When I was visiting London, I walked around the city near brunch time and saw that a lot of restaurants were serving “bubble and squeak”. I had never seen or heard of that dish before, but the name was so funny that it stuck in my head.
Bubble and squeak has many variations, but most variations contain cabbage. The cabbage, while cooking, makes a bubbly and squeaky noise, and this is how the dish got its humorous name. Despite its funny name, bubble and squeak has a sad history.
During World War II, food was so scarce in England that the government controlled the food consumption through a ration system. Each person had a ration card that listed personal information like age and pregnancy. With the ration system, people had a limit on how much food they could buy. Some kinds of food, like certain fruits, were so rare that they became completely unavailable during WW2. Bananas, for example, did not exist in England for a decade or so, and the children who grew up during this era did not believe such fruit existed.
In an attempt to stretch their rations, Londonites cooked their leftovers with cabbages and other vegetables the next day. Bubble and squeak existed prior to World War 2, but the ration system during the war popularized the dish.
While researching for this blog post, I found a fantastic blog that features wartime recipes, in which the author re-creates recipes that were appropriate for the ration system in the 1940s. While people kept gardens for vegetables, a weekly ration for one adult was:
• Bacon & Ham: 4 oz
• Fresh meat: to the value of 1 shilling and sixpence (around 1/2 lb minced beef)
• Butter: 2 oz
• Cheese: 2 oz
• Margarine: 4 oz
• Cooking fat: 4 oz
• Milk: 3 pints
• Sugar: 8 oz
• Tea: 2 oz
• Eggs: 1 fresh egg per week
• Sweets/Candy: 12 oz per 4 weeks
• Preserves: 1 lb per 2 months