Carrot History - Carrots in World War Two
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During the 6 years of World War Two the Ministry of food did its best to drum up enthusiasm for carrots. Doctor Carrot, carrying a bag marked " Vit A" was featured on pages of recipe books and advertising campaigns in the press and on the radio.
Carrots were truly one of the foods that helped win the war. People experienced culinary delights such as curried carrot, carrot jam, carrot puddings and a homemade drink called Carrolade. Most of these "delicacies" were nothing new and items such as cakes, puddings and jam had been enjoyed throughout Europe since the Middle Ages.
Keeping a nation fed on wartime rations took remarkable ingenuity and a very strong stomach.
Carrots also played their part in winning the air battle. Famously, the Government responded to a temporary wartime oversupply of carrots by suggesting, through propaganda, that the RAF's exceptional night-flying and target success, was due to eating high carotene content carrots. The ruse worked: consumption of carrots increased sharply because people thought carrots might help them see in the blackout, thus taking the pressure off other food supplies. (this story starts here)
World war Two revived the popularity of the carrot and gave
it a rightful place in the kitchen elevated to a new high as a major food and
|During the Second World War (1939-45)
and in particular the lack of it, was central to the experience of the
Second World War. Carrots were one vegetable which was in plentiful supply
and as a result were widely-utilised as a substitute for scarce foodstuffs
and used in several "mock" recipes. It was also a major ingredient of the
Campaign called Dig for Victory, which was extensively publicised with
songs and posters featuring Dr Carrot and Potato Pete. It was run for most
of the war by Professor John Raeburn, a respected agricultural economist,
who joined the Ministry of Food in 1939 as a statistician and two years
later was appointed to lead the Agricultural Plans Branch.
See the Dig for Victory posters here.
Before the war Britain imported 70% of its food; this required 20 million tons of shipping a year. 50% of meat was imported, 70% of cheese and sugar, 80% of fruits, 70% of cereals and fats, 91% of butter. Knowing this would lead the Axis powers into hoping to starve the British population into submission, by cutting off those food supply lines.
By 1941 the German blockade of food supply ships created food shortages had made things very difficult and the phrase "The Kitchen Front" came into use. It encouraged housewives to feel they were contributing to the war effort by cooking wisely and not wasting food. The British population emerged healthier than it had ever been before, and families had been educated in putting nutritional, frugal meals on their tables. In many ways, it was home economics that would win the war.
During the Second World War, millions of people listened to an early morning five-minute BBC radio programme, "The Kitchen Front".
With the assistance of domestic teachers, dieticians, school-meal-organisers and hospital caterers, the Public Relations Division of the Ministry of Food gave the public lasting guidance about new food sources and creative recipes for items which were not rationed. It also gave advice to people about the healthiest way to feed themselves and to make the best use of their rations.
"From the Kitchen Front" was broadcast on BBC Radio Home Service (now radio
4) every morning for 5 minutes, and a few of these radio broadcast scripts
relating carrot items have been transcribed from the archives -
On 7 September 1940 the Kitchen Front offered this advice on cooking carrots.
“I have told you about the Aunt of mine who is the mother of all culinary secrets – well she listened to my talk to you on the value of simmering in which I mentioned carrots. She immediately said – you didn’t tell them that there is only one way of cooking carrots. Cut them up, the older they are the finer you cut them, and put them on to simmer in a pot with a little margarine or good dripping., a little sugar and salt and no water at all. Simmer them with the lid tight on for an hour and half. You should never really ever cook them any other way!”
29 September 1941 advice from the Kitchen Front - To make a jam filling, in cakes or sandwiches, go further I am advising people to mix with the jam an equal quantity of carrots cooked and mashed – or better still raw and grated. There’s plenty of sugar in carrots. For a new flavour try adding a little cocoa sometimes.
While much of the credit for the campaign went to Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food from 1940 to 1943, Mr Raeburn ran it until the end of the war and was responsible for its continuing success. At one point there was a glut of carrots, and the Government let it be known that carotene, which can actually to help night vision, was largely responsible for the RAF's increasing success in shooting down enemy bombers.
The Ministry issued many cooking leaflets, often dedicated to specific topics such as the magic of carrots. The language used was practical, and realistic for the time -- in listing ingredients for suggested recipes, the government leaflets would often say beside an ingredient such as butter: "if possible." Cooking demonstrations by women such as Marguerite Patten were held in many stores, including Harrods. Educational short movies on cooking were made for showing at cinemas; BBC Radio ran a morning radio programme called "Kitchen Front", broadcast from studios in Oxford Street, London.
