Ihave often looked through my mother's old cook books from the early 1950s and been intrigued by post-war recipes for Hard Time Omelette and Victory Sponge.

As a penniless student I tried a few of the vegetable stews and soups, but I've always steered away from the more austere-sounding dishes.

However, with the age of restraint on us once again I thought it might be interesting to see how my family of five – husband Colin, elder daughter Genevieve, five, and year-old twins Freya and Alexander – would cope with living for a week on some of the restrictions of that time.

Rationing was in force until 1954. Butter, milk, eggs, meat, cheese and sugar were all rationed when my father and mother Thomas and Nan Nutt, now in their eighties, had three small children. I came along much later.

Rations varied depending on supplies, but a typical weekly allowance per adult was 4oz of bacon or ham (about 110g), 2oz of butter (about 55g), 4oz of margarine, one fresh egg, 3 pints of milk, 8oz of sugar (about 220g). Babies and young children had priority for milk, but were also on half rations.

Other staples of 2012 such as pasta (apart from macaroni), rice and noodles were just not part of the British diet. Spices and herbs were rarely used.

This is my diary of how we got on.

Sunday Menu

Breakfast Weetabix and toast

Lunch Vegetable broth

Dinner Lentil roast and tomato sauce

Colin and the children had Weetabix, which thankfully was around in the early 1950s, and I had toast and coffee. Genevieve wouldn't eat the vegetable soup for lunch so she had some bread, a tomato and an apple. Freya and Alexander had the soup as well as bread, a little butter and a pear, and Colin and I had two bowls of soup and some bread. The lentil roast for dinner was very frugal – a mixture of red lentils, mashed potatoes and onion baked in the oven. One of the good things was that it didn't use any of the rationed food and Freya and Alexander seemed to like it, though Genevieve complained a lot. I was hungry when I went to bed and after tossing and turning had to get up and have a piece of bread.

Monday Menu

Breakfast Porridge

Lunch Lentil soup

Dinner Irish stew, followed by Victory Sponge

Colin and I enjoyed the porridge, which I had with a tiny amount of sugar. Genevieve turned her nose up at it after five spoonfuls, although Freya and Alexander liked it. The lentil soup was good, the Irish stew excellent and very easy to prepare. It also didn't use up many rations, just a tiny amount of meat. The Victory Sponge was also a success. It was a boiled pudding made out of grated potato, grated carrot, breadcrumbs and some sugar. The pudding basin in which it was boiled was lined with jam so the sponge had a jam coating when cooked. I felt quite proud of myself when it came out looking and tasting good.

Tuesday Menu

Breakfast Porridge

Lunch Lentil soup

Dinner Hard-Time Omelette and tomato salad

I really enjoyed the porridge again – it was nice to have something hot to start the day and I felt very full afterwards. Lentil soup was also good for a second day. The Hard-Time Omelette was very basic, just an omelette made with potatoes. It should have had bacon but I was saving our weekly ration for another meal. Despite that, I found it quite tasty. Freya had dinner at nursery, though Alex, who had eaten less earlier, tried some of the omelette. I wasn't full after dinner. Colin came in late and ate the omelette but said he was still hungry afterwards.

Wednesday Menu – Colin's birthday

Breakfast Weetabix

Lunch Cheese sandwiches

Dinner Beef stew and dumplings followed by chocolate birthday cake

Breakfast was pretty unremarkable, though the cheese sandwiches were a rare treat at lunchtime. For dinner I thought I'd make something a bit special – beef stewed with onions and carrots. Very simple to make and good to eat. The dumplings were also easy, tasty and very filling. The cake used only small amounts of the rationed ingredients – sugar, egg and margarine – and was hugely appreciated, especially by Genevieve, who had three slices.

Freya and Alexander had tiny pieces too for a special treat. Will definitely make this again! Colin really enjoyed the meal.

Thursday Menu

Breakfast Weetabix

Lunch Vegetable broth

Dinner Corned beef hash, followed by stewed apples

I'll skip to dinner, as breakfast and lunch were fairly standard. It was corned beef, onions, potatoes and tomatoes all fried in a pan. Colin and Genevieve really enjoyed this and he ate most of mine too, as I found it unpalatable. The phrase dog's dinner comes to mind. Won't be making this again. Filled up with leftover birthday cake. Freya and Alexander had cold corned beef and potatoes followed by stewed apples, and enjoyed both.

Friday Menu

Breakfast Porridge

Lunch Lentil soup

Dinner Cod fish cakes

The cod fish cakes were a mixture of fish, potatoes and tomatoes, coated in breadcrumbs and baked. One of the tastiest and most filling dishes so far, although not full of flavour by modern standards. Everyone enjoyed them, though. Would be really nice with a slice of lemon (which we didn't have as it would have been difficult to get in the early 1950s) and maybe spiced up a bit with a pinch of chilli powder.

