Friday, June 5, 2009

Sugar beet and old women's magazines

My Mum sent me this lovely and fascinating email the other day, and I asked her if I could repost it here.

By way of background, my mother has a popular (among spinners) NZ spinning wheel site, and a book in the pipeline.

Here's her email:

I spent much of yesterday going through World War 2 issues of the New Zealand Countrywoman, the newsletter of the Women’s Division of the NZ Farmers’ Union (now Women’s Divn Federated Farmers). Didn’t find much on spinning wheels, but it was interesting and would make a great research topic for someone (not me).

There was a Mrs Cocks-Johnston, for example, who seems to have spent most of the war travelling from place to place giving demonstrations to branches on home gardening and preserving.

There were lots and lots of little branches, as villages were very isolated. The organisation couldn’t afford to provide her with a car, and there wouldn’t have been enough petrol anyway, so they bought her a bicycle and she mostly cycled from the nearest train station or from one little village to another, over what must often have been bad roads, with a big pack of samples for her demo.

I’d love to find out more about her if I didn’t have other interests. One could go through the reports from the various branches and note where they said they’d had her and track her across the map!

There were lots of articles about coping with shortages. Here is one, from April 1944, by M.E. Annan, Dunstan Orchard, Clyde:

I wonder how many of our members know what a helpful substitute Sugar Beet is for sugar in cooking fruit for immediate use. Unfortunately it cannot be used for preserving fruit as fermentation sets up within a very short time.

It is very easily grown, requiring little attention, and every household garden would do well to have a small plot to help out the sugar ration. Planted in the early spring, the beet should be ready for use from January on, and in the autumn can be stored in pits like mangles for winter use.

The method of using is to peel and cut the beet up into small pieces, put on in cold water, and boil for 30 minutes, strain off the liquid and put back in pot. When boiling, add the fruit to be cooked and simmer until tender... I find it more convenient to make enough syrup to last three days, but in very warm weather it is not wise to keep it longer...

(presumably it’s the liquid you put back in the pot)

I also had occasion a few days ago to skim through a few issues of the wartime NZ Women’s Weekly. There are lots of things in there that could stand re-publishing now.

Made me realise just how unthinkingly dependent we now are on gadgets and having things pre-processed.


Cally said...

wow - fascinating!

But..... what are mangles and what sort of pit does one store them in? Could your mother keep reading a bit longer, please :p

Nikki said...

Oooh, makes me want to read some old magazines! I recall my nana having a huge stack of those countrywoman mags probably 25yrs ago (and they weren't current editions at that time). Shame they would have all been tossed out long ago. I need to find out what sugar beets are, they're not something i've come across I don't think (aside from reading on here).

Johanna Knox said...

Cally, what *are* mangles ... good question. Will see if Mum knows!!!

Nikki, we got our sugar beet seeds from Kings. Haven't found anyone else who has them.

I want to ask you also where you usually get your seed potatoes from? Do you order from koanga, or somewhere else? Or have you saved some?

Nikki said...

Hi Johanna, I have tried various sources - just regular seed potatoes from the garden centre and also have used regular organic potatoes (and just cut out the "eyes" in a chunk of spud and plonked them in the ground instead of using the whole potato). Apparently not the best way to do them due to higher risk of blight, but I have had no problems doing it that way.

Johanna Knox said...

Aha - okay! Thanks Nikki!

Sandra - too heavy to stand on a soapbox, but undeterred said...

Ah Mrs Annan! I've 'met' her before. She was interviewed in the late 1940s in Clyde with a group of other locals by the Mobile Unit, a huge recording truck (precurosr of our tape recorder), which went around much of the country after WW2 recording the stories of 19th century life in NZ. I have met two of Mrs Annan's children and interviewed them.

Johanna Knox said...

Cool Sandra!! Your oral history project sounds fascinating by the way. Such a valuable thing.