Monday, 8 June 2009

Summer 1945 - Food and the Lack of it

Don't you just hate grocery shopping, the ordinary kind of supermarket shopping; not shopping for special and particular meals, meals to be shared with friends, meals for parties and family occasions, but the everyday "catering" kind of meals, the repetitive, boring meals. The "what on earth am I going to cook today" kind of meals.

Queueing is another pet hate. There's usually a queue at the deli counter and you stand there with your ticket, waiting for your turn, keeping a very close eye out for shoppers trying to jump the queue.

In the summer of '45 things were rather different.

The cupboards were more or less bare, the meagre rations weren't enough to keep body and soul together and the shops had great difficulties providing the staples. There was milk and the bakers were given flour to bake bread, often supplemented from US army rations. Farmers had been able to till the land with the help of every old man and young boy in the village who wasn't needed elsewhere, clearing rubble, filling defensive ditches or dismantling military structures.

But the harvest was months off; everybody was waiting for potatoes, cereal and cabbage, the main crops of the area. As I have already described in the last post on the time, women and children went out daily to gather anything edible they could find in hedgerows, field edges and woods.

There was almost no meat or fat. On several occasions, there were rumours of a delivery of fish to the fishmonger's. The first people lined up at daybreak, waiting for the shop to open, only to be told that there had been no transport available that day and that the fish had gone elsewhere. Another time the fish had arrived but the queue was so long that it was a question of first come first served and people at the tail end of the queue went home empty handed.

Typical meals mother cooked for us were a thick, unsweetened rice pudding sprinkled with nutmeg, a buttermilk barley broth with prunes, or dumplings made out of flour and yeast and water. Even during the war mother preserved and bottled fruit and vegetables which were kept in the cellar and at that time we still had shelves with a few jars of last summer's bottled plums which made the dumplings palatable. There were green beans, preserved in salt, which had to be soaked in clear water before they could be cooked. Sauerkraut was another staple of the area and every harvest time the housewife bought a dozen or so heads of the large white cabbage and made her own Sauerkraut, which was kept in an earthenware crock in the cellar.

And then there was the absolute treasure of the cellar, worth more than rubies to a hungry household, the Einkellerungskartoffeln, potatoes for storing over the winter. If you had potatoes left over, you were rich. By now, last year's potatoes were dry and wrinkled and sprouting; in ordinary times they would be fed to pigs. These were no ordinary times and even the shrunken tuber could be mashed with carrots, cabbage or beans to make a meal. We also had a dish called Himmel und Erde, heaven and earth, which was potatoes mashed with last year's stored apples.

By late summer the harvest began, I learned the art of gleanings and to hack for potatoes.


  1. We certainly need to appreciate what we have today!

  2. I loved this post, since I was about 8 at the time. I remember rations and we ate a lot of Spam.
    Good job.


Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.