You can search more than 390,000 newspaper pages from 1914-1918 at The British Newspaper Archive, with more being added all the time.
Juliet Greenwood got in touch to explain how she used the collection to research World War One recipes for her novel, We That Are Left.
When I first began writing a novel set during the First World War, I knew I wanted to focus on the experience of women and civilians.
For Elin, the heroine of We That Are Left, learning to run the family estate in Cornwall, and particularly the kitchen garden, leads to her developing a passion for baking and creating recipes from the scarce ingredients available as shortages begin to bite.
I knew I wanted to find actual recipes from the time, which was where the real difficulty began. I found old recipes, but nothing that was specific to the war. Then I read that many newspapers began giving advice and recipe hints to their readers to help them to cope with the shortages.
That was when I discovered an invaluable online resource – The British Newspaper Archive.
Researching World War One recipes
I’d had visions of trawling through dusty paper archives, or endless microfiche. Instead, I simply typed in ‘recipes’, selected a year and up came all kinds of recipe ideas, instructions for preserving the produce of allotments and hints on how to cope without meat.
The British Newspaper Archive is a wonderful resource, not only for the recipes themselves, but for the context in which they can be found. It’s just incredible to be able to read the words that people living through the war would have read, sandwiched between mentions of Gallipoli and a photograph above an obituary for a soldier.
There were indignant protests against the placing of much-needed allotments, advertisements for coats and stomach powders. All of them signs of life going on, as it does, amongst the horrors, and of a society being changed forever.
The Cornish Lady’s ‘Meatless Meal’
I loved using the newspapers for my research and found lots of wartime recipes. I tried out as many as I could – photos of some of my creations illustrate this blog post.
My favourite recipe was the Cornish Lady’s ‘Meatless Meal’ from 1918 which serves 2 or 4, but I have to confess to cheating a little by adding cheese. Be warned, it’s delicious!
The recipe appeared in the Liverpool Echo on 13 March 1918. You’ll find my version of the recipe below.
Liverpool Echo – Wednesday 13 March 1918
Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.
A ‘Meatless Meal’
Chop three leeks. Fry gently in butter until soft. Add a clove of garlic and ten chopped mushrooms (add more if you like mushrooms).
Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, slowly add one tablespoon of flour and stir for one minute. Then add approximately ½ pint (284 ml) milk slowly until you reach a consistency of double cream. Add approximately 4oz (113g) grated cheese.
Pour over 2 – 4 large pieces of toast. Place in a fireproof dish, scatter grated cheese on top and place under a hot grill until golden brown. Serve hot.
We’d love to hear about the stories you’ve uncovered in the newspapers too. You can post information and images of the articles you’ve found in the comments section below.