Frugal War Rations Recipe – Woolton Pie

Filed in Blog by on February 16, 2011 8 Comments
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Delicious woolton pie filling

Delicious woolton pie filling

Legend has it, that Woolton Pie was the most austere of war time foods. Apparently, this recipe is one of the most famous recipes to have come out of the war years. Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, promoted it as a healthy meal choice, but the British public felt he had taken things one step too far and it even became the basis of jokes. This man, ever loyal to his public, was renowned for singing the praises of rissoles without beef, cakes without sugar and tea without tea leaves and one of our readers, Hazel, challenged me to have a go at making this famous recipe myself!

An editorial in the Times reports “When Woolton pie was being forced on somewhat reluctant tables, Lord Woolton performed a valuable service by submitting to the flashlight camera at public luncheons while eating, with every sign of enjoyment, the dish named after him”.

There’s nothing like a challenge to have me racing to the kitchen. With a little Mrs Greening I did my best to make something supposedly inedible a family favourite.

The traditional recipe from The Times (26 April 1941) calls for equal quantities of four different vegetables – potatoes, carrots, swede and cauliflower – cooked in a little water with three or four spring onions, 1tsp vegetable extract and 1 tbsp oatmeal. The vegetables are then sprinkled with lots of parsley (thank goodness) and topped with wholemeal pastry or mashed potatoes and baked.

Woolton Pie Recipe from the Times

Woolton Pie Recipe from the Times

Thinking like a war time housewife I figured if I made something inedible we’d end up with food waste and this, according to some books I have been reading, is no less than a crime and a sin!

Therefore I took a tiny portion of our butter ration to mix into the mashed potato (just a generous teaspoon) and I also grated in 1/2 ounce of cheese into the potatoes. I also added a generous handful of mixed herbs, because if I were growing all my own food I would be sure to have a big herb patch – herbs are the secret ingredient of any kitchen cupboard in my book 😉

I also struggled with ‘vegetable extract’. To be honest I was unsure whether it was marmite or a stock cube! I opted for marmite and as I didn’t have any oatmeal, I just ground up some porrage oats with my fingers. If I made this again I’d put some pearl barley in, to make it more filling.

I have to admit, it was with trepidation that I made this and the resulting meal appeared to be begging for some tomato purée, red lentils or dare I say it, 1/2 lb minced beef! I didn’t tell Little Miss and Mr Green what I was up to and on Sunday morning, just before we were going to sit down and eat, I offered Lord Woolton Pie to them as a mini starter …


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (8)

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  1. Hazel says:

    Well that seemed to go down quite well! I guess if that was the highlight of your meal you might be slightly less enthusiastic…

    It’s inspired me to make a slightly jazzed up version this week anyway. As you said, you could add red lentils, minced meat, cheese sauce, tinned tomatoes/tomato puree (though not necessarily all at once!) so it’s versatile at least! And still pretty frugal.

    We cleared the freezer out yesterday and I made a sort of lasagne with grated courgette and pumpkin puree added to the ragu, as well as frozen blanched nettles and some red lentils. It’s amazing how far 1lb of mince beef can go! And it was delicious even if it would horrify a purist.

    Well done for trying it. I’ll have to think of something else now…

  2. helen says:

    most people kept a pig,(the only bit one could’nt eat was the squeak) so it was full tums all round !

  3. Karin says:

    It’s a great base for a low-cost meal based on local, seasonal produce. Even with the environment in mind I should think it possible to add a few things that won’t cost the Earth that would cheer it up and make it more substantial.

    Still, it makes you think how limited our diets could be if we had to rely only on produce grown in the UK, and there is less now than there was in WWII

  4. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: It did indeed go down well; much better than I anticipated – mind you it’s amazing what some herbs and a little amount of cheese and butter can do 😉 Your lasagne sounds delicious; I tend to be a ‘throw it all in’ cook too!

    @helen: Hi Helen, ah yes, I guess pigs would eat the scraps and then provide meat. I would have thought something you could milk like a goat might have been better, but maybe milk wasn’t an issue…

    @Karin: You’re right – It’s very interesting to see how few ingredients a lot of these recipes use. Who knows, maybe in the future it will have stood me in good stead …

  5. Jo says:

    This looks and sounds really good to me, even without the butter, cheese or herbs – but then I like my veggies fairly plain. A bit of protein – minced ham, beef or some beans or chickpeas – would definitely round it out nutritionally. I will be trying this one!

  6. Mrs Green says:

    @Jo: Hi Jo, great that you like your food plainer; this should suit you well then. I agree; chick peas or red lentils would be delicious!

  7. Mrs Jackson says:

    Vegetable extract: try Vecon, I get it in the local health food shop – it doesn’t taste like marmite, but makes an excellent stock for rich gravy or rich soups. I don’t know if it was around then, but it is vegetable extract.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Mrs Jackson: Hey Mrs Jackson; thanks for that – I’ll check it out. The name rings a bell so perhaps I have seen it…

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