Crappy days are here again
If the news reports – and the early arrival of Bewick’s swans from Siberia – are to be believed, we are facing the coldest winter for over 50 years. During the winter of 1962–3, temperatures fell to -20C⁰, and the sea near Kent froze. But this time we are also in the grip of austerity, so should we be looking back to the terrible winter of 1947?
For a start, I can’t imagine facing even the mildest of winters without several fleeces, a quilted coat, and a duvet (it’s not my fault; I was born ‘nesh’). But to keep warm in the days before hi-tech fabrics meant piling on the layers – and still feeling cold, as one of the diarists quoted in David Kynaston’s majestic Austerity Britain 1945–51 complained: ‘In addition to my usual winter apparel, am now wearing four woollen pullovers (three sleeveless ones under my waistcoat, one with sleeves over it. And still I get chilled to the bone sitting in that bleak, unheated office all day.’ Roy Hattersley, then a small boy living in Sheffield, went to bed huddling ‘under an immense weight of sheet, threadbare blankets, home-made eiderdown and coats carried up from the wardrobe at the bottom of the stairs.’ At least we will be able to keep warm and move our limbs at the same time.
We might not have the swingeing rationing of the post-war days, but there are rumours that the big freeze might cause shortages of various commodities. In fact, we’re already back to having shortages of food at the personal level (see our foodbank blog) if not at a national level, and it would not take long for iced-up roads to disrupt the distribution of bread and fresh food.
Even so, I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll have to put up with food of the unremitting nastiness of the austerity diet, with snoek, an unprepossessing South African fish, at the top of the list. Surprisingly, though, during the most stringent rationing in 1947, allowances for some items exceeded what most people eat now: three pounds of potatoes a week and half a pound of bread.
Luckily, by 1949, help was at hand in the form of a cookbook being compiled by our more prosperous American cousins: 282 Ways to Make a Salad. American ‘personalities and stars’ worked with British ones to compile salad recipes, acknowledging that ‘[not] all the ingredients in this book . . . may be available at the time of publication.’ Gregory Peck, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, Betty Grable, Wilfred Pickles and many others generously shared their salad secrets, but to be honest, some of these recipes, such as Lauren Bacall’s strawberry and peach salad (tinned peaches, raspberry jelly, strawberries, lettuce and whipped cream, anyone?), are best given a wide berth.
But store cupboard salad recipes might come in handy during a period of prolonged power cuts. If the worst comes to the worst I could sit it out under the duvet with a tinned salmon salad: salmon, capers, mayonnaise and two cups of broken potato crisps (‘serve before crisps soften’). I could perhaps even try out the ingenious room heater you can apparently make out of two flower pots, a roasting tray and four tea lights. Never let it be said that dames are unprepared.