Get Hands on with history

Dan Lepard smiling

Join award-winning food writer and celebrity chef Dan Lepard as he celebrates the ingenuity and creativity behind classic wartime dishes. Inspired by the IWM publication Victory in the Kitchen: Wartime Recipes.

Dan delved into IWM’s rich archives to offer modern twists on classic recipes that were concocted out of meagre rations during the Second World War.


Recent months have seen many of us turn to cooking, baking and getting creative in the kitchen for some much-needed comfort and entertainment. I am excited to have teamed up with the museum to release a series of short videos that celebrate simple ingredients delivering unexpected flavour and a side of history”.

Baked Jam and Carrot Sponge pudding

The Second World War threw up many challenges for British cooks, with rationing and shortages severely limiting their choice of dishes. In this episode of Rationing Recipes, Dan Lepard looks at why some ingredients were so precious and shows us how to make a piping hot Jam and Carrot Sponge Pudding.

Simple ingredients delivering great flavour with just a little old-school know-how that's the winning combination we should never forget. The Imperial War Museums archive contains a stack of fantastic but easy recipes which give us just that. You really need to check them out. Looking through the archive will also help you understand the challenges that, for example, making this recipe for a piping hot jam sponge pudding might present. In a minute I'll make the pudding for you but first I want to talk to you about
the ingredients used, why they were scarce or hard to find, and why they were so precious.

This recipe calls for ingredients that are very straightforward and easy to buy today but in Britain during the Second World War many of these ingredients were either impossible to buy or controlled by rationing. For example the weekly butter ration was as little as 2 ounces, that's less than 60 grams, sugar 8 ounces, that's about 225 grams, and fresh eggs just one per person. We almost can't imagine a world without the extraordinary variety of sweet things and foods we have today and looking back I  wondered whether the Second World War years were just utter bleakness for many.

I asked Jill Norman editor of the Imperial War Museum's Make Do and Mend, about my fear that rationing and hardship surely would have caused people's health to suffer.

JN: "after the war because so many people had been malnourished beforehand, generally they were a lot healthier than they had been."

And this is the point I didn't realise. We think of events like the Second World War as separate and isolated in time, rather than obviously affected by the circumstances leading up to them. Widespread hunger and poverty during the depression throughout the 30s meant people were already coping with hardship and rationing helped in part to alleviate this. Preserves like jam and marmalade were also rationed but at least the ration more or less guaranteed you'd get some. Some other foods weren't formally rationed because the supply couldn't be guaranteed. They could simply be hard to find and it was said that if you saw a food queue you should join it before even asking what it was for because it was bound to be something you could use or exchange. So a pudding like this was a bit of a treat using precious ingredients.

Getting fruit for a pudding could be tricky. City dwellers often didn't know anyone who worked on a farm nor was it easy for them to forage for fruit in season. They might be lucky and have a patch of garden they could turn into a vegetable plot, or a fruit tree or even an allotment. Did you know the royal family dug up some of their lawn to plant rows of onions. Fruit grown at home could be made into amazing jam or you might grow gorgeous carrots ready in four months after planting the seeds in pots or your garden.

I spoke with 92-year-old Muriel Morris Jones who was just a child at nine years old when the Second World War started. Muriel's family moved out of Brighton centre during the bombing to Patcham, just four miles away.

"We did have an apple tree so we were very lucky. We got a lot of windfall and also in the autumn there were a lot of wild blackberries in the fields behind us. My father used to go with myself and brother to collect them and we would go back home and he would make blackberry and apple jam. There wasn't much sugar in it so I don't know how it managed to keep at all really, such a treat."

I agree with Mu, jam really is a treat especially if you can make a great pudding with it. Now let's make one.

Beat one and a half tablespoons each of butter and sugar together. Stir in three tablespoons of grated carrot then fold in six tablespoons of plain flour, with half a teaspoon of baking powder and finally a dash of milk to give it a creamy consistency. Butter a small pie dish, spreading half the jam across the bottom. Then spoon the pudding mixture on top. Bake at 170 degrees centigrade in a fan oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until cooked. Just before it's finished spread the remaining jam over the surface and return to the oven for three to four minutes. Delicious with a scoop of ice cream and makes just enough for two.

A Very 1940s Meat Curry

Many countries have their own take on curry, often inspired by Indian flavours. In this episode of Rationing Recipes, Dan Lepard looks at the long history of British curry and shows us how to make a delicious 1940s sweet curry.

