Exercising food economy was advised from the early weeks of the war, but as supplies began to dwindle the gradual rationing of basic foodstuffs soon led food manufacturers to extol the virtues of packet soups and tinned stews.
A surprisingly large number of the brands that once nourished the wartime population are still in existence today. Bird's Custard for instance, claimed you could save sugar and time by adding it to stewed fruit whether it was for a nursery tea to feed, 'sturdy contented children' or to accompany a tin of something inedible in the trenches. Condiments such as Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce fulfilled a similar role, and it was even possible to post a dozen half-size bottles to the front for five shillings. Nestle's Condensed Milk could be used in a variety of enterprising ways - or simply spread on toast, and Horlick's Malted Milk drink claimed to improve the strength and efficiency of munition workers. For soldiers at the front, the product could be eaten in concentrated form, as 'lunch tablets' - easy to fit in a haversack and the perfect sustenance on long marches.
Two now-obsolete brands are synonymous with First World War cuisine - Gong Soups and Machonochie's meat stew. Gong Soups, 'the soups that sell by the million' were instant packet soups available in twelve varieties from 'thick gravy' to the more exotic Mock Turtle, Mulligatawny and Hare. Advertisements listed the soups' numerous advantages; they required a minimum consumption of fuel, they were nutritious and at 2d. a packet, had not increased in price since the outbreak of war. Such was the Gong Soup's panacaeic properties, one advertisement even went so far as to show a maid bringing in a steaming tureen of soup to a table of children waving their spoons in excited anticipation.
Maconochie's, a stew consisting of 3/4lb 'finest beef', together with carrots, haricot beans, potatoes and onions again claimed to be an economical and nutritious choice. It was eaten widely by soldiers in the trenches who appreciated it as an alternative to bully beef, but advertisements from the period indicate that it also pitched itself as an excellent choice for family meals on the home front. Reports on the stew's palatability varied. Some people disliked the lumps of cold fat and claimed the potatoes were black, but Maconochie's continued to be manufactured until the early 1940s.
One more tinned food made its debut during the Great War. We take tinned tuna fish for granted today but we found this advertisement from a February 1918 issue of The Tatler implying that tuna was a novel idea. Jack Tar Tinned Tuna advertised something, 'completely new - quite different from anything that has ever been sold in this country before...a delicious fillet of fish; tender and delicate and tasting like chicken.'
We're not sure about the final claim, but it's interesting to think that the ubiquitous tin of tuna was first introduced to Britain as an alternative food for rationed Britain.