Food, glorious food? And flowers

By Judith Phillips and Alison Mounter

Do you fancy potato and date scones?  A ‘cheap hot pot’ or vegetarian dishes like curried lentils and baked tomato pudding?  Did you know that food was rationed during the First World War, so being on the ‘Home Front’ often meant finding how to make new dishes from the limited foodstuffs available.  Newspapers often ran a column of ‘Useful Recipes’.  The Teesdale Mercury was no exception, and a quick look through the newspaper for 1916 brought up recipes for most of the dishes mentioned earlier, as well as a butter substitute using suet and olive oil, the ferocious-sounding Cossack’s plum pudding and an interesting spaghetti and kidney pie.

A Tommy’s trench rations would have included bully beef, Maconochie stew, hard biscuit, plum and apple jam.  The stew and jam, in particular, were regularly the subjects of complaints and satirised in cartoons.  Not very appetising, perhaps, but for some soldiers from poor homes it might have been better than what they were used to.  That’s assuming the rations arrived in the trenches.  It must have been a logistical nightmare, and there are many stories of rations going astray or ending up with the ‘wrong’ units.

Local food historians Jan and Richard Crouch will be in The Bowes Museum on Saturday 7th October from 11.00 until 3.30.  They invite you to join them to find out more about how families at home managed with food shortages and how the War Office tried to feed the thousands of men on active service in the army and navy across the world.  Jan and Richard will give short talks on food during the First World War at 11.00 and 2.30 but you can drop in at any time to talk to them, to sample some of the dishes people cooked a hundred years ago and to find out more about food on the Home Front and in the trenches.

We don’t often think about flowers on the Western Front – it’s usually shell-blasted trees and fields of mud we imagine.  But soldiers often appreciated the way flowers came into their lives – perhaps a cottage garden or farmhouse kitchen garden long-abandoned by the owners but still growing flowers, fruit and vegetables.  Even in devastated areas of shell damage, wild flowers continued to grow.  The poet and novelist Robert Graves described in his memoirs his joy at coming across a field of poppies, marguerites and cornflowers while on active service.  The colours of the flowers – red, white and blue – could also be seen as the colours of the British and French flags.

Come and join us on Saturday 7th October between 11.00 and 3.30 in making red, white and blue felt flowers to put onto a large canvas field, drawn by Anne Lee, one of the Education Team’s volunteers.  Staff and volunteers will be on hand to help you make the flowers so you can contribute to a communal piece of creative art as part of the museum’s First World War Commemoration Project.

Both these drop-in events are aimed at all ages and you don’t need any previous experience!  So children, parents, grandparents are all welcome.

Children must be accompanied by an adult for whom normal admission applies.