ALTHOUGH it’s unlikely that the credit crunch will reduce Islanders to acorn tea, potato peel pie and sugar beet coffee, only 63 years ago most of Jersey was suffering from serious malnutrition.
It may seem in bad taste to compare the 1940–45 German Occupation with the current economic crisis, but the experience of the war years shows that Islanders have struggled through much, much worse crises in the past.
And some of the lessons that Islanders learned about resourcefulness and refusal to waste anything have relevance today. The crisis of the Occupation was one of scarce resources, not scarce credit.
Food was strictly rationed, to the extent that a black market sprang up, access to beaches to collect shellfish or go fishing was restricted and a lot of what the Island produced went to feed the occupying forces.
The presence of the Germans limited imports and increased the population from around 40,000 to more than 51,000 at its peak – effectively increasing demand for food by a quarter.
The growth in the black market prices from 1943 to 1944 shows how the supply of food dried up:
Pound of butter – £1 5s to £3 10s.
Pound of tobacco – £1 2s 8d to £8 10s.
Pound of sugar – 18s 8d to £2 10s.
Pound of tea – £12 to £18–£50.
And when boats were allowed to leave the harbours – they faced temporary bans after escape attempts – they were escorted by a German gunboat, and only allowed out to the three-mile limit. At least a fifth of the catch from every boat that went out went straight to the Germans.
Bob Le Sueur, who was decorated by the Soviet Union for his courage in helping escaped Russian prisoners during the Occupation, says that the lessons of not letting anything go to waste have stayed with him.
‘Absolutely nothing was wasted. Even a little piece of material would never be thrown away – it could be used for mending,’ said Mr Le Sueur (pictured above). ‘It was the same with any piece of paper with a blank side, and I am afraid that I have been left with this. You could not buy paper, so if it had a blank side, and the used side had nothing confidential on it, it was used again.
‘The Evening Post was cut up and threaded with string for lavatory paper, because it reached the point where you could not buy toilet paper. I can remember the rare house where you found real toilet paper. You classified that household in your mind as real top-class people because they had the cash up to 1941 to be able to invest in large purchases.’
Mr Le Sueur, a retired Hautlieu teacher, said that for a lot of people of his age, waste was unthinkable. ‘Well, to someone of my generation, it almost makes you sick,’ he said. ‘It hurts me to see food wasted.’
In the face of sky-high prices and limited supply, Islanders’ ingenuity came to the fore. Sea water was evaporated to produce salt, toothpaste was made from cuttlefish and ivy, coffee was made from acorns, roasted parsnips and sugarbeet, and tea came from anything from carrots to parsley, or from nettles to pea pods.
Potato peelings were dried out and used as fuel for fires, and jelly was made by soaking carrageen moss in fresh water in direct sunlight for a week, then dried out.
In 1994, the Jersey Museum Service published A Collection of Occupation Recipes by Lillie Aubin Morris. It contained the following recipes – mostly published in the Jersey Evening Post during the Occupation – and some helpful advice about how to make meagre supplies go further.
The book is still available from the Société Jersiaise bookshop, priced at £2, although some of the recipes seem to be only for the brave . . .
Sugar beet coffee
Wash sugar beet and grate roughly. Roast the pieces in an oven if gas available, or if sufficient wood and tar to give a fair heat, in coal oven. When roasted, mince the pieces finely and use as coffee.
Two quarts limpets, bay leaf, two small leeks, parsley, one egg, pepper and salt
Put limpets in cold water, bring to the boil, then strain and remove shells. Simmer with a little pepper and salt, and bay leaf, until quite tender. Then strain, remove head and string, mince limpets, add the leeks chopped finely, mix together with parsley. Put a little fat into frying-pan. Put the egg well beaten into the pan and add limpets. Fry until brown. A very savoury dish.
One cabbage, butter, fat or oil, one ounce of floor, two tablespoons of vinegar, salt and pepper and hard-boiled eggs
Boil and press the cabbage quite dry and chop finely. Heat the butter or fat (if oil, it must always be left a while till a blue haze comes from the pan). Sprinkle in the flour, mix smoothly and put in the cabbage. Add salt and pepper to taste, put in the vinegar, stir over the fire for five or six minutes, then serve garnished with sections of hard-boiled eggs. Nice with mashed potatoes.
Mock fish cakes
Take a basinful of mashed potatoes and add a teaspoonful each of mixed herbs, egg powder and salt and pepper to taste; mix well with a teaspoonful of anchovy essence. Make into round flat cakes and fry in hot fat to a golden brown.
A quarter of an ounce of moss, a pint of cold water, three-quarters of a pint of hot milk, sugar and flavour to taste.
Soak moss for one hour in the water, bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes, strain and press with wooden spoon to get all the jelly; add the hot milk, sugar and flavouring and mix well together and put into glasses. This will set in half an hour.
Two pounds of grated carrots, one pound of sugar, half a bottle of lemon crystals.
Grate the carrots, cover with water and leave to stand overnight. Boil for three-quarters of an hour, then add sugar and lemon crystals, boil for a further half hour. If available, now add one gelatine leaf (previously dissolved in hot water), as the jam is removed from the heat. Tried and found to be jolly good.