Remembering a War Time Diet

Contributed by Duncan Fremlin

 

Parliament Street News returns to the food theme and since we’re still wearing poppies for Remembrance Day, it’s a topic that the veterans must think of often.  Their hardships had much to do with their war time diet.

 
When I was growing up in the 1950’s, November 11th was a day to honour neighbours who returned from Europe with war wounds and scars most of us couldn’t begin to imagine.  When I was ten, the war had been over for 15 years, yet the memories lingered in our small farming community.  Ours was a community not unlike those described so eloquently in Alice Munro’s short stories.  Images of  war were evident in the eyes of the men and women who, more often than not, were living alone in a tiny shack with few amenities.  I recall them sitting alone, spitting tobacco into an old tin can, waiting for someone to visit.  If it was a real good day, someone would bring a mickey of Rye and sometimes, that person would be my dad.  Their houses had a smell that I can still retrieve from my memory bank.  One of them even had a TV before the rest of us could afford one.

 
I also remember recipes that survived the war years, at least in our house.  In retrospect, some were quite tasty, considering the ingredients that were available at the time.  Swiss steak, soaked (marinated?) for hours or days and then baked for a few more hours, using the worst cut of beef imaginable;  bread covered in unpasteurized milk with a sprinkle of sugar before bed;  a glass of evaporated milk before bed;  corn syrup in lie of sugar;  macaroni and canned tomatoes as eagerly anticipated as the pot of baked beans.  These were simple meals that didn’t rely on ingredients rationed only 15 years previously.

 
My guess is the actual menu during the war years was much more lean than I remember.  My mom had a cook book called “1000 cake recipes” – many with only 3 ingredients.  What in heaven’s name could these have tasted like?  Lard was an ingredient that seemed to be plentiful.
A few years ago there was cooking show on the CBC called The Urban Peasant.    The host James Barber had lived through the war in the UK.  He shared some of his culinary war memories by making his then favourite dish – Curried Spam.  I remember it well.  Plop a can of Spam in a frying pan, cut it up with the edge of a wooden spoon, sprinkle a dash or two of curry powder on top and serve.  It couldn’t have taken more than 45 seconds to prepare.   At the time, it must have tasted like a delicacy.

 
So, next Remembrance Day, yes we should visit the Cenotaph, buy lots of poppies and salute the few remaining soldiers who march in the parade.  But another remembrance could be to plan a meal around the food that these men and women had to eat during those brutal years.  Now that would be memorable.

 
Duncan Fremlin is a Toronto Real Estate Broker, www.morethanahome.ca

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