They even came up with a recipe using carrot tops (the leaves) - Carrot Top and Potato soup. See extract here.
"Carrots Help you See in the Dark" was a popular saying at the time and people eagerly tucked in to carrots, believing this would help them to see more clearly in the blackout. This ruse not only helped reduce the surplus vegetables but also helped to mask the chief reason for the RAF's success in night time air battles - the increasing power of radar and the secret introduction of an airborne version of the system. It is true that carrots can help keep your eyes healthy and if you are otherwise deficient in Vitamin A, will help you see better in the dark. So, if you don't get enough carotene or Vitamin A in your diet, eventually you will suffer problems in your vision. This was the basis of the "myth" started by the Royal Air Force. Carrots cannot improve your eyesight, just take a look at the picture - even “Dr. Carrot” is wearing glasses. read more about night vision here.
The Ministry of Agriculture promoted carrots heavily as a substitute for other less readily available vegetables, fruit and other commodities. To improve its image of blandness, people were encouraged to enjoy the healthy carrot in different ways by promoting various recipes never tried before, such as curried carrot and carrot jam. They even promoted the use of carrot tops (the leaves) in a recipe called Champ (a meal for six for a shilling) and Carrot Top and Potato Soup. (These can be found in the World War Two page here (see the transcript on the carrot Tops page here) .
This secret reports on the Food Situation in 1941 clearly found that the campaign was working (perhaps too well - see right) -
|The Ministry of Food produced several informative cookery leaflets including
one specifically dedicated to carrots
(see official carrot cookery leaflet here) . People were encouraged to enjoy
the healthy carrot in different ways by the introduction of Dr Carrot in a
series of magazine articles and posters. A transcript of the actual broadcast
about Carrots is
Every morning at 8.15 on the Home Service (UK radio 4) there was a Kitchen Front broadcast giving useful tips or using food in different ways, substitute ingredients and recipes.
Carrot Competition - Carrots and potatoes featured regularly, so much so, that on 18 December 1941 they announced a Carrot Competition where the public were to enter to show off their ingenuity and submit ideas, not only for use as a vegetable but also in jelly, cakes and confectionary. The concept was to give the Ministry of Food's experimental kitchen some new ideas for inclusion in its leaflets, for free, and to make people feel part of the effort.
The winner was a Mrs Casey from Palmers Green with "Carrot Savoury Pudding." There was no prize - it was war time! but Mrs Casey did receive the standard BBC Guest broadcast fee as a thank you. The winner was announced as the headline for the Kitchen Front broadcast made on 24 January 1942 -
“Carrot Competition Winner Announced”. The Ministry of Food, emerging from behind the mountain of entries they have received for this competition, have just decided that the winning entry came from Mrs Marjorie Casey, 131 Connaught Gardens, Palmers green. The recipe is for “Carrot Savoury Pudding” and was endorsed by everyone judging – and even endorsed by a dismal visitor who has previously stated: “if you mention carrot to me again – I shall scream.”
Here is the simple recipe - make a suet pudding mixture, but before moistening add 2lbs of chopped up carrots. Now cut in small pieces 2 sticks of celery, half an onion or a leek, and half a turnip. And if you have any small left-over pieces of cooked meat, put these in too. Then add a tablespoonful of mixed herbs, and two tablespoons of chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Moisten in the usual way and steam for 2 ½ hours. Then serve with a good brown gravy, mashed potato and green vegetable.
Coincidentally this recipe (shown below) appeared in a subsequent Ministry leaflet No 4 Carrots, and is believed to be it based on Mrs Casey's winner.
The slogan "Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout"
was used extensively. Advert (below left) from the UK Times, 6 February,1942.
Take 1Ib each of diced potatoes, cauliflower, swedes
(rutabaga) and carrots;
There were of course many variations on this basic recipe, depending on which ingredients were available and accounting for personal taste.
The Kitchen Front Broadcast in 1941 by the Ministry
of Food gave this, more detailed version:
"Doctor Carrot" arrived in 1941. The Ministry of Agriculture
promoted carrots heavily as a substitute for other more scarce
as a sweetener in desserts in the absence of sugar, which was rationed
to 8 ounces per adult per week. The Dr. Carrot character carried a bag
labelled "Vit A" as the Ministry of Food recognised the value of the
carrot in providing high levels of this vital vitamin, via
In February 1941 the Minister of Food gave his monthly report on the food situation in the UK and stated "That the consumption of carrots has increased following the Ministry's publicity campaigns. Supplies are still ample." (source: National Archives, Cabinet papers)
In wartime Britain children would very often use the humble carrot as a
substitute for the fruit they could no longer obtain. Similarly the Government
also issued a poster with the slogan 'Carrots keep you healthy and help you see
in the blackout' to promote the humble carrot.
