Post Rationing Britain
By Patricia Carline
On the 18th December 1953 I was eagerly awaiting my 7th Christmas and my 7th birthday and I really didn't know about rationing and shortages - granted, we didn't have much, but then neither did our family or our friends and the people we knew! We had a radio but not a television, but we did watch the Queen's coronation 'live' at my aunts house and I got to see some TV when we visited.
I suppose my parents understood all about shortages - dresses made at home from fabric which was not very good quality, winter coats dyed to do another season. It was a long time before I realised we had won the war but lost out on the peace - our resources - food, materials, goods we produced were going abroad to the USA to repay the 'lend-lease' they had provided during the war, (we finally paid it off in the 1990s), and to Germany - to rebuild their economy.
Rationing finally finished in 1954, but we were no better off and quality goods and materials were still out of the reach of all but the well-off and in 1953 any woman outside the wealthy classes would have killed for Emma-Louise's beautifully made, luxury quality, 'New Look', colour co-ordinated coat, bag and shoes! They are fabulous - I'd kill for them now - but too Vogue for a teenage girl as was her make-up - a touch of pale blue eye shadow and the lightest wisp of brown mascara plus a light slick of rose pink lippy. And that assumes that her mum would have allowed her to wear make-up - remember, you were technically a child until your 21st birthday and good girls obeyed their parents!
Diane, however, looks right - she was an independent young woman and a flyer before the war and during it and was used to a time when there were fewer restrictions on her career and she dressed in a practical way for someone climbing in and out of planes. Her make-up is also excellent and very much in the same style as Marilyn Monroe - neutral eyeshadow, a fine line of eyeliner and just enough mascara to enhance her lashes - and no ready-mixed, fancy-wand mascara - it came in a solid block with a tiny version of a tooth brush and the best method of application was to use spit - it worked better than water and you didn't have to find a tap! Her decision to take off and try to leave our red-tape governed 21st century, I find totally understandable - in my lifetime I have seen our lives taken over by faceless officialdom deciding what we can do and what is 'for our own good' - leaving us with very little real personal freedom. A quick review of news photos from 1953 on the 'net will show you that in this case Torchwood was - costume-wise - a bit too Hollywood!
Food was also still a problem in that you had little choice, as ordinary people but to cook - pre-packaged, quick-cook meals didn't even start to appear until the 1960s - except for tinned soup and the inevitable baked beans. Menus for many were still pretty boring, many foods were still in short supply or expensive - but the amazing thing is, that until the 1960s, when people were better off and shortages no longer existed, the British were the healthiest people, fit rather than fat, having been restricted to a well balanced diet for almost 10 years and a hard-working, active life. How enjoyable meals were depended on how well you cooked and there was no shortage of recipes - the government carried on printing their free food guidelines and recipes into the early 1950s. One of my favourite meals, cooked by both my Mum and my Gran, (and later by me), was chips, peas and 'rissoles' - a sausage-shaped burger - minced beef or pork with finely chopped onion and seasoning, mixed, shaped and fried! Just as today, plain dishes were improved by a well stocked store cupboard - we didn't have soy sauce or the other oriental seasonings but we had curry powder herbs, spices and our traditional sauces like Worcester sauce and Hendersons relish, plus Oxo cubes, Marmite and Bovril and assorted other savoury flavourers now long gone.
The good cook used pies, casseroles, stews and soups to stretch limited amounts of meat, fish and cheese. Amazingly, stretching stewing meat by adding two days of veggies and stock gives two main meals - serve one with dumplings and the next days with Yorkshire pudding - and the day 2 reheated stew will taste better than the 1st days. Line a shallow pie dish with cheese shortcrust pastry and fill with chopped spring onion, crispy bacon pieces, beaten eggs with a little mustard and grated cheese, cover with the rest of the pastry, brush with a little of the beaten egg and bake in a moderate oven till the egg is set and the pastry golden, serve warm with salad - it worked then and still does, though the bacon may be dry cured and the cheese best quality. Oh and todays fashionable kale and beet tops - they were part of my weekly diet in season! And don't forget the leftovers - next time you have a chicken, strip off all those finicky bits you can't be bothered with from the legs, wings and carcass and put to one side. In a pan sweat off half a chopped onion in a lump of butter then add a couple of chopped carrots, potatoes, a small chopped leek and stick of celery, with 1lt of chicken stock made with a couple of stock cubes. Bring to the boil then simmer till the veggies are cooked then throw in a handful of peas and the leftover chicken, simmer for 15 minutes then serve with crusty bread - cost? About £1.50!
You may think that this all sounds a bit miserable but you would be wrong! I had a great childhood - age 8, my friends and I went off on our own to play in the back fields and fish for 'taddies' in the stream, we could play footy in the street and ride our bikes through the estate - safely and untroubled and a picnic lunch was a jam sandwich and a bottle of 'council pop' - tap water to you and a lot cheaper than today's bottled stuff!
My mum made my pretty dresses and practical play shorts from fabric from the market and I didn't feel deprived - unlike today's kids who worry about £60 trainers and designer jeans - to say nothing of their video games!
If you would like to get an idea about food and recipes, I recommend "Eating For Victory" - a collection of Government instruction, guideline and recipe leaflets from the 2nd World War, easily available from Amazon.co.uk
And if you want a better idea of Britain in 1953, look on the internet for news photos and newsreel film.