In 1939 and 1940, thousands of evacuees arrived at railway stations miles from home and found themselves in a strange and foreign place – the British countryside! While evacuation was certainly not the stuff of books and films – to our knowledge, flying beds were not a common sight over Dorset as in Bedknobs and Broomsticks – there were still adventures to be had. Among the stories of hardship and homesickness, for many, this was their first time in the countryside. They had escaped the cities where German bombs were expected to fall and arrived among the farms and fields, arbours and apple trees, brooks and boughs of a Britain ripe for picking…
The city kids had never seen the like – never been somewhere where you could wander along hedgerows, pick berries off the bushes and gobble them up on your way home from school. (Of course, it’s heartily recommended to wash your berry harvest before said gobbling, but we doubt this stopped the evacuees from filling their tummies). Besides, foraging for food was an important wartime skill – one that would have been appreciated in the homes of wartime families. Even the youngest tot could be enlisted to collect a basketful of berries that would put jam in the larder and a pie on the dinner table. Fruit-picking was often organised by schools, which ran harvest camps as well, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides also instructed children on how to properly pick fruit.
So, we’re taking our summer fruits inspiration from this army of pick-your-own helpers. Who needs posh punnets of strawberries when wild ones are in season right now? Why fork out a fortune for exotic fruits when tasty blackberries provide some of the best free food around? Whatever the season, there are fruits to be harvested – apple trees to be climbed to reach the plumpest crop, raspberries to be delicately picked to avoid squishing and loganberries to be identified. Loganberries are somewhere in between a raspberry and a blackberry, apparently, and if anyone knows what to do with them, we’d love to hear your (frugal) recipes – leave them in the comments section below!
In the meantime, here’s one of our own, taken from the exhibition book, The Ministry of Food: Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed your Family Today, by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Jellies with Fresh Fruit Juice
900 g (2 lb) berries
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
115 g (4 oz) granulated sugar
1 sachet granulated gelatine to set 1 pint juice or equivalent sheet gelatine
Method: Put berries in a saucepan with just enough water to stop them sticking to the bottom and cook over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes until the juices run. Sieve fruit into a bowl, squashing it down to extract the juice. Then strain the juice through muslin.
Add elderflower cordial and stir in sugar to sweeten the juice. Make sure sugar is completely dissolved and if mixture tastes too strong, add some water.
Measure the sweetened juice, add gelatine and pour into glasses or moulds to set overnight in the fridge.
For the ultimate summer picnic on a shoestring, pack some sarnies and head out into the wilderness to pick your pudding! There are lots of pick-your-own farms around nowadays, but to be truly faithful to the principles of the 1940, it’s got to be done the good-old-fashioned way!