Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory!
I've been promising a post like this for quite a while. Most of my other posts focusing on Emily Bennett have talked about food that - while British and tasty - she might not have been able to eat for the better part of her childhood, and every time I do one, I promise the next one I do... and then promptly chicken out and go with something that looks and sounds far more appetizing.
But today I finally make good on that promise by bringing you a recipe from a cookbook my grandmother purchased at The Imperial War Museum in London featuring war time British recipes! I mentioned in one of my last posts that the IWM is one of my favorite museums and I honestly have to say it's probably the best I've ever been to. Unfortunately, it's undergoing a major renovation right now and is therefore closed until July, so plan your trips to London accordingly!
This probably isn't the tastiest looking thing I've ever made for this blog, but I have to say, it actually wasn't too bad! It's quick, something different, and proof that I probably wouldn't have starved to death while living off what I could throw together with rations.
I've already told you guys a lot about Emily's role in Molly's series, so let's talk a little about Britain's involvement in World War II instead. Britain entered the war on September 1, 1939, a full two years before the United States did. In those two years, their army was pushed out of France (some of you may remember the evacuation as it was depicted in Atonement) and Norway, and only the English Channel stood between them and the Nazis.
This meant they were within striking range of the German air force: the Luftwaffe, and the Germans planned on wiping out the British Royal Air Force to either force Britain to surrender, negotiate or pave the way for Operation Sea Lion, a German plan for an amphibious and aerial invasion of the British Mainland. During the summer and fall of 1940, the Luftwaffe and the RAF engaged in "The Battle of Britain". The name was taken from a speech Winston Churchill gave after the fall of France, saying that "... the Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin." Although the RAF managed to decisively win the air campaign, The Nazis changed their strategy and began targeting British cities, factories and pretty much anything that wound up in their path, (because precision bombing in World War II was literally anything but precise) rather than specifically engaging military targets or other planes. In what would become known as the Blitz, businesses, homes and lives were destroyed by the thousands, and the bombing continued into May of 1941. Hitler eventually realized this was never going to work and turned his attention on Operation Barbarossa, a plan to invade Russia, which also turned out to be a massive strategic nightmare with ultimately very little gain.
During the Blitz, the government set up several programs to help evacuate children to the countryside or out of the country entirely. Children leaving Britain for America and Canada were in great danger thanks to the German navy and U-Boats patrolling the Atlantic, and international evacuations were almost entirely disbanded when a ship carrying almost eighty children was sunk. Some of these children - even the ones who were just relocated to other parts of England - wouldn't return home until almost a year after the war's end!
Although American Girl never comes out and explains the direct circumstances of Emily's evacuation, she actually wasn't evacuated because of the Blitz. It's far more likely that she was evacuated later on in the war during the period when the Germans were launching V-2 rockets at London, a campaign that would last for several months, kill three thousand people, and once again encourage British citizens to find safer homes for their children.
But bombing raids weren't the only thing the civilian population of the UK needed to worry about during the war. As the United Kingdom is - as I hope we all know - an island, they were very dependent on shipping for goods and services, they were also greatly affected by the "Battle of the Atlantic" and suffered for it. Rationing was much more extreme for the British public than it ever was for the Americans, and again, actually got worse after the war ended because the United States stopped sending as much aide as they had been during the war.
When Emily comes to America, she brings a ration book with her that has a note on the back from her mother. She notes how lucky the McIntires are to have access to so much food she hasn't seen since before the war, and feels strange about having access to it herself now that she's here.
It's understandable how odd that must be when you're used to making do with so little. This isn't to say that Americans didn't have a difficult time during the war, but it was easier to stretch rations and get your hands on goods that other people just simply didn't have anymore.
It's even more stark when you really start looking at some of the recipes people were making do with, especially when you compare it to the kind of food we eat today.
A lot of the recipes in here sound kind of horrifying, or at least not especially appetizing. Several include organ meat, or meat substitutes, and any amount of flavor, flare or seasoning is almost nonexistent beyond pinches of salt and pepper. Still, I've been doing my best to use this blog as a way to overcome my generally picky eating habits and embrace the idea of trying new things and not wasting what's on your plate. If anything, my enthusiasm for this period in history has really taught me to appreciate what you have and not complain about it not being top restaurant quality.
Smothered sausages definitely don't look pretty, but I thought it was pretty tasty considering I went in with rock bottom expectations, and it's a simple enough dish that I'm pretty satisfied with it overall. You start by boiling your sausages, which can be any meat variety you want, although pork is more traditional. Make sure you pierce the skin so they don't explode in the pot!
Fun fact I learned while making this recipe: Bangers and Mash is a dish that actually gets its name from wartime cooking. The sausages would be so full of water that they'd explode in the pan, thus making a "bang" in the pot. I always assumed the name went back way farther than that!
Once they're cooked all the way through, you peel the skins off and roll them around in flour. This looks more disgusting than it actually is.
Once they're well coated, melt a little bit of margarine in a baking dish and then line the sausages up in it.
Meanwhile, make your mashed potatoes. These are extremely basic mashed potatoes, and are honestly pretty bland and flavorless, which is to be expected considering we're making this with as little margarine, milk and salt as possible instead of blowing our limit on one dish.
Once they're all mashed up, pour them over the sausages.
The recipe tells you to make a design in the potatoes. I'm not sure what my design was really supposed to be, but I at least tried to make it look pretty?
This then finishes cooking in the oven for about twenty minutes. Pair it with a vegetable and you're ready to serve!
As I've said, this was by no means the best thing I've ever eaten, or the tastiest thing I've ever made for this blog. But that being said, I was surprised by how much I liked it, and it's definitely something a modern audience can spice up however much their resources allow them to. The flour coating makes the potatoes really stick to the sausages, so it's kind of difficult to tell they're even in there at first, but the textures aren't unpleasant and it's a dish that's filling enough without being overwhelming.
While I'm still a little nervous to try out some of the other recipes in this book, I have to admit, this makes me want to try out another authentic period recipe sometime soon! Let's hope my taste testers share my enthusiasm.
Otherwise that plan might be put a little on hold...