November from the National Mark

It’s a fabulous autumn day, pale blue sky with a lovely opalescence along the horizon as the sea mist disappears, the sun strong enough to set the leaves glowing in all their vivid fire colours, the evergreens polished and shiny…

The National Mark Calendar of Cooking, the little recipe booklet produced in the early 30’s by the Ministry of Agriculture to encourage cooks to make the most of locally produced fruit and vegetables grown to a national standard, and to be creative in the kitchen.

Each month has a charming little introduction:

November, the month for fireworks! Fogs, cold rain; short afternoons, cosy evenings. Why not plan some fireworks in the kitchen? Now’s the time for those difficult dishes, but only difficult because they take a little longer than usual. Now we’ve time to spare. happy housewife,what will you try today?

The vegetable list lengthens: leeks and onions, celery,chicory, root vegetables and savoys, and spinach useful both to gourmet and dietician. Horseradish is here for roast beef, and for our lingering dessert the fragrant Cox’s Orange Pippin, the best apple in the world. No more plums, alas! But hothouse grapes are perhaps more suited to the season.

And if on foggy nights she wishes to conjure up the distant days of summertime, her national Mark genii of the can will help her. For here are peas and beans, tiny carrots for garnishing and even new potatoes. Fruit salads and pies sometimes taste even more delicious for being out of season, and blackberries, cherries, loganberries, strawberries, in fact nearly all the berries are waiting in their attractive tins for her to buy. Nor must our housewife forget that this is the eleventh month, nor omit to let National Mark help her with Christmas puddings, cakes and mincemeat.

In the days when Ambrose Heath wrote these little introductions, very few houses would have had central heating, most families would have had coal fires in their sitting and dining rooms, and heavy curtains at the un-double glazed windows. Many workers and school children would have cycled or caught the bus or train to work if it was too far to walk, and shops would have closed at five or maybe six o’clock. No freezers, not many refrigerators, and certainly no microwaves! Many women would have been at home, housewives, keeping the house clean and tidy and cooking all meals, as economically as possible. I’m not sure I would like to go back to those times, but it is an interesting snap shot on the past!

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