For the past few days I’ve been researching UK rations from World War II for my new blog The Ration Diaries. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, it’s a blog inspired by the ultimate thrifty cook, my granny. She grew up during WWII in Kent, England, and somehow managed to get through the air raids, rationing and separation from her mother, and come out the other side with positivity and strength of spirit – not to mention a love of beef paste in a jar aka Bovril. Don’t ask. I grew up making Bramley apple pies with her, squishing the scrap dough into clumsy, greyish versions of the beautiful pastry roses she used to top them with. Those trips to her house in Gravesend, where she still lives, were a big part of what made me want to learn and write about food. I’ll work with the average rations an adult would have received during WWII in England. Here are some of fruits and veggies that would have been widely available this time of year:
As it turns out, carrots were big.
When 1941 rolled around, the Minister of Food started featuring posters pushing Brits to eat carrots, like the one above. Why carrots? For one thing, there were a lot of ’em. Once rationing began in the UK and supplies from abroad were targeted by German U-boats, vegetables and fruits like citrus and grapes were hard to get hold of. Sugar was heavily rationed since it came from outside the UK. Massive amounts of carrots were available, though. And they were sweet and nutritious, so they could be subbed in for sugar in some desserts, and stood in for some of the nutrients missing now that certain produce was limited. Recipes and fact sheets were released, trying to convince the reluctant English population to eat them. ‘No, no, really, they’re great’ they seemed to say lamely. Understandably, Dr. Carrot, Carroty George, and Clara Carrot didn’t do a whole lot to convince kids that carrots were as good as chocolate and candy, both of which were heavily rationed.
These kids were probably the exception, I’m guessing.
Carrots started piling up. Even though the English didn’t have access to much, they didn’t seem too keen on carrots. So posters started appearing claiming that since carrots are good for healthy vision, they would help kids and adults see during blackouts. They also started circulating the story that British RAF pilots manning the defences during German attacks were so successful because of their incredible night vision. They loved carrots so much that they were able to spot their prey in the dark!
In fact, the RAF invented this myth to hide their use of radar in spotting Luftwaffe bombers at night. But whatever the reason, the ploy worked and the English started growing and eating more carrots. Check out this post from The Carrot Museum on “Cats Eyes Cunningham,” the famous British night fighter pilot whose abilities sparked the superhero-night-vision carrot rumors.