A Taste of History with Joyce White

Mixing it all together

The "sausages" ready for the oven.

Mincing the potatoes and beans

Challenge 1:  Literary Foods

June 1 -14, 2014

Challenge #1:  Literary Foods  June 1 - June 14

Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item.


The books I read that have inspired me in a culinary way for this challenge are The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, 2009 and The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy, 2011.   These two books are set against the German occupation of the British territory of the Island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands during World War 2. 


Background Information

The German occupation of the Channel Islands occurred for five years after the Islands were left unprotected by the British.  Significantly, it was the only British territory to be occupied by the Axis forces during the war.  All of the Channel Islands - Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm were considered to be strategically valuable by the Germans as they sit just 20 miles off the French coast. The British, led by Winston Churchill, disagreed and viewed them as unimportant strategically and left them undefended.  The Germans invaded the islands on June 30, 1940 and as soon as July 6 began an official food rationing program.  Butter, sugar and cooking fats were limited to 4
ounces each a week per person, and meat to 12 ounces per person. Other commodities were subject to unofficial rationing by shopkeepers.  Not surprisingly, supplies were difficult to obtain during the war, and the Germans often took a large portion of the foodstuffs that did actually make it to the Channel Islands. Over the course of the occupation, there were serious shortages of grain, meat, and cooking fats.  Islanders were forced to convert all available land into fruit and vegetable gardens.


Here is an excerpt from a Guernesy Islander’s experience during occupation regarding the food shortages:


(From: MEMORIES OF OCCUPATION by By Tom Jehan, 2005;  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/82/a5198682.shtml)


Shortage of food was probably the main problem, particularly the winter of 1944/45. Every available piece of ground at our house was used for growing vegetables, even the front lawn became a cabbage patch. Some of the "delicacies" were carrageen moss to make a jelly or blancmange; sweet corn ground into flour to make cakes; bramble- leaf tea; parsnip coffee; fried potato peelings. 


Ironically, the Allied invasion of France on D-Day in 1944 saw the beginning of even more scarcity for the Channel Islands because the French ports that were the source of what little the Germans were importing into the Islands were allowed no longer to service the Germans on Guernsey.   The Germans had to be reminded by the Red Cross that it was their duty to feed the Islanders and that they must accept a shipment of food.  The Red Cross’s intervention was successful, and on December 30, 1944 the first shipment of food to the Islanders arrived at Guernsey on the ship Vega. 


Literary References to Food:


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, 2009:


            “Since there was scant butter, less flour, and no sugar to spare on Guernsey then, Will concocted a potato peel pie:  mashed potatoes for filling, strained beets for sweetness, and potato peelings for crust.  Will’s recipes are usually dubious, but this one became a favorite.” (p.40)


The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy, 2011:


            “In the daytime I keep busy, I try not to think.  I make sausages from haricot beans and a cake with grated carrot.  I look after my chickens and tend my
vegetable patch:  I pick onions and leeks, and the first Brussels sprouts of the year.” (p.340)


            “The Press had a recipe for a jam that you can make from turnips.  It didn’t sound very inviting, but I thought I would give it a try.” (p.200)


            “I make some bean flour cake with runner beans from the garden, using a recipe from the parish magazine.  You dry bean pods in a slow oven, pass them through a mincer, sift them, and mince them again until they’ve all been turned into flour.  You seem to need a lot of beans for very little flour.  Then you run fat into the flour and mix it up with milk and a little honey and sultanas, and bake it in a cake tin.  The process seems to take forever.” (p.226)


The Recipe: (where did you find it, link to it if possible):


After a lot of research, I was able to find the closest thing to a primary source (although not as close as I would have liked) in the form of a memoir written by Molly Bihet in 2005 about her experiences as an islander during the occupation.  The book is called A Time for Memories and includes several recipes she claims are from the Guernsey local paper called the Star.


Vegetarian Savoury Sausage


½ lb. Haricot Beans [Navy Beans]

6 lbs. mashed potatoes

½ lb. onions

½ lb. tomatoes

2 oz. margarine

4 teaspoons chopped parsley


Soak and cook the beans; fry the onions and tomatoes in the fat.  Pass the beans and other ingredients through the mincer; mix well and add seasoning.  Scale at 4 oz., roll into sausages, dip in batter and fry a golden brown.  These may also be made into balls, rolled in flour and baked in the oven. 


The Date/Year and Region:  1940-45, Guernsey, Channel Islands

How Did You Make It: (a brief synopsis of the process of creation):


I made ¼ of the recipe because it seemed like the recipe was for a very large quantity.  I used my hand operated food mill in place of a period “mincer.”  Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.  I followed the option to coat balls/patties in flour and bake them as opposed to coating them in batter and frying them.

Time to Complete:

I used canned beans to cut the soaking and cooking time of the beans; therefore, it only took a total of about 1 hour to prep (cooking the mashed potatoes took up most of that time) and about 40 minutes to bake.

Total Cost:  About $7

How Successful Was It?: (How did it taste? How did it look? Did it turn out like you thought it would?) 

They looked better than they tasted;  they are very bland. The idea that this recipe could in any way be a substitute for sausage is ridiculous.  If you sprinkle salt and pepper on them, they could make a good potato side dish.  

How Accurate Is It?: (fess up to your modifications and make-dos here):

I used canned beans to save soaking and cooking time (canned beans are one of the few substitutions I allow myself).