War Ration Stamps

Tickets de Rationnement

[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.

  • Mevrouw Walvis

    You definitely deserve to be nominated! I’ve recently found your blog and read the archives from the beginning – lots of fun during a quiet afternoon at work;o) I tried your youghurt cake recipe, which was a great success. Thank you for both the literary and culinary delights!

  • Je n’avais jamais vu de tickets de rationnements, je suis etrangement emue de les voir ici.
    Felicitation pour les awards Clotilde!

  • Monica

    What lovely and touching treasures for you to find in the books. Congratulations on your Blog Award and many more returns!

  • Congratulations on the awards. And I loved reading about the old cookbooks and the ration stamps. I have my mother’s old cookbooks, and one of the things I like about them is the random things that I found in them–old shopping lists, birthday cards, handwritten recipes she’d gotten from someone else. It’s a treasure hunt whenever I open one up–I always seem to find something new.

  • Céline

    Bonjour, je lis avec application ton blog que j’ai découvert il y a quelques mois, j’ai moi aussi relu les archives depuis le menu… A great time !
    Je n’ai pas pu m’empêcher de poster un message quand j’ai vu que tu évoquais le contre-coups de l’abbé Perdrigeon : un remède toujours utilisé dans ma famille ! Mes bosses enfantines ont toujours été soignées avec (bonjour la couleur jaune, due à l’iode que le remède contient), et c’est efficace !

    Bonne continuation et merci pour ton blog, qui mérite bien ses dernières récompenses !

  • Je n’avais jamais vu de tickets de rationnement moi non plus. Félicitations pour les prix ! bravo

  • Congratulations. C&Z is a delight to read.

  • I’m sure you’ve been asked this many times, but once again, what kind of camera do use?
    Merci beaucoup, beaucoup!

  • Lakshmi

    Dear Clotilde,
    Your blog is a complete delight to all five senses and though I am quite a newbie as far as cooking is concerned, I adore reading your blogs… keep ’em coming!


  • Such lovely treasures!!

    p.s. Congratulations on a well-deserved win!

  • pink tomato

    Dear Clotilde…utterly delighted for you with your 2 wonderful awards…I was in no doubt of your success! Still enjoying my La Cocotte thanks to your blog!..I noticed yesterday that they are currently on sale…do I need more!
    Well done again….

  • gingerpale

    Regarding the ration stamps–Yes, it stops your life juuust for a moment to hold something like that in your hand and then realize what it is, what it meant–I am suprised by the bright circus colors–they look so cheerful, not “institutional” at all.

    (More grandmas should blog!)


  • MM

    What a brilliant post! Don’t the hairs on your arms just rise when you find something like that? I remember discovering these food ration cards within one of my grandmother’s books and I just sat there for ages gaping at them. I love your blog and your recipes!

  • Bethany

    your life facinates me!! Are you back in france?

  • Kristina G.

    Speaking of rations, I came across this in my morning press round up, and thought that the video clip was timely to the rations post. World Food Programme has just launched a “Donate a Dessert” campaign. Before you get ready to start an industrial production of chocolate cakes like I was, it’s intended for people to donate the money they would spend on a dessert when eating out…


    I really take for granted that I always have eggs and flour and stores of sugar in my cabinets and butter in my freezer so that I can make a cake on short notice, but most of the world barely makes it through the day with an appropriate caloric intake.

    I’m glad we have the opportunity to participate in such a lively forum, but I also think periodically remembering things like ration coupons (and taking a serious look at the work of agencies like WFP) help keep things in perspective and makes us realize how lucky we really are!

    I would say that if we are reading (and responding to this blog) we are very fortunate indeed to be able to dedicate our time and resources to ‘luxury’ foods because we already have the necessities.

  • The organization I am working for, the Academie voor de Streekgebonden Gastronomie (Academy for Regional Gastronomy, Belgium-Flanders), is trying to collect stories about wartime cuisine (Second World War). We set up a blog about it (in Dutch), http://blog.seniorennet.be/oorlogskeuken_asg.

    The Academy has a library with lots of books about food and there”s also a collection of pre-1945 cookbooks. The things you find in these books are fascinating. One of them contains a typed out recipe for “gaufres de guerre” (war waffles). Main ingredient: potatoes. Perhaps the potato madeleines you talked about in your previous post are a relic of the wartime recipes published in the first edition of your cookbook? During the Second World War people also used potatoes to make marzipan (recipe found in an Oetker-leaflet, “Recepten voor dezen tijd” (“Recipes for these times”, i.e. World War II)).

  • Nick Mercury

    Dear Clotilde;
    Look forward to each and every entry.
    You have a marvelous talent and a true gift for writing. Your combination of providing insight into the world of good food and your lovely weaving in of personal things, makes for sheer delight. Congrats. Nick Mercury

  • Alisa

    Just before clicking on the “continues”, I was a bit choked up with emotion at the stamps, the poem and the other things found in your little books…it does put so much into perspective.

    At the same time, not really looking forward to entering my fifties if you know what I mean!

    Congratulations on the awards, you so deserve them!!!!!

  • Sarah

    I loved seeing the photo of the ration stamps. When I was a kid I had a school project to do an oral history. I chose my grandmother, who was in her early 20s during WWII, living in rural Michigan. I remember her telling me that her family used to trade ration stamps with other families as well– they were always trading to get additional stamps for coffee because her family drank so much of it! We’re still big coffee drinkers today.

