12 February 2009

They Can’t Ration These

The news these days has been filled with job loss and crashing stocks. I pulled out a lovely reprint of a book first published in 1940 in Britain. The book was written during the height of rationing brought on by the war and while we are not yet rationing, there might just be some things we can learn in They Can't Ration These by Vicomte de Mauduit.

In his preface he states:
The object of this book is to show where to seek and how to use Nature’s larder, which in times of peace and plenty people overlook and ignore.

The Vicomte was quite a guy. He was a cavalry officer, and aviator in World War I, an engineer in Egypt and a cookbook author. During World War II he was believed to have been captured by the Nazi and to have died in Germany. He ignore’s nothing that we might need to know in those (and these) sparse times. We are told how to make soap, how to use horse-radish to “cure “ freckles, and how to find wild bird eggs. There are an array of nifty recipes for hedgehog, squirrel, frogs and various other small winged creatures from Rooks to starlings. As for their eggs, be warned:

When Handling Eggs

If you suffer from a cut on the hands, be careful when breaking eggs that the cut is not in contact with the white, and in all cases if your fingers have been in contact with the white of eggs do not rub your eyes. The white of the eggs, or albumen, is equal in chemicals to the venom of the rattlesnake.
Who knew? It seems a bit odd that I can eat the eggs but not get the whites in my eyes.

Some of the recipes are so unencumbered, they seem to the modern reader to be comical. Truth be told, as someone who cooks a lot, I rather like these bare boned recipes!

Baked Bream

Clean, wash and wipe the fish, then wrap it in a buttered paper and bake in a moderate oven for about half an hour.

This lovely reprint of They Can’t Ration These was done by Persephone Books in London. Each of their reprints are done in simple grey card stock with endpapers taken from old wallpapers and textiles. For the Vicomte's book they chose "October" from a a fabric designed by Alma Ramsey-Hosking. Using the same inventiveness needed to persevere in 1940's rationing, Ramsey-Hosking's fabric was printed at her kitchen table using potato prints and paint on sugar paper. If you are unfamiliar with Persephone Books, take a look at their web site or visit them in London and linger.

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