My novel, ‘Maggie’s Kitchen’, is inspired by real events from the Second World War and the British Restaurants that the Ministry of Food established to help overcome the food shortages.
Working in family restaurants growing up showed me how strong a restaurant community can be and the close relationships that can develop between customers, staff and locals; I imagined how this must have been even more pronounced during wartime.
In the novel, Maggie’s restaurant becomes an antidote to the turmoil of the times and she plays an important role in nurturing the community while she struggles with her own grief. Initially I thought it would be problematic writing a novel about a restaurant during wartime given the difficulties with food supply but then I realized that was an important part of the story. Also, what could be more important than providing people with their basic need and how even more pronounced this would be when life was so precious and resources scarce? We know the restorative power of food in nurturing our senses, giving comfort, and being the focus of our celebrations as well as providing the right nutrition; for Maggie, offering food was her way of making a difference and helping Robbie and Janek as well as the wider community.
Initially I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about these British Restaurants and then discovered that whilst food was scarce, what they ate was healthy, simple unprocessed food. By 1941 there were two hundred restaurants and by 1943 there were over two thousand run by local government with the menus and operating rules centralized. Surprisingly, the recipes and ingredients are not dissimilar to what we eat now, particularly with the popularity of ’paddock-to-plate’ and ‘nose-to-tail eating’. A few of these recipes are included at the back of the novel—updated and tested—so they will suit contemporary tastes! Woolton Pie for instance was created in honour of Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food; essentially it was a lentil and vegetable pie with added oatmeal to give extra vitamins and minerals. It’s this combination that makes it one of the most significant dishes from the Second World War; not only were the vegetables and oatmeal home-grown and full of nutrition, but they made meals go further. There was a lot of concern then over getting enough nutrition, particularly vitamin C because of the lack of fruit.
Researching and writing this book made me realise how much we can learn from our past; from how much they ate and what they cooked, to how to value what we often take for granted. People seem more interested in where their food comes from now and mindful of what they are eating so some readers might recognise the parallels with the food issues then and now. I hope readers will try some of the recipes but more than anything I hope they will enjoy the story of a young woman who nurtures her community and finds courage in friendship and food.
To see the background that inspired the book, as well as more recipes go to www.maggieskitchennovel.com or https://au.pinterest.com/CarolineBeecha/maggies-kitchen-novel/