Sunday, 20 March 2016

The War Economy: One Meat Meal a Day

From the Surrey Mirror, 17th March 1916.



Many housewives in their patriotic efforts to put into practice the recommendation of the War Savings Committee and indulge in only one meat meal per day, are finding themselves confronted by a serious difficulty.  It appears that the average servant cannot, or will not, make vegetable dishes interesting and palatable, either because she does not consider them a "really respectable meal," and has a personal liking for meat two or even three times a day, or because the "plain cook" likes plain dishes, which, as she understands them, mean dishes that require practically no trouble and little skill in the preparation, for example, a chop or a steak, but not a vegetarian entree or stew.  Breadcrumbs, once a year, at Christmas, she will make if the whole house stands still for the exciting adventure; but economical dishes requiring the daily making of breadcrumbs are anathema.  The plain joint and the plain boiled potato generally meet all her ideas and ideals, so far, at least, as the main course goes.

It will not do, however.  British prejudice in the matter of food is bound to be broken on the wheel of circumstance; there must come a radical change in our national diet, and in the transition stage the willing co-operation of our servants is essential.  Otherwise the home where the food revolution is likely to be effected with least trouble will be the maidless one.  The cook who is worth her salt, however, will soon discover that, although meatless dishes certainly require long and careful cooking, and with an old-fashioned and unreliable coal range are troublesome to prepare, with a dependable, easily-regulated, dirt and labour-saving gas cooker, especially if this invaluable kitchen adjunct be supplemented by a "hay-box," which economises in trouble and fuel, such difficulties quite disappear.

All sorts of pleasing meatless dishes can be prepared at very little cost by the enterprising cook.  Let me give a few examples here:—

Maccaroni and Apples.—Boil 4 ozs. thin maccaroni in boiling milk with 2 ozs. sugar, the grated rind of a lemon and a teaspoonful of powdered cinnamon.  Drain and put round a dish.  Have ready six stewed apples, cut into halves and quarters, heap in centre of dish and pour custard over.  
A nourishing soup, made from bones and scraps and eaten with plenty of "whole-meal" bread, combines with this dish to make a very good "meatless meal," as distinct from a strictly vegetarian diet.  Be it always remembered that the Government is preaching not vegetarianism, but economy in the use of meat, a fundamental fact housewives seem not yet fully to appreciate. Maccaroni, which forms the basis of a number of savoury dishes, to be a success must be thrown into boiling water, and directly it comes to the boil again moved on to the simmering burner, where it will take 25-35 minutes to cook.  If it is hot, but "off the boil," it will not spoil if left in the hay-box for an hour or more.

Colcannon is a useful dish for "using-up" purposes.  Take equal quantities of cold boiled potatoes and cold boiled cabbage.  Mash the potatoes, chop the cabbage, and mix both together; then place them in a frying-pan with some dripping.  Season and stir over the gas until the vegetables are hot and slightly browned.  Put the mixture into a greased pie-dish and bake for about half-an-hour.  Bits of bacon finely chopped or any other left-over meat add flavour to the dish.

Leftover potatoes are an ingredient of another useful dish, Lentil Sausages.  Boil 1lb. Egyptian lentils for about half-an-hour just covered with water, mash them when soft, add the mashed potatoes, and some chopped fried onions, and mix well.  Form into sausages, dip into white of egg or milk and fry.

Slices of stale bread and butter can be used to make the following Bread and Cheese Savoury.  Lay slices of buttered bread in a pie-dish with grated or sliced cheese (about 6ozs.) in between.  Beat up an egg in half-a-pint of milk, pour over the bread, and bake about an hour in a gas oven.

Sameness in a meatless diet must be avoided or disaster will follow; but it is wonderful what changes can be rung by flavouring vegetable food with any remains of meat, fish, or gravy that happens to be handy.  John Bull cannot be expected to become a pure vegetarian, nor is it desirable that he should.

The need for keeping bones and scraps for making stock is a truism among housewives; but it must be pointed out that soup is no longer to be looked upon as a kind of appetiser, but rather as an important item in the dietary.  It becomes a really nourishing food by the addition of thickenings, such as flour, oatmeal, rice, barley, potatoes, and bread, to meat and vegetable boilings from beans and peas, etc.  Forced meat balls or grated cheese enhance the flavour of soup; while where there are hungry children “baby dumplings" are a satisfying adjunct.  Soup of this nourishing nature is very useful, as we have seen, for the meat-less meal.

When this meatless meal should be taken is still a matter of debate.  A light lunch is perhaps the ideal; but for children the principal meal must be the mid-day one, and so to avoid two sets of heavy cooking the evening meal should be light.  Dishes of the kind suggested can be prepared when the bulk of the cooking is being done and re-heated later; while the hay-box comes in very well here.  If, then, the rule is that the meatless meal comes at night for the children's sake, the man of the family may have to go to a restaurant for a substantial mid-day dinner; but this will be cheaper than cooking two big meals at home--cheaper in fuel, food materials, time and energy.

[It surprised me to realise that for middle-class households, war-time economy in food at this point just meant having one meal a day without meat.  Breakfast was presumably the 'full English' breakfast, with bacon, egg, sausages, and so on (which now hardly exists outside hotels, restaurants and similar businesses).  And many people apparently had meat at two further meals in the day as well. 
The first paragraph shows that "servant problems" evidently cropped up in all sorts of ways - here, the cook not seeing eye-to-eye with her employer over reducing the consumption of meat.   Perhaps having servants to do all the hard work in a house wasn't as easy as it sounds.]


  1. I'm just reeling from the idea of boiling 'maccaroni' for 25-35 minutes - to some sort of starchy glue presumably. Thank goodness we're aware of the concept of 'al dente' these days!

    1. Yes, the British were pretty ignorant of pasta in those days - I think macaroni is the only variety I have seen mentioned, and of course as you say they evidently had no idea how to cook it properly.