Wednesday, April 6, 2016

WWII Home Front Reading: Some Recommendations

First a disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links to  If you order through the links provided I get credit for the sale with Amazon and make a small amount for pointing people their way.  If you order through these links it doesn't cost you anything extra.  If you order through these links, thank you!

A couple blog readers asked me to share some of my favorite books about home front living during WWII.

Unfortunately, most of my knowledge of American home front living and cooking has come from talking to the WWII generation themselves or from reading sidelines in old recipe cookbooks and such as it seems like America just really isn't too heavily invested in the WWII home front like some others are (although the Great Depression does have some interesting books available about it).  So, I decided after some thinking to focus this post on the WWII home front in Great Britain as the books available about that area are definitely prolific and a lot of them are really fascinating to read.  And a lot of lessons can be learned from them.  If, and when, I get a good list of US based WWII books going I'll do another post on those, but for now here's some of my favorite books about WWII and home front living on the British front.

Warning:  Some of these are repeats that I've mentioned on the blog before, but it just shows you how much I do appreciate said books.

1.  Ration Book Cookery: Recipes and History (Cooking Through the Ages)
When you get this book in the mail you'll feel a bit jipped looking at it.  It's small.  In both size and thickness.  When I got my copy in I really had my doubts about if there would be enough information to justify what the book had cost me.

I was pleasantly surprised.

While small, this book packs quite a knowledge punch.  It goes through why the rationing system was introduced in Britain, what went on ration and when, how it affected people and cooking and what a typical week of rations were that the British people had to deal with (which wasn't much).

It's also packed with recipes in it's small pages, which are not only fun to read, but you can make them if you get adventurous.  I made a recipe in the book for "raspberry snow" which turned out to be interesting...not delicious but interesting (like many war time recipes blandness can be a problem due to lack of ingredients).

This would be a great book if you wanted some of the basics of home front living with rationing during WWII in Britain and all it entailed.  A great "get your feet wet" type of book.
2.  Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations
This book actually helped to inspire the name of the blog here and where I got the scans and tutorial for how to darn socks.

"Make Do and Mend" was a slogan the British pushed hard during WWII as items like clothing, shoes and the like just plain weren't available and if they were available you ended up with whatever size you could get your hands on.  So, mending and patching worn out clothing and household items just became second nature to people.

This book isn't a book per se.  It's a collection of some of the pamphlets put out during the war by the British government.  You will get to meet "Mrs. Sew and Sew" and have her teach you how to recycle a sheet for more uses when the middle of it wears out, how to put patches on a dress where it commonly wears so that you still look stylish even with patches on your clothes, how to wash rayon without wrecking it, etc.

For anyone interested in "bone saw" type of mending (as the Ministry wasn't really worried about making darns look pretty so much as making them functional) or just interested in reading historical documents as they were produced, this is a great book to get!
3.  Eating for Victory: Healthy Home Front Cooking on War Rations
This is much the same as the previous book, except this one is a collection of pamphlets put out by the Ministry of Food with different recipes, explaining why some foods are important for good health, recommendations on how to not waste anything, how to cook with dried eggs (anyone who keeps dried eggs for food storage would probably appreciate those types of recipes as it also shows you how to make do with VERY few eggs), etc.  It gives advice on how to cut down on fuel consumption when cooking, gives different menus for different meals that you can make in one pot by steaming and getting creative, etc.

I really like this book and "Make Do and Mend", but this one not so much for the recipes (although, I've tried a few and they weren't bad or anything), but because I love reading through the reprints of the pamphlets and the advice and such on making do with what little rations they had.
4.  The Wartime Kitchen and Garden
I just recently received this book and I LOVE it!  Not so much for the kitchen front things in the book, although those stories are utterly fascinating to read as well, but I loved having a book that covered the garden area of the WWII home front as "Digging for Victory" was a HUUUUUGGGEEE part of the home front in Britain during the war.  It was fascinating reading about how gardeners got the most out of their plots, how they made it all work with having very little available due to shortages.

