Cleverly cunning?

This weekend just gone, the wanderer returned. My chap had been trawling Europe with two of his closest friends, and after twenty four days of adventure, returned to his sanctuary in Southampton. My oh my I was delighted to see him. I was even more delighted that he brought food with him. Bacon bought by others doesn’t count towards my ration does it? Is it deceptive and underhand, or simply making the best of a kind gift? Ultimately, this is not a deprivation exercise and I can allow myself to be cunning to acquire certain foodstuffs. I know from my research that food as gifts was quite common during wartime.

Today is Monday which means time to purchase supplies.

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Milk – ration, £1

Ham – ration, £1

Cooking fat – ration (to last three weeks) 75p

Coleslaw – off ration (I count it as vegetables) 70p

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Apples – off ration, £1,75

Carrots – off ration 18p

Cucumber – off ration 69p

Sultanas – 8 points, £1.69

Ciabatta bread – off ration, reduced to 99p

 

In my first week of eating in this manner, I still had a fairly robust stock of food behind me. The pasta has since dwindled, I have no tins remaining and I’ve used my entire points allowance for this month already. Don’t get me started on the sweet ration, although you will be pleased to know I still have some left! That’s a big deal for me!

I do however have the luxury of a freezer, which is going to come into its own this week. It was disappointing that there were no reduced g-f loaves or rolls this shopping trip, and the greengrocers was closed by the time I arrived after work. But this experiment is all about making the most of what you’ve got and eking out the pennies. I’m determined to at least last the month on the wartime diet.

 

Dear Mrs Last

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I finished reading the collection of your diary entries last night. When I finally closed the book, I had one of those pauses, where you lay silently and absorb everything you have just read. Mrs Last, I salute you.

I can admit now that at times, your constant fretting irritated me. But this is coming from a reader with no prior experience of war. Once your situation truly sunk in, two world wars within your lifetime, I could appreciate why you were always so anxious. Of course, I was also reading with the gift of hindsight. When you were writing to Mass Observation, you have no idea about the eventual outcome.

The pages of your book made me laugh and cry in equal measure. I was delighted with the cookery advice you share and the meals you made for your family. But most importantly, you made me think. Some of the social concepts you noted in your diary were yet to be named, but you were still fully aware of them. I cheered when you recognised when you finally acknowledge that you were not your husband’s slave! I think you would be an extremely engaging person to talk to and you have earned your seat at my fantasy dinner party, alongside Buddy Holly and Enid Blyton.

Thank you Mrs Last. Thank you for providing a human reaction to the era I have studied. You have helped me to understand the reasoning for attitudes at the time. You endured so much and I for one am glad to see your legacy in print.

Regards,

Rebecca

The starting line

I noticed last night on Twitter that the first of November signals the beginning of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). This coincides perfectly with my own £116 Challenge for November. Therefore, I will endeavour to post every day for the entire length of November. I do like a good writing challenge.

So, to start at the beginning, which IS a very good place to start, I thought I’d write about what I’ve spent so far. I’ve purchased my train tickets to visit my parents in Glastonbury at Christmas. The tickets arrived this morning actually. I’m very pleased to have my seats books, for my own peace of mind. Plus, buying advanced tickets was a cheaper option too. The tickets set me back £16 for a return journey.

I spent a large proportion of my money (£34.11 to be exact, but we’ll call it £35) on food yesterday. I based my shopping list on my beloved rationing scheme.

  • I bought enough meat to the value of £8 (£2 a week, one month’s supply). This included 500g beef mince (£2), 500g pork mince (£1.99), 375g diced chicken (£2.69) and two chicken leg quarters (£1.15 – all prices from Aldi). I have portioned this all up into freezer bags.
  • I put half a dozen eggs to last the month, which is two more than the rationed amount, but I don’t know of a mythical place where you can buy singular eggs.
  • I bought the allocated amount of fats, bacon, ham, cheese, jam, sweets and sugar to last me the month.
  • I bought Sainsbury’s Basics tea instead of the correct rationed amount, because it would have cost me more to purchase less, if that makes sense? And this is a money saving exercise after all.
  • I also bought store cupboard items in relation to the points scheme, as seen on Frugal in Norfolk’s post. I used all of my 16 points in one go to buy GF pasta, oats, brown rice, syrup and one can of chopped tomatoes.
  • From Aldi, I bought enough fruit and veg to last me this week. I shall be doing a small top-up shop each week to buy fresh produce.

I have set out a meal plan to make sure I’ve got enough food to last me the month – thanks to Excel!

As for today, it has been a no-spend day! Hurrah! Probably a good thing too, as I had a large outlay yesterday. I have spent the day at home, doing a few chores and writing. I didn’t spend a penny to exercise, as I used a YouTube video to do some Zumba. This was my first time trying out Zumba and it really was a lot of fun! And they are plenty of free workout videos on YouTube to keep me busy! As for entertainment, I think iplayer will keep me occupied this evening.

I do hope you’ll enjoy my posts throughout November. I will try my upmost to keep them interesting!

