the ‘Ministry of Food’ exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London: part 1

February 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm 24 comments

I’m a bit of an early bird by all accounts but springing out of bed at 4am is not an every day occurrence.  Neither was the invitation that prompted it:  the chance to attend the press event for the new ‘Ministry of Food’ exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.  The exhibition opens to the public today to mark the 70th anniversary of the introduction of food rationing in wartime Britain and explores the stories of ordinary men, women and children who supported the war effort by growing their own vegetables, reducing waste and being resourceful in the kitchen.

‘This is a food war.  Every extra row of vegetables in allotments saves shipping… the battle on the kitchen front cannot be won without help from the kitchen garden. (Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, 1941)

If you enjoy reading about my gardening exploits, culinary experiments and the people on my plot I’ve no doubt you’ll be inspired by a visit to the exhibition.  My camera is full of photos, my notepad full of scribbles but I don’t know where to start with picking out highlights to share from the exhibition.  So I’m going to leave the telling of the story of the exhibition to the experts for now (anyway, I wouldn’t be posting at all if I didn’t think it was brilliant).  The museums press release is here and their new Ministry of Food blog is a treasure trove of gardening and cooking tips from the 1940’s, archive film clips and posters from the original ‘Dig for Victory’ and ‘Kitchen Front’ campaigns.  And here’s an example of a proper press review of our morning at the museum!

Was it favouritism or envy that kept drawing me back to the 1940’s greenhouse?

Housewives queued daily at Greengrocers shops like this to get their food rations .  ‘‘It is hysteria for some people – whenever they see a long queue they just join on the end” (Mass Observation Report, Hull 1941)

Advice for ‘growing your own‘, as relevant today as 70 years ago and encouragement for staying healthy on a more frugal vegetable based diet.

‘Cabbage does remarkable work in clearing the complexion, making cheeks pink, lips red and infusing you with fascinating vitality‘. (Ministry of Food ad, Sept 1944)

If you’d like to visit The Ministry of Food exhibition you have plenty of time.  It’s open until 3 January 2011 and it’s well worth making a day of it to look round the rest of the museum (who’s been wondering what to do with the kids in half-term next week?).  I didn’t get to see everything but I particularly enjoyed nosing around the reconstruction of an entire 1940’s house, was surprised by how small the air raid shelters were and crept my way through the dark and terrible trenches! 

ps. more to follow about war time stories gathered from some lovely people I met at the museum and thrifty ways to feed your family.  We were also treated to some nibbly recreations of war time recipes using the beloved potato to replace rationed ingredients.  Daniel, the Chef from Company of Cooks who are running the museum’s Kitchen Front Cafe  for the duration of the exhibition, kindly talked me through the making of mock goose so watch this space for a wartime cook up in our house shortly…

© images used with permission from the Imperial War Museum

Entry filed under: away from the plot. Tags: .

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24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gillie  |  February 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    What a wonderful exhibition! If I get home this year it will be on my list. Brought back many memories of visiting the Museum on my lunch hour – I worked just up the road in Lambeth in the FCO during the sixties!

  • 2. miss m  |  February 12, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Oh, I love this stuff ! The exhibition looks been fab. Is it worth a plane ticket, do you think ? 😛

  • 3. Jules  |  February 12, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Looks like a wonderful exhibition. I’m glad it’s on so long so hopefully I’ll get to visit.

  • 4. Matron  |  February 13, 2010 at 5:01 am

    I particularly liked the Womens Land Army uniform! That was like it was new, someone had taken great care of that. It brought all those black and white photos to life to see it in full colour! If I was around then I would have loved to have been a ‘land girl’!

  • 5. Ann  |  February 13, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Very interesting, I enjoyed this post and find anything about the war time kitchen and garden/allotment fascinating. Maybe I’ll get to go and see it for myself. I was making a model of a wartime kitchen, perhaps I’ll get it finished this year.

  • 6. Nip it in the bud  |  February 13, 2010 at 8:56 am

    Gillie – glad to have filled you with happy thoughts of home x

    Miss M – London certainly would be for all it’s fantastic free museums. And my allotment would be worth it {grin} – be sure to visit Gloucester if you get on a plan bound for Englang :o)

    Jules – you won’t regret it

    Matron – the pictures of artefacts alongside action photos was really moving. I really wanted to post a couple but didn’t fancy the Getty bill for breaching copyright if I did! Kids with carrots ring a bell?

    Ann – I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I have some pictures of the replica 1940s kitchen I can send you. I shall think of you when I write the next few posts about the wartime recipes we sampled.

  • 7. Johanna GGG  |  February 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

    I am sorry to say I never visited this museum on my visits to london – I wish I could see this exhibit but I doubt I will be there during the time is is on display. Ah well it is good to see your post at least – I love the quote about queuing – is that an insight into the british psyche 🙂

  • 8. Bilbo  |  February 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Great post, glad you felt better and were able to attend. Although the greenhouse is lovely, I don’t think you would have liked all the chemicals which were considered essential back then.

