A rather mixed lot

My dears, as far as I know, the Japanese have dropped no incendiaries on Oregon since the 9th of last September. I feel better about your safety. I know you are not in the US but the US Canadian border is close to Oregon and you aren’t far from it.  I will continue to worry, though. I still worry about more raids here in Wick, but the worst of them, the Bank Row bombing and the Hill Avenue bombing (during which houses were also damaged in Rosemary Terrace, Henrietta Street, and George Street as well as the afore named streets) have not been repeated. We had hoped that war would not come to the American continent.

Today, sadness prevails here in the homeland because  we learned a couple of weeks ago that conscription age here in the UK has been dropped to 18. Many a mother’s heart is broken and fathers, many overseas, probably cringe at the thought of their sons having to live the same day to day horror that our more mature men already face but buck up so their fear for their sons doesn’t show. That’s how men are, you know? There is some relief out here in Janetstown because young men who farm are exempt at this time because they are necessary to try to increase food production but there are many in factories in other towns and in many other jobs, even in Wick, who will soon be called up.  Mrs. X’s husband has gone because he was called up before he inherited the farm and Mrs. X has had to make it go ever since. Were it not for the men in our community helping out, the Ag would have taken it long since.  The government keeps saying they will send Mr. X home so he can be a proper farmer but so far he has not shown up. Poor Mrs. X doesn’t even know where he is! The male exodus will mean that women will have to take the abandoned jobs, and although we will do them with aplomb, we would rather not.

On a more cheerful note, we were able to go to the Pavillion Picture house in Wick and see The First of the Few with Leslie Howard and David Niven. What handsome devils they are!

We have had a busy time the last few weeks since I last wrote in my journal. I have, frankly, been too tired at night and too busy during the day, even the wetter days.

First, we pressed most of the apples designated for cider at this time. We had some sweet cider but most of it has gone to barrels to go hard.  Many of us would like a sweet cider from time to time, we will press more sweet cider until the apples run out or until they aren’t juicy anymore. I have used the steam juicer I have had for some years to make apple juice to bottle u but we can’t make enough to last all winter. There are too many uses for just about the only fruit we have (except for the crab apples and a few pears earlier in the season) for us to “waste” it on sweet juice. I don’t argue that sweet cider is better but a cup of sweet apple juice is good occasionally when the cider is gone! We had an exceptionally good year this year with a heavy crop; I suppose it was a relief to the trees that spring finally came and that we had a real summer. This winter looks like it will be much better by far so perhaps next year, we will get an even better crop. When we are so deprived of many of the foods that we are used to, and it looks like we will have an abundance of fruit, both Alex and Donald say that it is difficult to make themselves thin the young fruits so the remaining fruits will thrive, get larger and sweeter. Sugar content is everything when we are making cider and when we are cooking.

Maggie and I have a few bushels of imperfect apples that are to be made into apple butter…a creation from America that you, children, are no doubt familiar with but we had not been until your mothers informed us. It is much less work than jam or jelly and pectin content isn’t important. We can do a lot of preserves with crabapples but they are also designated for making pectin to be used to make jam and jelly of low-pectin fruits. We also use cores and skins from the apples that we use for applesauce, apple jelly, apple jam (apple butter this year), apple pie, apple-everything. Nothing goes to waste. As I wrote on another occasion, any unused skin and cores are used to make vinegar. As you might expect, we share with the neighbors since apple trees are not plentiful.  We have saved the best crabapples to make spiced crabapples for the table.

Spiced crabapples are a traditional treat and after we make them, we drool over them but don’t allow ourselves to eat any of them until Christmastide.

I guess you know that we have learned to drink our coffee and tea unsweetened so we can save the sugar for our many preserves…the bramble berry preserves, the pear preserves and apple products. Our grocer got in some cans of cranberry sauce, both jelled and whole-berry. No one seems to know what to do with it…came from America, you know…so Maggie and I grabbed up as much over the summer months as we could since no one else much wanted it. What we will do with it remains a question, but I think it is sweet and anything sweet is good at this point in our lives.

Close to the stoves, we also have strings of peeled and cored apple slices drying. The apples from the trees store well. The ones that we are able to keep for winter don’t stay just-picked fresh into the winter, though. The longer we keep them, the more shriveled they become and even so, we try to keep them for eating out of hand or baking. The dried apples, will be used for cooking as well but they will last further into the winter in good condition. Dried fruit, being rationed now, is much more difficult to get…we are already buying what we can when it is available. We have some dates, prunes, currants and raisins but that’s not much variety and won’t make a very special fruit cake for Christmas. It’s bad enough that we have no rum for it.

Besides all the business with the apples and crabapples, we have been busy harvesting herbs that still abound in the garden. If we have a light winter, some of them may survive but most will be knocked down by the first frost which is coming. We’re creeping toward it. We harvest the herbs and then string them on twine and hang them somewhat near the stoves so they dry quickly. We used to hang them in cloth bags and use them as we needed them but we have found that they don’t hold their flavour as well as if we crush them and bottle them up with an airtight lid, adding more until the bottles are full. We continue to do it weekly until the first frost when the annual herbs are pulled and put in the compost pile and the perennial herbs are cut back and mulched with piles of straw and oak leaves so the roots aren’t damaged.

The boys are hoping the silage for the cows is good. We had a small patch of grain in our personal garden that the Ag man eyed when he came here but we assured him that the harvesting equipment would not be able to get into the garden area. We also told him we put the oats “to our own use.” It doesn’t amount to much but we will use them to supplement the chicken’s feed. We have grass hay that the boys harvested from the roadsides and in the turn areas for the tractor. They kept cutting and drying it all summer; it grew particularly well after we threw in some seed. It’s not enough to keep the cows and rabbits all winter but will taste good to them on an every other day basis until it is gone and will help keep them healthy, especially if we don’t have another long winter. After the oat harvest, we have plenty of straw for bedding but it’s no good for feed. They’ve siled the neep tops and whatever else they could cut like nettles and whatever weeds are green in the late summer. We are hoping to keep carrots in the ground as long as possible and to store them in the Anderson shelter – our “root cellar – as we harvest them, the tops to go the rabbits and later on, there will be enough carrots that we can share them with the cows as well. When it comes to making sure the animals are kept as healthy as we try to keep ourselves, we feel it’s the humane thing to do as well as a necessary step in keeping us fed and at the same time, making sure we meet the Ag requirements. Keeping the farm is absolutely not negotiable so to make things work to the best of our ability, we often feel we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.  So far, we have been successful.

