June 6 marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when our Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. D-Day would be a critical turning point in the Second World War, the beginning of the end. There will be ceremonies both here and across the Channel in France to mark this event; I shall certainly be attending one of them. But what I’m going to talk about in this month’s column is food rationing, both during and after the war (rationing ending in 1954). Was it a bad thing? Well, perhaps not. As a result of rationing and fair distribution of food, less fat, smaller portions and an increased focus on fruit and vegetables, the health of the nation improved. Infant mortality rates declined and the average age at which people died of natural causes went up.

In more recent times we have also experienced food rationing, albeit on a far smaller scale. During the pandemic there was a restriction on the number of eggs we could buy, as well as a shortage of yeast, flour, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – not to mention toilet rolls. This was partly due to panic buying, but also the fact that with restaurants and cafes closed a lot of us started cooking and baking at home. But going into the supermarket and finding empty shelves was an unsettling experience for some.

Lord Woolton was appointed Minister for Food in April 1940, and he kept Britain from starving. Born in Manchester in 1883, he had worked as a social worker in the poorer areas of Liverpool where he had experienced people dying of starvation. He was aware that food was going to be in short supply during the war, and so to ensure that every person in the UK had access to adequate amounts of food he introduced rationing. The nation was also encouraged to ‘Dig for Victory’ growing and sharing fruit and vegetables they had planted, and never to waste anything. The most restricted items were sugar, meat, cheese, bacon and fats. Never has the expression ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ been more apt. Cooking became an invention test, baking without sugar was never going to be easy. But honey could be used instead. Anyone who could kept a beehive; it was not uncommon for gardens to have one or two hives. The bees were also great pollinators for those fruit and veg plots too.

So, this month I offer you a wartime biscuit recipe using honey and a small amount of sugar – you can add a teaspoon of ginger or cinnamon as some spices were available; and a modern version, so you can compare the two.

Wartime Honey Biscuits recipe

75g margarine

30g caster sugar

30g honey

175g flour

pinch of salt

1tsp ginger or cinnamon (optional)


Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/ gas mark 6. Beat the margarine and sugar in a bowl, if you’re truly adopting the wartime spirit with a wooden spoon, until well combined. Add the honey, flour and salt, mix well by hand to form a firm dough.

Chill the dough, then roll out thinly – remember we are on wartime rations – cut out as many biscuits as you can. Keep them quite small, don’t waste any dough! Put them on a prepared baking tray. Bake for between 8 and 12 minutes depending on the thickness of your biscuits. They should be golden brown. Cool on a cooling rack.

Modern Honey Biscuits recipe

300g plain flour

100g unsalted butter

100g light brown sugar

15g mixed spice

1 egg

100g honey


Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/ gas mark 61. Rub the butter into the flour - by hand or use a food processor – until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and mixed spice, combine well. Add the egg and honey, bring together by hand to form a firm dough

Chill the dough for 30 minutes or longer. Roll out to the depth of a pound coin, using a cookie cutter cut as many biscuits as you can. Chill again which will help the biscuits keep their shape when baking. Put onto a prepared baking tray, bake for 10 - 12 minutes until golden brown.