Wartime Ration Challenge

What does Remembrance Sunday mean today?

 wartime kitchen

Like most of the UK, I’m wearing a poppy this week.  In remembrance of the lives lost in the two World Wars and other conflicts.  But, I have no personal memory of the wars or of wartime rationing, only the stories I have been told by my mother, my grandparents, a wonderful woman called Ivy Cheeson who looked after me and a motley group of my friends when I was in my teens and by Mr and Mrs Lewin who I used to visit every week when I was at school as part of some kind of social awareness programme organised by the school.

Mr Lewin was just 12 when the First World War started.  He signed up, fibbing about his age and was sent to the trenches in France.  His stories were of French brothels, lice ridden putties and inedible trench food.  I met Ivy when I was a little older but still in my teens.  She was a cellist who played in the same orchestra as me and who decided that we should be her protégées.  We used to spend Sundays with her playing chamber music, eating her food and hearing about her life.  She’d finished at the Royal Academy of Music right in the middle of the depression and eventually got work in a Ladies Orchestra playing at the Café Royal.  She told us, with great pride, that she’d got the job by learning how to play hot breaks on the mandolin for the audition.  The Second World War put an end to such frivolities though and she signed up for the Woman’s Royal Army Corp, where she was a cook for the Officers Mess.  Now, perhaps her Sunday lunches were the strongest reminder for me on how things were.  She told us that she made bakewell tart with ground up dried broad beans laced with almond essence.  She made melba toast for us with any left over spare bread to go with her home-made chicken pate and we feasted on beef olives stuffed with who knows what.  Her food was luxurious but clearly had frugal origins.poppies_plain

My mother was young when the war started, just 6 years old.  And, since my grandparents were farmers, her own experience was probably not typical.  I know there was no shortage of butter or milk for example.  But, I also know that mum HATED rabbit and fatty meat all her life (and blamed her wartime ration diet).  And that she never forgave her own mother for making her share the one banana she had through the war, that was given to her when she had her tonsils with her three siblings.

Anyway, around this time last year, Karen from Lavender and Lovage was doing an ‘eat for a week on £10’ challenge.  And she and I were chatting and decided that a war time ration-book challenge would be particularly appropriate.  So.  Here we are, remembering in our own particular way by trying to live for a week on the kind of food that would have been available in 1940, during the Second World War.  We’ve been helped by a very kind donation of ‘War Time Farm’ from Octopus Books – the kind of history book that brings an era to life.  And, we’ve been sharing ideas along with Janice from Farmer’s Girl Kitchen who has joined us to try a week of ration food.  My photo shows most of what I get for the week…I’ve left out the one egg and the 2oz of butter and I have a total of 1lb of meat, so a further 8oz to buy for the second half of the week.


For me, the only city girl in the group of three doing this challenge, and the only single person, I’ve found it particularly difficult to find a way to re-invent my life.  I work from home, on the internet.  That simply wouldn’t have been an option during the war.  I would almost certainly have ended up working in a factory, joining up as a cook like my friend Ivy, or joining the field army.  I’ve based my meal plans around the idea that I have to cook two meals a day and eat breakfast…but the reality is that I would almost certainly have been in an environment where at least lunch was from a staff canteen or British restaurant.  But, I thought it would spoil the ration challenge if I cheated and only tried making breakfast and dinner.  Where I have compromised a bit is in making puddings. Or rather, in NOT making puddings.   I’ve made a large batch of flapjack, using half of my margarine and three quarters of my sugar and I’m planning on eating a piece of that with some seasonal fruit instead of dessert or when I feel hungry, which I have no doubt I will do!

I’ve also ended up having to start early and finish late, thanks to a trip to Tuscany that wasn’t planned when we originally set the dates for this.  What I’ve done is split the challenge into 4 consecutive days BEFORE I go to Tuscany and then 3 days when I return. And I am starting a day early.  Our intention was to finish this challenge on Remembrance Sunday.

So, here are my first four days of ration book meal plans…and a lovely picture of my attempt at making the ‘National Loaf’.  In fairness, the National Loaf wasn’t introduced till 1942 – and at that point was universally unpopular.  Brown bread was not generally eaten before the war, and reintroducing it, to avoid wasting the goodness from the wheat resulted in a drier, harder greyish bread.  I’ve made my loaf using my Morphy Richards Bread machine too, something my predecessors wouldn’t have been able to do.  I’m not planning on giving you recipes for everything, but where there is an asterix I will add the recipe!