The war news has been mixed. We have learned that a Canadian successfully bombed part of Munich turning it into rubble. That’s not good for Germans who are just people like we are, but it’s very good for us in this war. We hear rumors of something going on in North Africa but we aren’t sure what yet or who has the advantage. We mothers and fathers are still reeling at the call-up age of our boys being reduced to 18 but while we have been nursing our fears as parents, Eleanor Roosevelt has come across the Atlantic Ocean, in as much danger as anyone else, to visit London and spend three weeks as the guest of the King. She arrived on the 23rd of October and much attention has been focused on her to take our minds off the war momentarily.

And so the war goes on…we do our parts in the different organizations we belong to and at home on the farm. We all do what we can for our neighbors. Those of us who have, share. There is much we can’t discuss with each other and there are many things we may never be able to share with you, but rest assured that our farm, our garden, our kitchen have never been so busy.

Fighting the war from our kitchens

I think Autumn is here for sure. Our mornings are more brisk than they have been in some time (Why is it that Spring mornings are just “cold” but Autumn mornings are “brisk?”), but they are not cold enough yet to be slaughtering. When we do that we will have to be able to freeze much of the meat fairly quickly.  I think we are all looking at the pigs with longing although we won’t be eating any more of the meat than we ordinarily would as long as we can preserve as much as we would like. Alex has spent his spare time cutting up last winter’s prunings from the apple tree and Donald has been stocking up on salt so we can brine and then smoke the ham, sausages and, I think this year, even the bacon. It will all keep longer. We can also preserve pork by cooking up the chops and steaks and then layering them in the bottom of a crock and pouring hot lard over them to seal the air out. We can keep them that way for six to eight weeks, longer if our pantry is freezing cold. We feel more confident if the weather is very, very cold before we do it but that is not always the case. Sometimes it seems late fall cold temperatures will never come.

Meat preservation has always been a problem for us. If we wait long enough and have a cold enough winter, we can successfully slaughter the chickens we won’t winter over and allow them to freeze. I have never heard of smoking a chicken although I have heard of smoking ducks. Unfortunately, we don’t have ducks. If we had the tins, we could can the meat by borrowing the tin sealer from the Women’s Institute and then using their pressure canner, both on loan from the US, to process them but we have no tins. We are lucky to still have bottles to use for the fruits, jams, and pickles. No, we have to slaughter the chickens one by one as we go along which becomes problematic as fresh food for them dwindles. At that point, we must slaughter them and hope they stay frozen in the shed. In the mean time, we are beginning to eat a few and are enjoying them tremendously. Of course we carefully cut the meat off the bone so we can use the bones for soup stock. When we killed the oldest hen that wasn’t producing well and stewed her last week, it had been since early spring that we last tasted poultry that didn’t come in a soup tin. These last weeks, the poultry have all been out in the oat fields gleaning the grain that fell at harvest. This supplements their meager feed from the Ag that we get instead of an egg ration. We’re fortunate that we have enough land here that they get all the protein they need in their diet from bugs and that we have enough vegetation from Maggies and my very large garden to feed them as well. They ‘re very good to us with excellent egg production in return. A bit of our private reserve of lard goes into rubbing the shells of many of the autumn eggs to preserve them. I wish we could brine them as well! We pickle them in vinegar instead which is not as plentiful as salt.

Salt is not a problem for us since we live on the coast, in spite of Gerry and his U-Boats. The salt Donald has been storing is for kitchen use as well. During the war, we have left modern methods behind in many cases and what I am about to describe to you is but one example. Bottling is a problem for us since we do not have access to large pressure cookers so we can bottle up meats and vegetables. Our bottling is relegated to fruits, tomatoes, juices, jams and jellies, and heat and sugar with the already-present acids are our preservation tools. In the absence of any other method, because drying is difficult at best with our humidity and still-cool days of summer sometimes, we have taken to preserving many vegetables with salt so we don’t have to depend strictly on cold storage.  Over the summer, Maggie and I have preserved many jars of green beans but have done it with salt. Brining vegetables is not a new method but has been practiced in Europe for centuries.

This morning, Maggie and I have made Migaine de Thezou which is a mixed vegetable stock. We each chopped finely 1 pound each of carrots, leeks and onions, 3/4 pound of parsley and chervil mixed (I included a bit of thyme), 1/2 pound of neeps*, and 1/2 pound of celery (it is leaf celery, not the celery that is grown for its stalks because we don’t have the season for that). To these, we added 1 pound of coarse salt and with our hands mixed it. We have set it aside in a cool corner of our kitchens, covered with a towel, and will leave it overnight. In the morning, we will mix again and then bottle it, cap it and store it in a cool place. We will add it to soups, stews, sauces, gravies, and casseroles.**

Then, we mixed a purely green version in smaller quantity for a more delicate flavour which is called Verdurette, and which calls for 1/2 pound each parsley, chervil, celery, leeks and sea salt. The method is the same. ***

We have passed the three year mark in the war. Sometimes, we wonder if it will be endless. Sometimes, we feel hopeless and but always, we are very proud that we have been able to feed ourselves better and outlast an enemy determined to starve us into submission. We always rally and say, “Yes!”

But rallying or no, rationing has simply become our way of life and we weren’t surprised when more foods were added to our “rationed” list this year and when, at the beginning of the year, our clothing points were reduced to 48 from 66. Alex and I are easier on our clothing than some, being of an age, although we do work on the farm, so when Donald had the feeling our clothing points would be reduced last Autumn (because fewer and fewer pieces were available with less variety; he’s very insightful and we have long discussions over dinner sometimes trying to identify trends), we used all our points, purchasing garments we would need in future if the war drags on and reduced clothing points limit new wardrobes. One thing everyone has learned with both food points and clothing points and with rationing is that if we have the coupons and we have the points, we use them even if we don’t need the food or goods even if we must scrounge for the money and even if we must buy something we will certainly never use. The wartime rule is that eventually someone will need it. We can always sell them or trade them.

