Day 1: Parsnip and Potato Roesti

31 Dec

During World War II, Britain sourced a lot of its produce from other countries. When U-boats started targeting supply ships coming to the UK, Britain started a campaign pushing Brits to grow their own veggies and fruits, in “allotments” or plots of land. The Dig for Victory campaign began. Posters like this started appearing. Jaunty little fellow, isn’t he?

Image credit:

My Grandmother’s family had a small garden outside their house in Gravesend, Kent. The town is still quite small and the only reason any Americans have heard of it at all is mostly because it’s where Pocahontas died. She and her mother and sisters and brother grew vegetables and fruit. This time of year that mostly meant apples and pears.

Anything more exciting would have come from abroad – not an option.

Turnips, Brussels Sprouts, Onions - veggies that would typically have been grown

Since her father wasn’t around much any way (he was in the armed forces), it wasn’t anything new for her large family to be pretty thrifty. But to prevent starvation, the British government started rationing ingredients they knew they had a limited ability to produce. If I had been your average adult in WW2, and wasn’t sick or pregnant, here’s the limit of butter, tea, cheese and eggs I would be allowed in 1 week.

4 ounces bacon per week (3 thick cut slices)

2 ounces cheese, 4 ounces bacon, 2 ounces butter, 2 ounces tea, 1 egg - average rations per week for a healthy adult

Cooking fats of any kind hit the list in 1940. I know what you’re thinking…where’s the meat? You got about 6 ounces a week, beyond the bacon. Average meat serving these days in the US? 6 ounces. We eat in one typical serving of meat – assuming your not talking a giganta-steak – what your average Brit made last an entire week. That blew my mind. How the heck am I going to make the meat last a week?

More importantly, with 1 egg a week, how am I going to bake?? Daphne, my grandmother, used to tell me how her family pooled all their eggs for a week so they could make a cake, if it was someone’s birthday. Suffice it to say, it was usually a special occasion, and that cake was all the more important because those eggs were precious.

When I was little, she used to sit me next to her on her faded green velvet couch in their sitting room and try and teach me how to whistle…and knit. And I would quiz her endlessly about her childhood. About what it was like during the war. I still can’t knit worth a damn. And my whistle is lame. But those stories struck a chord.

As I try and put myself in her place, I examine my rations for the week. First problem? What the heck am I going to cook with? Not much fat here. I cut a few strips of bacon and render them. I decide to make a parsnip and potato roesti with a little parsley on top. I just came back from spending the holidays in Switzerland and I am having serious roesti withdrawal. Plus, it’s chilly outside today, I decide. I finish lunch with an apple and think longingly of 3 egg omelettes.

Parsnip and Potato Roesti

Parsnip and Potato Roesti


1/2 medium Russet potato, peeled

1/4 parsnip, peeled

4 or 5 batons of bacon

Salt and pepper

1 sliver butter

1/4 cup parsley leaves, chiffonade


Using the largest side of a box grater, grate the potato and parsnip over a clean kitchen towel. Gather the corners around the grated vegetables to form a little parcel. Insert the faucet of the kitchen sink inside the parcel and rinse the grated vegetables. Turn off the tap and twist the parcel, squeezing all the moisture out of the grated vegetables. Put them in a bowl. Render the bacon in a pan until it releases all of that bacon fat and until the bacon has half cooked. Pour the bacon fat and bacon into the bowl with the potato mixture. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Using the same pan, add the butter and pan fry patties of the potato mixture until crispy. Flip and crisp the other side. You may need to finish these in the oven if you make them too thick. Remove from the pan. Serve topped with the parsley.


One Response to “Day 1: Parsnip and Potato Roesti”

  1. Maureen Minor January 9, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    Dear Francoise, Your blog brought back many memories of rations in 1940 till 1945 and 1946. My mother used to buy a roast of beef or lamb or pork with almost all the family rations. We would have it roasted on Sunday. As cold meat on Tuesday, the leftovers were for stew on Wednesday. all of which fed the whole family. We would have a meatless day of fish which was not rationed. Fish were always fresh from the fishmonger, Plaice, cod,herring, skate and smoked haddock. We never had shrimp or lobster since all those were fished off the coast in danger from mines etc. We often had a meatless day with fresh veggies from the garden and also fruit in season from the garden. I don’t remember ever being hungry. I think your family must have been refugees form France living in Kent. I had several refugees from Europe in my school, from Holland and France too. I went to school in Wimbledon near London as a boarder for part of the time. So i remember having French lessons in the air raid shelter. During the worst of the Blitz our school was closed so I had a whole summer off! Thanks for you recipe for parsnip and potato roesti. Maureen Minor

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