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Liverpool Blitz: Growing your own food in wartime

Children dig a potato patch at Colomendy
Children dig a potato patch at Colomendy camp, North Wales

In 1939 around half of all Britain's food was imported by sea. With German attacks on British ships it became important for people to grow their own food where they could. The government began a campaign using the 'Dig For Victory' slogan.

Parks, allotments, gardens and even window boxes were used to grow food. Many people grew vegetables on top of and even inside their Anderson shelters (the dark and damp was ideal for mushrooms).

Vegetables were encouraged rather than fruit as they generally grow quicker. Potatoes were especially popular, mainly because they are so versatile and go with almost anything. People living in the country were encouraged to make use of wild fruit, plants and animals - young nettles could be made into sauce or cooked like spinach. Some people even tried to grow their own tobacco.

'Allotmenteering in wartime' booklet
'Allotmenteering in wartime' booklet
(larger version, opens new window)

You have to remember that shops in the 1940s aren't like supermarkets today. You didn't have things like strawberries all year - you only had them when they were in season. People didn't have freezers then either, so it was important that people knew how to pickle and preserve all of their excess produce. You could exchange your jam ration for extra sugar with which to make more jam.

Government leaflets were handed out advising on many topics including:

  • coping with garden pests
  • drying apples, plums, onions, mushrooms and herbs
  • salting and stringing beans
  • bottling and pickling fruit and vegetables

The Ministry of Food ran cookery demonstrations and radio programmes showing people how to use all their homegrown produce.

Activity

Try to make this weird sounding wartime recipe.

Pineapple Spread

1 lb of parsnips
1 cup of water
3oz of golden syrup or sugar
2 teaspoons of lemon substitute
1 teaspoon of pineapple flavour

Grate and simmer the parsnips in the water. Stir in the other ingredients. When the mixture is soft and juicy put it in a jar and leave it to cool.

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