Scottish Memory Lane - Food

Ration Book

The range of foods available in the past, particularly during and immediately after the two World Wars, were not nearly as wide as they are today and the means of obtaining our food have changed dramatically in the last 50 years or more.

I'm hoping that readers will send in their own stories and memories of their own childhood in Scotland. All contributions should be sent to

Recently added stories have placed beside their title.

Supper In The Fifties......

Pasta had not been invented. It was macaroni or spaghetti.
Curry was a surname.
A take-away was a mathematical problem.
Pizza? Sounds like a leaning tower somewhere.
Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time.
All chips were plain.
Rice was a pudding, a favorite dessert at our house.
A Big Mac was what we wore when it was raining.
Brown bread was something only poor people ate.
Oil was for lubricating; lard and fat were for cooking.
Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.
Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.
Chickens didn't have fingers in those days.
None of us had ever heard of yogurt
Healthy food consisted of anything edible.
Cooking outside was called camping.
Seaweed was not a recognized food
'Kebab' was not even a word, never mind a food.
Sugar enjoyed a good press in those days, and was regarded as white gold.
Prunes were medicinal
Surprisingly muesli was readily available. It was called cattle feed.
Pineapple came in chunks in a tin..we had only seen a picture of a real one.
Water came from the tap. If someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than gasoline for it, they would have become a laughing stock.
The things that we never ever had on/at our table in the fifties...were elbows, hats and cell phones!

Alistair & Gina McDonald in Canada

Food Parcel from Canada

The article on foods stirred many memories-even to getting a parcel from relatives in Canada. One day, in 1946 I believe, a parcel arrived containing wondrous items we had never seen before. It included tubes of toothpaste! Up to that time, our toothpaste came in a tin (Gibbs Dentifrice), and you had to wet the brush and rub it on the hard paste. Come to think of it, it looked very much like what I use now for silver polish!!

Another item was peanut butter. Since I had never eaten a peanut, I had no idea what this might taste like. Well, I tried it on a piece of bread—and I was hooked! I still like the stuff.

Tattie scones (pictured on the left were a part of our staple diet, but I never had one with cheese! It reminds me of something I now enjoy in the S.W. United States: a quesadilla, which consists of two flour tortillas with cheese in between and fried - see graphic on the right. One thing we occasionally ate which was not mentioned, was “fried scone”. This was the ordinary “sodie scone” fried—usually when they had turned a little stale. They were quite delicious-especially if you could get some home-made rhubarb jam!

Talking about jam, I do recall that during fruit season, we were allowed an extra ration of “preserving sugar”-a small token to keep the populace happy I suppose!

Did anyone else enjoy Christmas pudding with custard? Ours always had a couple of threepenny bits wrapped and hidden inside - the small "silver" threepeny; not the chunky brass one.

Thanks again for all the wonderful memories.

Wilma Heberling, now in Texas, USA.

Bananas Made with Parsnips and Essence

In 1944, I started work in a tobacco factory in Paisley(see picture on the right). It was just before my 15th birthday, and, like most of my friends, I couldn’t recall ever tasting or even seeing a banana. So a group of elderly ladies, who worked with us, decided to give us a treat on that day. They brought us in a “piece’ (a sandwich in other words) with banana spread. This consisted of boiled, then mashed Parsnips )a root vegetable, pictured on the left via Wikimedia Commons ) mixed with Banana essence..... To us, it tasted really good and we believed that was what the real thing tasted like... Quite a surprise when we finally were introduced to a real banana!!

Rebecca Taylor, Vancouver Island, Canada.

Strawberry Picking at Boggs Holdings

My memories go way back to circa 1949 when a bunch of young village lads from Macmerry would cycle for a few miles to the small holding farms in what was known as The Boggs Holdings (graphic of MacMerry © Richard Webb via Wikimedia Commons).

The Boggs Holdings were set up during the early 193Os to help reduce the high unemployment which caused the great strikes in the mid 192Os. Forty-two small holdings were formed when the Boggs Farm was split up. The farm belonged to Winton Estate and is situated to the North East of the main village. After WW2 much of the land was given over to the production of seasonal fruit such as strawberries.