Our food is interesting. I imagine by the time you read this, it will have been a thing of the past for many years, so I will attempt to describe it for you to some degree. Some of it defies proper description…

Such as the National Flour and the National Loaf. When the war began (or perhaps the decision was made in the years leading up to the war because so many people starved right here in the UK during WWI), white flour was banned (except on ships where Wheat Meal would tend to go off or rancid) so that our grain supply would stretch further and so that bread and flour would not have to be rationed. It is rather coarsely ground compared to white flour, still having the bran in it, and without a doubt a…brownish-gray….colour. It makes our bread rather unappetising. Even Maggie and I used to rail about the bread until we realized how many people in Europe are starving. We stopped complaining and are grateful for what we have, but many (not naming names) aren’t. Many buy on the black market. Many will sift their flour, since the National Flour is not rationed, to remove the bran so they can have white flour and white bread. We are technically not supposed to be using our flour supplies to make bread because the only bread that is “legal” is the National Loaf sold in our bakeries. I will admit that during the last Christmas holidays, we did sift the flour to make white flour for white rolls for Christmas dinner. We then fed the sifted bran to the chickens who appreciated their special Christmas treat. Our whole grain flour is officially called “Wheat Meal.” Some people hate it so much it is referred to as “Hitler’s Secret Weapon.”****

Because we live on a farm, we get fresh milk directly from our cows before we send it away with the Ag man who comes to collect it. Although the current ration is 3 pints per week per person, we on the farm can have as much as we need. That’s just the way it is for farmers. I suppose the reason is because we also get a few special rations since we work hard physically. I’m not sure. So we do have an advantage although I think farmers in the South country have more of an advantage since they have access to a greater variety of foods. Our temperatures here in the North, the short growing season and the long dark winter hours preclude growing many foods others take for granted.  We get all this extra milk but, we aren’t supposed to be able to obtain any butter but the National Butter which replaces the butter we used to get all the way from New Zealand. The usual ration is 2 ounces per person per week Here on the farm, we can have more if we want it because all we have to do is skim our own rations of milk and use the cream to make butter. Even on a day when our ration is not large, we can skim enough cream to make butter in a jar if we have a mind or the need. We don’t do it often but I admit we do it now and then. We also skim the milk and occasionally make a wee bit of whipped cream to go on our bun loaf. Or during the Christmas holiday, we make eggnog, and although this year, it will be without brandy or rum, it will still lift our spirits!

Besides the butter, there is the National Margarine. There are two grades: standard and special which is supposed to be a higher, more flavourful grade. They both taste like melted candle wax. We try to not imagine its origins. Here at our house, I try to use the margarine for cooking and the butter for the table. Some people mix their margarine and their butter ration but Maggie and I have a belief that we ought to just appreciate the unadulterated butter while we can and not taint it with the margarine. We can hide the margarine in a cake or some other baked good.

We appreciate the butter as much as we appreciate our cheese. The national cheese is National Cheddar and it is against regulations to make any other sort although, I would guess that if some enterprising farm wives had kept alive a culture for soft cheese such as a spreadable farmhouse cheese, since before the war began, it might be “legal” to use some of their milk to keep it going although it takes more than one person’s weekly milk ration to make  a batch…something families can get together to do. It certainly makes the butter go further and tastes delicious on toast for a change with a wee bit of jam on it. Then, we are able to save the butter for better things. Draining the farmhouse cheese after it is cultured gives we bit of whey to help fatten up the pigs as well. From a gallon of milk, I get almost as much whey.

A side product of making butter is buttermilk. Some people like to leave it a day or two so it will culture with the local bacteria found in the air but we like it sweet so we girls share it directly from the churn after making the butter as our prize for working so hard!

We could get all these things and more from the Black Market if we wanted to, but none of us, Alex, Donald, Maggie nor I, will buy on the black market. However, there is a “gray” market which consists of things that people can make that don’t fall within what is really “legal” when it comes to rationing, but which they can trade for things other people can make or have access to. Maggie’s and my soft cheese is one item we trade. Apple products is another. Because we have apple trees, we reserve the best fruits to give to the Women’s Institute. After we all get together and can them up at a WI meeting with the tin sealer, they go to the government to put on market shelves so people who don’t have access to apples like we do can use some of their food points plus some cash to purchase the tins. The rest of the apples, the ones not so perfect and the windfalls, are gathered up and made into apple sauce, apple jam to supplement our jam and marmalade rations, a few dried apple slices (strung on strings over the hot stove to dry), but best of all cider. We make and drink sweet cider; most is reserved for hard cider which is nature’s way of preserving cider, and a wee bit is allowed to turn to vinegar although we have other ways to make vinegar. Both sweet and hard cider are good currency. Children and wives generally like sweet cider but men LOVE the hard cider. There is nothing we can’t get by trading cider if we want it! I laugh as I say that because it certainly helps attract a few hands during harvest and when we’re trying to get things cleaned up here in Autumn. They know Donald won’t forget them! Donald said yesterday he thinks the apple harvest will be in about ten days and will be especially good this year with the mild weather we’ve had after three brutal winters.

It’s possible the food situation has become brutal as well, because up to this year, sausage at the butcher has not been rationed. Donald thinks it will be rationed anytime now because at the beginning of the war, we were allowed a ration of 1s 10p meat which is now down to 1s 2p. Because sausage has not been rationed, most of us supplemented our meat ration with sausage at every opportunity. Now that there is more demand for the links because we are allowed less meat, sausage has changed and become even more scarce. It used to be the same product we bought before the war but we try not to buy it from the butcher any more often than we must. Because sausage is so infrequently available now and so much in demand, the butchers have tried to extend the meat with so many fillers added that a law finally had to be enacted directing that there must be at least 10% meat in “sausage.”***** Ten percent meat! Is that sausage? Or should we call it bread crumbs, vegetables, and herbs with a little meat added? Each link is like a week one-dish meal! No wonder Spam is getting quite popular. It is at the very least, all meat and fat!

And fat is a big attractant. Besides the sausages we make from our own pork scraps, among the tinned meat we can purchase occasionally are tins of sausage (different from Spam) from America. We all want it for a very special reason. These tins are one of the reasons we go to market early so we can be close to the beginning of the line. Each tin is expensive in points…16 points each…plus the cash we have to come up with, but rich in fat. The beauty of this sausage is that each tin comes with about 1/2 pound of fat in it with the sausage meat and we are fat starved!

