Ration books, root vegetables and recession thrift in the wartime garden at Newquay Zoo

Pak choi from our first Autumn harvest 2009, adult ration book and original wartime gardening magazines from the zoo's wartime life collection (Copyright: World War Zoo project, Newquay Zoo)

The popularity of carrot cake and baked potatoes in the Newquay Zoo cafe are only two of our wartime legacies from rationing.

The 70th anniversary of  wartime rationing of food in Britain takes place this year, something which was to dominate the British household for the next 14 years from bacon, ham , sugar and butter going on ration on 8 January 1940 until the last item – meat – came off ration in June 1954.

 Between  these two dates, Meat was rationed in March 1940. (Zoo animals didn’t get ration books!)

In April 1940 the amazingly energetic Lord Woolton of Woolton pie fame became Minister of Food. 

July 1940 saw tea, margarine, cooking fats, and cheese were rationed. March 1941 – Jam, marmalade, treacle and syrup rationed.

The distinctive National Dried Milk tin nestling (centre left) amongst some of our wartime life collection of World War Zoo items NewquayZoo (Copyright: photo by Michelle Turton, Newquay Zoo)

June 1941 – Egg distribution controlled and a year later June 1942 American Dried egg powder on sale (still available 70 years later from the 1940s Society online shop). 

November 1941 saw milk controlled and in December 1941 National Dried Milk introduced in its distinctive tins.   

 Some of our older zoo volunteers in their fifties and sixties remember  the end of sweet rationing in February 1953, 11 years after being rationed in July 1942, something they happily talked about  at our last wartime garden weekend in August 2009. Few had much positive to say about whalemeat and snoek fish  available for sale from January 1945 or the wartime bread which was finally rationed after the war from January 1946 to July 1948 as the rest of Europe needed to be fed. Off the ration came jam in December 1948, Tea in October 1952, Sweets in February 1953, Eggs in March 1953, Cream in April 1953, Butter, cheese, marg and cooking fats in May 1954 and Meat in June 1954. 

The web editor of Yesterday’s Spirit of 1940 blog has gamely submitted herself to this wartime ration diet http://uktv.co.uk/yesterday/homepage/sid/8145 and chef Valentine Warner explores  the ration book cooking in the UK TV series Ration Book Britain http://uktv.co.uk/yesterday/item/aid/632575

There are plenty more interesting  reproduction ration cookery books (good ones by Mike Brown or Gill Corbishley) available in the exhibition shop  for the  fabulous new exhibition  about food, rationing and gardening opens this week at the Imperial War Museum London, entitled Ministry of Food (running until  3 January 2011) http://food.iwm.org.uk/. The  online shop is a good source of seeds, posters and reproduction gardening and cookery books.

Our original wartime and postwar ration books , cookery books and gardening advice leaflets and posters on display at our first wartime garden event in August 2009 were much talked about and handled  and will be some of the many evocative items back on display at our  1 to 3 May 2010 second  World War Zoo wartime garden weekend at Newquay Zoo. Our 2010 seeds from garden magazines and the IWM shop should be in the ground on our World War Zoo garden Plot No. 1, formerly the Lion House Lawn, and growing happily by then as well.  

Delabole Co-op and Camelford stores in Cornwall for meat, registered with Haddy's for other rationed items, (is Haddy's still going?) this well used (light brown adult RB1) Ration Book from Cornwall is part of our wartime life collection (copyright: World war Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo).

There are good short films  about food, rationing and gardening at http://food.iwm.org.uk/ with more resources in their  online shop full of seeds, posters and reproduction books. 

Whilst I wait eagerly to see the new exhibition book by Jane Fearnley -Whittingstall , I’ve enjoyed reading the fabulous book from the IWM online shop by Patricia Nicol, Sucking Eggs: What Your Wartime Granny Could Teach You about Diet, Thrift and Going Green … 

This sets out the very strong parallels between wartime rationing and supply shortages and our recent  recession thrift, grow your own,  transition towns and allotment culture approach to the environment, climate change and sustainability. We love this book and one copy isn’t enough to circulate around our zoo staff.

This book (and the IWM exhibition) is everything that our wartime garden is exploring in colourful vegetable form for zoo visitors .

