Who remembers ration books? I don’t but I had one during my first years of life. The War had ended several years earlier in the previous decade but rationing was kept on for quite a while until agriculture and food production caught up with demands. Today we apparently throw away more food than was probably ever rationed during the whole of the War. Wastage of good food is a shame when people are starving – many of them in the developed world as well as in poorer, developing countries. These days we want our food to look pretty, free of blemishes and not oddly shaped. During the years of rationing, any food looked good if you were lucky enough to get some. The only way to be sure you got your share was to wait patiently in a queue. Queueing became an art form during rationing.
I recall that I was given an orange or orange juice daily – part of the new socialist government’s plan to get more nutrition into the youngsters growing up after the deprivation of the war years. But I also recall vomiting frequently and often in the street when my Nan, who looked after me while my mum worked, walked me to the local shops. Nan probably thought I was being a difficult child, but it is obvious to me now that the acidic orange juice was the start of my stomach ulcer, from which I suffered into my forties. That and the tomatoes I used to eat by the dozen if I could get my hands on them.
Following the encouragement of the government, families grew their own vegetables. This was in their own back garden if they were lucky enough to have one, or in the local allotment for those without gardens – and those were very popular. Husbands often used the allotment to get away from the wife and kids for a few hours! Allotments are still cultivated these days but to a much lesser degree than fifty years ago. My parents were avid gardeners and grew blackcurrants, lettuce, potatoes, runner beans and loads of tomatoes. Yum!
My sister and I used to help with the Saturday evening meal, which was always salad. But I was eventually forbidden from entering the front room, where our large oak dining table was also located, as I would eat almost all the tomatoes which had been set on the table before the meal was ready, leaving none for the rest of the family. Tomatoes are very acidic …….. and so my ulcer flourished.
Bread and potatoes were a staple, and are still today. My mum didn’t bake bread so my sister and I were sent off to the High Street every Saturday morning to line up to buy the fresh, sliced bread at the best baker there. Loads of buttered slices were put on our table alongside the salad items, which we never mixed. Everything was put out separately: tomatoes, spring onions (scallions), celery, lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, tinned salmon (if we were splurging) and the ubiquitous Heinz Salad Cream. My aunt who lives in the lovely New Forest, still serves salad at the weekend exactly in that fashion.
Today, I really do my best to buy only what I need and it pains me to throw anything away – like lettuce that has gone brown in the fridge. I have a scheme for ripe tomatoes though – they go in a tupperware box into the freezer for the next time I need tomatoes or sauce for a spaghetti dish. Brown lettuce you can’t do much with unfortunately. Secret: buy frequently.
Of course, it is difficult for us to buy frequently these days. When I was small, mothers shopped daily. Most of them didn’t work and while the kids were at school mums trundled off to the local High Street where they bought fresh food from the greengrocer, butcher, baker, etc. Today we have to shop at the supermarket and that has to be only once or twice a week because it takes so long, and supermarkets are usually a drive or a very long walk away. Also, we all work these days. Few mums are at home ‘house-wifing’ and having the time to do a daily shop.
Our perishables were kept in the larder which was a tall cupboard in the kitchen built next to the outside wall where the nice British summers kept the salad items cold! But we do all have fridges these days; at least we can be fairly sure that what we have bought will still be edible by the time supplies run low and we have to do the ‘weekly shop’ next time.
Talking of which, it’s now 1pm and time for lunch. Salad today I think!