The Dawn of the Packet Mix.

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.

 

lemon meringuecake mix

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.

trifle                 carmelle

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     instant whip           ww240569angeldelight.jpeg

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.

 

smash    vesta        surprise peas

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.

Home Baking

A lot of my posts end up mentioning food and I have touched on baking before but this one is all about the cakes mums baked in the 1950s in Britain.

All the cakes in our house were baked by my mum. ‘Shop cake’ was a luxury and was reserved for when visitors came to the house. Every week, usually on a Friday or Saturday, Mum would bake enough cakes, buns, scones and tarts to last a week. I can still remember the difference in taste and texture between day old Victoria sponge and a slice which was five or six days old. But food wasn’t wasted in those post-war days! Dry scones could be split and toasted. Sponge cake which was too dry to be enjoyed was used in trifle. Stale fruit cake was used in one of my favourites – Cabinet Pudding.

In Britain in the 1950s, we hadn’t heard of chocolate brownies or cup cakes – we had chocolate cake and fairy cakes. The word gateau hadn’t yet arrived – we had cake or pudding. We had apple tarts rather than apple pies and flapjacks not muesli bars. Cakes never had any sort of cream in them. This was because few houses here at that time had fridges. Sponge cakes had jam or butter icing in the middle. For special occasions both! Sugar was sprinkled on the top. Chocolate cake had melted chocolate spread on top.

Here are some of the things commonly made at the time. The photos are mostly modern – not many people took photographs of their weekly baking session – and as always, come courtesy of the Internet. (If anyone objects to me using one of their pictures, get in touch and I will remove it.)

cake What happened to butterfly cakes? I haven’t seen one in years!

rock buns        jam tarts

Rock buns and jam tarts – two of the first things I baked as a child.

choc cake   sponge

grannys-scottish-scones.jpg                 medium-292-5382-fruitcake

Sponge cake, chocolate cake, scones and fruit cake – regularly baked by my mum.

maids of honour         swiss roll

Maids of Honour – a pastry base, some jam with a sponge topping and a Swiss roll.

apple-pie-702719__340                 lemon meringue

treacle tart                   apple-crumble-pie-718029_960_720

Here are some baked treats we used to have for dessert – the always known as pudding.       Fruit tart – apple, rhubarb, gooseberry, blackberry etc, depending on what was in season, lemon meringue pie, treacle tart and fruit crumble with one of the fruits I’ve just mentioned.

 

 

Thermos Flasks, Primus Stoves, Deck Chairs, Postcards and Scotch Eggs.

This post is about holidays and day trips and the things we did, ate and took with us then which are not heard of now. It was prompted by a thought about postcards. With so many other ways of communicating now, the humble postcard is a shadow of its former self. When I was a child we had a two week summer holiday every year. I have very clear memories of my mum writing loads of postcards. She would take her address book and her card list – I’m pretty sure it was the same list as for Christmas cards – and would spend ages working her way through the list of contacts. We children were encouraged to send postcards to school friends. Back at home, postcards would arrive all summer. Friends and neighbours who didn’t go away on a holiday (many were farmers and couldn’t leave the farm) would send one from a place visited for the day in the school holidays.
Postcards mostly fell into two main types – examples are shown here – the views and the humorous ones. Until I moved to Yorkshire I had no idea that the ubiquitous ‘saucy’ postcard, seen all over the UK, originated in the town of Holmfirth. I remember browsing through them in newsagent’s shops and the humour going right over my head!

pc-porthcawl50s     cleethorpes-winter-gardens-1950s-1-large

img_0410

A feature of holidays and day trips was the picnic. In the 1950s there were no cool boxes, cling film or plastic sandwich boxes. People in general didn’t have the spare cash for cafe stops and there were no fast food outlets apart from chip shops. When a family went out for the day they took a picnic which consisted of some or all of the following

Note – this is a very British list and will probably bear no relation to memories from other countries and continents.

sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper

hard boiled eggs

scotch eggs

tomatoes

cold sausages, sliced ham, pieces of pork pie

fruit

cakes or buns

tea

The last item is, of course, peculiarly British.  How could a family pass a whole day without tea? It was unthinkable! The only way to have tea to drink with your picnic was either

a. to take a Thermos flask

b. to take a camping stove (Primus) and kettle and brew up.

Plastic picnic ware was not around in the 50s. The standard unbreakable picnic mugs and plates were known simply as enamel and were metal (tin?) with a white enamel coating and a blue trim.
                        

