Discussion in 'WWII Activities and Hobbies' started by Jack B, Jan 29, 2020.
Spam is best before the can is opened.
Pea soup was ubiquitous in the Second World War. It was eaten by soldiers and sailors of all sorts and on all sides of the ETO. I’ve read accounts of pea soup (of a sort) being eaten by internees, POW’s, and even French Foreign Legionnaires in Finland. The variations are numerous, but I suspect they all come out more or less the same.
Most of all, I associate pea soup with the Wehrmacht’s Erbsensuppe. The Prussian military developed a Pea Soup concentrate called erbswurst for use in the war of 1870. It was popular enough that Knorr bought up a patent for domestic use.
I grew up eating a peas soup that my German grandfather relished.
I’ve got a translation of a German Field cookbook (Feldkochbuch H.Dv.86 from 1938, re-issued 1941) that discusses using canned pea soup. The cook book is remarkably flexible, with suggestions on how to augment canned army soup with pasta, canned meat, or potatoes.
The U.S. Navy cookbook has a recipe for yellow split pea soup, but also this ‘creamed’ version:
That looks OK, but I recall reading a story of a soldier who felt sick while being transported on a USN ship because all there was to eat was “pea soup and hotdogs.” Word to the wise.
Obviously it wasn’t just the military using pea soup. Pea soup was ‘tinned’ in the UK for use in air-raid shelters and the emergency feeding of populations of bombed cities in Blitz-ravaged England.
English papers had recipes and columns extolling the virtues of this ration-friendly dish.
The Guardian, 1940
The Guardian, 1941
Canadians also jumped on the pea soup bandwagon:
Once the USA entered the war, ea soup recipes started showing up in papers under ‘Victory Recipe’ and ‘War Kitchen’ columns. The humble pea was going to win the war.
For my pea soup today, I kept it fairly simple:
1 pound split peas, soaked overnight
1 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
5 strips thick bacon
A big pinch of dried thyme
salt & pepper
I sautéed the bacon in a Dutch oven, then added the onion, celery, and carrot to the bacon grease. Once softened, I added a couple cups of cold water and the peas in their soaking liquid. I set that to simmer for a few hours, making sure there was always enough water in the pot to cover the peas by a 1/2”. At the end of the cooking time, I began stirring the soup up to break down the peas and thicken the soup. (The German field cookbook is adamant about that: “Field food means thick liquid, not soupy cooking! Excess water means little satisfaction!”) I added salt, pepper, and thyme at the end. A little extra salt just before serving. This really couldn't be easier.
The German army cook book recommends adding a little roast onion or dehydrate onion, so I sprinkled that on for a little visual interest, then added a some chopped tomatoes (to win over Mrs Jack).
Mrs Jack loved it and so did I, but that didn’t stop me from adding a little of the GI’s best friend: Tabasco. That took it to ‘eleven’.
In my mind, one of the most iconic dishes of the Second World War has to be “Lord Woolton Pie”. I first heard of the dish when watching the classic BBC series “The World At War”.
An English survivor recollected that during rationing they had eaten “Lord Woolton Pie”. She expressed a wistful sense of enjoyment, but then went on to note they didn’t eat it anymore. She wondered aloud why that was the case…hmmmm.
That got me curious….
With the collapse of Netherlands, Belgium, and France in May and June of 1940, Britain was looking awfully isolated. The German assault on shipping wasn’t in full swing, but was still impacting imports.
The War Cabinet was following closely:
Potatoes were looking promising:
With meat already being rationed, further rationing seemed necessary. Lord Woolton appears to have well anticipated those “long, hard times to come.” In December 1940 he was giving general warnings along with reassurances:
In War Cabinet meetings the news was more concrete:
War Cabinet memo, 31/12/1940 (apologies for the poor image)
With less meat on the table, the MoF developed additional vegetarian recipes to promote a varied diet. The fear was that without some creativity and novelty, the public would soon tire of the humble spud and carrot. Some variety was called for.
