Pig For Victory No.13: Potatoes & Women

The Wartime Garden has been more than just following the guidelines set out by the WarAg, it's been about understanding the problems that people on the domestic front during the war faced. We can never recreate the fear of losing a husband, father, daughter or son who was fighting, we can never recreate the rationing or the fear of the blitz but we can start to understand the fear of a failed crop, of bad government advice (which there was plenty) and food that did make a nation healthy but didn't always make them smile. Dig For Victory was not just confined to the war, and when troops came back from the front, they were faced with rationing and a declining taste palate. Army food was bad enough, but meat was available (even bully beef) to troops but at home those women left behind with children had been under six years of rationing. It also changed how women should have been seen in society, and our exploration of potatoes have shown this. A weekly ration for one adult was:

How potatoes liberated women


4oz of Bacon & Ham (roughly 113 grams of pork. The average slice of bacon weighs 25g. That means over seven days you will be allowed 4 1/2 slices of bacon - if available) 
Meat to the value of 1 shilling and sixpence (around about 1/2 lb minced beef)
2oz of Butter (the average butter packet is just under 9oz, 250g)
2oz of Cheese (like butter the average block of cheese is 9oz, 250g)
4 oz of Margarine (this actually no longer exists as it did in 1945. Most margarines blend fats are banned in most countries across the world).
40z of Cooking fat 
Milk 3 pints
8oz of Sugar 
1lb of Preserves every 2 months
2oz of Tea (Just under 57g of tea. A cup of tea for one takes 2.5g. This means that you could afford to drink around 22 cups a tea of week)
1 Fresh egg per week
12oz of Sweets/Candy every 4 weeks 

How women lead the war effort

On top of a job to support the war effort, Andrew's Great Aunts turned yellow whilst working in the Horwich Railway Works constructing tanks and shells, Carol's Grandma worked in hospitals, and during one blitz tossed an unexploded bomb out the window of children's ward. After all this this then had to devote at least an hour a day to growing their own. Much of the war propaganda around growing is devoted to strong men digging their plots, the reality was many of the plots were taken on by the retired or by women. There were attempts to engage women in propaganda through cosmetics.


Though the reality was much more like this, women on small and large plots, growing their own.



The ration showed the importance of growing vegetables and fruit at home, and the problems when crops failed. It also highlighted the concerns of the WarAg that most people would turn over the entire plots to spuds. Here comes a little bit of sexism, the WarAg felt old people and women would take the easy route in growing. You can see this in the propaganda of advertising during the war, women grew as a fashion accessory, men grew because they were strong. The fear that women would only plant spuds because they were easy, relatively quick to grow with minimum work came to the fore at the start of the war. You can see this in the original Dig For Victory leaflet series, which by No.19, was targeting female growers.

How women were sidelined for returning men.

However, after the war ended the target became once more, men, and the tone in the leaflets became less patronizing, less concerned that something could go wrong.

After the war even the propaganda was aimed at men again.

The fear that droves of women would plant potatoes was ill founded. The humble potato, though high in vitamins, lacks many of the necessary vitamins we need in a balanced diet. It was, and still is, prone to blight. Something that was experienced before and during the war. Turning your entire plot over to spuds would have made for an easy life for the lazy grower but many growers were already holding down a full time job on top of an allotment. Potatoes are high in a number of vitamins that we need, including Vitamin C and B6 it does not contain all the thirteen vitamins that the human body needs. Even during the war, the WarAg and Ministry of Food feared people would continue to peel their potatoes, and they knew that most of the vitamins people needed from the spud were contained in or just under the skin. Dig For Victory was much more than growing to feed a nation, it was necessary to supplement our diets, without the fruit and vegetables grown across the UK we would have lost the war. We would have starved. More than ever, during anytime since or before, the UK relied on women and women alone to save the country. Dig For Victory is the forgotten story of women on the domestic front. This can be seen in the Dig For Victory series during the war aimed at women, the posters targeted at women and then the drastic changes in food propaganda after 1946 towards men returning from war. Women on the home front, 1939-45, became another domestic chore that was expected of them as their men fought. There is a real loss here, as the battle at home was as vital as those over seas, something as simple as the potato reveals how much women, old, young, sisters, mothers, daughters contributed to the war effort on the domestic front. The Second World War in the end would liberate an entire generation of women and men from the idea of the nanny state. A fear that echoes to this day.

