1244030167-1288Issued in October 1939, the Ration Book became a familiar sight in every British household. The government’s rationing scheme, which continued until 1954, strictly regulated the amounts of basic food every person was allowed, making feeding a family a nightmare for Forties housewives. This is when Marguerite Patten, TV chef and government advisor,  was invited to show women how to keep their families healthy on the rations available.

Marguerite Patten was born in Bath but eventually moved to High Barnet in North London where she  trained as a Home Economist. In 1942 she became a senior Food Adviser in the Ministry of Food and spent her time giving cookery demonstrations around the country.

Dinner ladies and chefs in factories, hospitals and office canteens as well as the housewives of London’s East End came to hear her advise on how to make the best of the meagre wartime rations.

Rather than lecturing people and telling them off, Marguerite chose to tempt them to try out her recipes. In an interview with the Guardian she confesses: “The government now has a finger-wagging approach to what food we should be eating, which isn’t right at all. At the Ministry of Food, we were taught never to lecture, but to tempt people, to lure people. That’s the single best bit of advice I’ve ever had. We used to stand in factory canteens and say “Ooh, what a lovely pudding this is! Isn’t it a blessing that it wasn’t made with an egg?”‘

With hardly any milk, butter, eggs, sugar or meat available, Pattern’s recipes took a back-to-basics approach. Creativity and experiments with unusual ingredients were all part of war time cooking too, including using whale meat and plenty of root vegetables such as swedes (“top it with cinnamon or breadcrumbs”) and potatoes.

Patten published her first book in 1947, the same year she became the first woman cook on British television in the BBC’s programme ‘Design for Women’. She has written more than 170 books, selling 17 million copies worldwide, and in 1991 was awarded an OBE for “services to the art of cookery”.

With food prices at new heights and our pockets empty thanks to the credit crunch, maybe it’s time to revisit Patten’s rationing recipes. At 93, Patten’s passion for food is as strong as ever. Her top tip is to look at the positive. Forget notions of thrift cooking, it’s all about eating delicious food: “Don’t to look on the dismal side. I know life is difficult but find the good things, find the rainbow”.

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2 Responses

  1. Tony Stark's Box o' Scraps

    I was about 5 when I got my first cookbook (1980), it was a Marguerite Patten paperback cookbook for kids. I used to read it in bed at night and would fantasise about being let into the kitchen to make some of the stuff. Awesome stuff, can’t believe she’s still alive at 97!

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