Did you know that around World War II, meat substitutes were put on the menu because meat was on a receipt? And that the government stimulated wild picking? During history month, these disaster plans are remembered and there are tastings with flower bulbs and crisis cake. We also learn things that are still useful today, such as cooking with less gas.By Germieke Smits
Manon Henzen from Eet!verleden knows everything about food in the Second World War and gives lectures and tastings. “There was usually enough food, except in the winter of hunger,” she says. As early as the 1930s, the government realized that it was important to make the Netherlands self-sufficient.
“The government intervened more and more,” says Henzen. “At the beginning of the war, she ordered the slaughter of most of the livestock. Where cows first stood, potatoes were later grown. Meat went on the receiving end. There was plenty of food, but the variety decreased.”
The government launched cooking classes and flyers with recipes were distributed so people could be creative with what was available. “They were advised to pick game and start their own vegetable garden. They were advised to cook in a different way so that you didn’t miss the meat. Think soups and meat substitutes – balls of vegetables, oats and beans. All these you see things again, often for reasons other than sheer necessity.”
Vegan burgers before they were hip
These veggie burgers can be tasted avant la lettre in Henzen’s tasting room. She also makes a gingerbread from that time, which contains mainly flour and spices and only a little bit of milk.
She also serves (tulip) onions, which served as food later in the war. “Tulips are very edible. Very raw, but in other times in history, bulbs were a delicacy. The elite in Roman times, for example, liked to eat them.”
Willemien Schipper (Van Het Koken) gives a similar lecture with tasting at the National Monument Kamp Amersfoort. Krisekek, tea from wild harvest and soup from a hay box are on her menu. “The cake consists of flour, an egg and black tea,” she says. “Sometimes some fruit was added if you still had it lying around, for example dried apples.”
Soldiers then mainly ate vegetable soup, soldier’s bread and beans. There were no potatoes then.
At the time, the Norwegian Nutrition Council advised preserving fruit and vegetables for the winter. “They were also advised to cook in a hay box to limit fuel consumption.”
In Kamp Amersfoort you can also see what the prisoners were fed. “It was in stark contrast to the food that was available,” says Schipper. “There is also talk about the longest-serving prisoner: the camp’s cook.”
‘Being in the rats’ comes from crisis food
You can get other ’emergency food’ in Muiderslot castle. There you can taste what soldiers ate in the eighteenth century. The palace chef and historian Siebren Houwer organizes cannon fodder and tells about the French soldiers who were stationed in front of the Dutch water line in the year of disaster 1672, also around Muiden.
We can learn something from the crisis of the time.
“The soldiers then mainly ate vegetable soup, soldier’s bread and beans. There were no potatoes then. Sometimes there were nuts, and maybe a little cheese. But the soldiers had a hard time, especially in the winter.”
The expression ‘being in the rats’ comes from this time, says Houwer. “Rotter was a mushy vegetable soup with locally gathered vegetables such as parsnips, carrots and beans. And the French were literally in the rats themselves: it was a wet affair.” The chef serves rats, soldier’s bread (hard and nutritious) and beans, but “a little tastier”, he promises.
People need to learn how to cook again
Even today, many people need to save and be more economical with gas. “It doesn’t feel quite right to draw parallels, but we can learn something from the crisis of the time,” says Henzen.
Cook vegetables much shorter and learn to cook better, just to name a few. “A lot of people don’t know how to make a foundation anymore, when it’s a lot cheaper and more than a bag of soup.” The same goes for pasta sauce. “There is really less knowledge, even among people who can cook reasonably well. Go wild picking: you can do a lot with blackberries, currants, chestnuts and sorrel. Nuts are very expensive. In my town the hazelnuts are now on the floor and nobody picks them up.”
All activities in History Month can be found here.
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