The fields in the Boggs probably range from 6-1O acres each and in the old days forty-two families made their living from hens, pigs, soft fruit and vegetables. Several had a cow to produce their own milk and butter. Today much of the land has been turned to other uses. Graphic of Boggs Holdings today © Richard Webb via Wikimedia Commons.

We picked strawberries at John Noble's farm (he was an incomer from Lanark). His wife was Grace and they had a daughter Grizell. We started at 7am usually in the rain and we were soaked within minutes of kneeling down on the straw to fill punnets. We stopped at 5pm and had an hour for lunch. Grace was a task mistress!! My first wage at 9yrs was 5/3 (five shillings and three pence). Many of us village boys worked there every year. I eventually graduated in 1955 as the tractor driver collecting the punnets (no licence). My salary was 10/- (ten shillings - 50 new pence in today's currency). Many people came from Edinburgh to work the fruit farms in those days. We never questioned the amounts paid to us. I would say that the experiences during the long summer holidays were very much part of a maturation process.

Andrew Herriot ex Macmerry now South Africa (b 1940 in Haddington)

The Berries

Before growing up and leaving the boyhood bicycle era, apart from pleasure it served another purpose. It was the means of my friends and I to earn pocket money - berry picking. I was about 12 or 13 years of age, and one of my pals had relatives, owning berry fields at The Kellas, a hamlet in Moray, Scotland (Graphic of the village © Iain Macaulay via Wikimedia Commons The village is approximately three miles North East of Dallas (Scotland) on the B9010 road and was just about five miles north of my home at that time. Their name was Mudie, and it’s remarkable how, even after over 80 years the name still registers, yet I can‘t remember the name of that chap I met yesterday.

The Mudies farmed what appeared to be several hundred acres of raspberries, and on a smaller scale, strawberries. Some half a dozen of us were invited to help harvest the rasps. School children were not allowed to pick strawberries for fairly obvious reasons. It didn’t need much persuading where money was concerned. I think now it was a plan by the growers to have schoolchildren pickers whom they could trust, rather than have to employ too many Gypsies (“Tinkers” in our language)

Although it was very hard work I cannot remember ever not looking forward to a session in the fields. Up early to arrive by bike at the fields by nine o’clock and not finish until five, with an hour for a sandwich known as a “piece”(I’ll come back to that word later - see next item on this page) and a bottle of, more often than not of water, but occasionally a shared bottle of lemonade. We were paid a halfpenny per pound of berries, and on a good day I could earn four shillings which was my reward for picking almost a hundred pounds of berries.. It was hard work, perhaps a reflection of the national depression at that time with mass unemployment and a resulting shortage of cash. It may sound as if the task of picking raspberries was as it might be in your own garden on a warm summer’s day. But the difference between that and mass harvesting was substantial. First, we were given a large galvanised bucket and a length of rope to tie it round our waist. As the bucket filled it thumped painfully against your knees, and then had to be lugged back to the weighing platform to have your haul credited to your name for payment at the end of the day.

The berry bushes were about six feet high and it seemed that as many berries grew at ground level as they did at the top. You were instructed not to miss any berries, and regularly during the day you were followed by a supervisor picking from bushes you had just passed. You were told not to miss any berries, top or bottom or “don’t bother coming back tomorrow” I suppose this description might resemble the slave plantations in America a couple of centuries ago, but looking back, our annual sessions of berry picking were an enjoyable and profitable pastime. Strawberry pickers were given a penny per pound, but although the “strawser” fields were out of bounds to school children for good reason despite this ban we enjoyed a good share of those delicious berries.

The schoolboy berry picking season lasted no more than a couple of weeks, but at the end of that time we retired with a pocket full of berry earnings - a fortune of around two pounds - about six months pocket money.

Alistair Macdonald, now in Bromley, Kent, UK

A Piece

The word is believed to have derived from, at least in the north east of Scotland, a sandwich of bread containing meat, jam, cheese or other customary sandwich fillers. (Graphic here is via Wikimedia Commons and shows a peanut butter and jam jeely piece). The word is derived, it is believed, from the custom in farms where porridge was folded into cloths and kept in a drawer until dry and firm. When dried to the consistency of bread it was sliced and filled with what was available in the farm kitchen, and this “piece of porridge” taken out to the farm workers where were working in the fields. along with a bottle of liquid refreshments. When I was young my sandwich was two slices of bread filled with whatever was available, That was a piece.

