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They Can’t Ration These

by Vicomte de Mauduit
Persephone book no:

53 54 55


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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
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176pp
ISBN 9781903155448

This 1940 cookery book, which is about what we would now call 'foraging', was written at a time when the people of Great Britain genuinely thought the Nazis might invade at any moment, forcing them to find a way to live off the land and find food for free. It is thus a fascinating historical document as well as being full of excellent and unusual recipes (roast hedgehog, anyone?). Vicomte de Mauduit wrote They Can't Ration These in response to the outbreak of World War 2 – after which British cooks might have to rely completely on squirrels, trout, nettles, samphire, beetroot, blueberries and camomile tea; 'for them this book will be a delight' wrote the TLS, and it is true that this book would make a perfect present for the ecologically-minded.

Vicomte de Mauduit, also know as Georges de Maudit de Kervern (1893-c.1940), came from an old French aristocratic family, but he went to school in England and then travelled all over the world: the subtitle of his autobiography was 'reminiscences of a wandering nobleman'. In World War 1 he was an aviator, worked in Egypt and ended up living in England, publishing four cookery books and a children's book. His last book was They Can't Ration These, 'the object of which is to show where to seek and how to use Nature's larder, which in a time of peace and plenty people overlook or ignore.'

As Lloyd George commented in his Foreword: 'I need not stress the timeliness of this book. It is a valuable contribution towards our national defence. Days may lie ahead when it will be a matter of life and death to secure the maximum food supply from those things which grow in our countryside.'

But for the Vicomte, it was alas a matter of death. At some time after the book's publication in the autumn of 1940, he seems to have crossed the Channel. Nothing is know of what he did next; all the family does know is that he died in Germany and is listed as having 'died in France'. There is a chance that, just as the book was being reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement for October 12th, 1940, and was being read in comfort by its readers in England, the Vicomte was all too forcibly testing out what the TLS called his 'cheering statement that any country dweller armed with this book can live in comfort and plenty even if all the banks, shops and markets were closed. He proceeds to show us where to look for wild food, fruit, vegetables and animals, and gives delicious recipes. To the country sweller with time and a spirit of adventure the book will be a delight.' Of course it is all too possible that the Vicomte had the time, somewhere in the fields of France; he certainly had the spirit of adventure.

In the Guardian the ‘food for free’ pioneer Richard Mabey referred to this ‘splendidly titled’ book, which ‘moved the Home Front out into the wild, with recipes for the obligatory rose-hip syrup, as well as sloe and marrow jam'. Charlie Lee-Potter described it in the Independent as ‘a whimsical forerunner to Food for Free, packed with recipes for stewed starlings, sage toothpaste and hedgehog pate. I pore over it late at night and cheer myself with the thought that the recipe for snail consommé need never be used again.’ Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune observed that the Vicomte de Mauduit ‘was trying to make the best of a rotten situation and could not have guessed that his coping strategies would become part of today’s affluent society. The salads he recommends are now found in supermarkets along with olive oil, which in his day was only found in chemists... Perhaps the biggest star of de Mauduit’s book is the good old nettle.’

This cookery book is not just an excellent read but, like all the other Persephone cookery books, can be used by everyone. However, in the case of They Can't Ration These, we very much hope that it never has to be used in a state of emergency. But at least its precepts can contribute to the movement for self-reliance and sustainability.

Endpaper

'October', a fabric design in potato prints and paint on sugar paper, was done at her kitchen table by Alma Ramsey-Hosking in c. 1940

Picture Caption

'The Kitchen Companion', also by Vicomte de Mauduit


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Categories: Cookery Books Men (books by) WWII

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