Three years’ PhD research into Woman’s Weekly has made me get to know the magazine pretty well! I’ve written lots about how its wartime recipes helped housewives cope with food rationing, so I was delighted to try a couple out for the WWII Rationing Challenge.
During the 1940s, Woman’s Weekly’s cookery editor was called Cecile – probably a penname, chosen to infuse her recipes with French culinary sophistication. She’s a cheerful character, upbeat about cooking on the ration to boost housewives’ morale. Her creamed vegetables and spiced carrot pudding look far from sophisticated, but she enthuses that they are “delicious” and “appetising,” so I decided to try them. The pudding recipe was published in 1942 and the creamed veg in 1944, when rationing was extensive and even non-rationed foods could be difficult to obtain.
When choosing recipes, I considered making Cecile’s macaroni cheese instead of her creamed veg. The macaroni would use half my week’s cheese ration however, so, since the creamed veg would only use a quarter I decided on that – it’s only the start of the week and I need to be careful. (As a vegetarian, I have double cheese – huzzah!)
My first challenge was to buy dry tapioca for the pudding, a task that gave me a taste of wartime food shopping. After unsuccessfully trying two supermarkets and a corner shop, I found it in the Chinese section of an international food store – the search took about two hours and made me feel like a 1940s housewife, traipsing after foods in short supply. (Woman’s Weekly advised readers to take their knitting on shopping expeditions, to give them something to do while they waited in long queues. Knitting would also be handy if they had to dash into an air raid shelter).
Happily the other ingredients were easier to source. As Cecile points out, I could make her creamed vegetables using any veg – her recipe is easily adaptable, allowing for shortages and seasonal produce. Carrots star in both recipes: nourishing, cheap and easily obtainable, they were staple ingredients during World War Two when, substituted for more difficult-to-get foodstuffs, they appeared in cakes, biscuits, jam, and even iced lollies!
Since the housewives pictured on Woman’s Weekly cookery pages always wear pretty frocks (presumably to show readers that housewifery is attractive) I decided to dress up to cook. I put on lipstick and powder, but instead of mascara I used Vaseline, a wartime makeup trick. The headscarf was comfortable and kept my hair out of my face – a definite win!
Both dishes were simple to make and not bad tasting, despite my partner Christian’s scepticism! Using veg-cooking water as stock made me feel gratifyingly un-wasteful, which was the point – Cecile avoids food waste scrupulously, urging readers to use up scraps and leftovers. Pudding-steaming time aside, both dishes were quick to prepare so would suit readers doing part- or full-time war work, paid or volunteer.
A little rationed milk would have made the cheese sauce richer, and some different vegetables, herbs or spices would have made the creamed veg less bland. The pudding was extremely sweet however, which made up for this. Together they made a filling meal.
Ellie is a third year English literature PhD student at the University of Roehampton, researching lower-middle-class domestic culture in Woman’s Weekly between 1918 and 1958. Her supervisors are Professors Nicola Humble and Ian Haywood, and she is funded by a prestigious AHRC TECHNE scholarship. She is aiming to submit her thesis in October 2017.