The Taste of Longing

With Remembrance Day this week, featuring this insightful perspective to war time in Singapore is timely.  Ethel Mulvany of Manitoulin Island went on a whirlwind tour of the world, found a husband on route, and settled with him in Singapore.  And then the war worked its way to their island. 

We don’t hear enough about women during the war so it was interesting to read about a women’s POW prison and the psychological games they played to endure their awful encampment.  Ethel, in her true leadership style, conjured up many distractions for the women.  This book deals mostly with the recipes the prisoners wrote down and shared with each other.  Changi Prison made Ethel both a stronger person but also exacerbated her mental issues.  

Put yourself in these women’s shoes.  Could you eat dog biscuits and book spines to stay alive? Befriend spiders and smugglers and endure torture and solitary confinement?  It boggles the mind!

It took many years for Ethel to reconcile her experience with living back in Canada. Life post-war was riddled with PTSD, mental issues and divorce. With all that, Ethel kept busy bringing third-world handmade products to sell in Canada in her Treasure Van and her association with the World University Services of Canada (still going strong today –

Author, Suzanne Evans was a research fellow at the Canadian War Museum when she came across Mulvany’s Starving Prisoners of War Cook Book. I asked her what her biggest learning while researching this book was: “I thought it was perverse that this group of women would gather together to share recipes for foods they had no chance of eating. Not only that, but to my surprise they focused on mundane dishes like mashed potatoes. Soon enough I realized I would definitely been part of those food discussions! When you are really hungry thoughts of food are constant companions demanding attention. When the pandemic hit and I was separated from friends and family, I too, like many others now and like the imprisoned women of Changi Jail, thought about basic, comfort foods. Those dishes come attached to happy memories and feelings of security.”

All this talk of food had me asking Suzanne what her favourite recipe would be:

“My go-to recipe of baked macaroni and cheese belongs in that comfort category. A simple dish made with really good cheese that has been loved by three generations in my family and appreciated by many friends.” 

As with the prisoners, we go back to the basics of cooking for our comfort food whether it be mashed potatoes or mac and cheese…life really is very simple.  We tried an Austrialian twist on Ambrosia Salad – check it out in the Recipe section.

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Images and content used with permission by Between the Lines.