 1950_s_boxed_thermos_flaskcu4                                  

We had a gadget – pictured here – which made toasted sandwiches. Back then the ubiquitous toasties and panninis were not heard of. We made cheese on toast at home and that was the nearest. This tool, however, was brilliant for providing some warm food at a picnic on a cold day – a feature of British summers! You take a normal sandwich, place it in between two iron plates on the end of a pair of tongs, squeeze the plates together and hold over the flame of a Primus stove.  Result – one perfect toasted sandwich! These were the first toasties I ever ate.

              

There is now a vast array of lightweight foldable chairs and tables for outdoor eating.  They are easily stowed in the boot of a car. When I was a child there were deck chairs made of wood and canvas which were available to rent for the day on beaches or were kept at home for use in the garden.  What we all did then was to take ‘picnic blankets’.  Woollen and usually tartan, these would be spread on the grass or sand for everyone to sit on and eat their picnic.  If the picnic was by the sea or a river a towel was always there to dry any feet which went paddling. The picture shows a typical 50s towel. It’s only when you see one that you realise how even towel styles change with time.

             

Twelfth Night Reflections.

As it is the 6th of January and I have just taken down my tree and my Christmas cards, I thought I would look back at Christmas 60 odd years ago. I have covered this before but I hope to mention some things which didn’t come up last time.

The build up to Christmas was nothing like as long as it is now but one thing which was always done early was the making of the Christmas cake and the Christmas pudding. My mum used to do these several weeks beforehand and it was always exciting to be a part of the preparation. It seemed very exotic when my mum added a small glass of sherry to the cake mix. When the pudding mixture was being stirred we three children all took a turn at having a stir and making a wish whilst stirring. Then came the bit where my mum concealed a silver sixpenny piece (carefully cleaned) into the bowl with the mixture. It was said that whoever got the sixpence in their portion on Christmas Day would have good luck. I have a feeling that when we were little my mum used to put three in our pudding so that we children found one each. Nobody would dream of putting a small metal coin into a pudding now in our safety-conscious age but none of us ever choked or broke a tooth!

sixpenses                                 Image result for christmas pudding  cloth

Our stockings were long brown hand-knitted woollen ones. I believe a relative had knitted a few pairs for my dad to wear under wellingtons when he was out at work in the forests. We had the same ones right through childhood and the feeling of those stocking stiff and full on a Christmas morning is still with me. There was always and apple and an orange in the toes, some chocolate coins, a new hankie, a new flannel and a new toothbrush, some sweets and a little novelty peeping out of the top – a small toy or a sugar mouse, maybe. Anything bigger than stocking size from Father Christmas (I never heard him called Santa at that time) was under the tree. We always had a selection box each.

After stockings and breakfast and before opening the rest of the presents we would walk to the village church for the Christmas morning service which was always one of the most exciting services of the year. The church would be packed, even though our village was tiny as everyone made the effort to attend on Christmas morning.

stockings_socks          sugar_mouse_white

There would be presents from a few relatives and presents from and to each other. Board games were very popular gifts and sometimes at Christmas there might be a compendium of games with five or six board games in one box. Other presents which were often given were paintboxes, weaving, sewing, raffia and painting by numbers kits, magic sets, dressing up outfits, Meccano and card games like Snap and Happy Families.

compendium-of-games-spears-toys-draughts-dominoes-ludo-_1           happy-families

In the 1950s in Britain chicken was quite a luxury and that was what we had on Christmas Day. Turkey came on the scene later.

The afternoon was always punctuated by the Queen’s speech. We listened to it on the radio through the 50s and then watched it on TV from 1961 when we got out first television.

biscuit-tin           roses

On Boxing Day there was always a circus on the TV in the afternoon which we all watched (with the curtains drawn as we did in those days!) whilst dipping into or selection boxes.

 

50s-christmas-paper-lanterns-1                                       baubles

Tree decorations were mostly baubles and the baubles were made of glass. I still have three of the ones we had on our trees when I was small.

50s-toys                  toys-walldisplay

We always received a new diary each for Christmas and in the back of the new diary I would carefully write down my New Year’s Resolutions. The other writing task was the composing of thank-you letters to relatives who had sent us presents. My mum always made sure these were done before we went back to school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorable Firsts.

