Friday, 20 July 2018

Victory Cookbook

Like most of my local charity shops, my nearest Oxfam bookshop no longer seems to get in the volume of vintage books that it used to. However, it does sometimes get interesting books about history, and this cookbook caught my eye the other day. I own a copy of Constance Spry's Come Into The Garden, Cook, which was written during the Second World War, but this one was written by Marguerite Patten, a Home Economist for the Ministry of Food during the war, from a modern perspective, and I was hoping for a more... shall we say palatable selection of recipes.

The book is actually three retrospective books squashed into one. First there's We'll Eat Again (1985), which is divided into the sort of chapters you'd expect, like Soups, Main Meals, Vegetable Dishes and Baking. Then comes The Victory Cookbook (1995), which is divided mainly into chapters of celebration food, like 'Street Parties', 'Voluntary Services Celebrations', and 'The Forces' Victory'. Finally, there's Post-War Kitchen (1998), which covers the post-war rationing period - rationing didn't end in Britain till 1954.

The three-part structure and complete lack of index do mean the book's not especially useful as a cookbook. You'd have to flick through the whole thing to find all the baking recipes, for example, which is probably more faffing about than most of us would want to do.

Of course, you do have to ask yourself how many people would actually want a book purely of wartime recipes; it wasn't noted as a period of great culinary creation, after all. This is as much a book to read and learn from as it is one to cook from, a book to flick through, enjoying the cartoons promoting various foods and anecdotes of how people were encouraged to eat more veg and waste less bread, perhaps coming across a recipe that you might like to try in the process.

One thing that is surprising is how few recipes are repeated – Patten clearly had a good stock of recipes to draw on. Eggless sponge gets repeated (interestingly, while both use the same quantity of flour, the version from The Victory Cookbook uses more sugar and margarine than the one from We'll Eat Again) and there are two recipes for stuffed marrow, though the stuffing varies a little. There aren't the same recipes coming up over and over ad nauseam, though.

What undoubtedly did get monotonous during the war was the ingredients. Carrots, rhubarb, apples, and the good old spud - personified by the Ministry of Food as 'Potato Pete' pop up over and over, and you have to admire the ingenuity of the people who came up with the recipes. Carrot curry. Carrot cookies. Carrot jam. Carrot sandwiches. Potato scones. Potato pancakes. Potato fingers. Potato parsley cakes. Still, compared to things like whale meat, snoek, and the absolutely grim-sounding sheep's head roll, I'd be happy to peel another bucket of taters.

I will have a go at some of the recipes from this book. The cakes and biscuits, in particular, sound pretty decent, though I'll replace the margarine with butter. And who knows, if we get carrots, carrots and carrots in the vegbox again later in the year, this book will have plenty of suggestions for how to use them. (If only it had some ideas for courgettes...)

16 comments :

  1. I have a tag on my blog for "I recession-prooofed my family with a 10lb. bag of carrots" and it is absolutely true. When money was tight I could always count on carrots to fill us up.

    I have this cookbook-bought it when I was teaching the war. It isn't the first book I'd reach for to cook dinner, but it does give you an appreciation for what people went through.

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    1. I got it more out of curiosity than anything. Given there's already talk of our government looking into rationing in case there's a no-deal Brexit, the book could come in more useful than I thought...

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  2. Does it have powdered egg in it? My Mum was born in 1930 so grew up during the war and rationing and she used to buy it in the 80's from the healthful shop near us. I gave it a very wide body swerve as it smelt awful. Carrots are fantastic. I had (one of Mum's) veggie cookbook that had a carrot and peanut butter pasta sauce recipe in it that was so much better than it sounds. :) Xx

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    1. It does have powdered egg in it! And an awful lot of margarine.

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  3. I wouldn't exactly be using this book as a cooking reference, but I would snap it up because of its historical value, especially as this is from a period I'm particularly interested in. Carrots are a real staple at Dove Cottage, by the way. If in doubt, add carrots ;-) xxx

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    1. I eat a lot of grated carrots as part of salads at this time of year, but I confess I'm not very adventurous with them.

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  4. I think I still have We'll Eat Again, I bought it in Past Times back in the day to look through with my Nan.

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    1. I dread to think what my nan would say to it! Probably "Bugger off with that, I lived through it once, don't want to see it again."

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  5. i have this one on my shelf , use it quite a bit . I love Merguerite Patten books , i use some of the 70s 500 recipes ones as well

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    1. Ooh, I haven't seen those ones. I'll keep an eye out.

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  6. I have the Victory Cookbook somewhere, but have never used it! My tastes in cookbooks are more Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ;) I bet there are some perfectly good recipes though, perhaps enhanced with more newfangled flavours (if in doubt, add garlic! And carrots. They go with everything).

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    1. Yeah, with a bit of spicing up quite a few of them should be fairly practical, and there will be some good ideas for using up leftovers and using less meat.

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  7. Sounds fascinating Mim, but I never buy cookbooks because I don't like cooking! I don't mind baking though and have never been known to say no to cake...

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    1. Never trust *anyone* who says they don't like cake!

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  8. I grew up with a 500 recipes Marguerite Pattern cookbook Mum had as a wedding present in 1966 - the photos were atrocious and everything seemed to be covered in aspic - no wonder I became vegetarian! xxx

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    1. Yeah, aspic is an odd one. I do wonder what the point of it was - just to look shiny? To preserve things slightly? That's something that definitely fell out of fashion. I'm so glad we never had the American-style obsession with jelly salads over here; of all the retro recipes I've seen the ones involving jelly are the worst.

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