Party like it’s 1945

Categories: Features

We can’t spend VE Day dancing in the streets, but that won’t stop us filling our faces with forties fare

There’s a very good chance that at some point in the past few weeks you’ve quietly pondered the composition of the feast you’re going to eat when the lockdown eases a little and you can gather for the first time with family or friends to stuff your faces in greedy celebration. Or vigorously debated which of your favourite restaurants you’ll rush to when the restrictions lift completely, and what you’ll order when you get there. It’s one of the things we do in troubled times. We fantasise about food.

And while the circumstances back then were very different, the mindset was probably pretty similar in May 1945, as the end of the war approached and people began to imagine a life without blackouts, without rationing, without powdered egg and chicory coffee, without onions being in such short supply they were being raffled by newspapers to raise money. An entire generation’s thoughts suddenly turned to steak and ale pies, devilled kidneys and a cheese plate with more than the weekly allowance of 56g of cheddar.

So, with the VE Day celebrations coming up on Friday and lockdown cooks desperate for ideas, we’ve put together a menu of recipes plucked from the food fantasies of someone 75 years ago: timeless classics, one and all, made with the highest quality fresh ingredients—and not a single grain of powdered egg. It’s not the lightest of fare, so the intensity of your allotted hour of exercise may have to go up a notch on Saturday. And the good news is that while there’s not much flour in the supermarkets right now, there hasn’t been much panic buying of suet.

Drinks and snacks
We’ll get the party started by supping on a Queen Mother cocktail, named after its biggest fan (who led the celebrations in 1945). To keep us going until dinner, and to soak up some of that gin, we’ll snack on Beca Lyne-Pirkis’s pork pies with piccalilli, a couple of spicy scotch eggs and one of Jenny Chandler’s pickled eggs.

We’ll kick off the main event with Katherine Frelon’s vibrant green pea and mint soup or this equally vivid asparagus soup—both of them light enough to leave plenty of room for what follows. We’re going to need it.

For the fish course, maybe something a bit sophisticated (Luke Hawkins’ lemon sole with cockles); something light, delicate and highly seasonal (Felicity Cloake’s poached sea trout with mint and watercress sauce); or something deeply comforting (this luxurious fish pie). But let’s not kid ourselves: we’ll probably go with some honest-to-goodness beer-battered cod and chips.

Then we’re into the meats: the real 1940s fantasy. Perhaps Emily Lampson’s spectacular pork and black pudding wellington or one of these rich, unctuous slow-braised beef shin suet puddings from Hayden Groves. Maybe keep it simple and go with a perfectly cooked rump steak. And somewhere on the side some crushed new potatoes with bacon and mustard.

Dessert comes in the form of a summer pudding from Roopa Gulati, a Victorian bread pudding from Bee Wilson or Ursula Ferrigno’s chocolate, cherry and raspberry tart. All of them with a big jug of custard close to hand.

Anything you like. There’s loads of it at Borough Market Online. Just enjoy having more than 56g each.

The morning after, a little worse for wear, it has to be a big fat omelette Arnold Bennett, packed with cheese and smoked fish, or a proper bacon sandwich.