Allegedly, the dish that would become known as the “Woolton Pie” was created at the Savoy Hotel in London by Chef Francis Latry. (ref Wiki)
Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 14/3/1942
But what was it?
The question was addressed in Parliament:
Winnipeg Tribune, 29/6/41
This seems fairly simple and not very ‘chefy’. Probably part of it’s design. It would appear to be a fairly bland dish and I could see why I kept reading comments about its being “not especially liked” or “generally disliked”. Still, the Queen had said she tried it and at least gave it the Royal word of approval. How could I not try it?
For my filling I used:
3 medium potatoes
3 medium beets
1 small onion
2 medium leeks
1 very large carrot
3/4 of a cauliflower head
2 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tsp Vegemite
Salt & Pepper
All the veg ingredients got diced up in relatively small pieces.
A word here on my selections: the onion might be a bit of a luxury. During the war, onions were often hard to come by. Some recipes emphasize using an onion if available. Fortunately, for me, an onion “was available”.
Also, there was a turnip (Swede) available in the market, but it was a sad sort of thing. While a turnip might have been more authentic, I choose a small bunch of beets instead. The recipe calls for using ‘available vegetables’ and Mrs Jack loves beets. So, beets it was.
All the ingredients went into a pot with a bit of water. I added a spoon of Vegemite and a couple good ‘glugs’ of Worcestershire sauce. I simmered the veggies until they were softened up .
The veggie mix got seasoned with a bit of extra salt and pepper then went into a deep pie plate. This all got topped with a crust made from one of Potato Pete’s recipes.
I increased the fat to 2+ oz of butter. This made a soft, but delicate crust. Seemed to work out OK.
Once assembled, I popped the whole thing into a 375ºF oven and waited for the crust to brown up. (I had it on a higher oven rack and I think that led to some uneven browning.)
The instructions recommend serving with ‘brown gravy’; so I dutifully made up some gravy, starting with a roux. I added some more Worcestershire sauce and a little vinegar. This gave my gravy a bit of tanginess. I was also fairly generous with the salt and pepper.
I served a ‘slice’ of pie with gravy and some chopped dill.
I thought this was good and filling. Mrs Jack's verdict: “I really like this.”
We both really enjoyed the taste of the beets. The dill and tangy gravy helped bring a bit of character and life to the 'pie'. The ‘crust’ was a bit plain, but worked. We both cleaned our plates. I think the oatmeal is a stroke of genius: it thickened up the pie filling, made it seem unctuous and rich, and added some great flavor (to my surprise).
In sum…a good satisfying dish. Neither of us felt hungry or felt the need for more food. But before I give Lord Woolton the win here, I will say that I thought it was a lot of work for what turned out to be some chopped up veg with gravy.
I think the selling point here it that it seems like a main course. The pie looks inviting (or would be if cooked by a better cook). Mrs Jack and I both thought it was a festive dish. I could see where, in a state of ration, when meat has been scare and the blitz has been battering away, a dish like this would provide a bit of a morale boost in addition to a full belly.
However, I spent a fair amount of time making filling, crust, and gravy. And then was faced with a good bit of clean-up.
In retrospect, I think I’d simplify this to making a veg-mix, adding some herbs and mushrooms (if available), and then topping it off with some mashed potatoes, ala ‘Shepherd’s Pie’. Pop that in the oven for an easier, less time consuming version.
But don’t let me dissuade you from giving the Wartime classic a try. It was good. Mrs Jack and I are both looking forward to leftovers tonight!
Above looks delish...we like our pies in Australia.
Can I put a request for ANZAC biscuits? Would love for you to try them...
Ha! You have anticipated me.....
I have made ANZAC biscuits in the past and look forward to discussing their history (and being corrected for my misunderstandings). I went looking for Lyle's Golden Syrup only today--a rare thing here in the States. I anticipate a batch being forthcoming this weekend. Good eats!
I've heard of pea soup referred to as "liquid Spam".
I've never made pea soup with Spam, but I think it would work just fine. In which case, the name might apply.
I always felt the can that it was packed in gave it all the needed flavor!