Women! Dig for Victory

Potatoes remained the backbone of the Wartime Garden, many people were told to grow them and carrots, if they only had small spaces to grow in. In urban areas, many of those growers were women working in factories. We'd still recommend if you only have a small space to grow spuds. The ingenuity of many women saw this diverse crop grown in used flour sacks, old tyres and as one old lady told us, in a stone water trough outside her back door. Potatoes became an iconic part of Dig For Victory, both as a fear and celebration. 

Potato Pete

Potato Pete embodied the celebration of spuds and his own song, sung by the Queen of Hotpots, Betty Driver (Betty Williams, late of Coronation Street):

Here's the man who ploughs the fields.
Here's the girl who lifts up the yield.
Here's the man who deals with the clamp, so that millions of jaws can chew and champ.  
That's the story and here's the star, 
Potato Pete
eat up, 
ta ta!

Celebrates the efforts of men and women during the war but again there is a sense that women are being sidelined as 'girls'. A big part of the war was paying to gender stereotypes. Though the potato for us have revealed the side-tracking of women who grew food during the war, it has been a vegetable that has shown a change in society during and after war. The potato, the act of growing it, changed the lives of millions during the war. Potatoes could have been the only crop between hunger and you. We have experienced it at Pig Row. Potatoes have become the saving crop at Pig Row. We have had failings over the last two years with some of the brassicas, and Dig For Victory was big on brassicas, and it showed us that those women and men who grew during the war were victims of weather and space. Bad weather, as in 1939/40, could wipe out the cabbages and greens. Spuds could be stored, spuds were not grown by the lazy, or the incompetent, they were grown by people who often had little space to grow. Grown by both men and women feeding their families. This year we wanted to celebrate the spud and grow it open ground and in any containers that came to hand, just as those in the war did. What was someone else's trash has become our container for spuds.

Growing in containers

Tyres can be used for growing spuds in, there are many things on the web that list the fear of toxins in tyres but most toxins in the average tyre are 'off-gassed' in the first year of use. In the average life span of a tyre, 20% of the tyre and most of the known toxins are lost to natural wear, they literally are worn off the tyre and blown away. This doesn't mean that tyres are good to grow in, or bad to grow in, the UK have banned tyres going to landfill and that is a good thing. Tyres can be recycled, they are largely rubber in construction and we need rubber. There has been an argument around using tyres in the garden for some years but there has yet to be any evidence that they are bad to grow in. They do have some upsides to growing in the ground, you control the soil environment, meaning that soil borne diseases are not a problem. They're easier to earth up and in a small space can allow you maximise yields, just keep stacking those tyres. Tyres are a waste product, and in the make do and mend world, they are a product that people on a budget can use. We got our's for free. We would advise though to only use tyres where the rubber is still intact and no inner wire can be seen. This is simple health and safety, wire cuts hands.


Potatoes in open ground

Unlike tyres, open ground is satisfying, the act of earthing up of using the area between rows to grow quick crops like radish are worth it but when you are stuck for space, look to containers, make your own choice. Potatoes are a liberating crop and there are million uses for them, the text below is from the 1940 Ministry of Food Leaflet No.3: Potatoes:



How to cook potatoes the war way

There is no vegetable more useful than the homely potato. Potatoes are a cheap source of energy, and they are one of the foods that help to protect us from illness. They contain the same vitamin as oranges and ¾ lb of potatoes daily will give over half the amount of this vitamin needed to prevent fatigue and help fight infection.


Potatoes save Shipping.

Potatoes, which are home-grown, give us the same kind of energy-food as cereals, which are imported. Eat them in place of bread and other cereals wherever possible, and you help to save shipping space.

So don’t think of potatoes merely as something to serve with the meat. They can be much more than that. A stuffed, baked potato can be a course in itself. Potatoes can be used, too, for soups, bread-rolls, pastry, puddings and even cakes, as the following recipes show.


Hints on cooking Potatoes:

Always cook them in their skins.
If you must peel them, peel thinly
After peeling, cook at once. Avoid soaking in water if possible

Boiled Potatoes

Scrub the potatoes, and put into boiling salted water using just enough water to cover. Cook with the lid on. Boil rapidly but do not let the potatoes break up and become ‘mushy’; When tender (this should be after 10-15 minutes cooking) drain carefully. Shake the potatoes gently in the saucepan over a low heat for a minute or two. This dries the potatoes and leaves them deliciously floury.