Potato Pete was also introduced to encourage potato substitution for other commodities.
Sweets (candy) were scarce so children had to make do with whatever their inventive mums came up with. This wartime recipe for carrot fudge (below) sounds really weird. Why not print it out and give it a try? You'll need a bit of grown-up help with the cooking. See if your friends can guess what it's made of and let us know how it tastes. More ingenious uses for the surplus of carrots below.
World War Two Archive Photos (UK)
The Ministry of Food encouraged so much extra production that, by January 1942, it was looking for a market for 100,000 tons of carrots that were surplus to consumers' requirements even at a time when green vegetables were not too plentiful and were expensive in the shops. The surplus tonnage, which was no more than a provident margin in wartime was offered to farmers for stock feeding at less than half the price guaranteed to the growers. Famously, the Government responded to a temporary wartime oversupply of carrots by suggesting that the RAF's exceptional night-flying was due to eating carotene. The ruse worked (and was in certain circumstances true!): consumption of carrots increased sharply because people thought carrots might help them see in the blackout, thus taking the pressure off other food supplies. read more here.
In an attempt to prevent malpractice the carrots sold for stock feeding were sprayed with a violet dye, before delivery (in the same way as the surplus potatoes sold for stock feeding at the end of 1940). Carrots made good food for dairy cows, horses. fattening bullocks, and pigs, and if there were more carrots in the country than human consumers could take, it was right that they should be used for stock-feeding.
This dye was harmless to animals, and therefore probably ok for humans, and no doubt many found their way into the food chain via the black market economy, which was rife at the time.
So in a bizarre way purple carrots were around in the 40's !
Companies were coming forward all the time with creative ideas to help out the Ministry of Food. Here is an extract from correspondence from the Delma Canning Company in 1943:
The Ministry archive papers also pointed out that the above processes could utilise sub-standard carrots previously "wasted" in their use as animal fodder. The "treacle" referred to was apparently well liked by children as it was so sweet. It was estimated that one ton of carrots produced 1 hundredweight of treacle and that the company promoting its production claimed that it "was a better use than mere cattle fodder".
There was considerable debate in the Ministry of Food about the true motives of the company promoting the production of treacle as this extract from a Ministry Committee from December 1943 shows
The firm claimed to be able to extract 150 grammes (about 6 ozs.) of Vitamin A from every ton of carrots, this being about fifteen times the highest quantity which people with the best scientific equipment have been able to obtain. I should, therefore, require considerable evidence before was prepared to accept this claim at its race value. So far from being given any evidence, the staff were particularly secretive and refused to give any information at all.
I gather that this firm has processed surplus carrots in the past and obtained carrot treacle, which has been sold as artificial honey probably at a high price, and also pectin, probably sold to jam manufacturers. You will see that the firm has, therefore, done considerable business in products to be obtained from carrots. Since the suggested vitamin process would only take 6 ozs. out of each ton of carrots, one naturally wonders what is to become of the remaining 19 cwts. 111 lbs. 10 ozs.
The answer is obvious - that it will be used to manufacture carrot treacle and pectin, which will be sold by this firm as it has been before. I am very suspicious of the firm's claim to be able to manufacture Vitamin A, and even if their claim were substantiated I would still regard vitamin manufacture as a by-product rather than the main object of the Company. My feeling was that this was being used as an excuse to obtain carrots for treacle and pectin manufacture which, without this excuse, they would be unable to obtain. Finally, even if their claims were genuine, there is no reason why they should not employ brock carrots, as these would be quite suitable for their purpose except that they would require more trouble in washing and additional labour in trimming. I would strongly resist this demand for sound carrot unless the supply is particularly abundant."
It was reported to the Ministry of Food in 1941 that "There had been a marked improvement in the general character of the diet. There will be a natural tendency for people to eat fewer carrots unless the publicity campaign is carried out with considerable effort. Fortunately a strong appeal can be made to the public to eat carrots as a heathful food."
The Ministry also explored the possibility of manufacturing carrot powder and a carrot spread, similar to margarine, as ways of effectively using the surplus. Breakfast Food and Powder - it was claimed by the manufacturer, Sun-o-Like Co Ltd, that one pound of the product contained the equivalent of one pound of carrots and the corresponding carotene content. After exploring many options the conclusion was that any surplus remaining after increased public consumption would be passed over to the Ministry of Agriculture as raw roots for the feeing of livestock.
