Wartime recipes for anyone living off Covid-19 rations

Surprisingly delicious wartime recipes that use only a few ingredients

From lentil cutlets to “surprise” potato balls, these are the recipes you need to achieve victory in the kitchen. 

As the coronavirus lockdown continues, we’ve heard less and less about panic-buyers – mainly due to the fact that they’re all currently trapped indoors. 

That doesn’t mean, though, that food shopping in the age of Covid-19 is getting any easier. Indeed, we aren’t supposed to go shopping at all unless it’s to pick up “essential items”, which means most online shopping slots are booked up until… ooh, next Christmas?

And, when you do pluck up the courage to dash to the shops for some milk (or toilet paper, the holy grail), you’ll no doubt have noticed that many places are still limiting people to buying between one to four items per product

While Health Secretary Matt Hancock has assured the public that food stocks won’t run out, it’s only natural to feel perturbed by images of empty shelves and trolleys circulating on social media. And, as ever, many have taken to angrily blaming “snowflakes” and “millennials” for the ongoing issue.

However, while it’s all too easy to assume that this is very much a 2020 problem, it’s well worth remembering that we have seen panic-buyers create scarcity throughout the course of history, particularly during World War Two.

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John Delaney, who works as a curator at the Imperial War Museum, explains: “Panic-buying and hoarding are behavioural patterns which have been exhibited during times of uncertainty throughout history and, in the case of the Second World War, it led to the establishment of The Ministry of Food to assure the fair distribution of food.

“The Ministry ran various campaigns to teach people how best to ‘make do’ when faced with trying new circumstances including ‘without’ recipes such as cakes without eggs and the famous Woolton Pie (named after the Minister for Food, Lord Woolton), which used whatever vegetables were to hand, cooked in a dish with a potato pastry lid.”

Victory in the Kitchen
Victory in the Kitchen is full of useful recipes and rationing tips.

Delaney adds: “As we face our own period of uncertainty, it’s interesting to reflect on the slogan which was used by the BBC Broadcast radio programme, The Kitchen Front, ‘it’s not funny to get more than your fair share’ which would likely be as widely approved today as it was back then.”

With that in mind, here are four (surprisingly delicious) wartime rationing recipes from the IWM’s cookbook, Victory in the Kitchen.

Lentil cutlets


  • 4 oz lentils
  • ½ pint water
  • 2 oz cheese, grated
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • 3 oz breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ level teaspoon dry mustard
  • Fat for frying


Wash the lentils and cook in the water until tender and dry.

Mash well and add the other ingredients. Shape into cutlets on a floured board and fry in a little hot fat until golden brown all over. 

Serve hot with tomatoes and brown gravy. 

Easy lentil recipes for vegetarians
Easy lentil recipes for vegetarians



  • Suitable fish (cod, hake, ling, any canned fish)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • ½ oz dripping
  • 1 level tablespoon flour
  • ¼ pint liquid from the barley or rice
  • 6 oz cooked pearl barley or rice
  • 8 oz flaked fish
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Fry the onion and bay leaf in the dripping until golden brown and work in the flour. Add the liquid and bring to the boil, stirring all the time; boil gently for 5 minutes. 

Add the barley or rice, fish and lemon juice and season to taste. 

Heat through and serve very hot, garnished with hard-boiled egg.

For curried kedgeree, add 1 level tablespoon curry powder to the onion and fry to a few minutes before adding the flour. 

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Surprise potato balls


  • 1 lb cooked potato
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • A little sweet pickle
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few teaspoons of milk, if necessary
  • Browned breadcrumbs


Cook the potatoes and beat them well with a fork. Add the grated carrot, parsley, salt and pepper. Use a little milk, if necessary, to bind the mixture, but do not make it wet. 

Form into balls. Make a hole in each, drop in a small spoonful of pickle and close the hole.

Roll in the breadcrumbs, place on a greased baking sheet, and cover with a margarine paper. Bake in a really hot oven for 15–20 minutes. 

Serve piping hot with good gravy.

Potato recipes for vegetarians
Potato recipes for vegetarians

Onion, tomato and haricot bake


  • 4 oz haricot beans
  • 1 lb onions
  • 2 oz flour
  • ½ pint milk
  • ½ pint onion water
  • 2 oz grated cheese
  • 2 level teaspoons salt
  • ½ level teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 8 oz sliced or bottled tomatoes


Wash the beans and soak overnight; cook until tender and drain. Peel, cut up and boil the onions until tender; strain and save the liquor. 

Make a sauce with the flour, milk and onion water, and add the grated cheese and seasoning.

Arrange the onions, tomatoes and beans in layers in a pie dish (2 pint size), cover with the sauce and bake in a hot oven for 15–20 minutes.

Victory In The Kitchen  Wartime Recipes is available to buy for £6.99 on the Imperial War Museum’s official website.

Images:  Getty/Monika Grabkowska/Unsplash


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