BY ANNIE JACKSON
My parents were young adults during the Second World War. In later years they’d mention Woolton Pie with expressions of complete disgust; for them, it was the grimmest manifestation of wartime rationing. Stodgy, pale, tasteless – food merely as fuel. So for Cambridge Sustainable Food’s WWII Ration Challenge, I thought it would be fun to experiment with the Woolton Pie recipe and see if I could make it look and (more importantly) taste good.
First problem was the recipe: the ingredients list called for a pound each of potatoes, carrots, parsnips and cauliflower – four pounds of filling. How big a pie would it make? I cut the quantities down by half and even so had masses more filling that I could cram into my pie dish.
I only deviated from the recipe once. Instead of boiling spring onions with the veg, I chopped up two big onions finely and cooked them very slowly, until caramelised, in a tablespoon of (locally produced) rapeseed oil. This gave a much needed depth of flavour to the filling. I added lots of herbs – chopped fresh parsley and thyme, a good pinch of dried sage, a chopped spring onion – and plenty of salt and pepper. The cooking liquid had thickened up with the oatmeal and there was just enough to moisten the veg.
The pastry recipe included mashed potato as well as wholemeal flour. This made a rather sticky dough which was difficult to roll out thinly.
And the proof of the pudding? It was fine: the filling was moist and reasonably tasty, though more innocent than we are used to; the pastry was a bit stodgy but tasted good. My independent taster, a young man who had spent the previous day cycling from Oxford to Cambridge (so a reasonable proxy for a 1940s outdoor worker), liked the homeliness of the pie, with the flavour of the vegetables coming through strongly. I’d probably want to eat it with ketchup or chilli sauce – online versions of the recipe suggest a strong Bisto gravy. The pie certainly wasn’t horrible as my parents’ comments had always led me to believe.
If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t bother with the pastry crust, but omit the potatoes from the filling and put a mash topping (perhaps with a little grated cheese). Spices in the veg mix would be good too. For today’s tastes it needs a bit more oomph. But it’s a versatile recipe which could make use of whatever veg was in season, and is well worth trying out.
If you are interested in joining our WW2 Rationing Challenge or are looking for some more war time recipes, take a look at our challenge page.