Tasted like rin-tin-tin?
*No dogs were harmed in the making of this Spam.
I've been hungry enough to eat much worse.
Quite a healthy dish that would meet the approval of the environmentalists. I sampled the Imperial War Museum cafe's version when they were serving wartime food and In was underwhelmed.
Lord Woolton was a senior executive in Lewis a chain of department stores in the North of England. He turned around the fortunes of the Conservative party after 1945 when he joined and soon after became party chairman. Credited with winning the 1951 election.
Mrs Jack and I have each had three (3) portions of my version of Woolton pie, now, and are enjoying it. I don't think it's going to go down as one of history's great dishes, but it is good and filling. Mrs Jack is even making noises about having it on a recurring basis. I credit the beets, which she loves, and the splashes of Worcestershire sauce. And the dill.
I really do encourage everyone to try making it for themselves.
This subject feels like a bit of a minefield for a Yank to tread through, but “no guts, no glory” so here goes…..
The origins of the ANZAC biscuit (call it a biscuit or a ‘crispie’, but never a ‘cookie’, or else you won’t be given a second one.) are lost in the mists of time. Yeah, the name—ANZAC—gives us a clue, but the origins are likely much, much older.
All well loved dishes come laden with pride and opinion, the ANZAC crispie seems to be no exception. There will be opinions: thin and crispy vs thick and chewy, fruit vs no fruit, honey vs golden syrup, pure oats or with coconut…..
It’s also clear to me that the ANZAC crispie has evolved over time, and perhaps continues to evolve to this day. So, if I stir up a bit of controversy with this post, be assured that that just seems to go with the territory.
The Australian War Memorial has several web-pages dedicated to the ANZAC biscuit. That right there tells a story of how important this biscuit is.
But there are multiple resources in various media that add to the story. The current edition of The Joy of Cooking has a recipe. There are videos available on YouTube.
From my research and reading, it seems that the crispie is very old. It’s likely it’s roots go back to the Scottish highlands and the humble oatcakes eaten by Scottish warriors (or ‘Border Reivers’) on the march.
“A very authoritative sounding history comes from Kate Baxter in New Zealand. She tells us : Anzac Biscuits are based on Scottish Oatcakes. Scottish settlers to New Zealand and Australia served these for breakfast or lunch with meat, cheese, or jam. My great-grandmother's recipe has no sugar, or coconut which would not have been available in the mid nineteenth century. Sugar and sugar syrup were added sometimes as ingredients by the 1890's and the oatcakes served occasionally as a biscuit.”
— The Gunroom of HMS Surprise
“For 18 months, culinary historian Allison Reynolds trawled through old recipe books trying to discover the origins of this famous Australian snack.
"The thing you have to remember is the Anzac biscuit wasn't called this before 1915 because that's when the acronym came in after Gallipoli," Ms Reynolds said.
The first version of this rolled oats-based biscuit reportedly appeared around 1823, and over the next century took on various names such as 'surprise biscuits' and ‘crispies'.
"Then around the early WWI years you started to see the name change to 'red cross biscuits' and 'soldiers biscuits'," Ms Reynolds said.”
— ANZAC day 2018
This fragment of handwritten recipe dates back to at least 1919:
It seems that during the First World War, concerned family and friends would make these biscuits to send to soldiers and sailors serving overseas. Refrigeration was not available, so a ‘shelf-stable’ biscuit was called for. The old crispie—being eggless, with plenty of sugar, and baked up nice and brown—was just the thing.
Recipes for these biscuits start showing up in newspapers in the 1920’s and 30’s under the name ‘ANZAC’ biscuit. And they proved popular.
In the Second World War, these biscuits were again (..err…still being) made and likely sent to troops serving in distant countries, but it also seems that they were being made and sold at home for fund-raisers to support the war-effort indirectly. I say likely because there is some question. Since refrigeration was available, there is some speculation that fancier items were being sent, like fruit cake. All I can say is that when I was deployed (in the 2000’s) my care packages weren’t refrigerated and didn’t contain cakes of any kind, but I did get some ‘biscuits’.