Baked Potatoes

Scrub the potatoes and prick them. Place in a hot oven and bake until tender. This method can be used when cooking the rest of the dinner in the oven, so saving the ‘top heat.’

Mashed Potatoes

Cook the potatoes by roasting or boiling, remove from the skins and beat well with a little hot milk, or margarine, if these can be spared. Add salt and fresh coarsely chopped parsley just before serving. Serve potatoes immediately as keeping them hot destroys some of their protective qualities. Use potato water for making soups, and gravies.
Potatoes left after a meal should be kept in a cool place and used for making pastry, pancakes, scones, potato salad or for thickening soups.

Potato Soup

1½ lb potatoes.
1 stick celery, a few spring onions, or a little leek.
2 tablespoonfuls chopped parsley.
1¾ pints of vegetable water or water.
1 teacup of milk or household milk.

Seasoning.

Method-Scrub and slice the potatoes and celery. Place in boiling salted water. Cook with the lid on until quite soft. Rub through a sieve or mash well with a wooden spoon. Add milk and re-heat, but do not re-boil. Sprinkle in coarsely chopped parsley just before serving.

Stuffed Potatoes.

Bake the potato whole without removing the skin. Cut a slice from the top. Take out the centre and mix with one of the following fillings. Pile back into the potato case and reheat for a minute or two under the grill or in the oven.

Fillings

Finely flaked fish or minced meat moistened with sauce or gravy.
A little yeast or vegetable extract and chopped parsley.
Finely chopped left over vegetables.
Grated cheese and a little milk.
Sausage meat.

Potato Salad

Boil 1 lb potatoes in their skins (extra can be done at dinner time). Peel and cut into dice. Add a little chopped onion. Bind together with salad dressing. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with watercress and shredded cabbage.

Potato Milk Pudding

10 oz shredded potato.
1 oz flour.
1 pint milk or milk and water.
1 oz sugar or 1-2 tablespoonfuls jam.
Nutmeg.

Method-Mix the flour and milk and boil. Shred the potato, but do not let it stand or it will go brown, and cover at once with milk and flour. Place in a pie dish, add the sugar or jam and stir. Sprinkle with grated nutmeg. Bake for 1½ - 2 hours.


Potato Scones

6 oz flour.
4 oz mashed potato.
1 teaspoonful baking powder.
½ teaspoonful salt.
1 oz fat.
4-5 tablespoonfuls milk.

Method-Mix the flour and salt. Add the baking powder and work into the mashed potato. Rub in the fat. Blend to a soft dough with milk. Roll out to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into rounds. Brush the tops with milk. Bake on greased baking sheets for 15 minutes in a hot oven. For a sweet scone add 1 oz sugar.


Potato Pastry (for savoury dishes)

8 oz mashed potatoes.
4 oz flour.
1 oz cooking fat.
½ teaspoonful salt.

Method-Mix the flour with the salt. Rub in the fat and work into the potato. Mix to a very dry dough with a small quantity of cold water. Knead with the fingers and roll out.


Potato Pastry (for sweet dishes).

8 oz flour.
4 oz mashed potato.
2 oz fat.
½ teaspoonful salt.
Method- Mix the flour and the salt. Cream the fat and the potato, add the flour, and a little water if necessary, to form a rather stiff dough.

Potato Sandwich Spreads Savoury.

Any of the fillings given for stuffing potatoes, mixed with a little mashed potato can be used for savoury sandwiches.

Sweet Potato chocolate spread

2 tablespoonfuls mashed potato.
1 tablespoonful cocoa.
1 tablespoonful sugar.
Almond or vanilla flavouring.
Method; Mash the potato thoroughly, mix in the cocoa, sugar and flavouring. Use as a spread in place of jam.

Note:-


As sugar, fats, jams and preserves are rationed, energy-giving foods available are limited. Therefore if we are to keep up our weight and health the unrationed foods, potatoes and bread, must be eaten in larger quantities. Potatoes come first because they are home grown.


In the garden:

In the kitchen:

Pig For Victory Series (Our own Dig For Victory pamphlets and films): 

Links to Andrew writing on the Wartime Garden for other publications:

Dig For Victory and Pre-War Films

You can type wartime garden in our search box to find more results.