Dan Lepard: “Many different countries have a recipe for curry, often inspired by India but tweaked to local tastes. This recipe reminds me of the famous Japanese curry-rice, but with a very British, marmalade twist.

The first British recipe for curry that I know of was printed in 1747, a direct result of the British colonial presence in India and it forms part of a whole culture of Anglo-Indian cuisine that includes dishes such as kedgeree, mulligatawny soup and pish-pash.

You'll find some of these in the Imperial War museums’ archive which contains so many delicious recipes, check them out.

Now to us today this sweet savoury curry from the museum's archive seems like an abomination bearing almost no resemblance to authentic Indian dishes. what it is, arguably is a stew with spices more hot pot than korma, with a tablespoon of curry powder stirred into a flour-thickened roux to enliven it. Its flavour is soft and sweet, a kind of comfort food that calmed rather than stirred the senses. I spoke with award-winning writer Jill Norman who wrote Dorling Kindersley’s Complete Book of Spices and The New Penguin Cookery Book and edited the Imperial War Museum's Make Do and Mend and also in 1969 commissioned Dharamjit Singh's recipes for his now classic Penguin book, Indian Cookery. I asked Jill to help us understand Britain’s somewhat nervous use of spices in cooking.

Jill Norman: “When I started publishing in the 60s there was very little evidence of spices in our food at all. I think it's because, in an earlier time between the wars, people who were quite well to do usually had a cook and their food was very nourishing and well-cooked but there was no great use of spicing as far as I’m aware.

I remember a friend who grew up in that environment once saying to me when I published The New Penguin Cookery Book, “you've got an awful lot of spices in there for what I would call everyday food.” I was rather surprised and said “oh?” and laughed. And then I think it was a lack of awareness here. You know, there was something called curry powder which probably came in a packet with an Indian image on it went into the, whatever was being cooked, the curry, and that was that. And nobody thought to look at the ingredients and it took quite a long time, well into the sixties I would say before this change.”

Dan Lepard: “There were two Indian family-owned spice companies of note supplying British cooks in the 1940s. Both of them on Broadway in what is now Chennai in India. PM Lalah & Sons, today known as Lalahs, with their Lalah-Masala blend, and the earlier more established Vencatachellum, branded in Britain as Vencat, which Sharwood's imported.

British cooks would buy their curry powder and tins, spoon it in hesitantly, and mostly, be oblivious to the combination of spices used or indeed the expertise required to make it. Importing and using spices often combining savoury flavours with sweetness has long been a part of British cooking since at least the 16th century.

By the 1940s many recipes for this dish called ‘curry’ were quite sweet, often containing banana and apple. I talked to chef, author and broadcaster Roopa Gulati, whose father came to Britain from Calcutta about her personal experiences of cross-cultural adaptations of familiar dishes growing up in Cumbria.”

Roopa Gulati: “The first English curry I had was a primary school, I must have been about seven. There was a great excitement because it was curry and rice. And the curry arrived, and it had bananas in it and sultanas, and it was sweet and I got the shock of my life. It was just something that I couldn't even begin to compare with the food we ate at home every night. And I can still picture that shock when I put it in, because essentially all it was, was I think, it was lamb stew with curry powder and what tasted like jam, apricot jam. Am I making this up? I don't know. It, it tasted like that, it was very sweet.

I mean, for kids who are seven/eight years old who don't like anything green and very fussy for some reason it appealed to everybody on my table at least their palette and I was the only one whose eyebrows shut off the face, my face when I tasted.”

Dan Lepard: “As a child I loved it, and part of me still enjoys those sweet spice flavours. and while in Japan over the last few years enjoying Japanese curry rice and curry puffs, I had this ‘ah-ha’ moment wondering ‘where do I know this flavour from?’ It's the sweet curry from my childhood and even when I eat it now, I still enjoy it. This is how to make it.

Finely chop an onion and an apple, fry them in 50 grams of fat or oil until soft, then add 450 grams of cubed beef. I use stewing steak. Cook for a few minutes then scoop out the meat, onion and apple and leave to one side. Add to the pan one and a half tablespoons of curry powder, four tablespoons of flour and quarter of a teaspoon of dry mustard powder. Cook this for a few minutes then gradually add 300ml of stock or water and bring to the boil. Add one teaspoon of sugar, one tablespoon of cider vinegar, one tablespoon of marmalade, one teaspoon of honey or golden syrup, and two teaspoons of salt. Return the meat to the pan and simmer for an hour until tender. I'd serve this with steamed rice. The original recipe suggests pearl barley or if you could find it macaroni. Sweet, spicy and savoury all at once, comfort food at its best.”