    Congratulations on the nominations. Your blog is a joy to read.

  • Patsy

    I was a child during WWII and remember very well our American ration stamps. My mother, too, would trade them with people in the country so that we could have real butter instead of waxy margarine and farm-made cane syrup to sweeten her cooking. One of her sisters was a farm wife and we were able to have bacon and a bit of ham from her pigs. I often think of those days when I’m with cousins who grew up with me and we (all of us enthusiastic eaters and cooks) can hardly believe the turn things have taken in the food world. Thank you for bringing this beautifully written reminder to those who have no personal memories of such a time.

    And my very heartfelt congratulations to you for your award. You earned it!

  • It’s a funny coincidence that you should post about ration stamps today after I watched the BBC documentary 1940 House last night (wherein a modern British family lives as a family would have during World War II). I was amazed at how little they were allowed to buy even if they could afford it. Just watching the show made me in awe of the splendor of our modern supermarkets. It really made me appreciate the abundance and variety of food I have available to me.

  • Joan

    Clotilde..I thought the non-French speaking readers might like to read the English translation of the poem…and am wondering if, as a child, you recited the poem with your classmates on Nov 11.

    always the hope of peace..

    The Sleeper in the Valley

    There”s a recess in the greenery, where the river sings
    Tangling wildly in the tattered grass
    Silvery; where the sun from the proud mountain
    Glimmers; It”s a little valley that sparkles with light.

    A young soldier, mouth open, head bare,
    And nape bathing in the cool blue cresses
    Sleeping; he”s spread out on the grass, under the clouds,
    Pale on his green bed where the light rains down.

    Feet in the gladiolas, he sleeps. Smiling like
    A sick child would smile, he dozes.
    Warmly lull him Nature, he”s cold.

    The scents no longer make his nose quiver
    He sleeps in the sun, hand on his chest
    Tranquil, he has two red holes on his right side.

  • Your papounet

    A good idea to give this english translation, Joan. Especially since I find it excellently done (and there’s nothing so tricky as to translate poetry in a convincing and artistic way.) If I may, you should have given credit to the translator, who happens to be a lady (girl?) named Lisa Yannucci.

    Just to show how good her translation is, let me show you another one. I won’t qualify it, and will not name the translator in this specific case …

    It is a green hollow where a stream gurgles,
    Crazily catching silver rags of itself on the grasses ;
    Where the sun shines from the proud mountain :
    It is a little valley bubbling over with light.

    A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed,
    With the nape of his neck bathed in cool blue cresses,
    Sleeps ; he is stretched out on the grass, under the sky,
    Pale on his green bed where the light falls like rain.

    His feet in the yellow flags, he lies sleeping. Smiling as
    A sick child might smile, he is having a nap :
    Cradle him warmly, Nature : he is cold.

    No odour makes his nostrils quiver ;
    He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
    At peace. There are two red holes in his right side.

    “where a stream gurgles”… Oh my god… “où chante une rivière”. It sings ! It does NOT gurgle ! How horrid… And the rest isn’t too good either… Second line :
    “Crazily catching silver rags of itself on the grasses “… Compare this with the beautifully phrased : “Tangling wildly in the tattered grass”
    This “crazily” is abominable…

    Ah well. I know this isn’t a poetry blog, of course. But food IS poetry, in a way, so it’s relevant, after all !

  • What wonderful treasures! It must have been very exciting finding all these things.

  • A beautiful post, Clothilde! Very touching!

  • I’m so glad for you Clotilde!
    I’m one of your readers from Turkey and am glad knowing you a single bit. I enjoy the fresh ingredients when it comes to food and cooking and am glad I can find a lot where I live, Antalya. The farmer’s markets are great here and it’s the lily season which makes me wanna go to the market 2-3 times a week to smell and buy more lilies.
    a cookbook writer and blogger from turkey

  • I read a comment from INGE who posted here in Chocolate and Zucchini about an organization gathering recipes from WWll. I have a WWll French grocery shop poster describing food that could be bought. It is large and on canvas, a small sampling of it is on my blog, but I could mail you a larger one if you think it would be interesting for the group you mentioned to use. I tried to email the site, but I do not understand Dutch.

  • Sylvie

    Joan, The “dormeur du val” refers to the war between France and Germany in 1870. Since France lost that war, and it was followed by a revolution (la Commune), there is no commemoration for it. It is not traditional to recite it on the 11th of November (though you are right, it could be done !)

  • Congratulations, Clotilde. And what a poignant treasure to find.

  • Belle histoire.
    Première fois aussi que j’en vois

  • Nicole

    Eh, le contre-coups de l’Abbe Perdrigeon, j’ai que 34 ans et je m’en souviens bien! C’est une espece de teinture a l’arnica, c’est tres bon pour les bleus et les hematomes. Je me souviens de l’odeur meme apres 20 ans! En trouve-t’on encore en officine? Affaire a suivre…

  • Orme

    Le Contre-Coups de l’Abbé Perdrigeon does not mean « back-kick » but « Abbot Perdrigeon’s Bruise Relief ». It still exists nowadays, it’s a medical tint made of alcohol, aloe and myrrh, very efficient against bruises, swelling and pain.

  • Orme – Thanks for the correction, I hadn’t realized that “contre-coups” was to be taken literally here, but of course it makes sense! I wonder if it might have been a pun to begin with?

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