Food in wartime is an interesting exhibition currently shown at the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam (until 28th May 2017).
Sorry for the blurred pictures! There was not enough light and it was forbidden to use the flash.
It is interesting because it proposes a fresh and innovative approach. It tells of one aspect of the hardship of the Second World War, food, in a creative and peculiar way. It asked five renowned Dutch chefs to use only ingredients available at wartime to create a dish. This way, our attention is drawn to the scarcity of food staples during the war, and to the desperation that led people to resort to all sorts of food available, even dried tulips bulbs.
The exhibitions explores the social consequences of food shortage in wartime and how it changed the habits of Dutch people and introduced new ones. For instance, in 1940 agriculture had to undergo drastic changes, and shifted from livestock farming to arable farming. This resulted in less meat consumption in the daily diet, and more vegetables. Something we definitely consider healthy today, but that at the time was seen as a step backwards.
Farmers were called to cooperate with the occupying forces to change the dietary habits and introduce more vegetables, potatoes and cereals in their diet. They were encouraged to slaughter their animals and change their agricultural crops, and they got a premium if they collaborated.
A rationing system was introduced, based on the provision of coupons. Hard manual labour workers, sick and pregnant women were granted more coupons. The system was complicated, and families found themselves with lots of paper coupons they had to be very careful not to lose, since they would not be replaced. Each item had a different size, number or colour, and keeping track of all of them could become a nightmare.
Rules following food shortages also changed in restaurants and bars. I want to share some of them because they testify of how the more the war advanced, the harder conditions about food became:
- May 1941: Tuesdays and Fridays are meat-free days and there must always be a meal not requiring coupons on the menu
- August 1941: Ban on French. Words like “menu” and “bouillon” had to be replaced by proper Dutch words
- January 1942: Potatoes had to be cooked in their skins on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays
- April 1942: On Mondays and Thursdays the cook had to provide a simple dish containing no more than 50 grams of meat and 10 grams of butter or fat
- October 1942: No more sugar in coffee and tea.
The hardest time came with the so called Hunger Winter: Following a railway strike, lots of food supplies froze and were requisitioned by the German. Severe food shortages ensued. Gas and electricity were cut off and the amount of food available dropped dramatically. More than 20,000 people died of starvation.
The dishes prepared by the five Dutch chefs follow the different phases of occupation and war, and adapt their recipes to the products available at the moment. It is interesting to see how even with little and simple ingredients, they can concoct interesting dishes, that could probably be served in nouvelle cuisines restaurants today.
One of the dishes prepared is the Stamppot, a very old Dutch recipe (it was apparently already cooked in the 17th century). During wartime, vegetables were replaced by apples and pears to cook along with the potatoes. I am closing this article with the recipe of the classic Stampoot, the one with endive (Andijviestamppot in Dutch).
- 1,4 kgs of potatoes
- 6 slices of bacon
- 500 grs of endive
- 240 mls of milk
- 1 spoonful of salt
Peel, wash and cut the potatoes in medium-sized pieces. Boil them in salted water for about 20 minutes. Fry the bacon and cut it into little stripes. Mash the potatoes adding lukewarm milk. Keep it slightly thick.
Wash the endive and cut it into stripes about 1 cm large.
Put everything together: endive, potatoes and bacon, combining them the way you prefer. Add salt, and if you want, pepper or nutmeg.