Doris M L Grant adapted Esther L Smith’s book, THE HAY SYSTEM COOKERY BOOK (1936) for British home cooks in 1936 and followed up with The Hay System Menu Book, the following year.

Doris begins with a recap of the ‘three great principles of Hay Dieting’, which are:

  1. Starches and sugars must not be eaten at the same meal as proteins and acid fruits.
  2. Fats, starches, sugars and proteins should be eaten in small quantities. Vegetables, salads and fruit should make up 80% of the diet (in the foreword. Doris Grant says that one salad should be eaten every day).
  3. All refined sugars and refined starches should be avoided.

It can be seen therefore, that the Hay Diet could be eaten by vegetarians, (menus are suggested), by low carbers and by coeliacs, with care.

A naturally vegan cow

However, Dr William Howard Hay MD (1866 – 1940) based his diet on pseudo science of his own devising. The human body is capable of digesting proteins, fats, starches, sugars which are intermingled, simultaneously. There’s no medical or scientific reason to follow this diet.

The blurb on the reverse of the dust jacket, claims that the Hay System is ‘sweeping the country’ and is eaten by ‘film stars, authors and high Government officials’ .

Probably, the reason for the weight loss is due to a number of factors. Hay dieters would have been (if following the rules) eating 80% veg, salad and fruit, upping the fibre in their diet. They would have been eating smaller quantities of sugar and starches (carbs), as well. There are a few recipes for biscuits and cakes but these are for special occasions.

With the extra vitamins and lost weight, Hay dieters might well have felt perkier. Long term though, reduced quantities of proteins and fat-soluble vitamins might have created some vitamin deficiencies.

Beyond the Three Principles, there are a series of rules, on the Hay diet. Onions, for example, must be parboiled before use. Spare egg whites must be thrown away. Soups must be made with vegetable stock or chicken stock.

With all the rules and restrictions, it’s not surprising that Doris Grant exhorted readers to have willpower and stick with it.

Although the Hay diet is one to avoid, as a diet, there are still some recipes of interest to low carbers.

The lay out is of menus with notes. This is really annoying, as it means continually flipping forwards and backwards. to other recipes. Quite often, something is mentioned in a menu, without a note. Doris Grant expects that the home cook, will know how to deal with say pork chops or turnip tops without instructions.

red meat with chili pepper and green spies
Photo by mali maeder on

Scotch minced steak mixes steak mince, onions, carrots and turnips. Stewed steak features stewing steak with carrots, turnips and onions (again) and gets thickened with cauliflower mash. Steak and kidney pudding uses cabbage leaves instead of suet pastry.Other meat dishes include Danish cabbage, Hotchpotch, baked liver and bacon, pork stuffing, kidney or beef hotpot, braised quail, veal cutlets, chicken and mushroom soup, Irish stew, tripe and onion hotpot and stuffed onions.

Photo by Théroigne S B G Russell

Fish dishes include baked cod steaks, sardine salad, skate with black butter, fish baked in (savoury) custard, fish salad, sardines au gratin,lobster mayonnaise, Finnan haddock rissoles, fish soup, baked fish fillets with watercress, fish in cream, fish fritters, egg and shrimp salad,

Cabbage in cream au gratin layers steamed chopped cabbage with whipped double cream and grated cheese. Baked carrots are either wrapped in greaseproof paper after a scrub or shredded and placed in a casserole dish with water and shavings of butter. Creamed cabbage requires a ‘conservatively cooked cabbage’, chopped and reheated wih butter, cream, paprika and nutmeg. Buttered cucumber comprises chunks of cucumber cooked very gently in butter for 40-45 minutes. Scalloped eggs are a combination of sliced boiled onions, sliced hard-boiled eggs, grated cheese, butter shavings and cream to cover the top, oven-baked.

Photo by Angele J on

Other veg recipes include poached eggs on cheese marrow, cauliflower au gratin, vegetable pie (no pastry), red cabbage and beetroot soup, kale purée, curried vegetables, celery soup, tomato cabbage and cheese casserole, Mulligatawny soup, parsley butter,vegetable croquettes, sunset onions, stuffed cabbage leaves, marrow au gratin, onion soup, East Indian cabbage, cauliflower soup, mushrooms au gratin, peas in turnip cups, pea soup, creamed leeks, scalloped onions, turnip purée.

food vegetables summer yellow
Photo by Anna Tis on

It is noticeable that tinned peas are suggested when peas aren’t in season. Tinned peas are available in the UK but some will have sugar and ‘natural flavourings’ added. They can be quite carby and won’t have the freshly frozen taste which we are used to.

Unable to find organic turnips, we resorted to French Click. French Click – Navet Bio 500g GBP 3.90 (25/11/21) and will likely have to do so again. There are quite a few recipes in the book which feature turnips.

The book gives suggestions for arthritic people, vegetarians, one meal a day (OMAD), children, dinner parties, breakfast entertaining, and people wanting to fatten up.

Many of the recipes are quite simple but they rely on good quality ingredients. In 1930s Britain, food was more local and usually grown organically using traditional British varieties of fruit and veg.

Although it’s really annoying to have to flip backwards and forwards to get to a recipe sometimes, there are quite a few dishes worth trying.

BUY for the recipes, especially if you buy or grow organic veg. Look out for later paperback reprints of books on the Hay System or food combining by Doris M L Grant as these should be cheaper. Many of the recipes can be found in THE HAY SYSTEM COOKERY BOOK (1936)

person carrying a big bowl of hay
Photo by Barbara Olsen on

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