Hilda Elsie Marguerite Patten CBE OBE (1915 – 2015) died a few months before her 100th birthday, having written around 170 cookbooks, selling in excess of 17 million copies. She guested on BBC Radio in ‘Kitchen Front’ during World War Two while working as a home economist for the Ministry of Food. After the war was over, Marguerite could be heard on ‘Woman’s Hour’ from 1946, right up to the 2000s.

Marguerite Patten was one of the first television cooks in Britain, appearing on Designed For Women and Cookery Club regularly between 1947 and 1961, when she got her own BBC cookery show.

Marguerite started cooking to help out, aged twelve, when her father died and her mother was forced to go back to work as a teacher. When she left grammar school, Marguerite was an actress in repertory theatre, before getting a job as a home economist for refrigerator manufacturer, Frigidaire

Chefs Nigel Slater and the late Gary Rhodes OBE (1960 – 2019) both cite Marguerite Patten as a culinary influence. She was extremely popular, the Delia Smith or Nigella Lawson of her day and made twelve appearances at the London Palladium for cookery demonstrations.

Victory Cookbook (2002) is an amalgamation of We’ll Eat Again (1985), The Victory Cookbook (1995) and Post-War Kitchen (1998) and was produced in association with the Imperial War Museum.

Rationing began in January 1940 and didn’t end for all food products, until 1954.

Many older people will state that Britain was healthiest, during WW2 and the book explains that rationing meat, for example, meant that no matter whether you lived in tenement or castle, you were entitled to the same ration per person and prices were regulated by the government. Only foods of which there was a guaranteed regular supply, were rationed.

After WWI millions of British people were suffering from malnutrition caused by poverty. Rationing out the supply during WW2 was effectively ‘levelling up’ for many and with regular affordable access to milk, cheese, meat and eggs, for example, their health improved.

Fat wasn’t demonised and recipes often used bacon fat, pork fat and dripping, as well as margarine and (rationed) butter.

Potatoes were everywhere. Back gardens, verges, allotments and parks and potatoes and potato pastry feature in a lot of recipes, as do flour and oatmeal.

It’s interesting, that potatoes are likened to sugar in this cartoon from the Ministry of Food, because that would not be admitted by a British government in 21st century Britain. Potatoes are processed by the human body to become glucose (sugar) as are all carbohydrates and the low fat guidelines don’t change the ways in which our bodies process food.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

As social history, this book is well worth buying. Instead of myth, it’s possible to get the truth, from the Ministry of Food’s own home economist.

For low carbers, there are very few recipes here. It’s worth noting, that salads often used raw turnip as well as raw carrot and that some of the dishes could be tweaked to be made lower carb. It would take a lot of effort and frankly, the end result often sounds bland. Herbs are few and far between, for example.

If you have any interest in the history of food or WW2 from a kitchen front perspective, DO get your hands on one of these books. Otherwise, not worth it for low carbers.

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