Fat is another product that is as good as gold except that most people won’t part with it if they have a choice. Our ration, at this point in time, is 4 ounces of lard per week per person for cooking. There are no oils available. Lard, butter and margarine are all the fats the general population gets except what we get from our meat. We diligently harvest anything that remotely resembles fat in a pan after we have cooked! I try not to fry often so I can save our lard to preserve the pork chops but because of the pig club, we on the farm and those who belong to Pig Clubs do have a small extra stash of lard.

We need fat for energy and to keep ourselves warm from our insides in cold weather. We need it for our brains. After butchering the pigs and cutting them up, Maggie and I will collect all the fat and the pig skin and any piece that looks like it may have a bit of fat on it and put it into a big pot with water for rendering. We will boil it and as the fat melts, it will float to the surface of the pot where we will remove it to a lard can when the pot cools a bit and the lard solidifies and can be lifted off. We go one step further: the remains of the fat we remove from the pot go into a fry pan where we slowly heat it and the little fat that remains is poured off as the bits sizzle and become crisp.  Cracklings they are called in America. We drain all the fat off and save the crispy bits to add to the top of a casserole dish.

And, children, as I write to you of preserving meat and what our rations are…the foods we are guaranteed to get at a reasonable price each week…I think about the people of Stalingrad who have been under siege since August, two months, and of the people of Leningrad who have been under sieve since the 8th of September 1941, over a year. Victims all!  I think of the courageous men who have died trying to get food to us here in the UK because we cannot produce 100% of what we need. We help our men fight from the fields as they expand our acreage every year, fighting the weather and lack of proper amounts of fertiliser; we fight from our gardens by Digging for Victory; and we fight from our sitting rooms as we Make Do and Mend, but mostly, we fight from our kitchens where we spend much of our time trying to make the most of what we have.

*Neeps are called Swedes in England and Rutabagas in America.

** and *** Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Dying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation, by The Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante; Chelsea Green Publishing; White River Junction, Vermont; 1999; pp 128, 129.

**** “National Loaf;” http://www.cooksinfo.com; accessed 15 October 2015.

*****”British Wartime Food: How Britain Fed Itself During World War Two;” http://www.cooksinfo.com, accessed 15 October 15.

 

 

 

Inspiration and despiration

Here in Scotland, we call that great institution the Women’s Institute “the Rural.” The Rural is every bit as active as the Women’s Institute in England is…but up north here, we have less variety in what we grow and eat than they do and in what we are able to can to add to the food supply. Our WI and that of Northern Ireland were formed independently of those in England, Wales, and the isles. Ours is tied to the Women’s Institute of those places through the Associated Country Women of the World, the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes and the Women’s Institutes of Northern Ireland.** We do, however, the same work and make the same contributions to the war effort. Some time ago, at the height of summer, we all gathered our pails and baskets first thing in the morning as soon as the dew was dried to gather brambleberries*, followed by a very busy afternoon making and bottling preserves.

I think we have all come to feel especially accomplished and as though we have made a major contribution to the war effort after one of these afternoons. I suspect it is because the war has gone on for so long (It was going to be *over* by December 1939!) and we need to bolster our confidence that if we stay strong, if we keep our noses to the grindstone, we will help our nation win against Gerry. I think we also need to feel that we have done something that is still somewhat out of the ordinary from our daily routine although the only difference, since we all do bottling up at home, is that we do it with each other and we can catch up on what is happening with every one else’s family. During harvest season, we don’t get to do a lot of socializing. But I think I have told you that before. Another function of the Rural is that it inspires us to do our best both there together, and at home. It gives us renewed inspiration each time we get together and the Lord knows, we need that these days.

The past week saw Maggie and Mrs. X and me gathering windfall apples which are beginning to be more plentiful as the winds begin to pick up with Autumn here. We work very hard to keep them picked up because many of them are not blemished but as long as they are windfalls, we feel we need not send them off to the WI for processing. We cleaned them, cut away the bad spots and began bottling up some apple pieces with which we can make crumbles, tarts and pies in the winter when it’s cold. Of course, it will be the “same old” apples but the end products will be sweet and perhaps we will be able to mix in some tinned fruit to break the monotony. The smaller bits were gathered and cooked away to make some applesauce. Someone has suggested that since we have no oil and no fat to spare, perhaps we can use apple sauce when we make a cake in place of the fat to make it more moist? In that way, we may be able to make almost the same cake (barring the fact that we have to use the National Flour and less sugar) as pre-war. That would be a novelty! Another lady at the Rural suggested that we use winter squash (we have butternut) in place of pumpkin in custards…. It’s a thought. We are bottling most of our fruit this year with a very light syrup or none at all if we think we will bake with it. Donald and Alex have asked for most of our summer sugar ration. I’m not sure what their need is, they’re being quite secretive, but I suspect it might have something to do with alcohol!

I think the men who remain in our community need an organization…a male counterpart to the WI…to coordinate all their efforts toward their secretive projects. The thought makes me smile!

Yes, it is harvest season but I am already thinking Christmas. We are conserving our monthly sugar ration again as well as trying to get as many dried fruits as we can with our rations. We don’t need them now, but we want them for Christmas and for winter. They have been rationed since January.

With all that is rationed, there are no toys. Children who are lucky enough to get playthings get used toys from those who have grown beyond them, nothing new that they can call their own. I am determined to make a doll for someone for Christmas. It has been so long since our children have had a real Christmas. Yes, I know that the real meaning of Christmas is not to give gifts, but to share good will (it seems that if everyone did that all year everywhere, we wouldn’t be at war now) but we ARE at war, our children are suffering by having no childhood, and by missing fathers, brothers, uncles, and grandfathers. We feel desperate to give them some sense of normalcy to any part of their lives. They deserve every part of childhood we can give them. We have old pieces of fabric packed in trunks….scraps from years-ago sewing…that aren’t large enough to make clothing from and that just sit there. We have other pieces of clothing that are falling apart. We cut away the parts that are full of holes or that are ragged and discolored, take way the buttons that are like gold, pick apart the seams, wash them, dry them, iron them and then pack them away for a rainy day when we might need a few scraps. I think the rainy day has come. I may not be able to do for more than one child this year, but I will do for a child. I unpacked some muslin for the doll itself today. The child I am thinking of has two older sisters. I will begin saving my sweets to share between the older for Christmas even if I can’t find or make something else for them. Christmas…the holidays…this is when the war makes me angry.

