How many potatoes did people eat during WW2?

Right now, nearly every day I will eat potatoes. But how authentic was eating spuds 5 times a week during WW2 for the average urban working class household?

I’m happy to announce that potatoes were the foundation of the working class diet, not only providing up to 45% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C to each person who ate them (and most people ate around 4.5 lbs of spuds per week) BUT were delicious, affordable and were able to provide that vitamin C all year around due to their great storage capabilities. Farmers could store potatoes in large “clamps” which essentially were long mounds of potatoes covered in straw and then earth was piled on the top to form a frost free storage and households could store their potatoes, throughout the winter in hessian sacks in an outhouse.

Because I’m a WW2 food nerd, I’ve enjoyed spending Valentine’s Day evening CONSUMING DATA from “The Urban Working-Class Household Diet 1940-1949”. I’m particularly interested how people maintained good health during WW2 on a limited diet and happily for me, this book tells me what food sources supplied people with essential vitamins, iron and protein as well as providing enough calories to sustain an active life.

I thought you might be interested in some snippets below about potatoes!

C xxx

In addition to data about potatoes I found this quite interesting. Vegetable protein was Great Britain’s main source of protein throughout WW2 which is not surprising seeing how meat was rationed. Before the war people were eating around roughly 2.5 lbs of meat and fish per week, during the war it was about 1.5 lbs per person, per week (according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations Britons currently consume almost 3.5 lbs per week).

20 thoughts on “How many potatoes did people eat during WW2?

    • Absolutely!!!! Love a couple of potatoes most days! Tonight I had steamed potatoes (I have all my potatoes in their skins including mash!), yesterday was I fried up some left over baked potatoes. everything is better with potatoes!!!

      • I simply must agree. Even for pastries and cakes I find that the texture and moisture is improved – try this one, it’s form the USA and is really yummy.
        Chocolate & Caramel Potato Cake
        1 cup butter, softened
        2 cups sugar
        2 large eggs, room temperature
        1 cup cold mashed potatoes (nothing added)
        1 teaspoon vanilla extract
        2 cups all-purpose flour
        ½ cup baking cocoa
        1 teaspoon baking soda
        1 cup plain yogurt
        Caramel icing:
        ½ cup butter
        1 cup packed brown sugar
        ¼ cup evaporated milk
        2 cups icing sugar
        ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
        In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Add potatoes and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa and baking soda; gradually add to creamed mixture alternately with yogurt, beating well after each addition. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans. Bake at 350° until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
        For icing, in a saucepan over low heat, cook butter and brown sugar until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in evaporated milk; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature. Stir in icing sugar and vanilla until smooth. Spread between layers and over top of cake.

  1. I love my spuds!

    And top of the tree, the king of the potato, is… the Jersey Royal.

    It’s only a short season for them, but I would have missed them something rotten during wartime when the Channel Islands were occupied. 😢

  2. “I have all my potatoes in their skins including mash!”

    I’ve found people can be a bit fussy about keeping the skins in mash tbh.

    A good alternative I still use today though, is to add a dessert spoon of wheat bran while mashing. Admittedly it does give the mash a speckled appearance, but with your eyes closed, you really wouldn’t know it’s in there.

    And it gives what my old Gran used to describe as “extra roughage”. 😀

    • In NZ we have Jersey Benne potatoes (in the summer, for Christmas) stupid name but there must be some sort of copyright on the name Jersey Royals, but they are the same.

      • They maybe the same breed, but apparently, it’s the soil and what the farmers in Jersey do with it that gives them the edge in taste over any that are grown abroad it seems.

        I remember having a similar discussion with a friend many years ago, about Guinness (of all things). He was adamant that the stout brewed in the UK at the time (down the road in Park Royal) was inferior to that from Dublin.

        “If it’s the same recipe, how could it be better?” I asked.

        “It’s the Dublin water which gives it the advantage” he explained.

        Definitely a parallel there I think. 🙂

      • Hi Sean. If you have ever made your own beers or wines you would know what is meant by the recipe being different with different water. Stouts brewed in Ireland, Wales and Scotland are superior to those brewed in Southern England as the water is softer in the north. As for cider you won’t get a good sharp one with the soft water from up north but any from the south coast on England will always be a great brew.