[Editor: In older times children playing outside a Glasgow tenement were often thrown a "jeely piece" by their mother from an upstairs window. As multi-storey flats became commonplace in the city to replace older properties, it gave rise to the "Jeely Piece" song about the difficulties of throwing one from high in a milti-storet flat! Words (originally by Matt McGinn) and an MP3 version can be found at Jeelie Piece Song / Skyscraper Wean]

Alistair Macdonald, now in Bromley, Kent, UK


As for The Haggis, as far as I am concerned it can stay in Scotland. Now, I know how it was made way back, but even now the way it is made makes me not eat it. However, when we were back in Scotland 8 years ago we were with friends at a restaurant in West Linton. I ordered a "British" or cooked breakfast (as distinct from a "Continental" one which is much lighter and has a selection from cereal, toast, bread and fruit - or "preserves" as I now call them for the sake of my US friends). There was so much on that "British"/Scottish breakfast plate I took a photo of it. Everything was delicious. After I had scoffed the lot one of the friends said "Ella, there were two slices of Haggis on your plate." So, it must be the name "Haggis" and what's in it that puts me off, but served to me and me not knowing what it was I enjoyed it Go figure. I'm so glad I had a photo at the time. The one here, however is © Gveret Tered via Wikimedia Commons. Americans had to be shown to believe it what was on that plate.

Helen Ella Veldre, USA


Like another one of your e mailers, we did not suffer too much in lack of food during wartime, mostly lack of variety, but no complaints....I too, remember the “jeely pieces” (bread and jam) yum......
I remember one time when my father came home for a short time, he brought us some I took one outside, and soon had a huge crowd looking at it...I remember one little boy said....”wait”, ran to his house, came back with a small knife, and asked if he could cut off a small piece.....I told my granddaughter about this story, she wrote it in an essay at school, about the second world war....She got an A.......

Irene, British Columbia Canada

What We Didn't Have

It is easy to forget that things like supermarkets, refrigerators and frozen / chilled food have become commonplace in the last 50 years or so. Those of us who grew up in the 1940s and 50s didn't have access to food items not grown more or less locally or had been shipped (not flown) to the UK / Scotland. Supplies were only available at specific seasons instead of being brought in regularly from faraway places. And of course, during wartime and for a number of years afterwards, restricted supplies of foods and other goods meant that "Ration Books" were required for many items which had restricted supply in the shops - see graphic above of a sample Ration Book.

And there were often long queues outside food shops during the war. Having been born in 1939, it was a few years before I went to school and I would accompany my mother on the daily trip to the shops (no nursery schools in those days!) The first queue was at the City Bakeries to get bread and rolls. The manageress of the shop wouldn't open the doors until the various items had been put on display and so the customers (mainly housewives, some accompanied by young children like me) had to stand outside until she opened the doors, even if the rain was pouring down or in the middle of winter. (The graphic of the City Bakeries in Bridgeton, Glasgow by Robert Kelly was taken in 1936 and so the window is well stocked).

When rationing of sweets ended a few years after the war had ended, the initial removal of such restrictions resulted in such long queues (I remember them well!) that it had to be re-imposed and was not finally relaxed until 1953.

Scottie, Glasgow

Things We Did Have and Don't Now

While we have made progress and developed so many aspects of our daily lives, there are still things that we enjoyed in the past and no longer have. Although the morning delivery of glass bottles of milk on our doorsteps could sometimes disturb our sleep, at least it meant that the milk was fresh - as a youngster growing up in a suburban dormitory area of Glasgow, I knew the milk that arrived was from Flender's Farm, a few miles away. And the cream would rise to the top of the bottle - and my mother poured that cream onto my morning corn flakes - so much for skimmed milk! Of course, there was always the danger that the local birds would learn to peck at the foil bottle tops and have a sip at the milk first!

And although it was often time consuming, there was a personal service at the bakery, grocers and fruit and vegetable sellers. With not much in the way of pre-packaging, customers could specify exactly what they wanted - products such as cheese and butter were cut to the customers' own requirements. Of course, if the assistant had to trail back and forwards to shelves that were perhaps on the other side of the store, it could take a while to get what you wanted. Of course, during wartime food rationing, there wasn't much choice in what was available - the shop could only sell what had arrived with them and customer choice was severely restricted.