Don't get me wrong.  The kitchen front stories in this book are really fascinating to read as well.  Reading about how being a single person on rations...well big families certainly were better off with the rationing system then single people let's just put it that way.  Also reading some of the stories of how meat that we don't really think of buying today over here, such as rabbit or pigeon, became much needed sources of meat for the people in Britain during the war.

There are a few recipes in this book, but it's definitely not a cookbook.  Still, definitely a book worth getting and reading if nothing else.
5.   Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts from 1940-1954
Now THIS!  This is a cookbook!  Marguerite Patten did an excellent job with this book, which is actually a collection of three of her books in one (be sure to buy the British edition versus the American edition or you can get stiffed one book...I just ordered one from the UK when I purchased mine).  I love experimenting with recipes out of this book and plan to experiment with many more.

The best part about this book is that Marguerite gives both British and American units for things like temperatures of an oven.  Instead of just seeing, "A moderate oven" she gives you what the temperature should actually be so you aren't guessing.

Throughout the book, as well, she gives a lot of stories of life on the home front during the war, including some of her personal experiences as she went around giving cooking classes with the Ministry of Food (parsley honey?  Yeah, she came up with that invention.  Neat huh?).  The book has some great photos, goes through cooking for one up to large crowds of people and follows how cooking changed throughout the entire span of food rationing during WWII.  I find this book utterly fascinating and from the sheer amount of bookmarks in said book in the photo up top you can tell how much I read through it *laugh*.
6.  Wartime Farm
 Before you read this book, first go to You Tube and watch the series "Wartime Farm" so you can get to know the people who wrote the book and you'll have a great mental dialog going for each character in your head as you read the book.

This is another great book that covers WWII home front living, but this time from the perspective of what it was like living between two forces, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food as you were trying to run a farm well enough that you could keep the government out of the day to day operations of your farm.

In the series it goes through a year with Peter, Alex and Ruth who voluntarily run a farm like it would have been run during WWII.  They deal with the Black Out (making sure all lights couldn't show outside of your home and alert German bombers to the locations of populated areas), rationing  and everything that people had to deal with on the home front, and at the same time run a farm that was being called upon to rip up tons of land to plant cereal crops to feed a country that would starve if farmers couldn't make the land produce what it wasn't even meant to produce.

The book expands on the TV series, going into more detail about the three went through.  Ruth shares rationing recipes and what she thought of them, Peter shares his favorite ways to preserve pork, Alex shares his knowledge of how agriculture changed during the war and afterwards.

I love this book, I really do.  I loved the series "Wartime Farm" and this book goes into just that much more detail that I find it's one of my favorite books at the moment.  Them talking about the ins and outs of running the equipment, what it was like putting together a rather sparse Christmas for a bunch of people, but doing so successfully (Ruth even shares the entire menu for their Christmas celebration).    Ruth talking about Peter's darning and about how she really got a kick out of how much pride he took taking care of his clothing himself and how crude it really was.  Just the little looks into each person's character and the ins and outs of day to day living during their experiences there.  Honestly, if you enjoy the series, I'd definitely suggest getting the book.  You won't be sorry!
7. The 1940's House
This is another one where you should look up the series online and watch it first before you decide if you want to get the book.

I saw the series "The 1940's House" and loved it, so when I saw that there was a companion book online I immediately bought it.

The best part of this book is not only do you get a lot of history packed into the volume, a lot of it is covered in the series, but you get a more in-depth historical journey in the book, but you also get a lot better look into the 1940's family in the book.  You discover that Ben decided to make a swear box while at the 1940's house to take his entire family for all he could get out of them as he knew that his mom and his grandmother living under the same roof would produce a lot of revenue for him (and from what the book says he actually did succeed in this plan) and other little stories that you don't get in the series.