Balance: £65 to last 28 days.

Home grown headache

Thanks to the lovely Dc over at Frugal in Norfolk, I have gathered more accurate knowledge on the points system within rationing. It seems I was way off beforehand. I bought four cans of chopped tomatoes with 2 of my “points”, but in reality, just one can would be 6 points! Full details can be found on Frugal in Norfolk’s Rations page here. I shall be implementing proper points rationing on Monday, including soap rations. Yes, I’m committing to rationing 100 per cent. I still believe it will aid my quest to live frugally.

Another thing Dc made me think about was imported food. Bananas were removed from my shopping basket, as I know they were non-existent during the war years. But it led me to think about where the rest of my produce was coming from. After trying to decipher a few labels, I was very surprised to learn that my frozen bag of sweetcorn has come all the way from Hungary!

In a realm where “packaged in the UK” doesn’t necessarily mean “grown in the UK”, it’s a minefield. Not to mention the illusive definition of organic. One solution to this problem is to venture back to the farmer’s market. Hampshire Farmer’s Market is wonderful, as I have mentioned before. I can get the majority of my foodstuffs (including rationed goods) there, just using the supermarket from UK milk and sugar. This is a more time consuming way of doing groceries. But I think the benefits of supporting local business, as well as the environment, outweighs this. Plus, food that has travelled less tastes better, there’s no two ways about it.

However, I am conflicted because the whole exercise is to help me stick to a budget and spend less. Farmer’s markets are more expensive than popping in to the local supermarket. I think I will go to the market this weekend and see what I can get for the money I have. Original rationing was all about home grown and supporting British farming. I would like to repeat these values today. I’ll let you know how I get on next week. What do you think is best? Lots at the supermarket, or some at the farmer’s market? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If at first you don’t succeed . . .

. . . rework it until you do!

The early 1940’s will forever interest me. Faced with a tight budget, I returned to Marguerite Patten’s books for inspiration. Then a colleague commented that my new work dress was “very forties-esque!” Then I re-read Frugal in Norfolk’s Wartime Diaries. I could resist no longer.

Here are my rationed food items for one week:

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225g sugar (already had)

2 pints semi-skimmed milk (89p)

250g cooking fat/marg/butter (all in one form of Stork – 70p)

450g jam (to last 8 weeks – 90p)

50g cheese (deli – 25p!)

100g ham (deli – £1.09)

50g tea (already had)

80g sweets (80p)

Meat

 

All rations were calculated using the guidelines featured in We’ll Eat Again. For the meat ration, I converted old money to new money, then used an inflation calculator to give me the value of £2.19 to spend on meat each week. This pork crackling joint was yellow-stickered down to £2.25, which I decided was close enough.

There was also a points system, but as it changed frequently due to availability, I have decided (until I gather more knowledge) that I shall buy two store cupboard items each week.

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I chose 4xchopped tomatoes (£2 – offer) and 500g gluten-free pasta (£1.40). Bread was not rationed until after the war, but as gluten-free products are so expensive, I decided I would only buy it if it could be found on offer. I was lucky on this trip to come home with two caramelised onion rolls. They are delicious. I’m sure medicine would have been in short supply during the war, so I shall have to make my pack of ibuprofen last!

And finally, we all know what wasn’t rationed during the period – good old fruit and veg!

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Sweet potatoes (£1.85)

Basics frozen berries (£1.29)

Basics apples (50p)

Red onions (25p)

Carrots (Doctor Carrot! – 32p)

Spinach £1

 

I shall be using up various things I’ve got in my fridge, freezer and cupboard. But once they are gone, they are gone! Unless they can be included in points. In an effort to stop hoarding and using up what I’ve got, I’ve stopped using the top drawer of my filing cabinet as a larder. Now everything belongs in my single cupboard, or on top of it.

I do believe rationing is the best way to stick to a budget (£15 in total in my case) and eat healthily. I have learnt my lessons from my previous attempt and am now buying weekly, then trying to eke things out for the whole month. Rations round two, let’s see if I will succeed.

 

Learning

Life can make a hash out of the most carefully thought through plans. I have already failed the rationing plan, a mere two weeks into the experiment.

I have gone so far over the allocated sweets ration, it’s laughable. My will power has failed me and I continued to nibble on sweets at work and chocolate offered by housemates. After a particularly tiring shift, I purchased a chocolate bar myself after work. It was only after I clutched an empty wrapper that I remembered my rationing challenge. A convenient slip of the mind perhaps? My sweet tooth knows no limits.

The other rationing staple I have found hard to manage was packaged groceries. This past fortnight has shown me how much I rely on tinned fruit and vegetables, as well as bagged pulses, nuts and grains. Another thing I’ve learnt during this time is that I don’t consume much meat. I do eat meat and I always have. But I didn’t buy the entire allocated meat ration, and I still have portions left in the freezer. It could be argued that if I ate the meat available, I wouldn’t have room for black market chocolate. I don’t think my sweet tooth would see it that way though.

