Guest Author - Asha Sahni
The Ration Book Diet is a book brimming with social history, food facts and recipes based on ingredients available during the Second World War.
I borrowed this book from my mother, who was attracted to the title because she was born during the Second World War and has a clear memory of rationing, which went on long after the end of war.
The first part of the book, Rationing – A Great British Achievement, focuses on the introduction of rationing, the plans the British government took to ensure supplies of key foodstuffs and the changes in diet and lifestyle that resulted due to shortages. I found this fascinating reading. Learning lessons from the food shortages of the First World War the government benefited from forward planning, which included stockpiling essential foodstuffs and preparing for rationing throughout Britain.
Once rationing was under way the Ministry of Food launched an extensive public education campaign to help people make the most of their allocated rations and encourage people to grow their own food. This section of the book contains some wonderful pictures including posters from the time with slogans including lend a hand on the land at a farming holiday camp and save bread and you save lives, serve potatoes and you serve the country. Loaves often contained potatoes to help stretch out wheat supplies; potatoes thrived in the British climate and became a key ingredient of the wartime diet.
The second part of the book, The Ration Book Diet, provides recipes using ration book ingredients, offering both recipes used during the war and updated versions the authors have created with similar nutritional content – low fat, high fibre, little meat and sugar and lots of vegetables, particularly potatoes. It is divided in to seasonal sections, with suggested weekly menus for spring, summer, autumn and winter. I found this section of the book difficult to navigate; modern recipes are introduced below traditional recipes under the heading And now.... Some recipes are given in more detail in double page spreads with photographs of the dishes.
The back of the book states that Using the wartime diet as a model, sixty recipes have been specially created to ensure you and your family can eat more healthily. This wording could lull you in to thinking that the book is primarily a cookery and/or diet book. My feeling is that it is much more than this, for the social context provided in the first half of the book and dotted through the recipes is rich in history and visually stunning.
I would recommend The Ration Book Diet for the wonderful social history it provides. I do not think I would actively use this as a recipe book.