People were encouraged to use Carrot tops (the leaves) too! - Carrot tops had other uses: They even promoted the use of carrot tops (the leaves) in a recipe called Champ (a meal for six for a shilling) and Carrot Top and Potato Soup. (These can be found in the World War Two page here (see the transcript on the carrot Tops page here) .They were also fed to the rabbits that many people kept in their back gardens for free and off-ration meat.
Here are some more ingenious uses for the surplus of carrots:
Concentrated juice as "honey, Drying carrots for cattle feed in future years and the preparation of pectin.
A further suggestion was that carrots could used to manufacture vitamin preparations for post-war relief. The Red Cross had proposed Vitaminised chocolate, and by margarine producers who would otherwise be using a Vitamin A concentrate.
In 1943, the Ministry of Food discussed the options for using carotene obtained from carrots in "Vitaminised chocolate", which would help with the surplus of carrots prevailing at that time. (correspondence extract late1943)
Having re-examined he statistics the Committee considered that
“There would be no supplies of carrots available for the purposes proposed as the 1943 yield was much lower than in recent years, and the supply of carrots would fall short of normal human consumption, adding that the acreage was about 21,000 compared to the estimated requirement of 33,000 acres for 1944.
An early suggestion for the manufacture of carrot juice was also a suggestion which was not pursued. The Ministry's official response was that "Carrot juice is of relatively low vitamin value (!) and when concentrated to a syrup has no greater food value than that of the sugar it contains". Subsequently the question of juice was back on the agenda, following information on what the US was doing in that area (November 1941):
Carrot Treacle was also an option to reduce the surplus (January 1942):
The Committee finally deliberated:
| Disney Carrot Characters
In late 1941, Walt Disney offered to help the British Government promote carrots as a nutritious food source. England had already been at war with the Germans for two years and severe rationing measures were in effect. The January 11, 1942 issue of The New York Times Magazine announced: "England has a goodly store of carrots. But carrots are not the staple items of the average English diet. The problem...is to sell the carrots to the English public."
Hank Porter, a leading Disney cartoonist designed a family of carrot characters on behalf of England's Food Minister (Lord Woolton).
The Disney Corporation created a carrot family including Carroty George, Clara Carrot, and Dr. Carrot, for the British media to promote the eating of carrots. The vegetable characters were reproduced on a poster, recipe booklet, flyers and the images were used extensively in a newspaper campaign. Carroty George's motto was "I'll tell you what to do with me"!
As the British Ministry of Food had already used their own Dr Carrot character in their promotions, this particular Disney character was never used, and appears to have been "converted" into Pop Carrot.
These images are reproduced from the originals. They are VERY rare!. Please do not copy them.
The cartoons shown below appeared in "The Times" in 1941/2. The associated flyers which were distributed to the public featuring six carrot-based recipes and also had illustrations of Carroty George, Clara Carrot and Pop Carrot. They also featured other frugal recipes.
The full list of recipes as they appeared in the press is shown here together with more information and rare photos about the Disney characters.
These copies are taken from "The Times" archives. They are VERY rare!.
This is how the New York times reported it on 11 January 1942:
An article also appeared in the March 1942 "Boy's Life" Magazine (UK). This read:
Any one with further information about the Disney Carrot Characters or the whereabouts of the posters please contact the Museum.
(The World Carrot Museum respectfully acknowledges the outstanding work undertaken by David Lesjak at the Toons at War Blog which has assisted in the research of some of the above information about the Disney Characters. It also provides an excellent resource about the role Toons played in Wartime)
The full list of recipes is shown here together with more information about the Disney characters.
Here is one of Carroty George's recipes, as part of a series of carrot based recipes designed to encourage healthy eating during rationing.
Carrot Fudge (Recipe from Colleen Moulding's "Frugal
Recipes from Wartime Britain").
There is a simple message for the 21st Century's increasingly obese and under-exercised populations. Take up carrot growing and give up the car while you're at it!
The Ministry of Food launched its 'Dig for Victory' campaign in October 1939, one month after war broke out. The campaign was led by an agricultural economist, Professor John Raeburn, who was recruited to the Ministry of Food in 1939, and who would run the campaign until the end of the war.
The campaign encouraged people to transform their front and back gardens into vegetable plots. The goal was to replace imported food, thus freeing up shipping space for more valuable war materials, and to make up for food that was sunk in transit. By the end of 1940, 728,000 tons of food making its way to Britain had been lost, sunk by German submarine activity.
The government realised that the population would go hungry if the war was to last longer than a few months. The result was that formal gardens, lawns and even sports pitches were transformed into allotments, large and small, and everybody on the home front was encouraged to become a vegetable gardener.
