Fancy a genuine taste of WW1? Well, almost!
The Edwardians are famed for their lavish dinners, with numerous courses, almost all involving meat. Only the very poor (who couldn’t afford it), cranks, and slightly suspect socialists like George Bernard Shaw (of Pygmalion fame), followed a vegetarian diet. I didn’t have to do much research on this, as my family were staunch followers of George Bernard, flying the flag of socialism and vegetarianism (along with pacifism) into the 1960s and beyond. Believe me, growing up in the 196os and 70s vegetarians were still viewed as pretty freakish – and don’t talk about any visits to France! I’ll never forget my first visit to Cranks pioneering veggie restaurant in Carnaby Street – it was a revelation!
I was intrigued at the articles that began appearing in Newspapers during the war, starting in about 1916, when the shortages really began to bite. WW1 was far more disorganised than WW2 when it came to rationing – which isn’t surprising when you consider that this was an entirely new kind of war, not fought far away on foreign shores. Zeppelins and U-boats brought the war home for the first time, making it a civilian war too. Many of the articles (when they were not discussing horse meat and the dire penalties for hoarding sugar) included recipes. This one is based on a recipe sent in by ‘a Cornish Lady’.
In true Edwardian style, the original was vast. Possibly to feed hungry land girls and schoolchildren children working on the land to keep the country fed. Okay, I cheated, I added cheese. I have to confess it was pretty tasteless with just a thin white sauce. And I fried the leeks in butter and garlic rather than boiling them. But, though I say it myself – the results were delicious and satisfying. They were helped by the addition of the bread being delicious sourdough from my local micro-baker, Mick Hartley (as featured on BBCRadio 4 Food programme), which being wild yeast and brown organic flour was pretty authentic to the period too.
So here is the WW1 Meatless Meal, as discussed with Roy Noble during my interview on BBC Radio Wales last Sunday (still time to catch it, I start around 39.30). And Roy is quite right – it’s a variation on a Welsh Rarebit. With a Cornish Lady’s ingenuity, of course. I imagine it’s just the sort of thing that Elin, the heroine of We That are Left, would have come up with to keep the workers in her walled kitchen garden fuelled up.
A ‘Meatless Meal’
Based on a 1918 recipe, but on more manageable lines and with the addition of cheese to improve tastiness.
Serves 2 or 4, depending on how hungry you are (but be warned, it is delicious!). Adjust the amounts (especially the cheese) to your own taste.
Chop three leeks. Fry gently in butter until soft. Add a clove of garlic and ten chopped mushrooms (add more if you like mushrooms).
In a saucepan melt two tablespoons of butter, slowly add one tablespoon of floor and stir for one minute. Then add approximately ½ pint (284 ml) milk slowly until you reach a consistency of double cream. Add approximately 4oz (113) grated cheese. Pour over 2 – 4 large pieces of toast. Place in a fireproof dish, scatter grated cheese on top and place under a hot grill until golden brown. Serve hot.