The Ration Book Diet (3rd Edition)
– By Mike Brown, Carol Harris, C J Jackson
A fun, interesting book that effortlessly combines two of my greatest loves: history and food. If you’re into cooking and healthy eating, this little recipe book would make a quirky addition to your shelf.
The Ration Book Diet is half social history, half recipe book. Beautifully illustrated with posters and photos from the period, the first part details how and why rationing was adopted in Britain during the Second World War, while the second offers over sixty Ration Book style recipes that have been ‘updated’ for you to try at home.
Given my love of social/cultural history, and my arguably greater love of food, I was very excited to review this book – and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Not only is it a very pretty little book, filled with posters and photographs from the period, but it’s also a genuinely fun and interesting read, making for a quirky addition to any cookery book collection.
The first section offers an informative (if a tad repetitive) and easy to read overview of how and why rationing came about during the Second World War, as well as a comparison between the so-called ‘Ration Book Diet’ and the British diet today – with the latter found wanting in more ways than one.
That’s actually what I found most surprising and fascinating about this book; I am already well versed in how flawed the modern Western diet is, but I didn’t realise just how healthy the wartime diet actually was. It was, according to this book, the healthiest Britain has ever been! Essentially, the First World War (among other things) highlighted that malnutrition was a real problem in the poorer areas of Britain. As the Second World War loomed ever closer, the government saw an opportunity to test their new theories on nutrition and diet on a willing – and hungry – population. Cue the Ration Book Diet: rich in vegetables and cereals, low in fats and meat. A little lacking in flavour and variety, granted, but still – healthier than the world of fast food and added sugar/salt that we live in today. This diet, combined with other government initiatives such as encouraging people to keep active through lots of walking and gardening, and ensuring school children received adequate quantities of milk, did wonders for the British population – and would likely do wonders for many of us today.
The second half of the book then offers over sixty seasonal recipes inspired by the Ration Book Diet for you to try – with just a few tweaks here and there for the modern reader (replacing mutton, for example, with the more readily available lamb). I was impressed by how much variety there was in this book, with the number of delicious recipes (Date and Hazelnut Tea Bread, Haddock and Chive Fishcakes, Mixed Vegetable Curry, to name a few) far out-weighing the ‘bland’ dishes I was expecting. In fact, the only thing that sounds unappealing is the Oatmeal Drink (literally just Oatmeal, water and some sugar). There are no photos of the dishes, which is a shame, but instead each recipe includes nutritional values, and for the super-keen there is even a ‘Suggested Menu’, showing how you can divide up your Ration Book meals throughout the course of a week. I don’t know if I’d ever be willing to go full Ration Book Diet, but I am confident that dishes like the Baked Sweet Potatoes with Honey and the Lamb, Aubergine and Olive Stir Fry will secure themselves a permanent place on my roster of go-to weekday dinners.
You can order a copy of The Ration Book Diet here.
PS: Watch this space for some recipe write ups, as I attempt some of the more appealing dishes in the book.