Austerity Housekeeping eBook £2.99 on Amazon!

You can now download the eBook of this blog from Amazon for the austerity-friendly sum of £2.99. Read it using the Kindle app on PC, Kindle, iPhone, or iPad. Walk around the supermarket with our menus  shopping lists on your smartphone, have our holiday packing lists on your iPad, mug up on fashion and beauty tips while you are waiting for the kids. Everything you could possibly need to enjoy a fulfilling austerity lifestyle.


STOP PRESS – London Festival of Education Saturday 28th February 2015

I am currently organising a Children and Food themed strand at the London Festival of Education, which will take place at the Institute of Education in London on Saturday 28th February 2015. I am looking for a few local teachers and children to judge a school dinners competition, where London’s top school meals contractors will compete for a Silver Spoon. If you are interested in taking part, please send me a message via this site. If you’re just interested in coming along on the day to attend the Festival, watch this space, and I will post up information about how to get tickets in due course.

Weekly Menu Plan from The ABC of Cookery (1945)

Photo on 22-09-2014 at 09.18Imagine you were an alien from another planet landing in any of our major cities, and opening a tabloid newspaper on arrival. You would soon think that in Britain, nobody can cook any more, that we are all obese, and that everyone lives off sad, tasteless microwave meals, scoffed inelegantly whilst watching The Great British Bake Off on 60 inch flat screen televisions. In the past, the tabloid argument goes, housewives spent hours and hours in the kitchen, rustling up nutritionally balanced stews from offal, and creating Victoria sponges lighter than the very hairspray that was holding their shampoo and set in place. All this was achieved powered by little more than tea and a set of good foundation undergarments.

Except, of course, many people could not cook. Some did not have kitchens, some did not have any money, some did not have any ingredients, and some, frankly, could not be bothered, and preferred to go down the chippy. As George Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier:

Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you.

He was right, of course, and this is one reason that in 1945 the Ministry of Food saw fit to produce a basic cookery book for the price of one shilling, aimed at teaching the nation that basics, and helping them to eke out their rations. There had been others, but this one concentrated on very basic techniques such as how to prepare suet, how to steam a pudding, how to render and clarify fat from cooking to use with other things, and how to plan meals. To that end, there is an example of a daily menu plan, which might be interesting to compare with the 1910 daily menu plan I posted earlier.


Porridge (or other cereal or fruit with milk)

Cooked dish (eggs or bacon or fish, etc with fried potatoes or fried bread)

National or wholemeal bread (nasty bread was a bizarre dry ration loaf with extra salt, thought to keep better)

Butter or margarine

Marmelade or jam

Tea of coffee (cocoa or milk for children)


Milk for children. Mid-meal snack for men or women doing heavy work, such as cheese salad sandwiches.

DINNER MENU (dinner meaning your main hot meal)

Soup (optional)

Meat (or cheese or fish or eggs)

Fresh vegetables (a green one several times weekly)


Pudding (baked or steamed or cold pudding, or fruit in season, with milk or custard) – optional

Note: Dried peas, beans, lentils or oatmeal bread could be added to the meat, fish, cheese and egg dishes if the quantity of animal food was small through rationing or shortage).


National or wholemeal bread

Butter or margarine

Spread or sandwich filling (of shredded raw vegetables or yeast extract)

Cakes or Biscuits or Scones

Jam (if desired)


Milk for children


Main dish (of cheese or fish or egg or other muscle builders, as they called them)

Vegetable or raw salad


Bread with butter or margarine, and jam or honey or syrup

Tea or Coffee

Milk or cocoa for children


There’s something comforting about looking at that menu. You imagine a different world, with the cameraderie of the factory, a cheap, steaming workplace canteen, Workers’ Playtime on the wireless to listen to while you ploughed through your steamed pudding, and a sense of national purpose. Admittedly this assumes a social compliance that is pretty foreign to us now, along with the willingness to eat what other people think might be good for us, and sit with people you might not normally choose to socialise with whilst listening to some frankly dreadful music on the BBC’s Light Programme, but is this better than queuing up in Pret or Costa for a tasteless, overpriced sandwich before rushing back to eat it at your desk? Bosses, think on that, as you close your staff canteens and convert them to marketing suites.




Pine cone foraging and ideas 1

It’s a great time of year to pick up pine cones when you are out for a walk, so over the next few posts I am going to write about ways to use them for practical and wholesome purposes, including as Christmas presents. This week, I am using some pine cones eagerly collected in a Suffolk forest by my youngest to make ecologically friendly firelighters. I’ll keep one lot for us, and give another lot to a friend who had us over for a lovely tea last weekend (she doesn’t know yet!) Like us, they enjoy a log fire as they sit around with a glass of red wine trying to persuade themselves they like autumn and winter really, despite the damp and the dark mornings and the perpetual feeling of being slightly over- or underdressed.

