One of my favourite little old cookery books is by Philip Harben, a truly larger than life character who was the first TV chef in the sense of being a celebrity as well as someone just instructing the viewers on how to cook. He was born in London in the autumn of 1906, and died well before his time in the spring of 1970.
Cooking Quickly by Mr Harben was published in 1946, just after the war, when Britain was recovering from nearly seven years of conflict and was still subject to rationing. In fact in the summer of 1946, due to disastrous harvests because of continual rain, bread was put on the ration, and in the winter of 1946 the severe weather cause potatoes to also be rationed. Mr Harben was very aware of the conditions that people lived in, and the difficulties of cooking when so much was rationed – he was so imaginative and creative that his book must have been a real delight to people wanting to make tasty, cheap and interesting meals for families and for guests.
This is what the blurb says:
The author of The Way to Cook (published 1945) deals, in this book, with a problem which has confronted most of us at one time or another – and which, indeed, under today’s conditions, confronts us continually, that of having to produce a meal or part of a meal in a hurry.
The first part contains recipes and instructions for those dishes which take the shortest time to cook, and describes the quickest way to cook them. There are also many recipes for impromptu knock-ups suitable for camp and other awkward occasions. There is a chapter on Dishes-Which-Can-Be-Left-To-Cook-Themselves, as also on Sandwiches and Picnic Food, and on cold food.
All the dishes in this book can be achieved on ordinary work-a-day rations, except for a few starred items which involve some sacrifice. There are also some dishes which pre-suppose that most of us are prepared, once in a while, to take an extra bit of time and trouble in order to get away, if only for a moment, from the more commonplace.
This short piece really gives an understated flavour of what it must have been like – ‘under today’s conditions’, and dishes which are produced which involve ‘some sacrifice’, for example. The last line suggests how dull, dreary and tough life was then, recovering from a brutal conflict. This being said, however, how much worse it must have been in some parts of war-torn Europe… makes one think