Day one

Breakfast – porridge – water/top of the milk and jam
Lunch – home made seasonal vegetable soup and bread*
Supper – mince and tatties

Day two

Breakfast – porridge – water/top of the milk and jam
Lunch – home made soup and bread
Supper – cottage pie*

Day three

Breakfast – tea and toast
Lunch – Welsh Rarebit*
Supper – bacon and potato hotpot*

Day four

Breakfast – tea and toast
Lunch – Welsh Rarebit
Supper – bacon and potato hotpot

So far, I am not finding the wartime ration challenge too dreadful. It’s odd to be cooking and not adding wine to everything. And, I was amazed at how far 8oz of meat goes if you add in a lot of diced vegetables. I’ve ended up freezing one portion (an option that wouldn’t have been open to my wartime equivelent). BUT, I’m clearly taking the easy option by using my fridge, the breadmaker, the food processor and all sorts of other kitchen appliances that wouldn’t have been around in the 1940s. There are definitely lessons I am learning from doing the wartime ration challenge

national loaf

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  1. says

    A FABULOUS and interesting first post Fiona and your menu seems quite tasty for one person, which must have been harder, when living on rations. Karen

    • says

      The real challenge is how to find easy things to make with cheap meat in small quantities. Cheap meat usually needs slow cooking…and without a freezer to make up large batches and freeze, I am finding that quite hard. Maybe terrines would work!

  2. says

    I can’t tell you how much I love this idea. In fact, I’m quite interested in joining you for this challenge. I’ve always been fascinated with the war time tales from a young child’s perspective. The evacuations, games they used to play for entertainment, and of course, the food and rations.

    We’re a family of 5 – 2 adults, 3 children. Is it £10 no matter what? Or a certain amount of £’s per person in the household? Either way, this is a fantastic challenge and a challenge it will be! We certainly live a life of luxury now with our modern equipments. I’d love to try to do things the old fashioned way too. My house was built in the 40’s so we have one of those lada cupboards in the kitchen that stays cool. It would be fantastic to try and live my life and store things that need to be chilled in the lada to be as authentic as possible too.

    Hopefully the fella will be in with this with me as I have chronic arthritis so all the chopping, etc. will be very hard for me.

    • LizC says

      We’ve been eating of wartime rations for the last year and loving it. Although, I must admit we don’t use as much meat (about half) as my daughters and I aren’t big red meat eaters.
      Its made such a big difference to us money wise (spend £30 or less on groceries for the 5 of us per week and can now save 40% of our income each week)as well as diet wise (I’ve lost 2.5 stone and kept it off). I would recommend trying it to anyone.

  3. says

    Wow, Fiona! I admire your ability to stick to this. I’m fairly certain I would find it a lot harder than you seem to. What a great way to remember those lost in war.

  4. says

    The rations were not in terms of money (apart from for meat). Per person, the weekly allowance was as follows

    Butter: 50g (2oz)
    Bacon or ham: 100g (4oz)
    Margarine: 100g (4oz)
    Cooking fat/lard: 100g (4oz)
    Sugar: 225g (8oz).
    Meat: To the value of 1/2d and sometimes 1/10d – about 1lb (450g) to 12ozs (350g) if cheap meat (e.g. mince or neck of lamb)
    Milk: 3 pints (1800ml) occasionally dropping to 2 pints (1200ml).
    Cheese: 2oz (50g) rising to 8oz (225g)
    Eggs: 1 fresh egg a week.
    Tea: 50g (2oz).
    Jam: 450g (1lb) every two months.
    Dried eggs: 1 packet (12 eggs) every four weeks.
    Sweets & Chocolate: 350g (12oz) every four week

    • says

      Wow, really? Thanks for this list. So I can duplicate this for 5 people? To be honest, if I duplicate this for 5 people, most of the items I use less than stated so I think I may have got it wrong? We go through more eggs, sugar, and milk because I’m a dessert blogger. But if I wasn’t baking up desserts 3x a week, I think I could definitely do this.

      Last week, my partner made 2 large pans full of stew using less meat than stated above and it was still wonderful and almost lasted us throughout the mid-week. Which leads me to think I’m already living quite thrifty anyway.

      I’m going to save this information and perhaps start the challenge at the beginning of December for 2 full weeks to see if we can… 1. do it. 2. save money and spend it on additional Christmas food.


      • LizC says

        seek out a few wartime cook books, they’re great for ways to bake without using a lot of sugar, eggs or milk. My favourites are still the ones by good old Marguerite Patten, but some more modern egg free cook book recipes are also good.

  5. says

    Eating on $10 a week reminds me of those lovely college days that consisted of peanut butter, bread, and Ramen Noodles!:-) I’m excited to hear how it goes, and I may even give it a whirl in NY and see how I can do…(although to stick to that price I’ll have to do QUITE a bit of couponing, lol)! Have a FABULOUS time in Italy!

  6. says

    What a great challenge Fiona and how interesting. To be honest 1 lb of meat seems quite a lot, certainly more than we had when I was growing up, but I guess meat was what people were used to then. Having said that, the cheese ration is pretty scanty so I would really struggle. I wonder if lentils were available – presumably not!

  7. Idebenone says

    The challenge of living on rations continued whatever your situation. It wasn’t only food that was on ration, clothing rationing began on 1 June 1941. Everyone was allowed 66 clothing coupons a year, which more or less added up to one complete outfit a year.

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