WHENEVER I visit supermarkets I’m always impressed by the wide variety of fruit and vegetables on display – most of them contained in some form of attractive plastic packaging. I never cease to be surprised by the source of many of them, from all over the world.

I occasionally think back to the shops and stores from my childhood on Merseyside just after World War Two. I was born during the war but have no memories of it – for which I have been eternally grateful. But I do remember rationing, as, I suspect, some older readers will.

The local Co-op was sited only about 80 yards away, which was a great aid to effective shopping. If there were any shortages – and there often were – my parents got to learn of them and my mother, with me in tow, would dash off, shopping bag and ration book in hand.

Remember ration books? I’ve probably got a an old one stowed away somewhere, probably with my Identity Card. I don’t think I have deliberately stored them away, I’ve just not got around to disposing of them.

Shopping could sometimes be a fraught affair – I can remember that when word got round that the local shop was selling bananas, it was instantly surrounded by a horde of competing housewives. A great contrast to today’s shopping experience!

We used to spend time with family members in North Wales. It was there that I was recruited to join them in gathering mushrooms and picking blackberries – and a few other plants the names of which escape me. Does anyone now bother to go out in the countryside to gather mushrooms and the like?

It’s a great contrast to earlier years. I was minded of this when a friend mentioned that in her younger days she had collected rosehips. This was something I had never done on Merseyside, but Cumberland had been a leading collector back in the Forties. One report claimed that in 1948 the county collected 67 tons, twice as much as the next highest county in the North of England.

Why so much effort in collecting rosehips? It all started in wartime. It was essential that young children got more Vitamin C to reinforce their inadequate diets. Rosehips – known locally as “cat-chowks” – were a rich source of that vitamin and Cumberland was a good source of supply for them. It seems that Northern Britain collected 200 tons per year – and it did this without any special planting of the bushes.

The Ministry of Supply organised the various collecting schemes. As well as rosehips, schemes were set up to collect foxglove leaves and horse chestnuts, all of which had some medical significance.

The plant collection depended heavily on local organisations – schools, scouts, societies – as well as volunteers. So were you in any way involved in collecting rosehips? And when did these schemes cease operating? I have been informed that they packed in sometime in the 1970s. Anyone know any different?

There are reports that research is ongoing into the further use of rosehips in the cure of a number of other ailments. Do the various medications produced commercially use locally produced rosehips – or are they imported?

My memories of the Forties include being dosed with cod liver oil, copious amounts of orange juice and imbibing daily amounts of a sludgy liquid poured from a bottle with a label on which was printed a line drawing of a fisherman with a long fish slung over his back. I’m sure it did me the world of good. Only one problem... I can’t remember what it was called.

What many people forget about rationing is that it provided them with the means of obtaining an adequate and healthy diet – something which was denied many people who had to struggle through the Thirties.