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Rations & Recipes

In January 1940, the British government introduced food rationing. The scheme was designed to ensure fair shares for all at a time of national shortage.

The Ministry of Food was responsible for overseeing rationing. Every man, woman and child was given a ration book with coupons. These were required before rationed goods could be purchased.

Basic foodstuffs such as sugar, meat, fats, bacon and cheese were directly rationed by an allowance of coupons. Housewives had to register with particular retailers.

Hunger stalked the civilian populations of all the combatant nations. Agriculture and food distribution suffered from strains imposed by the war and naval blockades reduced food imports. Some countries met this threat more successfully than others.

The war took men and horses away from farm work. Imports of nitrate fertilizers were hit. Reduced agricultural output forced up prices and encouraged hoarding. Governments responded by putting price controls on staple foodstuffs. Food queues formed of women and children became a common sight in cities across Europe.


Maryport Potato Riots


Unrest and riots broke out in West Cumbria in early 1917 when the price of potatoes saw a fourfold increase.


The Maryport miners’ wives took things into their own hands and organised a boycott of the traders and farmers who they believed were overcharging for a staple food. Things got ugly with famers run out of town, barrows overturned and night-time raids on the potato fields.


The protest spread as far as Keswick and Carlisle and was only brought under control when the authorities cracked down on the thieves and brought in price control.


This experience of civil unrest led eventually to the government bringing in rationing in 1918 – an important lesson that wasn’t forgotten at the outbreak of World War Two when full-scale rationing was introduced at the beginning.



Image: Excerpt from a newspaper article at the time, courtesy of Carlisle Library

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Old wartime recipe from Alice Oglanby




1lb plain flour

half pound sugar

half pound lard

4oz mixed fruit

half tsp nutmeg

1 tsp mixed spice

wineglass of vinegar

1 tsp bicarb of soda 

three quarter pint milk



Rub fat into flour, add sugar, spices and fruit. Make a hollow in mixture put in bicarb, add vinegar and milk. Mix all well together. Divide into 2 loaf tins greased and lined.

Bake 150°C for 1 and half hours. Freezes well.


Melting Moments


5 ozs. SR Flour

3 ozs. Caster Sugar

2.5 ozs Margarine

1.5 ozs Lard

Half an egg

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Rolled oats or Desiccated Coconut


Cream together the fats and sugar, and beat in the half egg and vanilla essence. Stir in the flour and mix thoroughly. With wet hands form the mixture into balls the size of large marbles, and coat with rolled oats or desiccated coconut. Place on greased baking sheets and press out slightly. Bake in a moderate oven (350-375F. regulo 3-4) for about 15-20 minutes. Decorate with small pieces of Glace Cherries. This quantity makes 40 biscuits. 


Working at the Co-op


My Mam, Doreen Woodward, worked at the Cooperative Grocers on Church Road, Harrington during rationing. I am sure it was similar to the Maryport Co-op at the time. Every town and village had a co-op. She knew how much butter, margarine, tea, sugar, cheese, bacon, eggs and milk each of the regular customers was entitled to. Butter, margarine and cheese came in big blocks, and you had to cut off the required amount and wrap it in greaseproof paper. Tea, sugar and flour came in big sacks, and the required amount was spooned into brown paper bags. There were no pre-packaged foods in those days. A side of bacon lay on a slab, and there was a mechanical slicer to cut of the required number of slices, which was wrapped in greaseproof paper.


There were no fridges in those days, so at home the butter, cheese and bacon was stored in the larder, which had a stone shelf to keep them cool. The larder was at the back of the back-kitchen on an outside wall. There was no heating in the back kitchen, so it must have been very cold in the winter. The only fire in the house was in the living room, which they called the kitchen. This was the heart of the house, where all the cooking was done on the black leaded grate. 


When my Mam passed away earlier this year, I found one of her ration books. This was from 1953 – the year she got married, because she had crossed out her maiden name, and replaced it with her married name, but the address is where she lived after she was married.

Christine Slater (nee Holliday)

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