 10, and it’s also available to order now: http://bit.ly/1oGx4di