Whilst the term ?Victory Garden? has become synonymous with World War Two, its origin can be traced back to the 1600?s in England where Richard Gardner in his book entitled Victory Gardens wrote:
"If any citie or towne should be besieged with the enemy what better provision for the greatest number of people can be than every garden be sufficiently planted with carrots?
Prior to World War II, Britain imported over 55 million tons of food a year - much of it from Canada and the USA. After the outbreak of war, merchant vessels carrying provisions into Britain, especially those coming across the Atlantic, became targets of the German navy and food imports were under threat. At the same time the British government recognised that the merchant ships were required for the transport of troops, munitions and even aeroplanes to the theatres of war.
In October 1939 Rob Hudson, Minister for Agriculture, announced "We want not only the big man with the plough but the little man with the spade to get busy this autumn... Let 'Dig for Victory' be the motto of everyone with a garden". It was a desperate request because farmers could only produce 30% of the country's food. But if gardens could be turned over to growing food rather than flowers, up to 25% of the necessary vegetables could be provided.
The whole of Britain's home front was encouraged to transform private gardens into mini-allotments. Not only this, but parks, formal public gardens and various areas of unused land were dug up for planting fruit and vegetables. Kensington Gardens dug up its flowers and planted rows of cabbages and carrots. All over the country, lawns were dug and potatoes, cabbages, carrots and beans planted. Windsor Great Park was given over to wheat, and public parks, road verges, railway embankments, golf clubs, tennis courts, roofs and even window boxes were put to work.
The Ministry of Agriculture got in on the act producing several informative leaflets on how to grow more. Leaflet number one "Grow for Winter as well as Summer" which showed how to get fresh, home grown vegetables throughout the year. Copies can be seen here. Front page and inside page. .
The plan worked though -- by 1945, around 75% of food was produced in Britain.
A song was introduced to promote the Dig for Victory slogan.
Dig! Dig! Dig! And your muscles will grow big
It was reported in the UK Times on 15 May 1941 that " Evidence of American determination to help Britain in every possible way is provided by the offer of vegetable seeds". These were accepted by Mr. R. S. Hudson, Minister of Agriculture. The first instalment of nine tons arrived through the agency of the British War Relief Society. Among the vegetables which have been specially asked for are onions, carrots, beans. cauliflower, broccoli, leeks, parsnips, and tomatoes.
Very soon allotment holders, members of the Army and Royal Air Force, and others were sowing American seeds on their plots.
The programme was mirrored in the USA with the formation of Victory Gardens. Left the Official US leaflet issued February 1942.
Victory gardens were vegetable gardens planted to ensure an adequate food
supply for civilians and troops. Government agencies, private foundations,
businesses, schools, and seed companies all worked together to provide land,
instruction, and seeds for individuals and communities to grow food.
At the beginning of World War II, Secretary of Agriculture Wickard suggested that, since the farmers of America would be busy feeding the army, civilians should plant Victory Gardens to provide fresh vegetables for their own tables. Americans were quick to respond. By 1943, victory gardens were flourishing in many backyards, empty lots, parks, baseball fields, schoolyards - even parking lots, since not many cars were being driven due to the shortage of gasoline. These gardens came in every size and shape. Governments and corporations promoted the victory garden effort as a call for self-reliance.
People in both rural and urban areas tilled the soil to raise food for their families, friends and neighbours. Households used what they needed and preserved and canned for future use. Eventually more than 40 percent of the country's vegetables were grown in the nation's backyards. Victory gardening enabled more processed foods to be shipped to our troops around the world. Emphasis was placed on making gardening a family or community effort - not drudgery, but a pastime, and a national duty.
By 1944, 20 million Americans planted Victory Gardens, producing one million tons a year of vegetables -- about half the amount consumed in America. Of course carrots figured highly in the campaigns, as evidenced by the various propaganda posters. Click here to see more posters.
Brightly coloured posters produced for the government by artists from the Work Progress Administration (WPA) encouraged Americans to "Fight with Food." Vegetables grown in home gardens, the government reasoned, would not only lighten the burden of food rationing, but would free up supplies needed for troops fighting in Europe. The appealing combination of self-sufficiency and patriotism made the Victory Garden effort arguably the most successful civilian wartime program.
A Ministry of Agriculture food production poster using the slogan ?Dig for Plenty'. Illustrated with a colourful box of winter vegetables, it is aimed at the amateur gardener, rather than industrial agriculturalists. ?Dig for Victory' was a campaign that ran throughout much of the war. The famous ?foot on the spade' illustration, , took on a life of its own early in the war.
