Beyond History Blog

Our Ancestors’ Hunger

Andrea Bentschneider - 16. October 2015 - Genealogy, General, Knowledge, Recipes, WWII

Today, on World Food Day, the media focus especially on the food situation in areas of crisis all over the world, informing the public and appeal for donations. Here in genealogy research, our thoughts immediately go to our ancestors that, especially in Germany, these problems were a big issue not very long ago. It has been only one or two generations since World War II led to a catastrophe for the German civil population and the food shortage took a lot of imagination and cunning to be able to feed a family. Our parents or grandparents tell us so many stories about the creativity that was needed to get something to eat and of the trauma the hunger caused.

Today, most of us can’t imagine what that must have been like. We are living in times of abundance – although this sadly cannot be said about the whole world. To get closer to this important part of the lives of our ancestors, I collected recipes and tricks of the German post-war kitchen. Nothing can be more explicit about the poor circumstances of the time.

If food could be gotten ahold of, everything was used in the most economical way possible. Meat, fat and dairy products were rare and very hard to get. This is why, if possible, food was used at least twice, everything was mixed with flour to make it more filling, and leftovers were boiled for soup. To be able to provide meat for once, watchdogs or beavers were cooked and the fight for food caused many victims.

There were plenty of recipes that were to imitate rare foods such as “mock whipped cream” made of egg white, sugar and apple juice, “mock groats sausage” and “mock chocolate”:

Mock groats sausage

A middle sized onion, 20 gr. fat, 500 ml vegetable broth, marjoram, a cup of barley groats, a cooked potato and salt are mixed and eaten on bread like sausage spread.

Mock chocolate

120 gr. flour are stirred in an iron pot until brown. 1 lt. of water is added and stirred well, then 2 lt. of milk, 6 table sp. of sugar, 2 tea sp. of salt, a piece of cinnamon and 2 table sp. of cocoa are added and cooked.

This way grains were turned into sausages and a little cocoa into a whole lot of chocolate, which was supposed to repress the fact for a while that real sausages and chocolate had not been on the table for a long time. Real coffee was rare as well and in most families was only prepared once a week. The rest of the time a coffee substitute was made out of dandelion and chicory roots, sometimes from grains. This drink only shared with the original its bitter taste and colour.

In Germany, these times are not long ago. The thought of our ancestors’ hunger lets us see today’s luxurious choice of food in another light. Every family has their own stories of these times. Which ones do you know? Feel free to share them in the commentary section here or on facebook. We are looking forward to it!

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Claudia Strachan

25. October 2020

The worst hunger I know of must have been the one suffered by the Russian Germans in the 1920s. Heartbreaking. Once the Covid crisis is over, I'm hoping to find a lot of information at the Museum für Russlanddeutsche Kulturgeschichte in Munich.

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