I’m in a war-time, Victory Garden frame of mind.


There is no actual food shortage and no prospect, it seems, of running out of food. But going to the shops has left us shaken: the crowds, the lack of awareness of what social distancing means (the guys standing close together in the produce department at Guido’s, chatting about how their kids’ schools have been closed – guess why, fellas?), and even the presence of sick people (the woman coughing in the checkout line at the Berkshire Coop – seriously?).

Add to that loss of income (schools and libraries and bookstores closed) and economic uncertainty that’s going to last for months if not years. My normal discomfort with waste has kicked into high gear. Every bit of food is going to be used for something: scraps that might have gone into the compost bin are now going into a bread pudding or soup. I’m even saving vegetable and pasta cooking water to reuse in soup.

I’m baking bread regularly, both to avoid the shops and because my daughter is home and we have to have our toast with Marmite. The recipe I use is a war-time one, devised to use English soft (low-gluten) flour during World War II, instead of imported American wheat. (Leaving space on ships, one assumes, for armaments and soldiers.) It is also very easy: The Grant Loaf.

And I’ve turned to a book that was written for wartime cooks, by M. F. K. Fisher. I discovered her when browsing the stacks at the Santa Barbara Public Library when I was in college, and was a little sorry to learn that many others had discovered her before me. The wartime book is To Cook a Wolf – the idea being that if the wolf is at the door one should figure out how to make a meal of it.

The recipe I remember making quite regularly is called War Cake. It’s an egg-less fruit loaf, rather like a Barabrith, the Welsh tea bread. I’m not sure we’ll be facing a shortage of eggs, but there’s no doubt that this is comfort food. She also gives a recipe for Tomato Soup Cake, another egg-less, fruity spice loaf.

War Cake (1942)

½ cup shortening (bacon grease can be used, because of the spices which hide its taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon other spices . . . cloves, mace, ginger, etc.
1 cup chopped raisins or other dried fruits . . . prunes, figs, etc.
1 cup sugar, brown or white
1 cup water
2 cups flour, white or whole wheat
¼ teaspoon soda
2 teaspoons baking powder

Sift the four, soda and baking powder. Put all the other ingredients in a pan, and bring to a boil. Cook five minutes. Cool thoroughly. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix well. Bake 45 minutes or until done in a greased loaf-pan in a 325 to 350-degree oven.

Barabrith is eaten with lots of butter, but of course butter is scarce in wartime. Scarce in my house just now, too.