Pictured right, "Dig for Plenty" by Le Bon, 1944, Gouache on board. A Ministry of Agriculture food production poster using the slogan ?Dig for Plenty'. Illustrated with a colourful box of winter vegetables, it is aimed at the amateur gardener, rather than industrial agriculturalists. ?Dig for Victory' was a campaign that ran throughout much of the war. The famous ?foot on the spade' illustration, visible in the bottom left-hand corner, took on a life of its own early in the war. The benefits of growing one's own food were stressed. Such over-heightened colour visions of abundant vegetables, rarely fruit or salad, but good nutritious food in a time of shortages, would have appealed to the public. ?Dig for Plenty' indicates a recognition that victory was already assured and now a healthier future was possible. Previous campaigns had seen many gardens turned into allotments. Those who dug up half their lawn for vegetables had done it partly in response to the government campaign and partly because they feared rises in food prices. It was also a leisure interest. In 1944, the campaign no longer called for extra allotments and was directed almost entirely to greater efficiency in vegetable production.
The most common carrot varieties used by US citizens were Amsterdam Minicor and Autumn King.
Also an extract of carrots was used in America to colour Oleos (margarine) during the fats rationing that took place during the second world war. (They were really reviving an early American folk custom in colouring foods.)
The carrot "myth", which is not! - World War Two pilots were fed excessive amounts of high carotene carrots to help them see in the dark and therefore spot enemy airplanes quicker. Famously, the Government responded to a temporary wartime oversupply of carrots by suggesting that the RAF's exceptional night-flying success was due to consuming more carotene, via carrots. The ruse worked: consumption of carrots increased sharply because people thought carrots might help them see in the blackout, thus taking the pressure off other food supplies.
At one point in the early 40's there was a glut of carrots, and the Government let it be known that carotene, which is believed to help night vision, was largely responsible for the RAF's increasing success in shooting down enemy bombers. People eagerly tucked in to carrots, believing this would help them to see more clearly in the blackout. The ruse not only reduced the surplus vegetables but also helped to mask the chief reason for the RAF's success - the increasing power of radar and the secret introduction of an airborne version of the system.
- By 1939, UK had radar stations all round the south coast of the UK
The myth has some truth behind it - For the record, carrots CAN help you see better in the dark. Carrots are good for your eye health (not eyesight) and in one area can be a cure for night blindness! if you are otherwise deficient in Vitamin A.
Night blindness (nyctalopia) is the inability to see well at night or in poor light. It is not a disorder in itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying disorder or problem. It can have several causes and Vitamin A deficiency is one of them. It is rare in Western society, that does not mean it does not exist. The consumption of carrots in such circumstances will help cure the symptom and help the sufferer see better in the dark.
In 1940 experiments with high carotene varieties
were conducted to reduce night blindness in World War II pilots. These high
carotene roots were very dry. With the advent of synthetically manufactured
carotene, cultivation of these varieties ceased in 1947. In World War II,
Britain's Air Ministry spread the word that a diet of carrots helped
see German bombers attacking at night. That was a lie intended to cover the real
matter of what was underpinning the Royal Air Force's successes: the latest,
highly efficient on board, Airborne Interception Radar, also known as AI. The
secret new system pinpointed some enemy bombers before they reached the English
They can help you see in the dark, but can only improve your night vision, by defeating night blindness if you are otherwise deficient in Vitamin A. When you eat carrots, the beta-carotene is transformed into retinol or vitamin Carrots are high in Vitamin A, and a deficiency in this nutrient can cause some difficulty seeing in dim light. Vitamin A is essential for the formation of the chemical retinal, whose presence in the retina is necessary for vision. Our eyes have two kinds of light sensitive cells: the rods and the cones. The rods are the cells we rely on to see in dim light.
They are sensitive to Vitamin A deficiency, because it can cause a shortage of retinal. The retina is the light-sensing part of the eye that holds the rods and cones, which contain enzymes that absorb light and allow us to see. When light strikes the retinal molecule, it changes its shape. This activates a cascade of chemical reactions that informs the brain that light has entered the eye. When the levels of light sensitive molecules are low, due to Vitamin A deficiency, there will not be enough retinal to detect the light at night. During the day there is enough light to produce vision, despite low levels of retinal.
So it's only night vision that can be improved by eating carrots. The rods provide black and white vision and respond in dim light while the cones provide colour vision and respond to bright light. Vitamin A helps the retina tell black from white and provides for colour vision. It also helps us see in dim light or at night. When you go into a darkened theatre after being out in the bright light, your eyes are able to adapt because of the vitamin A that you have stored in your body. So really the answer is they do help you see in the dark, but can only improve your night vision if you are deficient in Vitamin A.