This afternoon, Maggie and I went berry-picking. We were after the last of the brambleberries, most of which are dried up on the vine. We picked even the dry ones since the idea is to pour hot water over them to re-hydrate them and then mix them into some of the apples we are using for apple sauce. We were quite surprised at how many we were able to get by delving just a bit into the brambles on the southern side. We came away with abrasions but we also came away with bit of treasure!

We picked our yearly supply of bramble leaves back in July when they were at their peak after we harvested the largest share of berries. These are used medicinally for sore throats, a gargle to benefit the gums, an astringent mouthwash, and a number of other things. At the same time, we made our blackberry tonic to be used for diarrhea. One day, I will have to tell you about our garden of bitter herbs, used as medicines. It is a blessing that we are able to grow them. Medicines are not impossible to get if the need is great, but the fewer we use, the more can go to the war effort where they need every pill and drop of tonic they can get.

As the days grow shorter, we are conscious that we won’t be enjoying much time out of doors much longer. Apple harvest will commence Saturday. It will be a very busy day as the picking will be done and then Donald and Alex will handle each apple to decide if it should go to the Women’s Institute, the cider press, or the kitchen for further processing. The very best fruits go to the Women’s Institute. Maggie and I will take them over on Monday in the wagon to be washed, peeled, cut, canned, labeled, and packed for the government to put in markets for those who have no access to fruits. The second grade apples will go to the press for cider. It always amazes me how many apples there are in this category but we never question it. We find it important to keep spirits up on the farm and on surrounding farms. We are charged, no matter how you look at it, with keeping the nation fed, with increasing production, with caring for those in our charge, and with winning the war on this front. The remainder of the apples will come to the kitchen, most of them still in pretty good condition, considering. We will make apple jam, applesauce, and anything apple that we can think of until we have used them all. Nothing will go to waste. This year, I have collected many of the peels, chopped them and put them on the shelf over Maggie’s stove to dry. I want to try to see if I can make some sort of apple-flavoured mix that can be used to extend my own tea rations. I will sprinkle it with a bit of cinnamon and then pour hot water over it in the cup and see what happens. The worst that can happen is that it won’t be drinkable. We are all so afraid that our tea ration will be cut. All the extra that people had saved from their children being given half a ration at first, and not drinking it, is gone. we use our tea leaves over and over until they are almost tasteless. My theory is that at some point, they can use all the help they can get even if it’s a “different” flavour!

Then we will begin the crabapple harvest. These apples are unusually sweet this year. Some will go for jelly and juice for the household. We will bottle up the juice and candy some of the apples as well as make jelly. Donald and Alex are taking a large portion of the crab apple harvest for their “project,” but there will be plenty for household use. This year’s is the best harvest we have had in three years. Our winters were so frigid and long that production was below normal each of the first three years of the war although we always got some fruit. Last year’s harvest was better than the year before but not record-breaking.

Most of the apple peels and apple cores will be used to make vinegar. They all go into the crocks which are then filled with boiled and cooled water, covered, and left to ferment until we have vinegar. As I have told you, nothing is wasted. After all, we are Eating for Victory.

* Blackberries in the USA.

** from Wikipedia; en.m.wikipecia.org, accessed 8 October 2015.

Home Fires

Beginning Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 8/7c, Masterpiece on PBS will be presenting the first episode of a six-part series Home Fires, a drama set in an England on the verge of WWII. It is a story of women, with struggles and conflicts of their own, who find a way to work together to preserve their village, their nation and their own lives. The value and leadership of the Women’s Institute, featured in this blog, is a central issue. The series is based on Jambusters, a history of the Women’s Institute by Julie Summers. The series will air Sunday evenings from October 4 through November 8. It will no doubt make us more thankful than usual for our Thanksgiving meal.

Drifting into…

I think Autumn is right around the corner. We have had no frost yet; the temperatures aren’t even close, but temperatures are a bit lower and not going up to summer highs anymore. It is so difficult, as farmers, to deal with and plan to accommodate the weather since we have had no weather forecasts since the war began. The government feels it may give the enemy an advantage if they know what conditions we are expecting. We used to have a few days’ notice which was sometimes correct and sometimes not, but we at least had a chance to prepare for the worst. These days, we have only nature to tell us what to expect. We know if there are high clouds, the weather will probably be nice. Fluffy cumulus clouds, lower, indicate probably rain and maybe a thunderstorm. If the sky is clear and the temperatures are cold enough, we’ll have frost. If there is a ring around the moon, we will probably get rain. If we can smell the rain, we’ll get it soon. That is the only kind of weather predictions we have. So far, we have been very lucky because Donald is an experienced farmer who knows the earth, knows his crops and spends enough time out of doors that he knows how to read the signs, most of the time. The time he gets most serious no matter what his personal weather predictor says, is when it is time to harvest.