Sardines wrapped in potato

The Second World War forced British cooks to make the most of simple ingredients like potatoes, which could be widely grown across Britain. In this episode of Rationing Recipes, Dan Lepard shows us how to make a dish that tastes "like the best fish and chips without the grease".

Kitchen magic happens when you pair something very soft and subtle with something bold and brilliant. Cooks have been doing this through history for hundreds of years. My name is Dan Lepard, I'm a chef and food writer and what gets me really excited is the way that we can turn very simple ingredients into blockbuster results, so the flavor of every ingredient, no matter how everyday it seems, turns into something fresh and inviting. The recipes I'm demonstrating in this series come from the Imperial War Museums archive, an extensive collection that tells us so much about what we've lived through and also the ingenuity and spark that these very difficult times bought out in us.

This particular recipe sardines wrapped in potato comes from the book Victory in the Kitchen. During wartime there was a huge push to get us away from using imported wheat and into potatoes, as potatoes could be grown abundantly throughout Britain so the character potato Pete was introduced, a cheeky spud with potato eyes and a big smile. For me potatoes are hugely underrated freshly dug from the ground and cooked simply they're one of the world's best foods. Potatoes were used to eke out very lean eating, also to wrap or mask other ingredients to make food much more delicious and enjoyable. And sometimes potatoes let a cafe owner treat soldiers on leave to much more food than they were used to, by allowing them to smuggle something onto their

I spoke with a hundred-year-old former Second World War RAF flight navigator John White who remembers one cafe where the soldiers got extra from the menu.

John White: "way up Hendon, we simply jumped on the tube, discovered in the Charing Cross Road and a little snack bar run by a very lively London woman, who took all these young air force men under her wing probably knowing that she won't I'll see them again soon. Ma's as it was known, so if we been out, had a few drinks, it would be quite busy, everybody's sitting at a long counter, so she'd say "oh hello lads, and it'll be underneath the arches boys, underneath the arches, which meant when we lifted up the fried potatoes there was fried eggs, and and since she didn't want the other customers to know she used to keep any eggs as she has it for us air force lads and hide them underneath the potatoes."

Now in this recipe you use tinned sardines, which typically came from Portugal, a neutral country during the Second World War. Sardines, smaller fish, and pilchards, larger fish, come from the herring family. When we talk about oily fish full of omega-3s then this is the fish you want. Sardines are deeply nutritious in a way that will keep your skin glowing and your brain ticking and in perfect health.

To make this recipe is a cinch, just peel chop and boil some potatoes, about 450 grams, in water until tender. Drain them in a colander, then mash well with salt to taste then adding only enough flour to make a firm dough. Now although this sounds vague it's meant to be as potatoes can turn out softer or firmer according to how much moisture they hold, so you need to be a little bit adaptable when you do this. By adding the flour one tablespoon at a time just to see what the consistency is like and then when it
holds its shape in my hand like this I know it's ready. Leave this potato mixture to one side while you prepare the sardine filling. Mash a drained tin of sardines with two teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice and enough cayenne and freshly ground black pepper to give it some punch. Then lightly flour a plate or board, take a handful of the dough and pat it out to about one centimetre thick, but make sure it hasn't stuck underneath. Spoon a little fish mixture onto each round, dampen the edges and then fold over and
seal. Dust both sides with flour to make sure it doesn't stick. Have about half a centimetre of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and then fry until crisp on both sides. You can keep them warm on a tray in the oven where you'll cook the rest or just eat them right away. Piping hot and crisp on the outside you've got this creamy potato surrounding the sardine filling, it's like the best fish and chips without the grease. To get the full recipe go to the Imperial War museums website now.

Victory in the Kitchen: Wartime Recipes

Book cover of Victory in the Kitchen: Wartime Recipes

For more inspiring rationing recipes why not try Victory in the Kitchen: Wartime Recipes?

Taken from the archives of IWM, these recipes show the ingenuity and creativity behind dishes rustled up out of meagre rations - from austerity recipes such as scrap bread pudding, potato pastry and sheep's heart pie to hearty English favourites including Lancashire hot pot, Queen's Pudding and crumpets.

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