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Backwords: Inventiveness

Mike Shaw recalls the days of SPAM, Cremola and home-made sweets.

Peppermint creams have a special place in my affections. Ever since the wartime days when I made them with my own hands.

They were, I’m afraid, a very primitive version of the sweets that are now passed round in little brown packets to round off four-course meals in fancy restaurants.

To start with, they were not chocolate coated. And the Peppermint flavour was sometimes barely discernible.

But in an era when sweet-starved youngsters were thankful for small mercies they were at least better than nothing.

My mother taught me the simple way of making them, adding a few drops of peppermint essence to a mixture which was rolled out in strips and then cut into pieces.

On April 24, 1949, the Government relented and lifted rationing of sweets and chocolate.

But the decision sparked off an invasion of such proportions at sweetshops throughout the nation that the free-for-all didn’t last very long.

So much chaos was caused by the sweet-tooth rush that the restrictions were put back on again four months later until rationing was abolished for good in 1951.

Puddings were never a problem for me when I was left to rustle up a makeshift meal. There was a wartime phenomenon called Creamola, a sort of instant pudding mixture, that could be served up in a matter of minutes and to which I became almost addicted.

Inventiveness was the name of the game as rationing limited our supply of just about everything from tea to tobacco, coffee to chocolate.

So, egged on by the Ministry of Food, housewives all over the country produced all kinds of inventive dishes and excelled themselves in the art of making a little go a long way.

Dried eggs and dried milk were rather unpleasant substitutes for the real thing. Unless you happened to keep a few hens or had a mate with a smallholding that produced fresh milk.

Boiled ham was frequently replaced on the Sunday teatime menu in our house by the ubiquitous SPAM, a tinned meat with the full name of Supply Pressed American Meat.

Fish was so hard to get that whale meat was touted by many shops as a substitute. And there was also a dreaded tinned fish from South Africa called snoek which even in those days of hardship we and many others simply couldn’t stomach.

My dad was a great lover of tripe, partly because - along with his bread and milk pobs - he said it was good for his stomach ulcers.

His faith in tripe gained the official backing of the medical profession who, in a little booklet which I dug up recently, said “It is about 18% protein with 3% fat and little or no carbohydrates.

“So this makes it first rate for everybody but particularly for elderly people and children, invalids and those with delicate digestions.

“And of course tripe is one of the best value-for-money foods there is. There’s no waste, gristle or fat.’’

Dad always ate it just as it was, seasoned with a little pepper and vinegar. But the British Medical Association’s booklet had dozens of recipes for tripe dishes with fancy names like tripe au gratin and tripe a la mode de Caen.

In the rationing years English-made cigarettes were snapped up as soon as they reached the shops. As a teenage smoker - I did manage to give up more than 40 years ago by the way - it was often a case of having to make do with foreign fags.

Woodbines, Gold Flake, Senior Service, Player’s and even the late lamented Turf brand were soon sold out. But nearly every cigarette shop we went into had a plentiful supply of the foul-tasting Pashas.

Young women of the day surely deserved a prize for ingenuity. When nylon stockings were as rare as T-bone steaks and champagne, they slapped on leg-tan from a bottle and drew imitation seams with eyebrow pencil.

It was a hard life, as they say. But many doctors reckon we were healthier then than we are now because we had none of the disorders that stem from over-eating.


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