The food situation isn’t getting too bad. Aside from worrying about the lack of enough animal fertilizer for the fields, We have been putting out a pretty good crop. The kitchen garden is better than ever. We are still growing the large garden that we grew when Maggie had refugees but even though it means more work, it means that we are still able to maintain our healthy diet without concern about where any of it is going to come from and we will have enough greens for the hens this winter. This week, I got an especially nice small roast from the butcher. Maggie got one and will be firing up her cook-stove so I thought it would be prudent of me to use our whole meat ration for a roast for us, for a change, as well. We can eat our cheese ration, tinned fish, Spam, eggs and sausage the rest of the week and we won’t suffer. I will take enough coal over to Maggie’s to help fire the stove and Mrs. X who has been helping Maggie bottle tomatoes will take advantage of it as well. The food we give her from Aqua Vitae Meadow is not charity. She and her daughters, who have a somewhat small plot of vegetables they are able to keep up with her husband away at war, are priceless when it comes to getting things done here now that the boarders are gone! Mrs. X is much more agile than we are since she is so much younger and has so much more stamina although not the muscle structure of a man. The Land Girls are here to help Donald and Alex in the field and lucky for us, Maggie and I have Mrs X and her daughters who need the work! This Spring, we saw to it that she got some of the younger hens when they were old enough to begin laying so she and the girls have been able to give up their 1- each-a-week egg ration for a bit of chicken feed and with extra greens which will begin to deteriorate from our cold storage, they will make it fine through the winter. Because hens don’t lay here in winter (they will be stopping very soon as the days get shorter), we must save some of our eggs as best we can to use over the colder months. We have pickled some and some will remain unwashed…the last of the year…to use first after the hens stop laying. We are all storing most in Water Glass…sodium silicate which seals the oxygen out and keeps eggs fresh for months. (I don’t know what we will do if we run out during this wretched war….) In Spring, Mrs. X will borrow the rooster for such time as it takes to get a few chicks that will give her a bit of chicken meat next Autumn and early winter. It’s a dance, keeping up with the food and making sure that at least one family other than ours has the things they lack because the husband is in service to our country. It is our patriotic duty even if we didn’t think of it simply as friendship.

I think I will cook my roast slowly and then add tatties, carrots, garlic and onions. I believe I will make a brown gravy which is much more flavourful and appetising than white. I will flavour it with beef extract and yeast extract.  I think there is enough meat for two meals for Alex and me and I will try to save the scraps (these roasts always fall apart because they are so tender) and the juices from the plate for a barley beef soup the third day. I believe I may be able to make a steamed custard* for us for dessert as well. Something sweet seems to lift the spirits.

We are so very lucky even with the blockade by the U-boats a constant threat! Gerry makes sure we don’t get some of what is shipped our way from America and Canada, but so far, he has not been able to cut us off entirely and most gets through although we seem to have increased our own production to give us more security as well. I think some of the islands may suffer a bit, but we don’t hear much from them here. Orkney is occupied by the Royal Navy and we hear the people there are well enough off but I don’t know about the Western Isles.

At the same time that we seem to be still eating well in spite of the blockade, we are hearing reports of a siege of Stalingrad by the Nazi army in Southwest Russia that began sometime in August. It doesn’t seem to have taken the pressure off us, but Stalingrad is a city of over 800,000 people by all accounts and I cannot imagine how many soldiers and how much equipment it would take to surround the city. Since it is a city, and a large one, I can’t imagine what they are eating! How could they grow much and if they did, would it survive? What we heard is beyond imagination, that the first day of the siege, the city was bombarded much like they have done to London except that most of Stalingrad was leveled. My mind cannot accept the reality of that.

The siege of Leningrad has been underway since 8 September 1941. The city has been under blockade for over a year. How are they eating? Are they eating? How many have died? No doubt, most of them are innocents. It is never just soldiers that fight a war, but how many of us really hate the enemy who are just people like us and probably only our enemies because of governments?  Don’t get me wrong. I would fight to defend this nation to the death. I’m speaking in generalities of the ugliness of war.

It affects us right here in Wick and Janetstown! L. Iaccheri and family who own and ran L. Iaccheri’s, where we could get a good fish dinner and ice cream before the war, have been interned on the Isle of Man simply because we are at war with Italy and because their ancestors came from Italy. Isn’t that pathetic? America is doing the same thing to the Japanese American population. Fear and a wild imagination do terrible things to people. We forget to live by the Golden Rule while we expect others to. We are so thankful that someone else has taken it over for them and is keeping their business alive while they are gone so they will have it to come home to…hopefully….soon.

*Steamed Custard

2 eggs (reconstituted [if dry])
1/2 pint milk (keep in mind the Imperial pint is 20 oz)
Sugar
Flavouring

Method — Beat the egg and sugar, add milk and flavouring; pour into a greased cup or mold; steam in a sauce pan until set. (Sufficient for 2)

From Ministry of Food War Cookery Leaflet Number 11, “Dried Eggs.”

A few surprises

Oh my! This has been the week! Surprises for us when surprises, at least good ones, are so rare!

Our good friend Captain Jones, the Yank that shared our last Christmas with us, comes to visit us frequently, but he has been away back to the US for the last month.  He is back now and we had a visit from him, bringing more cigarettes that we can use for barter. And he was so sweet to bring sweets from America for the Land Girls!

He did tell us that since the US has entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, their food and other items have been rationed as well, and they are feeling it, but that some things are available to the military that aren’t available on the open market, probably because so many are risking their lives every day. It makes me feel bad that he is giving us part of his share but he tells us he doesn’t smoke and he is grateful to have a home away from home to go to when he is able to get here, and we certainly share what we have with him. He seemed quite impressed with our hard cider last year. He wasn’t around to taste it when it was sweet.

We asked him if he could come by for dinner one day this week, poor fare that it is. He said he thought he would be able to make it on Wednesday and on that morning, Donald and Alex walked in with the biggest smirks on their faces and a bundle wrapped in canvas. Salmon! It was FRESH salmon! The piece was large enough that we each had a nice-sized serving apiece, Captain Jones, Donald and Maggie, the Land Girls, Alex and me…all of us!  I’m sure that when you will be reading this some time in the future that that won’t sound like much but when it is fresh and we are so used to nothing but tinned salmon most of the time, it was a treat for us all. We don’t ask where these things come from. We can occasionally buy fish from the river off-ration just as this salmon was off-ration, but we can’t ever count on being able to get it. It happens when it happens. I have no idea how much it cost. I’m afraid to ask. And this fish was not from the river but it was a welcome meal after sausages and Wartime Champ** so often.

And speaking of off-ration, we were able to get some marrow bones off-ration this week…God bless the butcher! We boiled them down, skimmed the fat off the top to use for frying and had broth left in the pan. I cooked noodles in it for our dinner one night. They were delicious. They absorbed most of the liquid but I thickened what was left into a gravy and we had it with sausage.

