Make do and mend

Both my husband and I are the children of parents who were adults during the 1939-45 war. We grew up in households where rationing never really went away.  Nothing was ever thrown out if it might possibly be of use. These days it is referred to as “hoarding disorder”, but in the 1950s and 60s it was known as “common sense”.  Drawers were full of old bags and bits of string, the garden shed boasted teapots without lids and lids without jars.  All left overs were recycled in some way.  It was not a chore, it was just what we did.  Crusts were left in the oven to harden and then turned into breadcrumbs, all bacon rinds were fried and refried until they resembled skinny pork scratchings, orange peel was routinely candied.  Any bone or carcass was boiled up to make stock and the hot water from the washing machine cycle was redirected into a bucket for the purpose of hand washing socks.  Therefore, the present strictures on what is available/not available do not faze me in the slightest.  I was raised to darn socks, boil up bones, make do and mend.

I thought I might share some tips to help those of you who are not so  comfortable with gaps in their normal shopping experience

  • Best before dates are a con.  Unless things are obviously crawling with mould or fizzy on the tongue, they are OK to eat.  Be more careful with Use before dates, especially if fish or processed meats are involved, but  any elderly vegetables/fruit are fine – they make brilliant soup.  Out of date cheese is the only sort of cheese that you should ever eat.  I once read that bread mould contains penicillin which may be a good thing or a bad thing.
  • All meat bones deserve to be boiled –they make tasty broth – as sold by Hoxton Hipsters for many pounds.  My mother recalls being brought up in an orphanage in the 1920s and early 1930s – not a time of affluence. If ever they were lucky enough to see a bone it was not only boiled for broth but then scrubbed until white and sold to the bone man for a few pennies to make glue with.  Now that is proper recycling.
  • Anything can be used to make soup – all left overs, shrivelled vegetables, obscure unidentified things from the freezer.  Throw in lots of herbs and no one will be any the wiser
  • Crusts of bread do actually count as bread .  If you don’t like to eat them  (perhaps you fear that they will make your hair curl) then put them in the blender and make breadcrumbs or if that is too messy, cut them into little cubes with a very sharp knife and fry them in oil or butter for croutons. Never forget the power of bread and butter pudding…
  • Tinned tomatoes are currently rarer than hen’s teeth – substitute with tomato puree and water, or if really desperate try tomato sauce squirted into your ragu.  It won’t be as nice, but it is better than plain water.
  • No self-raising flour?  Add one rounded teaspoon of baking powder to  100gm plain flour
  • No caster sugar?  Whizz granulated in a liquidiser until it becomes caster.  Keep whizzing for even longer if you need icing sugar.  Sugar is sugar for goodness sake.
  • Replace brown sugar with white sugar and a slug of treacle.  You know, that encrusted tin of black sticky stuff that only comes out at Christmas?
  • Thinking of Christmas – should you discover a jar of mincemeat in your cupboard, Delia has a good recipe for a fruit cake that does not require a lot of dried fruit.  I made one for Easter. Include some of those candied orange peel pieces.
  • No yeast ? Make soda bread – 500gm flour, salt, 2 tsp bicarb. 400ml milk and 2 tbsp vinegar/lemon juice, 2tsp sugar ( you can use yoghut to replace the milk and vinegar) Do not handle too much – no kneading required.  Make a rough blob shape and cook at 200c for 25 minutes (other soda bread recipes are available)
  • No white beans to make a bean dip?  Wash your cheap baked beans and use them. If you are very careful in the washing you may recapture the sauce for use in your ragu.
  • Use the liquid from pickle jars and the oil from sundried tomato jars etc to make salad dressings
  • Make homemade mayo without eggs by emulsifying oil and milk
  • You do not need loads of cleaning agents to make your house sparkle.  White vinegar cleans beautifully  as does baking powder (look on the internet for ideas).  Malt vinegar also cleans but leaves a curious, vomity smell.
  • Warning – should you wish to paint a room and have lots of white emulsion but no colours, adding food colouring to the paint DOES NOT WORK.  Believe me.  In our more impecunious days I tried it.


  1. What a brilliant read! My parents were also from the ‘make do and mend’ era, and all the tips you have mentioned are very familiar to me. There is no way I can throw away a piece of string, no matter how long it takes to struggle with removing the knots. I never throw away any veg. My motto is ‘would they use it during the war’? If the answer is yes, then it’s used. I always cut any mould from the cheese (if milk happens to go sour – unlikely these days) put it in a piece of muslin and hang it up to drip, and hey presto, cream cheese. Just add a little salt or some herbs. Any leftovers are frozen in portions (e.g. curry or stew) and eaten at a later date. It becomes second nature and not a chore at all.


  2. Hopefully, our generation hasn’t forgotten these lessons, and maybe passed them on. We compost and well as cook veg that’s going off. Fruit can make jams/pies, etc. Some things have lost use due to technological change, but a few are coming back into fashion (like needle and thread to make masks :)). Where is that half tin of 3-in-1 oil, when you need it, though? DJ


  3. Before throwing away the junk (or other inessential) post, see if the reverse side is blank. If it is, fold it in four, tear along the folds and use for making shopping or other lists. This has the added benefit of improving the efficiency of your shopping trip too.


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