Fear not. I’m not referring to mine. I have quite a few deep-seated objections to veganism, on a number of levels. However, I am always up for a challenge, and The Kitchen Cabinet from Stonehenge presented a very vegan one. We covered alternatives to meaty meals, specifically entirely animal-product free alternatives. It’s not easy being veggie at this time of year, and TKC is nothing if not inclusive and relevant to everyone. (Expect kale lovers, to be fair, but we have tried to be nice about kale several times). Anyway. Christmas is a time for feasting, and feasting usually means meat. It goes back a very long way. Meat was expensive (and good meat from well-cared for animals still is, rightly). Meat showed prestige, hospitality in action and, if it was beef, which was the main Christmas dish from the 17th century to the 19th century, it showed British patriotism. Voluntary vegetarians were regarded as weird, vegans even more so. They existed, certainly, often called Pythagoreans after the 1st century BC mathematician and philosopher. But they were usually religious cranks, who believed that meat eating made us warlike and bloody, and whose suggested alternatives were decidedly horrid. It made no sense in a time before cheap meat protein was readily available to all, to decide to eat like the poor. After all, the vast majority of people ate little or no meat because they simply couldn’t afford it. It’s only when meat became plentiful and, eventually, intensively raised, cheap and in some cases pretty nasty, that first the mainstream vegetarian movement and, in the 1960s, the vegan movement, really took off. It only looks like a protest if you don’t do what everyone else does, right?
For The Kitchen Cabinet, we wanted to come up with viable alternatives to the overwhelming focus on meat at Christmas. Frankly I’d far rather eat good vegetarian food than the usual horrendous turkey on offer anyway (and usually do, at the unending mass-catered Christmas lunch scenarios which are the lot of a public speaker from time to time). Just….no eggs? no cheese? No. But I will do anything for that show.
My pick? World War II, when meat was scarce and eked out inventively, and when nutrition and its application to a population at war was a genuine preoccupation of the government. My source? Ambrose Heath’s New Dishes For Old (1942). Here is the original:
Basically, vegetable roll wins on nutrition and is delicious and hearty. Um.
I’ve tried quite a few WWII recipes. Most of them are vile. Limited fat, sugar, dried eggs….And I’m totally unconvinced that the exotic ‘meat substitutes’ like mock goose and mock turkey were really ever cooked. Too much hassle, not enough time, and let’s face it, it is never going to look or feel like goose. When cooking this for TKC, I wanted it to taste nice. Really taste nice. And by and large the verdict was good (I’m still trying to live down the Anglo-Saxon poverty pottage, which we don’t ever talk about). If you do want to have a crack at it – or, indeed use any wartime recipe as a basis for something you’d actively want to eat – here’s what I recommend.
- Forget there’s a war on. There isn’t anymore, or at least, not one involving rationing. So don’t scrimp on the fat, and for god’s sake don’t scrimp on the spice.
- Seasonings are VITAL.
- I used butter beans, boiled, blended with raw garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne, and tonnes of parsley and thyme and olive oil to make a sort of aioli for the base. It was very spicy by the time I’d finished.
- For veg, texture is key. Boil some, fry some, bake some. Err on the side of hefty flavours – celeriac, Jerusalem fartichoke, actual celery, carrot, cabbage. Nothing too watery. Heath boils stuff in stock. I used water and then added my usual standby of mushroom castup. I also used shedloads of marmite, but in all honesty, I can’t remember whether I added it to the veg, the beans or everything.
- The sage and onion/leek stuffing down the middle is a very important thing.
- I did it in a loaf tin through fear of crackage. If I hadn’t been going all out vegan, I’d’ve added some eggs for binding purposes.
- Nuts would be nice as well as rolled oats on the outside.
That’s about it. It certainly isn’t roast beef and yorkshire puddings. But it was nicer than bad, over-cooked, brown beef with freezer burn roast beef and flaccid yorkies, which I have to admit I’ve experienced more than I’d like to have done. All in all – credible. And good cold for lunches (especially fried in dripping with a bit o bacon on the side…)
-Colin Spencer, The Heretic’s Feast – an excellent history of vegetarianism
-Lizzie Collingham, A Taste of War – harrowing and detailed account of wartime food policy and its impact on the various nations involved in WW2
-The You Are What You Ate project (Leeds Uni, Bradford Uni, Wakefield Council and The Wellcome Trust – a brilliant project linking past foodways to modern eating habits)