We started thinking about Peak Oil at the zoo after the fuel strike of 2001. We’ll blog more this year as we watch our garden grow about the “let your shopping save our shipping” approach to food miles and local food today compared to the worst days in wartime when one in four merchant navy ships was being sunk by enemy action. This  makes even more poignant our handmade wartime sliding puzzle Christmas toy made from an old Australian butter box, submitted as part of the BBC’s online museum for A History of the World in 100 objects series (see previous blog entries).

Petrol ration books from the 1940s, Wartime life collection (copyright: World War Zoo gardens project, Newquay Zoo)

Meanwhile look out for Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff short cartoon film http://www.storyofstuff.com/ and blog http://www.storyofstuff.com/blog/ to see how Britain and many countries are still very dependent on shipping and lorries for delivery, then having to think about packaging and recycling …

Any favourite rationing recipes, we’d love to hear from you via the Blog comments page.

Happy reading, digging, gardening , cooking and recycling!

Off to eat Potato Pete (Baked jacket potato, a popular Victorian street food) and carrot cake in the zoo cafe … Mmm.


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9 Responses to “Ration books, root vegetables and recession thrift in the wartime garden at Newquay Zoo”

  1. teeth whitening products Says:

    I found your blog post while searching Google. Very informative, especially since this is not an issue a lot of people are familiar with…


    • worldwarzoogardener1939 Says:

      Many thanks – we are finding it really interesting researching this subject of zoos surviving wartime. We hope you enjoy reading more and pass this on.


  2. Susan Says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.




  3. Melanie Says:

    Thank you for writing this. Gardening was a favorite pastime of mine, with my mom when I was little. It’s a good idea to keep it going for the upcoming generation.


    • worldwarzoogardener1939 Says:

      Thanks for your comment – glad you enjoyed reading this. Hopefully we’ll inspire a whole new generation of gardeners.


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  5. John Harker Says:

    I can clearly remember whilst at school in Henley on Thames during the war, the only ‘biscuits’ that were freely available to us to buy, were the wafers which were used to serve ice cream. They were very cheap, Some of the older children were allowed to go shopping for us, we would get about 12 wafers for one poenny ( 1d ) They were dry and tastless and we used to eat them by the handful! It was all we had. I also still have a 2lb tin of Margine which was sent from Australia – ( Pilot Beach Table Margarine with Vitamins. ) Still unopened! – and my Ration Book – I was registered with a Mr. Jones the Grocer — I still remember him as well. Dudley Jones of Reading Roads, Henley on Thames


    • worldwarzoogardener1939 Says:

      Thanks for your comments – fascinating reading, adding to all the comments I heard from my evacuee parents who grew up in wartime on rationing and long had a penchant for sweets (now that they were off ration). I hope yopu continue to enjoy reading the blog and also that you write or tape / record your memries for future generations. We’ve had several intersting letters / emails of memories sent to us at Newquay Zoo, Newquay, Cornwall TR7 2LZ or to mark.norris@newquayzoo.org.uk These are always very popular items for visitors or schools to read during wartime zoo gardens events days. Many thanks Mark Norris


    • worldwarzoogardener1939 Says:

      John Harker
      Many thanks for your memories of wartime rationing. These were probably wafers ‘left over’ as ice cream itself was banned. The wartime seaside (holiday) with its wired off and mined beaches and no ice cream in places like Newquay where my Zoo is based must have been very different for children!
      It must have been much the same around the coast of my sister zoos Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts in Devon, with preparation for D-Day, the disastrous Operation Tiger etc. I’ve posted on the blog about this around about the anniversary of D-Day last year. It’s on our blog archive https://worldwarzoogardener1939.wordpress.com

      Glad to see you still have your ration book and Australian marg tin. In our collection on display is a wartime hand-made sliding puzzle made form an Australian Butter Box by a father for his daughter – we placed it on the digital museum for the History of The World in 100 Objects last year. Maybe there should be a commemorative statue of an Australian Cow from the grateful people of wartime Britain, carved in Butter no doubt?
      My late grandmother who went through both world wars used to slap on butter to any bread in huge quantities with great relish when she cooked for us in the 1970s which we used to remove. Looking back this is probably a celebration of post war de-rationing of butter. It was much the same with sweets on our house too!

      It would be good to include your snippet of rationing memories in our forthcoming displays and schools pack on wartime life if you are happy for this.

      Mnay thanks, Mark


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