Perhaps the best personal thing you get with the book, though, is a more in depth look at what Lynn went through during her time in the 1940's house via the journal that she kept meticulously while there so that the family would have a good day to day record of what happened while they were in the 1940's.  I find it especially amusing to read her accounts of wanting to throttle her husband as rationing starts to really tighten up what was available for them and, of course, Michael (her husband) using the opportunity to become a male chauvinist for the nine weeks they were in the 1940's.

I loved the historical accounts of what happened in London and West Wickam during the Blitz and the war period, how badly black out effected accident rates and other day to day hardships people had to deal with.  And I loved the additional pictures you get with the book too, which gives you more of a peak into what the family went through as they sat in the Anderson shelter and things.

Anyway, this is another book that if you like the series the book is definitely a must read/get book as you won't regret having it for sure!

So, there you are folks.  My recommendations on books if you want to discover more about home front living on the British front during WWII from city living (The 1940's House), to cooking (Victory Cookbook), to what they were getting for advice and information from a very controlling government (Make Do and Mend, Eating For Victory) to the gardening front (Wartime Kitchen and Garden) to the countryside and the farms (Wartime Farm).

I hope I might have inspired you to read a couple of the books as I really do think that there are a LOT of lessons we can learn in our lives today from reading about that period in history.  How to make do with perhaps ingredients we normally wouldn't consider working with, a "can do" attitude that anyone could consider inspiring in the face of really terrible hardships, always giving to others whenever possible through service or in whatever way you can, and, of course, "waste not, want not".

Definitely some lessons that are as prominent today as they were then.


  1. What a great list! I have watched the shows you mentioned and enjoyed them tremendously. Have you ever read "We had Everything But Money" about the Depression here in the USA? I have that book and go back to it again and again.

    1. No I haven't read that one yet. I'm going to add it to my reading list ASAP. Thanks :).

  2. Thanks so much! I'll have to look at these on Amazon later. My mom was getting rid of some books and she had a thin small one, with no ohotos, but recpies of I think it's colonial cooking she's saving for me. I'm curious to look through it. I have a stash of Mennonite cook books I love, one of my favorites, for the stories, and the incredible recpies with just basic recpies is called. More With Less by Doris Longacre. Take a look sometime, I think its one youd like. It's a great one.

    1. Thanks for the recommend. I'll definitely look the book up!

    2. I have and love that book also!

  3. These looks fascinating. I also find reading such books to be motivating, as I realize how good we have it (not living through a war on our soil).

    This reminds me -- my grandparents were incredible at growing actual food, mostly herbs, in a (no joke) 6 inch by 4 foot strip of soil. It was between concrete. They had such good results by knowing what to grow next to each other, and knew the combinations to keep all pests away, so they wouldn't have to use weed killer, etc. They did it to save costs on not buying weed killer, but of course we now know to avoid eating food that had pesticides.

    I did a google search on your spider mites because I was curious, and it looks like there are some garden vegetables supposedly that the mites will leave alone, and some the mites actually hate that you could plant near veggies they would otherwise bother. I don't know if your family's diet needs would allow you to plant some of the deterring herbs/veggies, of course. It's so interesting how our grandparents knew all of this -- and utilized it out of necessity.

    Thanks again for the book list.

    1. I've been experimenting with that the pest repelling plant things the last couple of years. Luckily, my garden is next to pavement on one side and the house on the other and there is only one small edge that borders the grass. The biggest issue I have is keeping cabbages alive as no matter what I plant near them, lordy what those little bugs do to the poor cabbage plants. It's a miracle that some seedlings survive when I plant them and actually grow into nice cabbages.

      I am glad that I found that sage and rosemary seem to repel the suckers as by planting my herbs in planters by my den window (which also is on a concrete walkway and has a gravel drain around the same area) it seems to keep the buggers at bay. We just get so MANY of them every year. The first year I noticed was, of course, the first year I planted cabbages and we were just infested with them. If I don't put diatomaceous around the border of our house as soon as the soil warms up within a week you'll see the side of the house is just RED and it's from the sheer volume of bugs crawling up it. They get into the cracks in the windows and get inside and *shudder*...anyway they made me into a bigger buggaphobe than ever.

