Another food post! This time I am looking at the instant food mixes which arrived during my childhood and were extensively advertised on TV and in women’s magazines. Preparing food for a family in the 1950s and 60s was hard work and totally dependent on what was available in the current season. Households in Britain at that time didn’t have freezers and many didn’t even have a fridge. Everything was made from scratch and there were no food processors or electric beaters either.The idea that one could produce a tasty dessert by adding milk to a powder and whisking must have seemed like magic. There were the cake mixes – one of our main brands was Green’s. They advertised that all you needed to add was an egg. I believe I have read somewhere ages ago that the manufacturers felt that if egg powder was in the mix so that you only needed to add water, the maker would not have felt as if she (well, it was always a woman!) was doing proper cooking. Adding an egg made it feel more like she was producing a home-made cake.
I believe you made your own pastry base and meringue topping and the mix was for the lemon filling. The cake mix was usually Green’s. I think this photograph is 1970s.
The trifle mix contained a few different sponge fingers and dry sachets for making jelly, custard and the fake cream topping. Sprinkles might also have been included. I think you provided your own fruit (tinned). The Carmelle pudding was an instant way of creating a creme brulee style dessert just by heating some milk and opening two sachets.
Dream Topping gave you a whipped cream topping in an era when you didn’t often have fresh cream available- and in those pre-fridge days it was considered a step up from tinned cream! Before Instant Whip and Angel Delight there was only blancmange which was made by heating milk with cornflour, sugar and colouring. The thickened mix was poured into a mould, allowed to cool then turned out and eaten with fruit and jelly. Instant Whip and Angel Delight, on the other hand, only had to be whisked with cold milk eaten. Also, they were crammed full of chemicals to make them set and to make them taste extra sweet and fruity – so kids loved them.
In the 1960’s instant mashed potato arrived on the scene. We Brits do like our mash and this saves all the peeling, boiling and mashing. Next came Vesta. In the 1960s we were beginning to be aware of food from other countries but few people had access to the real thing. It was the height of cool to be able to serve a curry in your own home! Surprise Peas were amazing at the time. Until the freeze-drying method of preserving peas was invented, the only way of eating fresh garden peas was in the pea growing season. The rest of the year the choice was either tinned peas or dried peas (soaked overnight and when cooked turned into what we know as ‘mushy peas’). Surprise Peas, when added to boiling water and cooked for a few minutes actually tasted exactly like real, fresh peas. Once domestic freezers became a common household object, these peas were superseded by frozen peas and are no longer available here.
The things to remember about the popularity of these early convenience foods are that
- Preparing and cooking food was a time-consuming business in the 1950s
- Ingredients were limited to what was available seasonally and grown in this country
- TV advertising had just burst onto the scene and made these things look sophisticated, trendy and modern so people wanted to try them
Now many people look down on instant food but then it was novel and the height of cool. I remember my mum trying some of them out (probably when we children clamoured for them after seeing the ads!) but she always said that for a family of five on a tight budget things like Smash, Vesta and cake mixes were totally impractical as the portions were small and it worked out more costly than making the food yourself.