Winning ways with vegetables
My neighbour is a keen gardener. I watch him through the windows of the Blue House when I come out first thing in the morning to write. I watch him pass again, after work, inspecting the vegetables of his labour. When it’s dark and my blinds are down, I hear him sometimes, pacing the path in his oversized wooden clogs, slug hunting.
As I’m writing about World War 2, my characters should be keen gardeners, too. The Isle of Man didn’t turn into allotment-world like London seems to, when even the moat of the Tower of London was filled in, but the elders and internees do remember their constant searches for greens and their longings for fruit.
Today, I am reading “Bombers & Mash” by Raynes Minns, which has a big chapter on the pains taken by the Ministry of Food, who brought the war into the kitchen. The book has brilliant tips for turning one pound of butter into two by stirring boiled milk into creamed butter and how to make cakes without eggs. I read today about a woman who was fined ten pounds for throwing bread to the birds in the garden – a wasteful act of treachery. I learned about two brilliant egg substitutes, besides Bird’s Egg Substitute Powder. One asks us to cook tinned apricots in bacon fat and serve, “as egg-like as possible” on toast. The other says that tomato halves can be cooked in bacon fat, cut side down, and served, whereupon it will “resemble the yoke” of an egg. Tough times, those for vegetarians. I could go on about the benefits of swede and how, when it is grated into seedless jam, becomes a treat that any child might enjoy. I could offer recipes for “snoek piquante”, thrushes in paper, or sparrow pie, which “is not encouraged by the Ministry”, but I will, instead, offer up a recipe for Parsnip Wine, as one of my internees is usually thinking more about how to get a drink than an egg-less cake:
PARSNIP WINE: To each gallon of water take 3lb parsnips cut into 1/2″ pieces, 2 lemons and 1 orange, both cut small. (How they got those lemons and that orange is anyone’s guess) Boil until the parnips are soft, then strain and pour over 3lb. white sugar. (3 pounds of sugar? You could only get 2lb on the ration!) Stir until dissolved and bottle while warm, adding to each bottle a small piece of German yeast, about the size of a marble. (Hang on a minute – German yeast? In war time? When in my own country we renamed cooked potatoes and called them Freedom Fries?) Keep the bottle full while fermenting; after fermentation has ceased, cork and wire. “This is an excellent imitation,” says Bombers & Mash, “of champagne.” Cheers, then! Or as my internees would say, Prost!