FEEDING THE FAMILY
Food rationing was introduced at the beginning of World War 11, and by todays standards, it was a meagre supply for each person, for instance my mother was allowed one egg per week, whilst I, as a child was allowed two. My mother had always placed great store on, keeping a good table, this was an old fashioned expression, meaning that feeding the family was top priority after paying the rent. We were allowed about four ounces of bacon, a few ounces of fresh meat and butter for example.
The ingenuity of the housewife was nothing short of miraculous, and the different ways of making meals out of practically nothing became a fine art.
Ration books were issued and a family had to register with one grocer, whilst we lived in the cottage on Church Lane, our registered grocer was The Co-op, Sackville Street, Barnsley. I can remember going with my mother for our weekly rations, this term was still in use until fairly recent years. It has gradually died out as people who lived during those dark times of the war have passed away.
Every day on the wireless, there was a recipe, for example, how to make a fruit cake without fruit, that sounds a bit cock-eyed now, but believe me it could be done, and very tasty it was too. Because we didnt have electricity in our cottage, we did not have a wireless, so my aunt would pass these recipes on to my mother. Carrots came into their own and the versatility of that humble vegetable knew no bounds, one of my favourite meals was rissoles, I suppose they could have been the start of beef burgers which were way in the distant future. Goodness knows what was in the rissole mixture, I can remember it being bought in packets, the contents of which were mixed with cold water, and then moulded into roundish shapes, which were similar to a scone, but not as big. These were fried, the precious bacon fat being saved for this purpose, and I loved them. I wasnt too keen on rice pudding, home made of course, no tins of Ambrosia at that time, semolina wasnt too bad, especially if a dollop of jam could be spared to mix in with it.
All the bread was home made too, this was done after the Sunday dinner, because of the previous days clearing out of the flus, the oven was at it its best for baking. My Grandma made delicious oven bottom cakes which were like an oversized teacake, when I and my two cousins, Jack and Tony went to visit her, our greatest treat was to have slices of this delicious bread with a scraping of butter on it, and sometimes even jam. At such a young age, we did not realise that we were probably eating our Grandmas weekly ration of butter.
We were lucky that my aunt worked in Hinchcliffes Health shop situated in Market Street, Barnsley, we would go into this shop weekly and if a consignment of dried fruit had been delivered, then my aunt would always hand a small parcel to my mother, we could hardly wait to get
home to find out what goodies were inside. Even though food was so strictly rationed, it has since become a well known fact that we were healthier than ever before or since, I suppose the rations had been worked out to give us a balanced diet.
A neighbour of my three aunts, was fortunate that she had a husband who grew his own vegetables, in an allotment*. One day she was making some sort of stew and she had put some onion into it, the cousins, me included, stood at her back door, sniffing at the delicious aroma which came wafting out. Unfortunately for us, she had her own big family to feed, and I am sure that if our mothers had seen us, we would have been smacked for begging,
we were dead ringers for the Bisto Kids.
For some reason, cocoa was available and every morning I would have a cup of cocoa, with some sort of cereal for my breakfast, or maybe toast which had been toasted in front of the fire, the bread dangling precariously on the end of a toasting fork. I came to enjoy the taste of soot, which invariably found its way on to the bread. Supper was cocoa again and a bowl of warm milk with dried bread crumbled into it, and left to soak for a few minutes, these were called pobs, if we were lucky we had sugar sprinkled over it. I was not too keen on pobs either, however, these, meant that I did not go to bed hungry. To be honest, I can never remember feeling hungry in those lean years, my mother, Bless her, always gave me her egg ration.
She always cooked a proper Sunday dinner, with Yorkshire pudding, a small joint of meat, potatoes and one vegetable. We were encouraged to eat as much Yorkshire pudding as we could, thus, making us feel quite full, before the roast meat came to the table. As a result of this, Mondays main meal was always cold meat and chips, and the remainder which wasnt much, would be made into tatie hash for the following day. Dried egg was another standby, this came in powdered form, and the uses of this horrible stuff seemed to be unlimited, it was used for making scrambled egg, baking, sometimes fried after it had been mixed, one good thing, as children, we were not faddy and however much we may have disliked some of the food put in front of us, we knew to be thankful, for what we were about to receive.
All in all, we were lucky that we had good mothers, who made sure that we had enough to eat, however plain and simple, it would turn out to be.
GOING OUT TO TEA.
