Review: Wartime Farm

Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman and Alex Langlands over the last few years have brought agricultural history to life and their enthusiasm for everything from bees to the blacksmith has kept millions of viewers glued week on week to the highs and lows of their trek through history. The books that accompanied these series have often been engaging but with the Wartime Farm they have really stepped up to the mark, this is a book that is not just engaging, it captures the essence of the war on the home front and of the time Ginn, Goodman and Langlands spent behind the camera in their day to day lives on Manor Farm.

It may be that at Pig Row, we found ourselves more drawn to the self-sufficiency nature of this book. The grow your own and make do and mend movement owes a debt to those allotment growers and farmers of the second world war. The movement was born out of necessity, something the Wartime Farm discusses, but the legacy of what happened to us as nation of growers is still felt today. This is what Wartime Farm is good at, it is not merely a history book, it is a living history book and history that many of us can recognise today. 

Reclaiming the land, written by Peter Ginn just showed how many acres of land were available to the British then and now, 57 million acres. For those of us who do grow on small holdings, farms, allotments or even in the back garden the idea of trying to make anything of this size productive would be a mammoth task. Nearly a third of this acreage was available to cultivate. It is an amazing thought that by 1944, 18 million acres alone were in arable use. There is no surprise then that part of this book is handed over to the volunteers who drove the war on the home front from the Women Land Army to the Lumber Jills. It is the social history aspect of these chapters that reveal the tensions of the time, the fears and the amazing day in, day out tasks that ordinary people undertook. Ruth Goodman really comes into her own in chapters that concern domestic history and the chapters on food, such as, Home Food Production really tap into a contemporary movement, foraging. She shows the rise of the Pig Club, something that has risen again around this area, there are Pig Clubs all over these Yorkshire hills now. There are wonderful recipes around processing pigs, which weren't in the series, and this is why the book in a must read, the potted pork recipe makes your mouth water and the chapter on Preserving really makes you realise how much our modern society avoids living by the seasons. The act of foraging and preserving for winter is older than the second world war drive to produce jam but shows how easy, how readily a community can come together to feed everyone. Jam was the nation's favourite and probably still is, there is nothing like homemade jam and in this chapter Goodman shows the social history surrounding this. It is the Wartime Recipes which most interested to us, from the mock fish made from rice and the coconut ice. Something we can see Little D consuming with glee. Alex Langland enthuses throughout the book on the very thing that made this possible, the land and the ever changing technologies of the time which allowed farmers and volunteers to bring million acres of land into use, from the tractor to the horse, to the making of a skep. Each chapter flows into the next, easy to read, with real practical skills that you can employ today from canning to weaving.

This book is unlike previous outings from these authors. There is a real sense that this series more than any of the other outings has really brought home to them how much the second world war has forged the modern world. This social impact is captured as Langlands states at the end of the book, 'The full horror of the totalitarian regime offered by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party makes, in my mind, the compromise of the British landscape by the Ministry of Agriculture's methods justified. But I wonder if, in peacetime, we don't do those heroes of wartime farming an injustice by making the same compromise simply in the pursuit of greater profit margins and even cheaper food'. This may be a legacy of those highly productive years but the grow your own movement owes a debt to those farmers.

If you like gardening, growing, preserving, making your own, mending your own or are just a war enthusiast, there is something new in this book for you. This book will help you to rediscover skills and the spirit of the era; that have been somewhat lost in a modern world. They are still there, we just need to remember we can still do it. This book shows you the way.

This book was received to review by Pig Row for free. All views expressed here are those of Pig Row.