Christmas in the 1940s part 1.November 29, 2012
Time is flying by, and I shouldn't be writing about this subject yet, as we still have Sinterklaas (A Dutch and Belgian traditional winter holiday) to come by with his Zwarte Pieten (black Pete's) and white horse in our house and leave us a jute bag filled to the brim with gifts and candy.
However, preparations for Christmas are a fun time and I do not have much with Sinterklaas anyway. I actually never really celebrate it (but I do, in fact, receive the chocolate letters, that are part of it, with open arms to munch them away within a few hours). I love the days after Sinterklaas and before Christmas when you are finally able to make preparations for Christmas; listening Bing Crosby's Christmas songs, with a steaming cup of cinnamon and apple tea, the search for a nice tree ( I always want a real tree as the smell of a pine tree is a large part of my 'getting-into-Christmas' feeling), get the dusty boxes filled with Christmas tree decorations out from the attic, and above all: buy presents for those you love.
One of my favorite Christmas tree ornaments are the 'bubble lights'. They were first manufactured in the 1920s, but were all the rage in the forties. The lights worked by using a small light bulb to heat a chemical (usually methylene chloride) until it bubbled. They were not very dangerous if you kept the kids at bay and if the lights were used properly, ánd they were by far much safer than candles or led icicles. Usually eerie blue lights were used the most. WWII had an important influence on Christmas lights; metal was in short supply and the Christmas lights grew smaller. Already known in Europe, America was introduced to the so called 'fairy-lights'. These have approx. the same height as the lights of nowadays. Furthermore the tree was decorated with alot of angelhair/tinsel spun out of fiberglass, an eye catching tree topper and a lot of colorful glas tree ball ornaments.
The 1940s Christmas Menu: due to the war there was a big rationing on food going on. The only thing that wasn't rationed during war-time were potatoes and vegetables even though it doesn't meant that it was easy to come by. Many people grew their own potatoes in the backyard and women became quite skilled and innovative to use the potatoes as a base for family meals. As for fruit: no fresh fruit was imported and you usually ate whatever was in season, mostly apples. From the apples many people made: apples with custard, apple pie, apple fritters and sometimes there were even peaches and prunes that came in large boxes, but they were on ration. They were usually soaked in water overnight and boiled the next day.
There was not much meat, but sometimes the people prepared the so called 'shepherd pies' made from mashed potatoes and scraps of meat; usually rabbit or pig. It was quite hard to prepare but the people were used to it. People went on hunting rabbits, often walking miles for it. Nothing of the rabbit was thrown away. And after the ocassional chicken -if you were lucky enough to have one - it was common to eat chickensoup for several days after the chicken itself. Fish was usually made into cakes: made by mashed potatoes, mixing in some boiled fish, and were then formed into scone-sized form and were grilled on both sides. Other fish that was served were soused herring or soused mackerel. There was also bread served. Bread wasn't rationed, but there was no white bread. It was usually grey colored, but tasted the same as white bread. Bread could be fried or beef dripped, but there wasn't plenty of it. People that could keep hens had a lot that could be done with eggs. There was also dried egg powder available which came from America, and could be used in baking or with scrambled eggs.
Custard powder seemed always available. It came in a tin marked 'Custard'. Mostly all the meals were prepared with this. As for drinks: it usually was tea, tea, tea. Often without sugar, as sugar was rationed. Alcohol was available but prohibitively expensive.