Scottie, Glasgow

So What Did I Eat During WW2 and After?
Nutritionists have calculated that we were nutritionally better fed during the war than in the years of plentiful supply. The rationing system was designed to ensure that everyone got enough of the right nutrition although there was sometimes a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. On the other hand those who had a garden or access to an area for growing things were encouraged to grow their own vegetables. In 1943 we moved from an apartment block (known in Scotland as a "tenement") in Govanhill to a house in the suburbs of the city and my father would grow potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, carrots, rhubarb, lettuce and cabbage. There was even space for some gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes and my mother made jam from the fruit crop - I still recall the conical muslin nets hanging over the bowls in the bath below as the fruit juice dripped down after the fruit had been boiled. And my grandfather Scott in Perth who had an allotment where he grew lots of vegetables - and the most delicious plums which he brought to us in a large cardboard box!
It may be that I have a better memory of the late 1940s and 1950s but we did seem to have a good amount of fish - haddock was coated in egg and bread crumbs and fried while herring was coated in oatmeal and also fried. Then there were delicious "Arbroath Smokies" - haddock smoked in the east coast towns of Angus. They were just cooked in water and arrived on the plate with a large knob of butter melting on the fish - that must have been after the war as butter was rationed during the conflict! In 2004, the European Commission registered the designation "Arbroath smokies" as a "Protected Geographical Indication" under the EU's Protected Food Name Scheme, acknowledging its unique status.

Chicken tended to be for special occasions particularly family gatherings around Christmas and New Year. It was usually boiled rather than roasted as that meant we got chicken soup as well. "Pulling the wish bone" was a family tradition (if I got to do that, I always wished for snow after Christmas - and my wish was often granted!). I have since learned that the custom of two people pulling on the bone with the one receiving the larger part making a wish developed in the early 17th century. The name "wishbone" in reference to this custom is recorded only from 1860, however.

Meat didn't feature much in our house - apart from "mince and tatties" (ground beef and potato) usually flavoured with an Oxo cube (a brand of beef stock cube). I liked eggs - occasionally boiled but often as scrambled or omelettes. During the war eggs were in short supply and we began to get boxes of dried egg powder imported from the USA. I got to like the flavour and texture of dried eggs so much that I was disappointed when "real" eggs became the norm again!

Our evening meal was always timed for 6pm since that was when my Dad would get home from work. He travelled by train so I assume that the trains were usually on time - my Mum would time the cooking so that the cooked meal was on the table as soon as he had got his slippers on!

Macaroni and cheese was another of my favourites - not from a tin of course but "real" boiled macaroni and cheese sauce baked in the oven. Another cheese dish I enjoyed was two Potato Scones with slices of cheese between them and fried. My mother always knew to have some scones and cheese on standby for "seconds"! I used to think that "French Toast" (bread dipped in egg and fried) was a Scottish dish until, much to my surprise, I found it at breakfast in a motel cafe in Florida when we took our own children to Orlando!

I can recall the very first time I had baked beans on toast. It was at the end of one of our stays in Carnoustie and we were to have lunch in a local tearoom before catching the train back to Glasgow. This was an exciting new event for me as I was confronted by a menu card for the first time. There weren't that many items available(this was the late 1940s) and I struggled to find anything that looked acceptable to me. I came across "Baked Beans on Toast" and after being told that that the beans would covered in tomato sauce, opted for that. To my relief I found it was quite tasty! That was probably because in the UK the sauce has a surprising amount of sugar in it!

You might think that being a Scot that porridge was feature at my breakfast but I've never liked it and went for cereals such as corn flakes and "puffed wheat" instead I don't think I ever saw a real banana until after the war but on the other hand I do recall getting a lovely red apple at school, courtesy of the Canadian Government. It was probably a Macintosh Red and I've liked such red apples ever since. This was after the end of the war and I was at school. We all had to write a "Thank-you" letter - I wonder if anybody ever read them?

I also recall we got a "food parcel" from a relative in the USA that was full of items I had never seen before - tins of fruit and I think there was corned beef too. Knowing that there would be a young child (me) hovering around as the goodies were taken from the cardboard box, there were sweets included and - wonder of wonders - chewing gum!

Scottie, Glasgow

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