        AS for the Jersey Royal and the Jersey Benne they are the same variety but not called so because of where they are grown, just like the Cornish pasty is only a Cornish pasty in Cornwall, protected status. It’s the same with growing any vegetable, especially from seed, for example no matter which seed of spinach you grow in NZ it will be deficient in minerals such as zinc due to the volcanic soil. I still find it odd to have black sand at the beach.

  3. Do you know, I seldom eat potatoes, I don’t know why. I love, absolutely love a jacket spud, but I can’t justify the fuel costs to cook one, so I haven’t had one in yonks.
    I have to admit that I don’t like the skin left on for mash, I have a real thing about food texture and I am afraid it affects the overall texture and it’s not to my taste.
    I can’t even grow potatoes and I have tried numerous times, something always eats the foliage before they get time to develop properly and I don’t even know what it is.
    So overall I think I would have been a failure during WWII.

    • Not at all Su!

      Most of those initially ‘Digging for Victory’ during the war were novices, and benefited greatly from sage advice from old hands at growing veg.

      Maybe you could have kept a few hens, and bartered eggs for spuds. Apparently, people were forever swapping excess stuff for things they needed during wartime.

    • Hi Su

      Bake your spuds in the microwave. Scrub (do not prick) and microwave in a lidded container – an average sized baker should be done in 5-6 minutes. Alternatively if you have your oven on for another reason (say a Sunday roast) then bake some in foil on another shelf, then,when cold, freeze still wrapped in their foil.

      You might have a pest or disease in your ground so grow your spuds in bins or bags using sterile compost (if you are in the UK it will be) keep a net over the top to keep the potato virus at bay, plant earlier than recommended and harvest quickly, if they are stored cool and dark then they should be fine.

  4. It’s not about WW2 but Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire is a book you might find interesting. He has a section on potatoes that puts the Irish Potato Famine into a whole new perspective (at least did for me). I was impressed to learn that potatoes are far more nutritious that we Americans give them credit.

    • Hi Sara

      On a point of history and the potatoes grown throughout the UK & Ireland when still a novelty. The peasantry were instructed to grow potatoes by land owners but not told which part of the plant to eat, so they ate the fruits, which are highly toxic. This is one of the many reasons that early immigrants to the USA thought that tomatoes were toxic. Tomatoes and potatoes are similar in appearance (solanaceae family, ie deadly nightshade) both produce fruits that look alike which muddled information about eating the fruits or the tubers, making them all suspect to the uneducated.

  5. They ate a LOT of potatoes for sure, and happily if they are not fried to often, potatoes are one of the best foods for us. When I did research into the vitamins that people following rations took in each day I was pleasantly surprised to see that you actually got all that you needed from bread, potatoes and vegetables. It’s all fascinating reading isn’t it.

    • I agree that spuds are generally good food, unless you are a diabetic, then you must ration them religiously for the sake of your blood sugars.

  6. Thank you for sharing the info! It doesn’t surprise me a bit. The history of Great Britain would be considerably different without potatoes — for good and ill. On the negative side, of course, there’s the Famine, but for the most part, they’ve been an incredibly important staple, not only during wars, but during the aftermath and during times when other crops failed.

    Also (having seen your latest post) just wanted to say Em’s got your smile! That’s so sweet! Glad you had a lovely day!

    • Something I read recently about some of the things Churchill made clear about rationing during WW2 were that there was to be no holding back on the ‘essentials’ for morale purposes so all could have beer, fish & chips – what more could you ask for ? Rellies tell me that there was no problem there aside from the watered beer !

      • Indeed, although Winston was largely mirroring the same train of thought previously applied during the Great War.

        So although fish & chips were never rationed during wartime, the price of the fish apparently rocketed (for obvious reasons), and the quality wasn’t always what it should have been because of the scarcity of cooking fats – mostly fried in dripping back then.

  7. I have been reading The Urban Working-Class Household Diet 1940-1949 as well! I have been fascinated by both the protein intake on the rations and with all of the vegetable proteins. Also, I am fascinated by the average caloric intake per person. It is eye opening in that consumption is much higher now in general! There is so much we can learn from the intense period of rationing.

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