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Monday, July 25, 2022

Wartime Steak

Over the weekend, I found myself mesmerized by some World War 2 cooking and gardening films, the kind produced by government agencies in the UK, the US, and Canada. I'm interested in history, of course, but more interested in how ordinary people lived through extraordinary times. During WW2, British, American, and Canadian governments examined how citizens had been eating prior to the war and identified weak nutritional areas for some of the demographics groups. They took a fairly scientific approach in determining what foods should be suggested for society-wide consumption and how they should be prepared. Working within the confines of wide-scale shortages in some food groups, government agencies made suggestions and created recipes for the foods that would be needed to keep a society strong and healthy. (We've all heard about ration books intended to ensure everyone has an equal chance to buy foods in limited supply.)

In one film, the narrator highlighted a community kitchen in England that prepared the midday meal for a nursery, a school, and a community center for adults. The menu for all of the groups overlapped, but was slightly adjusted for different nutritional needs and tastes of the different groups. On one particular day, the kitchen was preparing what they called Wartime Steaks. One of the foods that grew well in the English climate and soil was carrots. Carrots were pushed for every meal, sometimes just as is, but other times "hidden" to stretch other, limited foods. 

Wartime Steaks incorporated grated carrot with ground meat, whole wheat bread crumbs, and minced onions, forming and cooking in small steak-sized patties. You and I might call these meatloaf patties, hamburger steaks or Salisbury steak. What makes the Wartime Steak differ from my own Salisbury steak recipe is the addition of grated carrot. Once cooked, the carrot disappears. But I do think it adds moisture as well as extra nutrients.

Anyway, I made a batch over the weekend for us to use in our lunches. I used 1 pound of ground beef, 1 carrot, 1 thick slice of whole wheat bread, 1/2 onion, 1 clove garlic, salt, pepper,  a dash of beef bouillon, making 8 patties at a cost of about 38 cents per patty. Each patty, then, uses about 2 ounces of meat. That's about how much meat I might choose to use in meat-based sandwiches at lunch time. I imagine the community kitchen baked these, as they cooked for many. I, however, skillet-fried them, saving the beef fat to use in cooking later. My family loved these and said they were far better than any sandwich made with lunchmeat.

Since my family loves gravy on any meat dish, I also made a Hunter's Sauce (Sauce Chasseur), which is basically a brown gravy blended with a bit of tomato sauce, chopped mushrooms, parsley, garlic, and minced onion or shallot. Some folks also add wine to this sauce. 

There are several other recipes I saw that I will give a try in the coming days or weeks. The many good tips and ideas for stretching more expensive foods apply today, too.


  1. Those films sound interesting. I saw an exhibit on the history of food once and it was interesting to see how ideas of nutrition changed over time. The recipe you mention sounds like meatloaf that we make. We often add carrots or spinach for more nutrition and moisture to the meat. And I usually make them into patties because they cook much faster. However, I don't make the delicious gravy like you did to go with them. I know everybody here, including me, would be happy if I did.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      The films have been very interesting on many levels. I'll link to a couple of them in the next few posts.
      In meatloaf, I mostly add diced tomatoes or peppers. I'll have to try carrots and spinach some time soon. I make meatloaf in muffin pans and custard cups to bake faster. My kids always liked having their own individual mini meatloaf.

  2. In my house, we call them poor man's steak (probably not a true definition) and it is asked for all the time. It has a gravy made with the pan drippings and a few other things to make it tasty. My kids loved this growing up. My parents lived in the Netherlands during WWII and so when they had us kids we had this kind of meal all the time growing up. I love this kind of frugality and many other ways to be frugal and thrifty. Keep these coming at us!


    1. Hi Alice,
      Poor man's steak is an apt name for this dish. I think these types of patties are very kid-friendly. So I can understand your kids loving them when they were growing up. I bet your parents had a lot of wisdom to offer to you when you were first starting out in life.

  3. Lili this has nothing to do with wartime living but thought you and some of your readers would be interested in this series. It is on YouTube and called Outback house set in Australia. I just started but seems good.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      I wonder if this show is produced by the same group that did Victorian House, Frontier House, Colonial House, etc? I'll check that out. Thanks for the link.

  4. If you haven’t already, check out I’ve been reading it for years, she’s fantastic with war time recipes. A treasure trove -vkc

    1. Hi Vanessa,
      I'll check that site out. I think I may have come across it before. Thank you for giving us the web address!


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