Regarless, the ANZAC biscuit seems to be destined to be forever linked with Australia’s service in both world wars.
But which version?
It seems that somewhere in the early 1900’s, coconut started being added to the ANZAC biscuit. However, while the addition of coconut is wide-spread, this is not necessarily a standard practice. In general, it seems to me that the more contemporary a recipe is, the more likely it is to use coconut.
Here’s a traditional recipe from a 1988 cookbook:
Australian Heritage Cookbook
This one is fairly close to my favorite recipe and is from 1920:
The Argus, 1920
ANZAC biscuits have only gained in popularity over time, with recipes showing up everywhere in cookbooks and the internet. Not always for the better, I might add. E.g.:
Ottawa Citizen, 10/10/1981
Corn syrup is not an acceptable substitute for Golden Syrup! C’mon, Canada!
Now that I’ve tipped my hand with regard to my biases, here is my recipe and results:
1 cup flour
2 cups oats
1/2 cup white sugar
1 big pinch salt
- Mix the above together and set aside.
- Melt 1/2 cup butter.
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons golden syrup
- Stir the above together until well mixed. Add butter and syrup mix to the oat mixture and mix well.
- Take large teaspoons of dough (I like my crispies on the large side) and press into round disks on non-stick baking paper. These will spread out as they bake. Bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for about 10 minutes (or until brown). Let cool on wire racks until crisp!
The joy of these are their simplicity (and heritage). If you are looking for a wild mix of flavors, for triple chocolate macadamia nut cookies or Dirty Chai Latte Biscotti, these are not the biscuit for you.
I also think the addition of coconut is not necessary and may detract a bit (Mrs Jack agrees here). I’ve tried making these thick, with honey, with coconut, with less oats, etc….. I think the 1920 approach is still the best: keep 'em simple.
If you are looking for a bit of history in a simple, dignified biscuit, you can’t do any better.
There may have been refrigeration for US Forces. How else were they to keep ice cream and coca cola cold? There is a reference to fresh cakes in the Battle of the Bugle movie.
However, British and commonwealth forces were famous for their neglect of consumer comforts. Whoever was sending packages might have hoped they would make their way to soldiers on or near the front line in the desert or jungle. Industrial strength fruit cake could be supplied. Tinned fruit cake and puddings mixed fruit AKA "Christmas pudding" was part of post war composite rations.
The fresh cake in that movie had come by mail. The bad guy mutters something about excess transport capabilities. We did refrigerated trailers, but first priority for those was plasma storage.
I definitely like my plasma fresh and chilled.
Hmmm...I’m not sure I’ve seen an ANZAC look quite like that...seems (from one photo) a little brown/dark and too much oats...were they chooey or crunchy?
Mine might be a little thinner than the norm. I think that's because I press them down (as opposed to forming small balls) before baking. That is a tip I got from a recipe....somewhere. I prefer them to be crunchier. These are crunchy, although the centers are still a bit chewy. My impression is that the original biscuits were called 'crispies' and derived from Scottish oatcakes. So I go for thin, crispy, and no coconut.
There seem to be variations from place to place and family to family. If you are used to having ANZAC biscuits made with coconut, the above batch will look like they have too much oatmeal. In the coconut versions, half the oats are replaced with coconut.
If you like 'em thicker and chewier, reduce the Golden syrup in my recipe to 1 tablespoon, keep the mix a bit drier, and shape the dough into balls or thick disks before baking.
Here's a shot from the AWM, when they used a similar 1920's recipe:
These, with coconut, are from Canes Restaurant in Australia (now closed). They look quite good (albeit a bit more modern):
I've seen some versions that were frosted with icing! (Or is it 'iced with frosting'?)
My take is that as long as they are made at home with the most important ingredients--pride and love--they'll be well received on any front.
Make a batch and let's see an Aussie's take on the ANZAC biscuit! Don't leave this important subject to a Yank!
They make really good WW1 themed tins to house ones ANZACs too...would make a good collection.