The disinformation was so persuasive that the English public to the extent that they started growing and eating more carrots, so that they could find they way around easier at night during the blackouts that were compulsory during WW II.
How the "myth" became misunderstood - It is pretty clear that beta carotene is good for eye health and easily available from carrots. Carrots are of course not the only source of Vitamin A. There is a difference between eye sight and eye health.
Eye Sight – is about visual acuity and whether a person can see everything, near and far, in sharp focus. Poor eye sight is often a physical trait. Once Night blindness is cured you can see better in the dark. Items will be not better focussed as that is a function of good eyesight.
Eye Health -. It is possible to have good eye health yet poor vision. Less likely to have poor eye health and good eye sight.
As many UK citizens were not deficient in Vitamin A, the higher consumption made no difference they claimed that is was a myth promoted by the government to convince the to eat more carrots..
Read more about night blindness at the US National Library of Medicine here.
World War Two also produced a genuine Carrot plane! - read more here.
View the World War Two film clip about the creative use of food - here
The benefits of carrots to night vision was also covered in the antipodes - copies of Australian and New Zealand newspapers -
Recipes which included carrots, "invented" during war time
Recipes either created by ordinary housewives using their ingenuity, or taken from the "official" recipes promoted by the Ministry of Food. Every morning there was a radio broadcast giving hints and tips on food use, also including some interesting recipes. Samples of every type are shown below.
Carrots were one vegetable in plentiful supply and as a result widely utilised as a substitute for the scarce commodities. To improve its blandness, people were encouraged to 'enjoy' the healthy carrot in different ways by the introduction of such characters as 'Doctor Carrot'. Culinary delights in the form of curried carrot, carrot jam and a homemade drink called Carrolade were suggested by the Ministry of Food. (See the official leaflet here)
The homemade drink called Carrolade was made up from the juices of carrots and Swede grated and squeezed through a piece of muslin, clearly no one thought of just plain carrot juice!.
Other culinary uses included carrot marmalade and toffee carrots. The humble carrot, previously thought to be only good for animal feed had been elevated to a new high and kick started its rightful return to one of the nations favourite vegetables.
Also during the war many thousands of tons of carrots were dehydrated and shipped overseas in sealed metal containers in an atmosphere of carbon dioxide or nitrogen to prevent loss of carotene.
Carrots for Breakfast
(suggested by a radio listener)
Slice up two carrots and cook the rounds with bacon. The bacon fat makes them tender in no time.
Carrot Fudge (Recipe
from Colleen Moulding's "Frugal Recipes from Wartime Britain").
1 gelatine leaf
From the “Kitchen Front” broadcast 8 January 1942 by Freddie Grisewood
2 lbs. of carrots, washed, scraped and grated
1 ½ . lbs. of sugar - (warmed)
The equivalent of 2 lemons in lemon substitute
Put the carrots in a preserving pan with just enough boiling water to prevent the pan from burning. Cook the carrots until they are tender, adding a little more water if necessary. Now you add the sugar. As soon as it is melted, bring back to the boil and cook until your marmalade has reached the consistency of a chutney. This should take about 45 minutes.
Here's something else to remember. Supposing you can't get lemon substitute, you can still make carrot marmalade. Your substitute for lemon substitute is a portion of quassia chips** tied in a piece of muslin. . A heaped teaspoonful of quassia chips in a piece of muslin, more if you like the marmalade very bitter. This should simmer with the carrots - and if you're using it don't forget to add an extra teacupful of water to the pan. And you remove the muslin bag before you add the sugar.
I didn’t invent the Carrot Marmalade recipe myself, it was handed to me by the Food Advice people when I asked what I could use as breakfast spread.when I had overdrawn my preserve ration.
It would be my entry for the competition if I had have invented it.
It's not intended for storing, so remember not to make more than a week or two's supply at a time.
(There was no mention of the quantity this produce, at a guess probably about 3 pounds (six jars)
** Quassia wood chips.- This multi-purpose wood has been used for many hundreds of years to treat a wide variety of ailments, both inside and outside the body. These include stomach problems, intestinal parasites, head lice, hair tonics and many more. It is a very bitter-tasting plant. Used as a substitute for Hops in beer making. Also used in aperitifs and in tonic wines. It contains pectin which would help the marmalade to set.
A wartime substitute for cream. All dairy products were rationed in the war and this substitute cream gave people a little bit of luxury during the hard times.
Does it taste like the real thing?
1/2 oz cornflour 1/4 pint milk 1 1/2 oz margarine 3tsp sugar few drops of vanilla essence
Mix the cornflour with a little of the milk to form a smooth paste. Bring the rest of the milk to the boil. Pour the hot milk over the cornflour paste. Return to the heat and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes. Cream the sugar and margarine together. Gradually whisk in the cornflour mixture. Add the vanilla essence. Allow to cool.
Carrots with Potato Soup (serves 4)
Method - Grease 2
baking trays. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Rub in the margarine or cooking
fat. Add the sugar, carrot, sultanas and egg. Mix well, then add sufficient
milk or water to make a sticky consistency. Divide mixture into 12 small heaps
on baking tray and bake in a hot oven (gas mark7) for 12 to 15 minutes until
firm and golden.
Carrot Tart (Kitchen front broadcast recipe, 1941)
Carrot Sandwich Fillings
Add two parts of grated raw carrot to one part of finely shredded white
heart cabbage and bind with chutney or sweet pickle. Pepper and salt to taste.
today In today's
global culture of cheap, abundant and ready-prepared food, it is hard to imagine
a situation when the whole nation faced such severe food shortages, when even
the least experienced people ended up keeping pigs, or digging up their lawns
for carrots, potatoes and cabbages, in order to survive. During the war, although there were privations and
shortages, people generally had a good, healthy diet as people were forced to
adopt new eating habits. After the war it was found that the average food intake
was much higher than when it began. This was mostly because many poor people had
been too poor to feed themselves properly, but with virtually no unemployment
and the introduction of rationing, with its fixed prices, they ate better than
in the past. People who had previously consumed a poor diet
were able to increase their intake of protein and vitamins because they received
the same ration as everyone else. People at all levels of society ate
better, took nutrition more seriously and fed their families sensibly with the
rations and whatever vegetables and fruit that were available, and with less
sugar and fewer sweet snacks there was less tooth decay. As a whole the
population was slimmer and healthier than it is today. People ate less fat,
eggs, sugar and meat whilst eating many more vegetables. Many people ate a better diet during
rationing than before the war years and this had a marked effect on the health
of the population - infant mortality declined and life expectancy increased. Let us hope
that the country never faces such extremes again. However, it is now realised
that the home population never ate so well as they did during and after the war.
This was thanks to the strict rationing of shop-bought goods and the amount of
fresh vegetables that people ate. There is a
simple message for the 21st Century's increasingly obese and under-exercised
population. Take up vegetable gardening, grow carrots and take more walks!
Add two parts of grated raw carrot to one part of finely shredded white
heart cabbage and bind with chutney or sweet pickle. Pepper and salt to taste.
The relevance today
In today's global culture of cheap, abundant and ready-prepared food, it is hard to imagine a situation when the whole nation faced such severe food shortages, when even the least experienced people ended up keeping pigs, or digging up their lawns for carrots, potatoes and cabbages, in order to survive.
During the war, although there were privations and shortages, people generally had a good, healthy diet as people were forced to adopt new eating habits. After the war it was found that the average food intake was much higher than when it began. This was mostly because many poor people had been too poor to feed themselves properly, but with virtually no unemployment and the introduction of rationing, with its fixed prices, they ate better than in the past. People who had previously consumed a poor diet were able to increase their intake of protein and vitamins because they received the same ration as everyone else. People at all levels of society ate better, took nutrition more seriously and fed their families sensibly with the rations and whatever vegetables and fruit that were available, and with less sugar and fewer sweet snacks there was less tooth decay. As a whole the population was slimmer and healthier than it is today. People ate less fat, eggs, sugar and meat whilst eating many more vegetables.
Many people ate a better diet during rationing than before the war years and this had a marked effect on the health of the population - infant mortality declined and life expectancy increased.
Let us hope that the country never faces such extremes again. However, it is now realised that the home population never ate so well as they did during and after the war. This was thanks to the strict rationing of shop-bought goods and the amount of fresh vegetables that people ate.
There is a simple message for the 21st Century's increasingly obese and under-exercised population. Take up vegetable gardening, grow carrots and take more walks!
Examples of Actual Government Guidance to Families used at the time:
See the actual Ministry of Food official Carrot recipes leaflet here.
Ministry of Food advice on storage of carrots here.
Read more on WW2 Food and rationing. Here
Ministry leaflet on growing vegetables all year round here. (pdf)
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Reference material is here. The majority of the information in this page has been drawn from the archives material in the Imperial War Musuem (UK), The UK National Archives and the Mass observation Archives located at Sussex University
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