Saturday Menu

Breakfast Porridge

Lunch Bacon sandwiches

Dinner Mince-stuffed marrow, potatoes and carrots, followed by apple dumpling

The best lunch of the week. A small ration of bacon in each sandwich was full of flavour and a lovely change from vegetable broth and lentil soup. Tonight's dinner was meant to be my crowning glory and promised to be a welcome change. However, things got off to a bad start after I had to go to four shops to find a marrow. I returned home two hours later with the elusive vegetable. We had hoped to eat at 5pm but I only started making the apple dumpling around 3pm. I put it on to simmer on the slow cooker just before 4pm and knew it would take three hours. I then started making the stuffed marrow. I scooped out the seeds and filled it with a small amount of minced beef (4oz, about 110g), mixed with spring onions plus tomatoes and bread soaked in water. By this time the babies were really hungry, so we had to cheat and resort to an emergency Heinz jar of pork casserole and apple for them – not an option for my mother's generation. We put Freya to bed immediately after her dinner as she was exhausted. At around 6.30pm Colin, Genevieve and I were finally preparing to tuck into the stuffed marrow when Colin slipped on the floor while carrying Alex. Both were badly shocked.

Alex bit his lip in the fall and was extremely upset, so Colin took him for a check-up at Yorkhill A&E.

Genevieve and I had dinner but neither of us were in much of a mood for eating and she soon announced she didn't like marrow and refused to try it. After eating a few bites I wasn't overly impressed either, and was not sure the mince was properly cooked. I managed to eat a small portion, and filled up a bit with lots of carrots and potatoes. Thankfully, the apple dumpling was very tasty and filling. Colin and Alex safely arrived home about 10pm. All well. As soon as Alex had got to the hospital he had stopped crying and given the nurses a huge smile. Colin loved the stuffed-marrow – by then the mince was definitely cooked.


Our weekly food bill came to just in excess of £87 – almost half what we usually spend on our weekly shop.


So with the austerity week over, what did we all think? Well, for Colin the experience was a surprisingly good one. Apart from missing the occasional glass of wine, he enjoyed the novelty of the meals and having a home-cooked dinner with fresh vegetables every night. For poor Genevieve the week was a huge challenge, as I think it would be for most modern-day five-year-olds. She didn't get to eat her favourites such as sausages, fish-fingers, spaghetti and garlic bread and regarded many of the 1950s main courses with suspicion. Meal times were a daily struggle with none of the customary incentives available to eat up – such as promising an ice-cream for dessert. That said, her everyday behaviour wasn't different from usual. Apart from meal times she was her usual cheerful, lively self. I probably had less time to devote to all three children though. There were definitely fewer trips to the park or games at home as there was so much extra housework. However, Genevieve did have fun helping me out when I was baking and preparing meals. Often I left her a little piece of pastry or dough, which my own mother used to do for me, and she rolled it out and baked it.

Freya and Alexander were fairly happy for most of the week. Unlike Genevieve, they require little persuasion to try different foods. However, I suspect they may have missed their favourite instant snacks, such as rice-cakes, breadsticks and bananas.

My mother tells me there was a way of "making" bananas in rationing times that involved adding banana food flavouring to parsnips. I wasn't convinced though, so didn't try the "mock bananas".

For me, the week's experience was mixed. I missed not being able to go to the fridge and take a snack whenever I felt peckish, and what I hadn't thought about in advance was the sheer hard work involved in preparing meals from scratch every day with such limited ingredients. Also, because of all the extra preparation there were a lot more dishes – making for yet more work. I estimate that I easily did at least two, and on some days three, extra hours of housework a day, probably adding up to about 16 or 17 hours of extra work over the seven days. I had less energy than usual and frequently tumbled into bed around 9pm absolutely exhausted. On top of that, because of the small quantities of fat and dairy, I often felt hungry – though was satisfied on the evenings when we had a boiled pudding for dessert. I can see why they were so popular in the early 1950s.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, I was pretty grumpy and frazzled by the end of the day when Colin arrived home from work – a matter made worse by not being able to unwind over a glass of wine or a hot chocolate when the children were in bed. We definitely spent less time together as a couple – though Colin did do his fair share of the dishes. I don't think the experience affected our relationship as we knew it was only for a week, and in what little spare time we had we enjoyed comparing our opinions on the various meals. However, it would be difficult to sustain a happy marriage if 1950s rationing was a permanent feature of our lives.

Overall, though, the chance to prepare dishes that I wouldn't otherwise have tried was interesting and I loved getting back into baking – something I haven't done for years. The chocolate birthday cake was delicious and easy, and I was also inspired by the Victory Sponge. Who would have thought you could make a dessert from potatoes!

In general, the week made me reflect more on what we eat and made me more conscious of trying not to waste food, but perhaps most of all the experience has made me value the convenience of modern-day living. Never again will I take for granted the wide variety of foods available to us and the ease of preparing dishes that require little more than boiling a saucepan of rice or pasta or sticking a pie in the oven. I can't begin to imagine how hard it must have been for my mother's generation. After my week of 1950s austerity I can confidently say I'm very glad to be back in 2012.

Best and worst meals

The beef stew was Genevieve's favourite main course, and probably mine too. It was the sort of meal that was quite similar to what we would eat once a week. Colin, on the other hand, really liked the mince-stuffed marrow, even though he didn't have high hopes when he saw it tied up in string before it went in the oven. This was the meal I enjoyed least, perhaps because both the stuffed-marrow and the apple dumpling required so much preparation.

Colin's worst meal was the Hard-Time Omelette which he found particularly bland and unsatisfying. Apart from the beef and the Irish stew Genevieve struggled with all the main courses, though particularly disliked the lentil roast. n