In my young days, it was a usual occurrence to be invited out for Sunday tea, or have people visit us, this social nicety appears to have vanished, along with the changing of the times. During the war it was more of a pooled effort, food being so strictly rationed, but even so, it did not stop this custom. Dads eldest sister, Auntie Lottie, was a genius at making a delicious Sunday Tea, with the few ingredients, which were available.
I have mentioned earlier that she worked in a Health Food Shop, so maybe this helped to stock her pantry, however she did it, I always looked forward to going to her house.
She grew her own lettuce, radishes, spring onions and other things from which she made a salad, sometimes, if she had been lucky enough to get one orange, that would be cut up and added to the salad too. It may seem like a strange ingredient, but it was one way of making sure that none of we children were being favoured, one orange would not have stretched far between three of us. By the three of us, I mean myself and my cousins Molly and Trevor, who were older than me, Kathryn did not arrive until the war was over.
The table was always set very nicely, with a huge snow white, Barnsley Linen tablecloth, which my mother had bought for her, when she worked at the linen mill. ( I have the cloth now, and it is brought out at Christmas, it is a family heirloom, really, being all of sixty five years old). One of the secrets of making sure that everyone had their fill, was the pile of bread and butter, which was eaten with everything. Usually, we would have Spam with salad, Spam, was a delicacy in those days, it being a kind of processed meat. I understand that it originated from America, not that we cared, we were more interested in eating. Sometimes, (thanks to the Health Shop), there would be a fruitcake, which sat on a chrome cake stand, with a doily underneath to make it look pretty. Somehow, there was always fruit and condensed milk to follow, however, we still had to eat bread and butter with this too. The fruit was usually apricots, which had been soaked in boiling water the night before, this made them really plump and succulent, and also they appeared to be bigger than they were.
My mum was very keen on good manners, and rightly so, if I was the first to finish, I had to sit there and wait until everyone else had finished too.
I dare not move, until the nod was given, we would all chorus, Please may I leave the table and thank you for a nice tea? These Sunday teas were marred for me, because, once again, being the youngest, my cousin Molly used to give me the Chinese Burn whilst my hands were out of sight, like an idiot I used to sit there and let her, squirming as she did so.
One day, my mum caught Molly, giving me the regular dose of torture, and a few heated words were exchanged, and I was greatly relieved that it put a stop to this barbaric practice.
We used to have Sunday visitors too, I can remember one occasion around 1954, when great aunt Amy was sixty years old, mum invited quite a few of the family to tea and it was to be some sort of birthday party. Aunt Amy was one of the most loathsome people I have ever had the misfortune to meet. She was the sister of dads mother, and dad believed that he had a loyalty to her, his mother having died when he was only nineteen years old. I suppose it was the family connection, which prompted him to invite her and her husband, but I know that we werent very thrilled at the idea. We would never have dared show our displeasure, we had to remember our manners, and just put up with it.
There were quite a few of us, that particular Sunday, and we hadnt enough fruit dishes, so I was despatched to collect some from a neighbour, who had kindly offered to lend us some. I, together with my brother and sister were threatened with a fate worse than death, if we told anyone that we had had to borrow fruit dishes, so I drummed it into John and Elizabeth not to show surprise when these unfamiliar items appeared on the tea table. I was so busy feeling anxious that they would give the game away that it was I, who let the cat out of the bag. John was reaching across the table, when he knocked one of the dishes to the floor,
Mum, said I in horror, our John has broken one of Mrs Bs fruit dishes. If looks could have killed I would have been a goner that day, my mothers face was the colour of beetroot, which rapidly changed like the sky does when a thunderstorm is threatening to break out.
I must sound very rude about Aunt Amy, but she was such an unpleasant character, she used to cackle like a witch, and the thing which made me dislike her the most, was that she could not stand little boys, so John would be totally ignored by her. She used to wear a coat with a great big ginger fur collar, John was fascinated by this, and used to love to touch it, she would screech, dont put your sticky fingers on my coat, you little b****r this was the only time that she would acknowledge him. She was crafty though, because I dont think our mum and dad ever noticed, but I did, and anyone who did not like my little brother or sister, were in my bad books straight away.
She eventually took offence at something my mum said to her, and that was the end of a beautiful relationship, Praise the Lord.
The tradition of inviting people to Sunday tea, carried on, long after Stan and I were married, at a guess I would say that it ceased, when mothers started going out to work, and Sunday became a day of catching up with the washing and the ironing and other housework.