I think I forgot to tell you that Captain Jones taught us something else. You know that our bacon is not smoked like it is in America.  Knowing that we have no oil for salad dressing, he told us that he was going to teach us a trick because he also knows about the Pig Club and that we have a say about how to preserve our pork if we get enough that we can preserve some. One day this spring, when the good Captain came, he brought half a pound of American bacon…smoked bacon. Cured like it is in the US. He asked Maggie and me to pick enough spinach for a salad for us all and to tear it into pieces. He also asked for some cider vinegar which we have in plenty, a wee bit of our agricultural molasses and two tablespoons of sugar. Well, my goodness!  He mixed the molasses and the sugar together to make brown sugar! He fried up several pieces of the bacon and then removed the bacon from the pan, pouring some of the fat into a container for us to save. Into the rest of it, he mixed some of the brown sugar and some cider vinegar and poured the whole concoction over the spinach leaves, crumbling the cooled bacon over the whole of it. What a wonderful salad dressing it made! It had a bit of a smoky, sweet and sour flavour! He said they call the dish “wilted spinach.” We couldn’t do it all the time of course, because we can’t buy cured bacon here but we can sure smoke some of our own this fall when we do the hams for us and the other family in our small pig club! And if we can protect enough of the Autumn spinach, guess what kind of salad we will have with our Christmas dinner instead of cabbage? I am pleased to say that I was able to capture enough of the leftover dressing that I saved it to put on the Brussels sprouts tonight for a different sort of dish. The problem with using bacon fat instead of salad oil is that I had to re-melt it and it can only be eaten hot but we don’t care! Anything to break the monotony of our meals is a blessing. We have a salad dressing made from tomatoes and vinegar with herbs, and Heintz Salad Cream,*** and now have the new one with the bacon fat to add to our repertoire. All we have to do as our part is smoke our bacon this year!

With some of this month’s food points, we were able to purchase a tin of small sweet biscuits.  I counted out how many there are in the pound and there are 60. Alex and I discussed a plan for how and when we will eat them. That sounds quite funny doesn’t it? But the tin has to last us a month. One cookie apiece a day for the month is more like a tease than a treat so we have decided to each have three biscuits each on Wednesday evening and four on Sunday afternoon when we listen to our favorite program Any Questions? on the radio. (You would love it! The public sends in questions each week and a panel of experts tries to answer the chosen questions.  It is so interesting and each week, we learn something!  It certainly is a morale booster!)

We heard today that sometime this month, a new picture show will be out called In Which We Serve (a WWII drama based on the war service of Lord Louis Mountbatten!)! It stars Noel Coward and John Mills! Be still my heart! We don’t know when it will come to Wick but we are all very excited and looking forward to seeing it.  Before that picture show manages to wend its way here, we will be able to see Let the People Sing (a comedy) starring Alistair Sim.  We see so few films here except in the late Autumn, Winter or very early Spring. We are so busy with the farm, planting, repairing, harvesting, planning next year’s crop, pleasing the Farm Ag, taking care of the cows, milking, and whatnot. This year, since late Spring, the weather has been very ordinary. There is much to be said for mediocrity sometimes. The oats were planted when they were supposed to be. The oats were harvested in August when they were supposed to be and we harvested an exceptional crop. We have other crops to harvest as well as the kitchen garden. It, especially, needs to be harvested as much as we can at this time, and food stored for winter. We intentionally leave some as late as we possibly can without frost damage so it stays fresher in storage. It doesn’t seem we will have an unusually cold winter this year but we have learned that we cannot take anything for granted. Before the war, if we lost a crop, we lost money and would plant again next year. If we lose a crop now and everyone else is successful, we chance losing the farm! If we lose anything from the kitchen garden, it could mean going hungry over the winter. We walk a very thin line. But, Alex has said that we are up on the harvest and don’t have to worry about taking an afternoon off to go to the picture show as long as we get home before dark.

As good as the harvest was this year, Alex and Donald are both worried that the farm is going to begin suffering from the lack of animal manure for fertilizing the fields. Up here, where we have a short growing season, we can’t rotate the crops the way they can in the South to enrich the soil every other year or every third year by planting legumes. We have to plant what we’re told to plant. We plant legumes for ourselves and that does help with the kitchen garden, but we also use the little chicken manure we get from the laying hens to help fertilize that. If we can’t provide enough for ourselves to keep up our strength, we certainly can’t plant enough and harvest it for others! The rabbits provide a manure that is alright to use green without burning the plants but neither chickens nor rabbits produce enough fertilizer for the larger crops that we must turn over to the government.  Many farmers who have not been as wise as Donald was before the war n caring for their land are already beginning to suffer. We are so thankful that Maggie planted such a large garden when she took in the refugees from London, and that we kept it up after they left because it provides food for us, food for the chickens, food for the milk cows (who provide manure for the manure pile for the fields) and food for the manure pile in the form of trimmings and roots and we still have enough to feed the pigs. As uncertain and tenuous as each crop can be, we all thank God every day that we are living through this war on a farm.

Alex is back from his weekly meeting that he can’t tell me about. He’s ready for his Horlicks* and to go to bed.

 

*Horlicks is a malted milk drink that was not rationed during the war. An English on-line friend of mine author Patricia Finney told me that people depended on it so much as a morale booster and sign of normalcy during that terrible and frightening time, if it had been rationed, there would have been riots in the UK.

**Recipe for Wartime Champ from Food Facts No. 28                                                                                          Spuds, Spam and Eating for Victory by Katherine Knight, page 212

“A good filler that gets the potatoes and veg. done in a single pan. Said to be an old Irish dish.

Recipe:Scrub and slice 1 lb. potatoes and 1 lb. carrots (500 g each). Put in a saucepan with a teacupful of hot salted water and add a small cabbage finely shredded. Cover with the lid, cook steadily giving an occasional shake, until tender (about 15 minutes)….add a small teacupful of hot milk and mash well with…pepper and salt if necessary. Serve at once with a pat of margarine to each helping.”

*** Heintz Salad Cream is a well known and beloved salad dressing in the UK. It consists of oil, water, egg yolks and vinegar. It was first introduced by H. J. Heintz Company in 1914 and has been a staple ever since. I purchased it for this project from Amazon.com.

An anniversary

After a break since January due first to my knee surgery (which did not turn out well) and then to our move across the country) we are resuming the WWII UK Rationing Project. We have essentially restarted effective yesterday.