The original purpose of the experiment was to see if I could save money. On one hand, it ensured I had plenty of food in the house to create balanced meals. If I had been able to rigidly stick to the guidelines, I would not have gone hungry. But day to day life made it difficult to stay within those guidelines. And life doesn’t need to be made any more difficult. I think a key reason why I couldn’t stay with rationing solidly is selfish pride. It is snobbish pride that refuses to allow myself to serve up rationing inspired meals to anyone else but myself. If the chap came for a visit, it was an excuse for a meal outside restrictions.

For myself, I’ll cheerfully enjoy budget meals, but I cannot bring myself to inflict my personal frugality on others. Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe, if I’m not careful, I soon won’t have a choice about being frugal. It will be necessary for survival. I think this fortnight has taught me valuable lessons on living on less.

To conclude, I think following a ration based diet is good if you naturally eat in a “meat and two veg” style regardless. But for me, I think there might be a cheaper way to do things, a notion I will be putting into practice in the future.

Lessons from the past

 

I love history as a topic. My favourite part about gazing into the past is examining how people went about their everyday lives, just what they got up to day to day. Second World War Britain is my favourite historical era for this reason. It’s all about the people.

I enjoyed studying Nazi Germany at A level, even though I flunked History as a subject. I came out with an overall D due to my abysmal mark on my Arab-Israeli conflict module. Tell me, how does one conclude an essay concerning a feud that is, unfortunately, still going on? I didn’t know the answer to that, but at least I still got to attend University. And I gathered knowledge on Hitler, Goebbels and the rest of the nasty Nazis.

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Poster in Imperial War Museum

            The chap and I have visited the Imperial War Museum and Churchill’s Wartime experience, both in London. I desired to visit both sites to possess more information on my chosen subject. I borrowed books from the library about the Home Front, even when I supposed to be studying for other things! Maybe that’s why I failed History A Level.

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Checking out the Andersen shelter in Churchill’s Wartime Experience

            Anyway, I have decided to use what I have learnt about the past to assist my current situation. During the war (and even more so post-war) thrifty values and a keen eye for a bargain were important for survival. This was the era of “make do and mend” and “waste not, want not.” I know I’m not the only one to see the correlation with our modern age. There is no money left to burn.

In order to stick to a budget with my groceries, eat healthily and become more creative as a cook, I have been researching rationing. I do not wish to trivialise what is clearly a struggling time for those who lived through it. I am merely taking inspiration from the past to help me with budgeting today. These ration books actually belonged to my great aunt and uncle and I consider them a great treasure.

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According to Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall in her book, The Ministry of Food (a brilliant charity shop find), a typical week’s rations for one adult reads as follows:

Bacon & ham 4oz

Butter 2oz

Cheese 2oz

Margarine 4oz

Cooking fat 4oz

Milk 3 pints

Sugar 8oz

Preserves 1lb every two months

Tea 2oz

Eggs 1 shell egg per week

Sweets 12oz a month

I then set about converting this into a measurement I could understand and combining/omitting certain products. My personal rations consist of:

115g bacon/ham

60g cheese

230g butter (encompassing all cooking fats and margarine, and allowing myself to use the olive oil in my cupboard)

230g sugar

60g tea

1 egg

350g sweets

Meat is a different matter as it was rationed by price, rather than by weight. But Jane F-W estimates the weight at approximately 1lb, which is 450g. So I shall also have 450g meat a week.

I shop at Sainsbury’s purely because it’s the closest superstore I can walk to. A month’s supply of my region would cost something like this:

Bacon/Ham – 450g Basics back bacon £1.80

Cheese – 250g block Red Leicester £1.78

Butter – 750g tub Countrylife Butter £3.90

Sugar – 1kg bag Silver Spoon Caster £1.49

Tea – Sainsbury’s Basics 27p

Eggs – Sainsbury’s Free Range medium eggs, 6 – because I won’t be having dried eggs and where can you buy just four eggs?

Sweets – Basics toffees (250g) and block of Basics dark chocolate (100g) 80p

= £11.44

On top of this would be my month’s supply of meat, taking advantage of Sainsbury’s 3 for £10 deal. Then there would be “the points system” – as many storecupboard items as I can get for £10. Plus £5 a week for fresh fruit and vegetables, as these were un-rationed. I will also continue to use up everything I have already got in stock, but I will not be purchasing extra because of this.

So my total grocery bill, according to this plan, would be £50 a month. That would be a big saving for me. At the moment, I’m constantly nipping in and out of shops looking for bargains (read: reduced labels). I think this would help get a few more pennies in the saving pot.

Do you think this is a good idea? Could you do it yourself? I know I’m not the only one to have this idea, as these three wonderful blogs show.

1940s Experiment

Rationing Revisited

Nellie B’s Wartime Rationing

I will be purchasing my rations on June 1st, otherwise known as payday. I think I will be creating a few interesting dishes towards the end of the month, but I’ll let you know how I get on. Wish me luck on this historical dietary experiment!