First of all, put your oven onto 200C/ Gas mark 7, to heat up while you do the fiddling about part. Then put paper cases into a bun tin. When you have done that, get some tea lights and remove the metal surround, and put one tea light into each paper case, rather like this (I’ve almost got to the half way mark). I have used very cheap paper cases I got from You are going to ditch them at the end, so the cheaper the better. In terms of the tealights, obviously beeswax is the most smug in terms of its eco credentials, but rather than fuss about with pellets and trimming my own wicks, I am going for the cheap paraffin based stuff here, being austerity minded and all that. You can get 10 of them for £1 in many pound shops, or buy in bulk next time you are trailing around IKEA with one of the infamous blue bags.

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Heat up the bun tray in the oven until the wax has melted. Keep a close eye on the proceedings so you don’t risk burning down your house. This part of the operation should take about five minutes. I then added a couple of drops of aromatherapy oil to each one, but this is an optional step. (Be cautious if you do perfume the wax, as you don’t want a conflagration. Burning down your house would rather ruin Christmas). You then need to move the wick gently to the side of the paper case,  as gently as a brain surgeon, as in the third picture.

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Insert a pine cone into each paper case. It’s important to try to get one roughly the same width as the case itself, otherwise the wax will look very odd, and make sure the wick stays over to one side, so you have something to light later. (Children can help with this if they are supervised. Even if a bit of wax splashes on them, they won’t lose a hand, let’s face it). When the wax has set, take them out of their paper cases, give the bottoms a quick wipe if you have added aromatherapy oil, and leave to cool.

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Finally, package them up in cellophane bags with some attractive ribbon, suited to the season or the decor of the room they are likely to be used in. Here I have recycled the ribbon from a present I was given last year, but another option would be to buy a bag of ribbon offcuts from one of the many online ribbon merchants. I have used in the past.

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Home made ice cream from your freezer

ice creamHere’s a good way of avoiding children’s demands as the ice cream van comes around. You don’t need a fancy ice cream machine to make your own – the top of your fridge or your freezer can stand in while you create your own recipes and flavours. There are different categories you might try. The most common is what the Americans call ‘custard’, or what the Italians might call ‘gelati’, namely naming a kind of custard mix out of eggs, cream and milk and then freezing it. It’s also possible just to use double cream and fruit, or Greek yoghurt and fruit. Finally making your own sorbets is another option. Here are three recipes to try.

Raspberry frozen yoghurt

This is quite diabetic friendly. Take 1 pint of thick Greek yoghurt, and 8 oz of raspberries, and mix them together. Put in the freezer until it starts to set, and then take it out and stir it to break up the ice crystals a bit. Stir at two hourly intervals or so after that. After about 8 hours you will have the most delicious frozen yoghurt with no added sugar. By the way, any really ripe fruit will lend itself to this technique.

Home made ice cream

Beat 4 egg yolks in a pan until they are creamy, then beat in 2 tbsp of hot milk. Beat in a further 500ml of hot milk, beating the mixture constantly. Add 125g caster sugar, stir it in, and then transfer to a double boiler, or if you don’t have one, use a Pyrex dish nestled in the top of a pan of hot water (not too full otherwise the hot water will splash out). Cook over a gentle heat, and keep stirring it the whole time, until it easily coats the back of the spoon you are using. Whatever you do, don’t allow your mixture to boil, or you will end up with scrambled eggs! Be really, really patient and keep stirring all the time. Once it has thickened, remove from the heat, cool, and freeze according to the instructions for frozen yoghurt.

You can adapt the flavour by adding different things as you add the 500ml of hot milk. These include: vanilla essence, rum essence and raisins (for rum and raisin, unsurprisingly), crushed strawberries, raspberries or blackberries, a dash of any liquers you might have lying around, such as Baileys or Marsala, chocolate sauce, coffee (add a bit of hot water to instant coffee before adding it), or melted Mars bars. Just stir them in.

if you have made the vanilla version, and happen to have a little espresso maker (you can get aluminium stove top ones for as little as a tenner if you shop around), you can make a lovely dessert by putting a small scoop of the ice cream into a tea cup and then pouring a portion of the hot coffee over it. Best eaten straight away. The Italians call this ‘affogato’.

Lemon sorbet

Boil 125ml water with the zest of two lemons and 250g sugar. Boil the mixture, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Cool, chill, and then add 500ml lemon juice (you can use bottled, such as PLJ). Strain, and then freeze as in the above recipes. Soften in the fridge for a little while before serving.

This recipe also works well with oranges (perhaps use a little less sugar), limes, and even grapefruits, although you may need to adapt the recipe a little according to personal preferences. A dash of Cointreau in an orange sorbet, or white wine in a lemon one, makes it very grown up.

