The pupils of Blaenclydach Boys’ School were no strangers to coping with the food shortages during the First Wold War.
After all, they had received lessons on how to supplement the family diet by growing their own potatoes (ER3/2, p.117) and how to cut back on foods in short supply including bread, sugar and meat (ER3/2, p.120).
The school had even used Food Production Pamphlets on the storage of potatoes for reading practice! (ER3/2, p.123).
The boys were also very aware of how the shortages impacted on the local Red Cross hospital, and they had collected food to supplement the diet of the servicemen who were patients there. On the 22nd March 1917 the Head Teacher, John Lewis, recorded:
A collection of fruit and eggs was made by the scholars for the wounded soldiers at the local Red Cross Hospital. The collection consisted of 59 eggs, 143 oranges, 26 apples, 31 bananas, 1lb rice, nuts, chocolate and 2/7 in money. Blaenclydach Boys School, log book (ER3/2 p.118)
Leaflets and pamphlets to be taken home to parents extolling the virtues of potatoes and the need for food economy were, therefore, nothing new. However, there must have been a slight air of disbelief and amusement at the three leaflets distributed to the boys on 21st February 1918:
Leaflets from the Food Economy Department distributed for school children throughout the school area. These leaflets were (1) Thirty Four Ways of cooking potatoes (2) Delicious Soups (3) All About Stews. Blaenclydach Boys School, log book (ER3/2 p.128)
Produced by the Food Economy Department of the Ministry of Food established in 1916, the leaflets were seen as a practical guide to help families circumvent the ever increasing shortages resulting from the sinking of allied merchant ships and the shortage of labour on the land. A copy of ‘Thirty Four Ways of Using Potatoes’ still exists, and can be found on line at the Manchester Archive Plus website www.manchesterarchiveplus.com (ref.: FE40). The advice within, even in wartime, must have raised a few eyebrows. The leaflet began with a rallying call to families to make the best use of the ‘unprecedented surplus of potatoes’:
This is the immediate duty of everyone – to learn how to make potato-foods to take the place of bread-foods and to use them now instead of bread and butter, toast, rolls and all cakes and puddings which require flour.
The advice on how to prepare the potatoes may well have come as an unpleasant surprise to many:
.. a potato should never be peeled before it is cooked. People who cut the peel from a potato before they cook it actually throw away 85 per cent of its flesh forming and vital elements.
It is also difficult to believe that the Blaenclydach boys would have been convinced by the bold statement that ‘People who have once used potato bread, for instance, never wish to return to bread which is made solely from flour’.
It is generally accepted that ‘the proof is in the pudding’. For the boys of Blaenclydach this probably meant ‘Potato and Fruit Pudding’ ‘Treacle and Potato Pudding’ and ‘Congregation Pudding’, as recommended in the pamphlet. They might also have sampled the Chocolate Potato Biscuits – possibly as part of the school’s St David’s Day celebrations in the week following the arrival of the leaflets.
Chocolate Potato Biscuits
4oz potatoes (washed, cooked, peeled and sieved), 1oz flour, 4oz ground rice, half a teaspoon of cocoa, one and a half oz. fat, half an egg (dried can be used), a little vanilla essence, 1 tablespoon of treacle, half a teaspoon of baking powder.
Mix the flour and ground rice and rub in the fat. Add the potatoes and cocoa and stir the dry ingredients together; then put in the half egg and treacle and flavouring and beat thoroughly. Finally add the baking powder and mix well. Turn the mixture on to a floured board, roll out (half inch) and cut into rounds and bake in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
The Blaenclydach Boys School log book does not record the response to the recipes either from the boys or their parents. Along with other initiatives such as the ‘Win the War Cookery Book’ the three pamphlets were just one part of an ongoing campaign to combat food shortages. However, if you want to gauge their reaction we will be happy to provide details of any of the recipes mentioned above in exchange for a review of the end product! Similarly, if you have a copy of ‘All About Soups’ (MF 38) and ‘Delicious Stews’ (MF 39) let us know and we will add the details to our collection of wartime fare.
The Blaenclydach Boys’ School log book (ER3/2) is just one of a series of school log books for the Rhondda area held at the Glamorgan Archives. If you want to know more about life in school and the Rhondda in 1914-18 you can read summaries of the log books on line or the original copies can be accessed at the Glamorgan Archives
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer