Potato Petes Potato and Watercress Soup

A wartime recipe for 70th Anniversary of VE Day.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, VE Day. The 8th May 1945 marked the formal acceptance by The Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces, thus marking the end of the Second World War in Europe. Upon Germany’s defeat, celebrations were held all over the world with more than one million people celebrating in the streets of Britain. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Winston Churchill all appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to the thousands of people gathered on the streets below. Astonishingly the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were apparently allowed to celebrate incognito amongst the crowds.
Celebrations will be taking place locally this year in Woodhall Spa, with the annual 1940’s Festival. Now in its fourth year, this event is already hailed as one of the best of its kind in the country. This year it takes place over the weekend of 18th and 19th July, when the village is transported back in time to all things 40’s. This year’s theme is the Home Front and the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

There will be Military and Classic vehicles, including tanks, Living History Displays with many more this year on the Rally field near the cricket pitch at Jubilee Park, an air raid re-enactment at the Golf Hotel, a massive Collectables and Antiques fair, BBMF Flypast, a Tea Dance, Outdoor 40’s concerts including a special ENSA concert in the woods, Vintage Bus rides to Thorpe Camp, a Children’s Street Party and this year there is a most welcome Park and Ride facility from the football pitches. For a full list of what’s happening you can go on the website www.woodhall-spa-40s-festival.com or follow on twitter and like on Facebook. Admission is free, apart from a few organised ticketed concerts.

The Cottage Museum is also holding themed 1940’s events and exhibitions to coincide with the festival. I shall be getting into the spirit of it all by exhibiting some of my 1940’s wartime cookery books and vintage kitchenalia. They are open for the season every day now 10.30 -4.30 until October and you can find out more about what they are doing on their website www.cottagemuseum.co.uk.

By VE Day people were accustomed to living under rationing and accepting the Ministry of Foods advice, under the guidance of Lord Woolton (he even had a pie named after him.) During the war years everyone accepted and saw the need to do their bit food wise as part of the war effort. Soon after the war had ended in Europe there was a resentment starting to build at continuing to be told what to do by the Government. Little did people realise when they were celebrating VE Day that rationing would be in place for another nine years, finally ending in 1954. It was steadily phased out  slowly returning to how it had been in 1939 before the war began. In June 1954 the final food stuff to come off rationing was meat. I bet after 14 long years of rationing that many Ration books were torn up or thrown on the fire. I should think there were a few steak dinners to celebrate too!

Certain foodstuffs such as potatoes were promoted in the Ministry of Food - Food Fact leaflets. They were home grown and could be served in an enormous variety and used as substitutes for other ingredients, such as flour, stretching the all-important rations. Reduction of wheat and fat were one of the goals of the Ministry of Food. Less wheat imported meant that shipping could be freed up for military use and fat was essential for the production of explosives. Many food facts recipes were developed to accommodate these requirements. Some food stuffs were even given a cartoon character to try and promote the use of the food, such as Potato Pete. He even had his own song –

Potatoes new, potatoes old
Potatoes (in a salad) cold
Potatoes baked, or mashed or fried
Potatoes whole, potatoes pied 
Enjoy them all including chips
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships!

My recipe this month is a wartime Potato and Watercress Soup, I’m sure Potato Pete would approve. The soup is actually very good, nutritious and easy to make.  I’ve shied away from anything using dried egg; you will be pleased to know!

Potato Pete’s Potato and Watercress Soup


Potato peeler, knife, large saucepan, wooden spoon, measuring jug, stick blender, chopping board.


1 1/2lb Old Potatoes (I used 4 fairly large ones as I like my soup quite thick, use less if you like your soup a bit thinner.
1 ½ pints Chicken Stock. (I used one chicken stock melt).
1 tsp margarine or butter
1 pint Milk
Seasoning to taste, it takes a lot of seasoning
1 or 2 bunches Watercress, depending on how strong you like the taste.


Peel your potatoes and chop up into dice.
Put in the pan with your stock, your stock wants to just be covering your potatoes.
Make sure your pan is large enough to fit the milk and watercress in later on.
Simmer until potatoes are soft.
Pour in your milk; add margarine or butter and generous seasoning
Give it a stir and bring up to a simmer again.
Roughly chop up your watercress, discarding any tough woody stems.
Add to your pan, don’t be alarmed at the quantity of watercress, it wilts down a lot like spinach.
Blend well with a stick blender until smooth. Taste again to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

I put a good dollop of plain yogurt on mine, which isn’t very wartime, but it tasted good.
Delicious and super healthy as a light lunch or supper, lovely served with homemade Ploughman Rolls (January 15 Target recipe which can be found on my website).

Sadie Hirst is a multi award winning baker and member of The British Society of Baking and Select Lincolnshire. She is a collector of old recipes and cookery books and is passionate about preserving our culinary heritage. Sadie is often asked to be guest speaker on the topic of historic cookery books and authors with her talk “Off the Beeton Track.” For all of Sadie’s previous Target recipes please see www.rjhirstfamilybutchers.co.uk You can follow Sadie at Twitter Sadie Hirst@RJHirstbutchers or email her at sadiehirst@btinternet.com



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