What is the Jam Connection?

The WI in Britain was formed in the middle of the First World War, when submarine blockades prevented food from being brought into the country and it was imperative that as much food as possible should be grown at home. The Board of Agriculture gave the challenge: 'We have to prevent hunger - every ounce of food which can be grown in this country must be grown, and every woman who can give a hand in this vastly important work must give a hand.' (From verbatim report of the October 1917 meeting - NFWI).Thus from 1915 to 1917 the WIs, under the auspices of the Agricultural Organisations Society (AOS), played their part in increasing food production by making jams and preserves and bottling and pickling other fruit and vegetables. These tasks were second nature to most countrywomen - and very necessary if the excess produce from gardens and smallholdings were to be preserved. This was the war work for which WI members became renowned (and the 'jam' image has stuck ever since). 

Many WIs set up fruit bottling centres. In 1916 the AOS imported from the US six fruit sterilising outfits for the Institutes to borrow. They were soon in great demand and more had to be obtained. Canning and bottling did not require sugar but if the excess fruit produced in gardens and small holdings was to be preserved as jam, sugar, though in short supply was necessary. However, in 1917, 1918 and 1919 the Board of Agriculture allocated sugar to WIs for fruit preserving and all these preserves were then taken for communal use.

Yet again, in the Second World War, WI members helped with food production. In 1939 the NFWI set up The Produce Guild, with a government grant of £500, to teach members about intensive cultivation and provide fertilisers and cheaper plants. When war broke out, the NFWI was invited by the Ministry of Agriculture to organise a Co-operative Fruit Preservation Scheme. Five hundred Dixie Hand sealers - or home canners - came from America, together with a complete Food Preservation Unit and oil stoves, preserving pans, tea towels, thermometers, jam jars, bottling jars, jam-pot covers and special discs for pickles and chutneys. Between 1940 and 1945 more than 5,300 tons of fruit were preserved; that is, nearly 12 million pounds of fruit, which might otherwise have been wasted, provided food for the nation.