Women in History Month

March is women in history month, and since my mother is largely responsible for my love of food, I asked her what it was like when she was younger growing up during the war. Then, how she managed to go from eating meat to vegetarianism, in an era when everyone ate meat or fish three meals a day. She will be 87 this summer, this is her story.

“I grew up on Vancouver Island during World War 2, with food rationing and home-grown food. My mother baked bread, we had lots of milk, our own chickens, so plenty of eggs, but I never cooked.

If my mother needed help in the kitchen, my next sister was there to help her. Between them they figured out they had about 28 different meals that they could create at any time. Such as baked beans or kedgeree or what we called mother’s mince, which was endless variation of mince meat and whatever was available with the most important edition being raisins.

As soon as I was 21, I went to Europe traveling and then  started working in London, England, where in time I met my husband to be. One day while  we were dating, he asked “Can you cook me dinner? I’ll bring  the steak.” A few months before that I had had a scary time learning how to cook on a gas stove, but I said “Sure, I can  cook anything” and crossed my fingers. On the day, the steak was perfect and soon we fell in love. Yes, food did it. He’d grown up during the war on rations of a few ounces of meat a week.

In a few months he left for his job, stationed to Calcutta, India, and six month’s later I joined him and we were married. We enjoyed the variety of the beautifully prepared Indian foods, luckily, we had a cook and we became no-meat vegetarians in a land where meat tastes of mud.

In time we moved to Australia, where they ate huge amounts of meat. Because we were both working, we ate whatever was easiest to prepare, but my husband wouldn’t eat salads. We noticed immediately going from Indian vegetarian food to an Australian meat diet, that there was a real drop in our energy from eating meat. Soon, we returned to England where we brought up three sons.

My mother visited and taught me how to make bread. By the time the boys were teenagers, they were well over 6 feet tall, they had huge appetites, just absorbing vast amounts of food. If they had friends over, they had to stay for lunch, and I made a cookie sheet pizza – one for each child.

One day my husband came home from working months away in Africa, and told me he had become vegetarian and I was not to cook meat while he was at home. It was very clear that the rest of us would have to adjust to his wishes.

I rushed off to the book store and the only book they had remotely to do with vegetarian cooking was “The Bean Book”, a valuable choice. I still use it and my baked beans are to die for. Over time we settled down with the changes, but eating in restaurants was harsh. He’d complain that there were no vegetarian dishes on the menu. No, the English memory of food rationing probably had changed them, no one asked for vegetarian food and that was in the 1970’s.

I bought a yogurt maker and learned how to made granola, and when I went to the local health food store, I would ask questions. Pepper and other spices seemed very expensive in those days, but they made our food more interesting and we adjusted the tastes to family preferences.

I found some vegetarian dishes took time to prepare but it was well worth the effort, and as a family we created meals that soon became family favorites; others we never tried again. We made vegetarian lasagnas and over time created such a variety of non-meat dishes, that I wondered why we needed meat in the first place.

We moved to Vancouver, BC in 1981 and in Vancouver then there were several great vegetarian restaurants, and it was fun to enjoy really delicious vegetarian restaurant food.

Today, I realize that satisfying meals will always depend on the skills and ingenuity of the cook. We as a family, have always had fun sharing food ideas, and I’m lucky my daughter’s in law are known for their great meals.

I think we all learn how to eat what suits us best. For some of my family today, find that some foods are not for them, and I know I cannot eat the way I used to. But I still prepare and cook all my own food and at 86, I am very well and take no medicines. I can still cook a mean curry with all the trimmings, and my Bean book is still enjoyed to this day.”

You can reach Executive Chef Alastair at, chef@naterafoods.com Alastair's life-long passion for food was inherited from his mother and grandmother. He's an Honours graduate of the Culinary Institute of Vancouver Island at VIU, and has been cooking since he was old enough to see over the top of the stove.

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