Michelle Ann Kratts

Wartime World, Part One: The National Loaf

In Niagara Falls, Uncategorized, World War II on March 1, 2016 at 11:11 pm

As we embark upon our trip “back in time” to 1943 it might be wise to know a thing or two about wartime bread.  In Britain, where food was quite scarce, a ban on commercially baked white bread went into effect on April 6, 1942.  As most of the flour used to make “white” bread was imported from abroad there was a great shortage.  The Ministry of Food introduced the “National Loaf” at this time.   This gray and gritty bread was to be the staple of British cuisine.  Bakers were banned from baking any other type of bread except the “National Loaf.”  Dubbed “Hitler’s Secret Weapon,” our British allies forced it down to keep from starvation.  But surprisingly enough, the health benefits of a diet based upon this bread were quite alarming.  The added vitamins along with the the wholewheat (wholemeal) flour (as opposed to the bleached white flour they had baked with before the war) gave the British the vigor to fight and win a world war.

So I searched for the recipe for this “National Loaf.”  I thought it would be a necessity for my week of wartime recipes.  The official recipe for commercial bakers was as follows:

National Loaf recipe:

Ingredients:
(Yields: 10 loaves)
Potato Flour – 1740g
Salt Sea Fine – 140g
Tap Water – 4740ML
Vitamin C – 6g
Wholemeal flour – 5220g
Yeast – 210g

Method:
Mix all ingredients in spiral mixer for 3/5 min
Place dough in lightly oiled container, let rest for 45 minutes
Knock back and let rest for another 45 min
Scale at 1kg, first shape (round)
Rest 10-15 min, then second shape
Place bread in oiled baking tins, prove for 45-60 min at 28-32c
Bake at 208c top 204c bottom, with 5 sec steam. Open vent after 25 min, bake for a further 25 min
Remove from tins immediately and cool on a rack

Home bakers could make variations of the “National Loaf.”

I found the following recipe which I was able to make at home as my version of the “National Loaf”:

National loaf

 Ingredients

1 ½ lb wholemeal bread flour
1 ½ tbsp salt
1 ½ tbsp dried yeast
1 dsp honey or treacle
450 ml tepid water 

Method

Mix together all the ingredients and knead for about 10 minutes until you have a soft dough.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave until dough has doubled in size (around 2 hours).

Knock back the dough, give a short knead then cut into two equal pieces. Place in 1.5 litre loaf tins, allow to rise for a further 2 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 200°c then bake loaves for 30 min. To test the loaves turn them out of their tins and give the base a tap – if it sounds hollow they are ready. Allow to cool on a wire rack. 

This recipe actually worked out quite well.  It probably isn’t as dry and lifeless as the commercial loaf must have been.  The honey added a bit of sweetness that made it more flavorful than I expected.  My family was not as fond of it as I was, though. Oh well… for our week of wartime eating, they will learn to like it.

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So what was going on in Niagara Falls, New York, on March 1, 1943?

While you are baking your bread to prepare for your week of wartime eating, you may be interested in what life was like here during the war.

Probably one of the most important things to know was how to feed your family.  If you did not have the ration system figured out you would have been in quite a predicament.  Even as the shortages experienced in the United States were nothing like the shortages in Europe it still was not easy.  The Niagara Falls War Council provided block leaders to assist in helping residents with questions regarding point rationing and nutrition.

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The sinking of cargo ships caused great anxiety as these ships often carried much needed food and supplies.  The British depended upon these ships for food and many food goods also came to the United States in this manner.  The Niagara Falls Gazette reported on March 1, 1943 that six US cargo ships had been sunk in the Western Atlantic during the month of February.

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It was actually a low month– however, loss of life exceeded 850 persons.  The month of January brought 30 sinkings.  The monthly average in the first year after Pearl Harbor was 45 sinkings per month.  Since December 7, 1941, the Allied and neutral nations’ cargo ships lost in the Western Atlantic numbered 616.  This was an incredible loss of food and supplies–not to mention human life.

Numbers such as these bring the practice of wartime rationing into perspective.  Cargo ships were not guaranteed to make it across the ocean.  We had to conserve and not waste.  We had to make do with what we had available.

Mary Truman, a Niagara County Demonstration Agent, felt it was the homemaker’s job to understand the rationing system.

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Budgeting the family point allowance was necessary.  Planting Victory Gardens and producing your own fruits and vegetables was also a great way to save.

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Canned and processed items were often shipped overseas and were scarce at times. Homemade soups and freshly prepared dishes were encouraged.

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There had actually been an eight day period in which “narry a can of fruits or vegetables could be sold legally anywhere in the United States” before rationed sales began.  Once the point rationing system was worked out and the rules established the market was re-opened.  Can you imagine an eight day period in which NO canned items could be legally purchased within the entire United States??  Could you survive?

Another aspect of wartime rationing was an important rule that deemed that individuals could NOT tear the ration tickets out themselves.  Whether their groceries were ordered by telephone or gathered in the store, the store employee (including delivery boys) must remove the ticket.

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Before the day was over, it became quite apparent to me that the war was the top news on every page of the Niagara Falls Gazette and it was even mentioned in most of the advertisements.  Ordinary life was certainly uprooted.  So many things to think about…do you have adequate black out screens??   Breaking blackout was a serious offense.

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And then there was the volunteer work.  If your husband was off fighting for his country you would hardly be sitting at home doing nothing at all.  There was the Red Cross–forever needing help from sewers and knitters for surgical dressings.  To be honest, I had no idea that American women made the surgical dressings during the Second World War.

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For the more adventurous Niagarans, there was the Fighting French Relief Committee.

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It wasn’t all hardship, though.  There were the movies.  Which would you like to go and see this week?

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The radio was the main source of entertainment.  Orson Welles, Blondie and Dagwood, Radio Theater, some BBC news…all before falling asleep to the Benny Goodman Orchestra.

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