The National Loaf was introduced in Britain in 1942 as part of the rationing scheme during World War II. White bread was banned and this rather grey, crumbly loaf made withNational Flour, a type of ‘wheatmeal’ flour was the only bread available to buy or make at home.
Why was white bread banned during WW2?
Supplies of wheat were limited during the war. Because you make white flour by milling the whole grain and then sifting out the bran and the wheatgern less flour is made. White flour and white bread is also less nutritious and with limited rations it was essential for the Ministry of Food to ensure the health of the nation.
There was no choice for families in Britain during WW11, rationing was very strict and the only bread available was the National Loaf. The National Loaf could only be baked on one day of the week and the bakers were banned from selling it until the following day. This was because it could be sliced thinner if it was slightly stale and therefore you could get more slices and it would last longer.
I expect to be able to buy or bake a variety of bread types and take this for granted. I enjoy wholemeal bread but also like to try different loaves of bread like Rye Bread, soft white rolls, sourdough, and I’m very fond of making soda bread which is made without yeast.
Find the recipe for the National Loaf at the bottom of this article
Bread is just one of the staple foods that was rationed and, in 2012 I was involved in a challenge to eat a Wartime Ration Book diet for a week. Here are the rations that we had to keep our household of three adults fed for a week.:
WW2 Rations (1940) for 3 people for one week
- Butter 6 oz (150g)
- Bacon or ham 12oz (300g)
- Margarine 12 oz (300g)
- Cooking fat/lard 12 oz (300g)
- Sugar 1lb 10oz (675g)
- Meat 3lb (1350g)
- Milk 9 pints (5 litres) occasionally dropping to 8 pints
- Cheese: 6oz (150g)
- Fresh eggs 9 eggs for one week (36 eggs every four weeks)
- Dried Eggs 3 packets
- Tea: 6oz (150g)150g
- Sweets 3oz (262g)
Why is there no coffee included in the WW2 Rations?
When I looked at the rations available to me for this challenge, I realised that there was no coffee on the list. So I looked into the reasons for this.
Sugar and coffee are imported from South America and the Caribbean. In addition to the hazards of shipping by sea, the military needed great quantities of these ingredients. European sources were cut off and this meant that Britain only had access to sugar and coffee through the US. This added additional strains on the supplies and the tonnage lost to the war in the Atlantic also added to the shortages.
My husband’s uncle was a Gunner for the Merchant Navy and worked on the convoys, including the Arctic convoys to help bring vital supplies to the troops and the Home Front.
What is Camp Coffee?
The shortage of imported coffee in WW2 led to a rise in the use of Camp Coffee. Camp Coffee is a concentrate made from 4% coffee with added chicory (a vegetable) as the main ingredient.
I can remember visiting an elderly lady and being offered Camp Coffee in hot milk. I am no fan of warm milk in any drink and the combination of the milk and the, rather treacly, Camp Coffee was not to my taste!
Was tea rationed?
Yes, tea was rationed during WW2, however not to the same extent as some other items. The tea ration was 2oz a week, this is enough for three cups of tea a day. In 1942 the British Government bought up all the available tea because they knew how important tea drinking was to keep up the morale of the British public.
I am fortunate that I drink my tea black with no milk or sugar. I stopped taking sugar in my tea when I was about 12 and stopped taking milk in my tea when I was a student. In the 1970s student accommodation often had no fridge and keeping milk fresh was difficult, it was easier just to give it up.
Many people gave up sugar in their tea during the war so that they could use it in other cooking. My grandmother used to save the sugar ration to make jam, I plan to use my milk and sugar rations to make a dessert.
Wartime Ration Menu for Tuesday
Two slices of toast (National Loaf) with 1 tsp jam
Leek and Potato Soup
Haricot Beans, Baked Boston Style ( recipe from Vegetables for Victory by Ambrose Heath) serve with carrots and Potatoes
Vegetables for Victory is a vegetable cookbook that belonged to my grandmother. She must have worn out the cover, recovered it with brown paper, and stuck the picture back on the front! It is full of useful recipes for the wartime cook using everyday vegetables. I think my grandmother used it well into the 1950s as there are some newspaper cuttings of Elizabeth David recipes tucked between the pages.
The National Loaf
- 600 ml warm water
- 5 teaspoons quick rise yeast
- 0.25 tsp sugar
- 900 g wheatmeal flour wholemeal flour
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon rolled oats for top
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- Place flour in large bowl
- Mix in all dry ingredients except the rolled oats
- Drizzle in vegetable oil
- Pour in warm water and mix thoroughly
- When dough comes together knead for 10 minutes until dough is silky
- Place back in bowl and cover
- Let dough rise somewhere warm for around an hour until doubled in size
- Knead dough briefly again
- Place dough into 4 x 1/2 lb tins (or 2 x 1 lb tins) that have been floured
- Brush top with a little water and sprinkle on some rolled oats
- Leave to rise for around 20 minutes
- Place in oven at 180 0C for around 30-40 mins (depending on the size of the loaf)
This post is part of Twinkl’s VE Day Campaign, and is featured in their Best Wartime Recipes to Celebrate VE Day from Home post”