Good morning, Children! As of yesterday 3 September 1942, we are beginning our fourth year of war here in the UK. Here in Scotland, in particular in Caithness, the most northeast county in Scotland before the Orkney Islands, we have had a particularly rough time since we are limited as to what we can grow because of weather. Thank God we have the good fortune to be on a farm! As turned out, the first three winters of the war were particularly grueling and hellish with the coldest weather we have had in generations, essentially a mini-ice age. This summer, we are flourishing, hoping that our winter will not be as bad as the previous ones. We did have good crops last year and any threat that could have come to our ownership of the farm was easily averted. And on a personal level, thank the good God for our blessed apple crop which gave us so many windfalls that we were able to make apple sauce, dried apples, sweet cider, hard cider and a few other treats besides feeding the worst of them to the pig, that we otherwise would not have had to break the monotony of what our diet has become. I believe that Donald and Alex “saved” apples with even the slightest blemish for us to put in cold storage rather than send to the Women’s Institute to can for the market. I must also say that to be fair, we did not buy any canned apple products either.

This year, the apple crop looks good again and we’re hoping to get a few really bad windfalls to use to feed the two pigs we have been raising in the Pig Club. We have only one other household other than Donald and Maggie’s in our club with us this year so we will have (relatively) a lot of pork. The Sutherlands who were lodging with Donald and Maggie have moved from Aqua Vitae Meadow back into town. They missed being close to their friends and familiar surroundings so Alex and I devised a plan to offer them the use of our house in town (we have removed our own personal belongings but left some of the furniture due to there not being enough room in the shed/cottage here) rent free. They were delighted. It gives us some peace of mind , as well, having someone who wants to live in town and that we now know well in the house so that it is occupied.

Food is becoming more scarce…well, choices are becoming narrower as time goes on and the Germans tighten up their net or keep it at least as tight as it ever was with this embargo they have imposed. Thank heaven for the Americans flying in tons of food to supplement our diets.  With their help, and because of the farm, we are able to eat well enough on homegrown foods and even make some creations of our own (courgette “brandy,” anyone?), but rationed foods affect us as much as they do anyone except for dairy products because we have the milk cows here. We do try to help those others out who are in situations where they are having a difficult time making ends meet but it is difficult to do without hurting their pride.

Last evening, we ate what has become a familiar tea for us. We had mince and tattie with peas. We have come to thrive on the one-dish meal as fuel gets more expensive and doesn’t seem to go quite as far as it used to. We cook as many foods as we can each chance, and we “borrow” a hot stove from each other whenever each other lights up so we don’t need to waste fuel. We are limited to how much and what we can cook when the weather is still relatively warm since the cold shelf doesn’t preserve foods for long.

We look forward to harvesting the pigs. Because there is only one other family, this year, we will get a whole half pig to ourselves!  The only reason we can do this is because, being on farms, we have enough garden waste and kitchen waste (although little enough of that!) to feed two pigs between our families. We hired Mrs. X’s daughters to take baskets over to the common woods and collect acorns and other mast to feed the pigs although we picked out anything that we may be able to eat ourselves. We paid them in jars of apple butter, sweet treats (which we get rationed but don’t eat much of ourselves), and a few coins. When the time comes to harvest the animals, we will make sure that the government gets their half pigs, the other family gets their half and when we get our half, Mrs. X’s daughters will earn a few pounds of the meat and we’ll see that they get a share of black pudding. It isn’t that we can hardly wait to part with such delicacies, but they are living on a shoestring, and there, but for the grace of God…. Isn’t that what we all learned growing up…that we should share with others who need it more than we do?

With all our present restrictions, we feel blessed here. We are hearing terrible things about what is happening in Russia and in Europe. We are so glad not to be on the continent these days, but insulated by, even though isolated because of, the North Sea and other bodies of water.  We are surrounded by U-boats who shoot up and sink many ships who are trying to bring us food, who shoot down the planes who are bringing us relief, and we will never be able to thank those servicemen enough who have given our lives that we may live. We will never be able to thank them enough. The only thing we can really do to thank them, at all,  is to live each day with relish and be thankful for what blessings we do have and for me, today, the isolation that is being an Island Kingdom brings us is that blessing.

I must go as this is a day Maggie and I are dedicating to making-do-and-mending. Mrs. X will come down to the big house and we will, together, chat to break the monotony as we once again patch the poor worn clothing that we have depended on so for warmth over the last three years. Today, we will also be combining our flour sacks to see if we can come up with enough that match (they come in lovely coloured patterns) to make Mrs. X’s eldest daughter a blouse for her birthday.  As adults, it is easier for us all to do without much of what we are used to, but the young people want to keep up with the world of fashion whether or not there is a war. Of course, they can’t, but we do our best to update their wardrobes when we can. We have also unraveled the yarn of some sweaters that we were fortunate enough to be able to replace in the first year of the war. We will try to come up with enough that we can make sweater vests for all three of her girls for Christmas, doing our best to match the vests to the new flour-sack blouses they each received this year for their birthdays. Sweater vests are traditionally worn by men, but who will care if they’re new and warm and attractive?

That said, I believe for the children’s sake, to make their childhoods as close to normal as they can be in wartime, we spend all year planning for birthdays and Christmas. Alex and I are already saving our sugar rations again toward Christmas sweets and desserts and, if we’re lucky, some eggnog. We saved our honey rations with Donald’s and Maggie’s earlier this year so that this summer, we could make a bit of mead for the holidays. The things we took for granted before this hellacious war are things we will never take for granted again. I don’t believe that I will ever be able to throw away another piece of string or piece of wrapping paper, even butcher paper or brown paper, much less anything else.

We will never take fat for granted again. I will never complain about the butcher giving me a piece of meat that is “too fatty” thinking he is doing it to line his pockets. Each time I have purchased mince beef this last year, I have noticed that the butcher has a twinkle in his eye as he hands me my small package. Not only did he once give me a fresh piece of paper to collect my meat in each week, he always includes a bit of extra fat with it. A small gift? No, a very large gift. With no fat unavailable in any other form and butchers trimming the meat so carefully because fat is at a premium, it is a very large gift indeed. Perhaps he gave it because we shared our apple harvest in various forms with him and his family (and a few others) during the year. Who would have thought that a sharing a bottle of apple butter or a mug of hard cider now and then would be so appreciated? Who would have ever guessed that our lives would have come to this?