The Staycation

We know it’s a trend when every women’s magazine has an article on it. The current fashion in taking holidays is therefore the ‘staycation’. I am not entirely sure what this means, and whether there’s even a consensus, but reading between the lines, it seems as though it can be one of two things. Firstly, it can mean staying in the UK rather than travelling overseas, in order to avoid unnecessary expense or travel hassle, or similar. It is not always an economical option, despite what you might expect, as often it can be just as expensive for a family to stay in an undistinguished B and B in a remote part of Dorset as travelling to somewhere more exotic, particularly if you are clued up enough to swap homes with someone overseas.  The other meaning of the word is to stay at home and go on little trips, seeing and doing a lot of things that you might not have time to engage in normally. That is the approach this post is going to take. (After reading it, you might also want to look in the Polls category to vote on what your holiday plans might be this year. Look in the column on the right of the screen to find it).

Designing a successful staycation based at home probably takes as much work as planning and booking a foreign holiday, if not more. The key is to think constantly about what you can do that is actually different, in order to make it feel like a holiday, and offer some relaxation. Consider some of the following.

  • Actually swap bedrooms. The children can move around into each others’ rooms, or even share rooms a la sleepover for a change, with sleeping bags if necessary . If you are lucky enough to have extra space, parents can even sleep in their own guest room, which might even have been prepared specially for the occasion hotel-style. This might involve a bit of decorating or tidying up, fresh flowers, supplies of glossy magazines and upmarket beauty products in sample sized bottles, and a drinks/snacks tray. Failing the presence of a guest room, try upgrading your normal bedroom in the same way.
  • Change meal times and typical patterns, and consider having a late brunch every day, afternoon cream teas, and so on.
  • Fill the freezer with ice lollies, preferably home made.
  • Try themed meal nights chosen by family vote – Mexican, BBQ, Italian, etc. Or you could rent DVDs from your local library and have film nights with microwave popcorn, hot dogs, and that ideally rare but necessary treat, an occasional can of Coke.
  • Make maximum use of your nearest leisure centre or gym/hotel with swimming pool and day guest facilities. They often go very quiet in August and it might be possible to buy a three day or weekly pass relatively cheaply and go there on a daily basis.
  • Try a family treasure hunt with a pretty decent prize of some kind. Put clues all around the house and garden so that the children will have to make a bit of effort working out the answers.
  • Take the children on mystery tours of the local area, imagining what you might show a visitor from overseas if they materialised on your doorstep. Children are capable of great feats of sightseeing endurance if they get a couple of quid to spend in the gift shop at the end and a scone in the cafe, and even though there can be moaning at the time, it’s amazing how much they take in. However they are cunning and won’t let you know this until years later.
  • Consider travelling around all the relatives you like best on a kind of Grand Tour, to catch up and reinforce family ties. It doesn’t have to be Christmas to organise a get together.
  • Invite other people (or their children) to stay at yours, if you like being a host.

Image: Graham Maddrell /

Holiday poll 2014

Hiking with the family

For cheap or free outings during the summer, there’s nothing to beat hiking through the countryside with the kids. So what do you need to think about when planning a trip? Well, first of all you have to plan a route that would be worthy of Goldilocks – not too long, not too short, and with plenty to see and do on the way. Surprisingly, most children can manage an hour’s hiking from the age of about 3, which should involve about 2 miles if it is flat. If you train them up well, then they can easily manage half day hikes from about the age of 7 or 8, and full day hikes by secondary school age, hitting these targets even younger if you take them very regularly. For beginners, planning ambitious peak bagging excursions in the Lake District is probably not the best place to start, so you need to think of something a bit more modest. In such cases, riverside hikes can be particularly good, with birds and canal boats to look at, as can hikes around stately homes and reservoirs with tea and cakes afterwards in the cafe. Tuck away a carrier bag or two and towards the end of August, you can even collect some blackberries while you are out.

One of the secrets to success is making sure kids have the right gear on, especially if the ground is uneven or the weather changeable. Proper hiking boots and breathable, waterproof jackets bought second hand off Ebay are a great start, but it that’s too expensive, try making sure they have decent, well-fitting wellingtons with a supportive insole and couple of pairs of socks on, as well as lots of layers that can be stripped off or added to, depending on the weather. Also take a small first aid kit with blister plasters, insect cream, suncream and high energy Lucozade tablets (a great placebo), and pack a small picnic for en route. The ideal picnic includes lots of liquid, for example watered-down fruit juice, wholemeal bread sandwiches for slow energy release, fruit, muesli bars and biscuits. My grandfather used to tuck away a small toblerone for me to eat when we got to the top of a mountain, which was very motivating, and you might like to think about doing something like this as well. Finally, it can be good to give each child their own little backpack for special treasures – favourite fluffy toy, dolls, penknife, binoculars, torch, camera and so on.  Then onwards and maybe even upwards!

Image: Simon Howden /


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