[War Ration Stamps]
As if those two books my grandmother gave me weren’t fascinating enough, leafing through them unearthed other treasures, slipped between the pages over the years.
A yellowed advertisement for a bottled remedy called Le Contre-Coups de l’Abbé Perdrigeon (Abbot Perdrigeon’s back-kick), which will help you recover from heavy falls and blows, brain congestion, apoplexy, and will ease the pain from arthritis, rhumatisms, hypertension, and miscellaneous maladies de la cinquantaine, those ailments that hit you in your fifties.
An ugly promotional bookmark for the Larousse dictionary (“Le Larousse est toujours à la page”, the Larousse is always up-to-date). A torn little card from a rest home near Paris, Le Château de Grignon. A thin book with instructions on how to use a mysterious powdered binding agent called Zite, which purportedly replaced eggs, butter and oil in recipes. A scrap of paper on which my grandmother copied one of her (and my) favorite poems, Le Dormeur du Val.
And in an old envelope, faded strips of ration stamps from March and April 1946, allowing you to buy meat (90 grams per stamp) and fat (50 grams per stamp); the food rationing in France went on for four years after the end of World War II, until 1949.
Opening the envelope, I was awestruck and deeply moved: I’ve always been passionately interested in stories about wartime and I knew about ration stamps of course, but I had never actually held some in my hands, trying to imagine what it must be like to stand in line outside the store, clutching your little stamp card and praying that there would still be something to buy when it was finally your turn. And yet, this was my grandmother’s daily life sixty years ago, a mother of three sons, pregnant with her fourth.
Naturally, this begs the question: why are there any left? To that, my grandmother answered that she had friends who lived out in the country, and with whom she was able to trade things — fabric or wool in exchange for farm products such as eggs and milk. She added that she was so afraid of not having enough, that she had learned to be extremely parsimonious with her supplies, and that sometimes, by the end of the month, she hadn’t used up all the stamps she was entitled to. It kind of puts the whole rapturous-food-shopping thing in perspective, doesn’t it?
On an unrelated note, I would like to thank everyone who nominated and voted for C&Z in the 2005 Food Blog Awards. I am the happy recipient of the Best Recipes and Best Writing awards, and I couldn’t feel more honored and delighted. After more than two years, this blog continues to bring me joy and fulfillment on a daily basis, and I can’t imagine my life without it — I’d probably feel like I’m missing a limb, or perhaps a chunk of lung. I am ever so pleased that others find a little something in C&Z that they like, and truly grateful that they take the time to tell me — through their comments, emails or in the voting booth. Thank you.