    No such thing as coincidence? This week Mrs Pao sent me some goodies including a “Doctor Carrot” card.

  • 9. Jasmin  |  February 13, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    So pleased you made the visit. It looks like a really well thought-through exhibition. At the moment it looks like I’ve been stealing everyone else’s rations so I’ll save this for the Summer I think! x

  • 10. Mrs Green @  |  February 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Sounds absolutely wonderful. I really miss the Robert Opie collection that used to be in GLoucester. The photos of your tins remind me of that 🙂

    Glad you had a good time.

  • 11. Tom Hayward  |  February 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    That is the time in America when we were all using DDT as an insecticide in our gardens. Come to think of it (bird population withstanding) it is still probably the best insect control ever invented.

  • 12. maria v  |  February 14, 2010 at 9:43 am

    looking forward to seeing this soon!

  • 13. mangocheeks  |  February 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Wonderful, insightful and colourful post Nic.

    If I head in that direction before January 2011, it will be high on my list to dos.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to reading the more 😀

  • 14. maria v  |  February 15, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    i forgot to ask – are you allowed to take photos and post them (i would like to do this myself during my visit)

  • 15. Nip it in the bud  |  February 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Johanna – queuing is definitely in the British blood!

    Bilbo – I can imagine. The most ardent fans of industrial bug killer on our allotment site are the old boys.
    I do love a tale of synchronicity

    Jas – it’s well worth a visit. You and your bump are allowed extras although babies these days are probably glad not to have cod liver oil poured down their neck

    Mrs Green – it was a real shame when the collection moved. I think I saw it as a child but probably didn’t appreciate it’s historical value then.

    Tom – the vanishing of the bees film I posted about recently suggests strong chemicals such as pesticides is the primary cause of CCD in bees. Sadly chemicals are not very discerning when it comes to destroying insect foes or friends in the garden.

    Maria – we were allowed to take photos but some of the artefacts in the collection do not belong to the museum so I ran my photos past Lisa the museums press officer before posting. There are some amazing black and white Getty images and I was particularly gutted not to be able to post one of them. I’ve since seen it on someone else’s site but I didn’t fancy the bill that would follow if found to be breaching copyright! I’ll ask Lisa to post a comment in response to your question too.

  • 16. Jesse  |  February 16, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Great post, Nic, and thanks for the kind comments everyone!

    You can definitely take photos of the exhibition for personal use. If you’re planning on putting those photos online or publishing them in print, we ask that you please check with the Press Officer at IWM London first. Her name is Lisa Glanville, and she can be reached at 020 7416 5311 or lglanville [at] iwm [dot] org [dot] uk. Thanks!

    Jesse, IWM Web Editor

  • 17. maria v  |  February 16, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    thanks awfully – i am simply interested in getting a feel of the place ratehr than photographing specific images

    looking forwward to reading part 2 of your visit (shall be there in about four weeks time)

  • 18. Choclette  |  February 18, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Fantastic post Nic, really interesting. This has even tempted me into thinking of a London trip AND that is something. So glad you had a good day.

  • 19. john  |  September 13, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Anyone know when Dr Carrot first appeared on the scene?

    • 20. Nip it in the bud  |  September 13, 2010 at 7:23 pm

      Hi John, the Ministry of Food campaigns came into play with the introduction of food rationing on 8th January 1940. Doctor Carrot, the children’s best friend, wasn’t introduced until January 1942 though when there was a surplus of carrots (100,000 tonnes) to shift. If you were hoping for a more definitive date than that The Imperial War Museum may be able to help you.
      Otherwise there’s not a lot you don’t know about carrots judging by a little browse around your website!

      • 21. john  |  September 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm

        Thanks, I am going tomorrow! clearly there are some discrepancies because The Times had Dr Carrot adverts appearing in 1941. I think you will find it was tons of carrots.

        Thanks for the compliment, it’s the result of 10 years work!

  • 22. Nip it in the bud  |  September 13, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    the 100,000 tonnes figure and date was from the Ministry of food cookbook that was launched with the exhibition (p.146). You’ll be in the right place to check it out tomorrow then. Enjoy the exhibition if you’ve not been before.

  • 23. john  |  September 14, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Sadly there are several incorrect “facts” in that publication.
    The UK did not use tonnes in 1945.
    No, not been to the exhibit before but really visiting to take the opportiunity to spend a couple of days in the archives and try nail this one. My real investigation is associated with the Disney cartoons. Walt Disney sent a Dr Carrot (amongst others) but I beliieve Lord Wooltin had already dreamt up that one.

  • […] what was I saying 3 years and 8 months ago.  Oh yes, that lovely mock goose I tried at the Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum turned out rather well when I recreated it at home.  It’s called Mock Goose because […]


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Welcome to my once-about-gardening-and-cooking blog that is now mostly about our life in Gloucester with a boy, a baby and 3 cats.

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