Museums and Galleries Edinburgh serve up WWII Recipes

Museums and Galleries Edinburgh have been hosting a digital series exploring the realities of everyday cookery and food rationing during wartime Edinburgh. The series is a result of the Cooking Up the Past Initiative which was launched during lockdown last year a a part of the Auld Reekie Retold project, the "biggest collections project ever undertaken by Museums and Galleries Edinburgh". Cooking up the Past was created to delve into the history of the Edinburgh College of Domestic Science. Staff working on the wartime food series have been cooking and experiencing food eaten during World War Two. You can watch them filming themselves testing recipes from the time-period on their Youtube channel. Last year, the team filmed their attempts at baking soda scones from a 1932 college recipe book in their home kitchens and shared their results online. This year, the team is back together in museum stores and on location.

Since being back, staff have been able to further develop the research project and cook the recipes together. Curator Vicky Garrington and Collections Assistant Oliver Taylor from the Auld Reekie Retold team discovered objects in store that link to wartime rationing, from ration books and powdered eggs to booklets on chicken-keeping. Together, they visited the Pilrig allotment of Collections Engagement Officer Russell Clegg to find out about Edinburgh’s part in the wartime ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. Vicky commented:

It’s great to see one of Edinburgh’s beautiful and productive allotments featured in this film by Museums & Galleries Edinburgh. We know how important spaces for growing and engaging with nature are for Edinburgh’s communities, but many of us aren’t aware of the huge push to ‘Dig for Victory’ that happened in Edinburgh during World War Two.

Vicky and Oliver used blackberries picked at the allotment to recreate a wartime recipe from a Stork margarine wartime cookery book. The recipe was a fruity custard pie which would have been a real treat for hungry wartime families. The staff really enjoyed the pie, especially because there was so much history in the dish.

Project Manager of Auld Reekie Retold Nico Tyack expressed:

Cooking up the Past is a fun way to bring our stored collections to life. Historic recipes can give us an insight into the way people lived during different periods in history, and there’s something about tasting a dish your relatives may have eaten in the past that transports you to that time.

Oliver Taylor, collections assistant, added:

It was great to be able to cook together in the same kitchen for this episode of Cooking Up the Past. Our attempts at soda scones from the Edinburgh College of Domestic Science cookery book had mixed results, but we seem to have struck gold with our delicious custardy wartime pie. It was also brilliant to be back in our stores, showcasing objects not currently on display, such as ration books used in Edinburgh grocers and powdered eggs and milk that would have been a godsend for families finding it hard to make their fresh rations stretch.

Rationing, which was introduced in 1939 by the British Government, lasted up until 1954, nine years after the end of the war. Rations were instated to ensure fair distribution of the limited fresh produce and supplies available during the difficult times of war and poverty. Many people resorted to growing food and keeping livestock in their own gardens in order to supplement their rations.

Vicky and Russel at Pilrig allotment

In Edinburgh, many parks were converted to allotments for food production— much like the many community gardens we have in Edinburgh parks today.

If you are interested in learning more about wartime food and rationing or cooking these historic recipes at home, visit their Youtube channel. It will be exciting to see what more comes out of the research being conducted under the Cooking Up the Past Initiative as well as the wider Auld Reekie Retold project. With restrictions lifting, there will likely be more opportunities to view the outcome of this research in person at various Museums and Galleries in Edinburgh. Joan Parr, Service Director Culture and Wellbeing for the City of Edinburgh Council, said:

Cooking up the Past has been a fantastic project undertaken by our Auld Reekie Retold team and I hope viewers are encouraged to try the recipes. The launch of this latest episode comes on International Museums Day and is fitting as it is a great example of how our Museums have adapted over the last two years and maximised the use of digital and virtual ways to engage with our audiences. I’m excited for where we go next.

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