      I found an organic mix on Amazon of different oils and other things that is supposed to disrupt the breeding cycle of the mites and kill them that way. It's safe to spray all over my yard, so I'm going to try that this year and see if I can at least kill them off this year. The spray was expensive, so I'm hoping it works as the mites have been migrating year by year around the yard and are getting closer and closer to the garden by way of the yard, so I'm definitely getting a bit nervous about it.

  4. Thank you for providing this list of books that teaches us about the impact the depression and rationing had on the domestic front and how they dealt with it. I LOVE history, so there are right up may alley!

    I, personally, have a fascination with the Victorian period as people were less reliant on stores during this time and more self reliant for their families needs. Credit or owing someone money at this time was a sign of not doing well, so they did everything they could to avoid it and money was often scare as well. So, if they could make it or grow it themselves, then that's what they did to save their hard earned cash for what they really did need to buy.

    I found a book at a local thrift store for $.50 called "The Well-Filled Cupboard" by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson that I absolutely love. This book is Canadian, or more specifically Ontario, and examines how the Victorians here managed to grow their own food to supply them with enough to last through the winter. It is broken down by seasons and provides information on common household practices to beautify your home (e.g. how to force bulbs indoors for flowers during winter), gardening advice/how-to instructions, the types of flowers, veggies and herbs that grows well here, instructions for various food preservation for winter storage, lots of sample recipes for the different foods, and even info on food that grows naturally that can be foraged and when it's available. Throughout the book, the authors have provided quotes from well-known Victorian authors from this area that wrote about surviving in the "Backwoods of Canada" during the 1800s, which gives you a wonderful connection between the past and how we can still do this today.

    1. I've seen that book on Amazon and have it added to my cart, I think. I'll have to re-visit it as it sounds fascinating and useful too as I'm sure Canadian weather is more suited to our climate up here than a lot of places (at least I'd hope :).

      The Victorian period is a fascinating period of history for sure and I went through a phase with it where I read a lot about it. For a long time, feel free to laugh here folks, if you wish, I had a dream of building Victorian doll houses for a living and making all kinds of super realistic miniature things to put in them. I loved the dishes, the furniture, the architecture and everything from that period in time.

      I seem to go through history period obsessions *laugh*. In junior high it was the American pioneer days and reading about the Old West (which still is a big area of interest to me, which is why Pioneer House is next on my "to watch" list :), then the Victorian times, then the Civil War (well, more aptly following some people in the Civil War) and the ins and outs of that. Then the Revolutionary War period.

      It's been a long time, for me, however, since I found a period in history I really wanted to read everything I could get my hands on about it. The WWII home front, for some reason, speaks to me really poignantly and I've learned a lot. I think some of it might stem from really wanting to understand some of the behaviors my grandparents had that seemed to be more of an ingrained behavior than a chosen one and what would get you to that point. And then I realized how far reaching and how really global the impact of WWII was in every aspect of our modern lives and how horrific the outcomes really were across the board. A lot of things can be traced back to WWII...good and bad.

      Anyway, now that I've gone off on a historical tangent here *laugh*, I've got to drink coffee and get kids to school ;).

  5. Sometime I feel like we are kindred spirits. My fascination with history started in junior high as well, but with the slavery and the civil war. By high school I was completely obsessed with the Vietnam war. I took a really good history course in high school that introduced me to Roman and European history, but I never fully engulfed myself in an obsession over it...just took an open interest whenever the opportunity to learn more came along (movies and travel are great ways to passively learn). It wasn't until adulthood that I gained a better appreciation for our Canadian history. Now I work at a pioneer village where we demonstrate living history from the 1800s, so obviously this has become a bigger interest for me.

  6. A blog you might enyoy is gDonna's Generation before us.
    She and her husband picked 1948 as a time period to live there daily lives. She shares recipes, decorating, gardening, and handicrafts of the era.