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Fortifying Forties Food: Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of D-Day with Wartime Rations

When I heard that Kensington Palace’s orangery tearoom was going to serve a lunch of wartime rations based on 1940s recipes, I thought I’d have to hunt out a pizza place afterwards to assuage my hunger. Turned out I was wrong.

The Orangery courtesy Historic Royal Palaces But could the food live up to its setting? After all, the orangery was constructed for a queen—Anne—in 1704. The red brick building with its 24 white Corinthian columns wasn’t exactly Buckingham Palace but neither was reminiscent of 1940s wartime London. I entered by way of the original Portland stone terrace and was shown to a table decked out in white linen.

Wartime food by Barbara Ballard At least the three-course meal didn’t include that famous wartime meat, Spam©. First to arrive was a lettuce, parsley and potato soup, looking strangely green, but tasty in spite of the colour and very filling. This dish was based on the British government’s campaign 'Dig for Victory' meant to get everyone to transform their gardens into allotments for growing vegetables.

Wartime menu by Barbara Ballard Lettuce, parsley and potatoes were among the most popular veggies as they were thought to be highly nourishing. The government even went to the length to introduce ‘Dr. Carrot’ and ‘Potato Pete’, characters meant to encourage people to eat what they grew. It must have worked because, by 1943, over a million tons of vegetables were being grown in gardens and allotments.

My second course arrived and looked more familiar. Consisting of a salad of chicken, broad beans, cucumber, and lettuce with a mustard and tarragon vinaigrette, I couldn’t fault it in any way. I even thought I’d try it out in my own kitchen.

Wartime tea menu by Barbara Ballard The meal was topped off with a choice of treacle tart, rock cake and plum jam, or a slice of carrot cake (I tried a taster of all three). This wartime lunch more than satisfied me in flavour and portion size. Plum jam was chosen for the menu as sugar was rationed during the war. Homegrown plums were plentiful so were turned into jam when the Ministry released extra sugar. Treacle (thick syrup) often substituted for sugar.

During the Second World War the British Government introduced food rationing. Each person was issued a ration book, which was full of coupons to be cut out and used to buy a fixed amount of rationed food each week. A point scheme was introduced for other non-rationed foods, and each person had an allowance of 16 points per month.

One typical week’s allowance: three and one quarter pounds meat, three pints of milk, three quarters of a pound to one pound of meat, one egg, three quarters of an ounce of cheese, four ounces of bacon, two ounces of tea, eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of butter, two ounces of cooking fat, and 16 points a month.

Meals eaten away from home were ‘off ration’ and a popular alternative for individuals who could afford it. The ability of the rich to enjoy almost pre-war levels of gastronomy led to such resentment that the government prevented restaurants charging more than five shillings a meal.

Interestingly, towards the end of World War II, it was noted that the health of the British nation improved quite dramatically despite rationing. National statistics reflected that individuals were healthier and notably more slender in their physique. This was attributed to the fact that poorer members of society were able to eat better-balanced and nutritionally superior diets, as everyone was given equal entitlement to foods. No mention was made of the switch to brown bread, the National Loaf having been introduced in 1942, made with more of the grain than white bread.

I don’t know if I was healthier after eating my wartime rationing, but thought a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms by St James Park, might just be in order.

The Details

The wartime menu is a feature at both the orangery restaurant at Kensington Palace and the new armouries restaurant at HM Tower of London, from June 2004 through May 2005. Modern menus will continue to be available.

A two-course wartime lunch costs £11.50 while a three-course meal is £14.50. The menu includes lettuce, parsley and potato soup, followed by a
salad of chicken, broad beans, cucumber and lettuce with a mustard and tarragon vinaigrette with a side salad of potato with eggless mayonnaise. Dessert is a treacle tart. All can be washed down with a glass of rhubarb wine.

The afternoon tea menu will set you back £10.95 with rhubarb wine or £8.50 without. On the platter are cucumber and watercress sandwiches, rock cake and plum jam, and a slice of carrot cake.

Opening Hours and Location

Tower London: March-end Oct, 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, on Sun from 10am
Nov-end Feb, 9am-4pm Tue-Sat, on Sun and Mon from 10am
Admission: Adults £13.50; Students and Seniors £10.50, Children £9, under 5s Free, Family ticket £37.50

Kensington Palace: March-end Oct, 10am-5pm daily
Nov-end Feb, 10am-4pm daily
To book advanced tickets: 0870 751 5180
For recorded information about visiting Kensington Palace telephone 0870 751 5170
Admission: Adults £10.50; Students and Seniors £8, Children £7, under 5s Free, Family ticket (2 adults and 3 children) £31.00
Official Website of Historic Royal Palaces:

Cabinet War Rooms
These underground rooms were the operations headquarters for Winston Churchill, the war cabinet and the chiefs of staff during World War II.
Tel. 020 7930 6961
Open daily (exc. Dec 24-26) from 10am-6pm Oct-March; from 9.30am rest of year.
Location: King Charles Street by St James Park.
Underground: St James Park or Westminster

Forties Recipes

Lettuce, parsley and potato soup
1 medium onion
2 medium potatoes
2 bunches of Romaine lettuce
1 large bunch parsley
1.5 pints vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
2tsb vegetable oil or butter if available
Chop the onion, adding in butter or oil until soft. Add the potato and cook gently for a further 3 minutes. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chopped lettuce and parsley and continue simmering until all ingredients are completely cooked. Liquidise and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Eggless Mayonnaise
1 small potato mashed
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp vinegar
4 oz (125ml) vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
Mash the potato until very smooth. Add the mustard and mix well. Add the vinegar and mix well. Very gradually add the oil mixing all the time, season with salt and pepper.

Chicken and Broad Bean Salad
Grated raw carrot
Broad beans
Diced cucumber
Chicken breast
Mustard vinaigrette

Rock cakes
8oz self-raising flour
3oz butter
3oz sugar
2oz mixture of currants, sultanas and mixed peel
1 egg
3tbs milk
pinch salt
Sift the flour and salt rub in the butter. Add the sugar and fruit mix in with the egg with a fork, adding a little milk but keeping the mixture stiff. Arrange into balls the size of an egg and bake in a fairly hot oven for 15-20 minutes. Makes 8 buns.

Treacle tart
2 pounds golden syrup
¾ to 1 cup (1/2 pound) fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbs lemon juice
8oz short crust pastry
1x12" flan ring (12 portions per tart)
Line shallow loose bottom flan rings with sweet or short crust pastry. Mix together the syrup and breadcrumbs and add the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into the pastry case and cook for about 25 minutes in oven gas mark 5.

Carrot cake
5 egg whites
5oz sugar
5 yolks
8oz grated carrot
2oz plain flour
6oz sweet crumbs
I tsp baking powder
pinch cinnamon
1x12" round cake (12 slices)
Whisk the egg whites, fold in the sugar slowly, then add the egg yolks. Fold in the rest of the ingredients by hand and mix well. Cook in 375-degree oven for approximately 45 minutes.

Photo of orangery courtesy Historic Royal Palace
Other photos © by Barbara Ballard

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