Christmas is the time for munching mince pies (this is a pretty constant activity in my household come December), slopping sherry into the trifle and making yummy stuffing for the turkey. These are all indoor activities! With this in mind, we approached the Allotment and Garden Guide for December 1945 with some trepidation, lest we were sent out into the cold to do some winter weeding. Brrrrrrr!
But the advice from the Ministry of Agriculture was unusually relaxed – perhaps ‘digging for victory’ seemed a little like raining on Britain’s parade during the first peacetime Christmas in seven years! Whatever the case, December frost is a jolly good excuse to put your garden spade away; if you don’t believe us, listen to what the Ministry had to say on the matter…’So as there’s very little we may be able to do outdoors this time of year, save possibly getting on with digging any spare ground that’s not frostbound, let us do a bit of fireside gardening, with a bit of looking back and perhaps a glance into the future.’
Well, we tried really hard to find a patch of frost-free ground to dig up but, alas, Britain remains frozen, so we thought let’s put our feet up and have a mince pie; time to do some serious ‘fireside gardening’. Luckily, we’ve got just thing for that. No shop-bought nonsense for us – we’ve come too far for that! – in the true Christmas spirit of the 1940s, here’s a wartime recipe for your mince pie filling, taken from The Ministry of Food: Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed your Family Today, by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Plum and Russet Mincemeat
1kg plums (1lb 2oz) 250g (9oz)
finely grated zest and juice of 2-3 oranges (you need 200ml juice)
500g (1lb) russet apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1cm cubes
200g (7oz) currants
200g (7oz) raisins
200g (7oz) sultanas
100g (3½ oz) orange marmalade
250g (9oz) Demerara sugar
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ nutmeg, grated
50ml (2fl oz) ginger wine or cordial (optional)
100g chopped walnuts
50ml (2fl oz) brandy or sloe gin
Method: Preheat the oven to 130ºC (250ºF). Wash the plums, halve and remove the stones, then put into a saucepan with the orange juice. Cook gently until tender, about 15 minutes. Blend to a purée in a liquidiser or push through a sieve. You should end up with about 700ml (1¾ pt) plum purée.
Put the purée into a large bowl and add all the other ingredients, except the brandy or gin. Mix thoroughly, then cover and leave to stand for 12 hours.]
Put the mincemeat in a large baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 2-2½ hours. Stir in the brandy or gin, then spoon into warm, sterilised jars, making sure there aren’t any air pockets. Seal with a sterilised twist-on lid or a waxed paper disc and cellophane cover. Store in a dry, dark, cool place until Christmas. Use within 12 months.
So, mince pie in hand, let’s reflect on our year in crops. The gardening hiccups of 1945, according to the Allotment and Gardening Guide, were as follows:
• Poor weather (‘The Januarys of 1940 and 1945 were among the coldest of the last half century…’)
• Late tomatoes
• Trouble with runners
• Marrows dying off suddenly
• Pests and diseases – there was the constant threat of greenfly and butterfly, but the nasty Cabbage White butterfly turned green crops into skeletons!
But we all know that a perfect summer strawberry or a big earthy spud makes it all worthwhile! The Ministry of Agriculture certainly believed in the virtues of growing your own for mind, body and spirit, although the concept of the thrifty housewife’s “good man” bringing home delicious and nutritious vegetables may give one indigestion nowadays…
What were your proud moments of the gardening year? Send us your pics of you and your crops! And what are your New Year’s resolutions for green-fingered success in 2011?