This one is for my friends Judy and Heather (aka Flo). It’s a slight departure from my normal posts as it fast forwards a few years. Instead of talking about life in the 50s and 60s this post talks about the differences between rural life then and city life in the early 70s.

In September 1969 I began my three years at university in Nottingham. Times were changing rapidly in the late 60s/ early 70s  On top of that, I was moving from rural Wales to England; from a tiny community miles from anywhere to a bustling city. This is about some of the things I experienced for the first time during the three years I was a student. These experiences are forever linked in my mind with the city of Nottingham and on a recent visit to the place I decided to revisit those times in my blog.

Service Buses. In the area where I grew up there was not a bus service in the way towns and cities have them. We had a local coach firm called Thomas Brothers who provided the school buses for children in outlying areas They also ran a weekly coach from the villages village into the town a few miles away. The coach left from outside our village post office on Fridays (market day) at 11 am and left the town at 2pm. Regular buses with numbers on the front and, in particular, double decker buses were such a novelty! I loved being able to walk from my uni down to the main road and catch a bus into the city centre.

Thos bros coach.jpg           nottm-bus

Tea bags. On my free Saturday afternoons (I even had lectures on Saturday morning in my first year!) I loved to wander around the city centre and in and out of the shops. Shops like that were a two hour drive from where I grew up and major shopping trips were made infrequently. My afternoons in the city centre always involved a cafe stop. I can still remember the names of two of my favourites which were called The Gingham Kitchen and The Pepper Mill. There is still a Gingham Kitchen in Nottingham but I haven’t been able to find out whether it’s the same one or not – I remember the name but no more.

gingham kitchen.jpg

It was on one of my cafe visits when I first came across a tea bag. I asked for a cup of tea and was given a cup of what looked like milky water with a strange object floating in it. It took me a minute to work out what I was meant to do!

Indian Restaurants. During my first term a group of friends suggested we went for a curry in town. I had come across curry before – made at home using curry powder – but had never been to an Indian Restaurant. I was helped by friends more sophisticated than I was to choose suitable food from a bewildering menu. My starter was Onion Bhaji and I thought I had never tasted anything better. I don’t even remember my main course – and I still love onion bhajis.

onion-bhaji

 

Colour TV. In early 1970 one of the big events was Apollo 13 which was to be launched on the 11th of April. The hall of residence I was in did have one TV which was black and white. Students at that time didn’t have TVs in their rooms like now. In the days leading up to Apollo 13’s launch word got around that the Union Building on the campus was going to acquire a colour TV especially for the event. I can remember cramming into the main common room on that day – as excited about the colour TV as I was about the space launch!

1970s-tv                            apollo-13

Guinness. I had drunk beer when at home in Wales – and still do! – but I was introduced to Guinness during my second year and absolutely loved it.

guinness        guinness-ad

Pizza. My first taste of pizza was during my three years in Nottingham. I had read about this Italian favourite and thought it sounded like something I would enjoy as I’ve always loved bread, tomatoes and cheese. A friend (who had tried one before in London) and I went into an Italian cafe and ordered one between us. This was partly because we didn’t have much money but also in case we didn’t like it. I loved it!

‘Twin-Screen’ Cinema.

I have always loved going to the cinema. Although my home town was tiny (pop 2,000) we were lucky enough to have a cinema. It was in a building which had once been a chapel and the films we saw were always at least a year old but that didn’t matter to us. During the break between Pathe News – also out of date! – and the main film a still photograph of the local garage/ filling station popped up on the screen and stayed there until the lights went down again. When ‘big’ films arrived in our cinema, long after they had been released in the cities, there would be people standing in the aisles and sitting on windowsills. I particularly remember this from Tom Jones, the Bond films, Bonnie and Clyde and Dr Zhivago.

nottm-cinema  gaumont.jpg   gaumont-inside

In Nottingham I discovered the joys of a cinema with a proper foyer, a refreshment stall and the latest films. Some films I remember seeing at the time in the two Nottingham cinemas shown above were The Boyfriend, 633 Squadron, The Virgin and the Gypsy, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, Staircase and The Battle of Britain. The cinema on the left was the more modern of the two and was a twin-screen cinema. I thought this was amazing! I have learnt through researching for photographs that it was actually the world’s first twin-screen cinema. The second one shown (exterior and interior shots above) was the Gaumont. I also absolutely loved this cinema for its interior. Originally built as a music hall, I now know, it had ornate plasterwork, gilt, brocade, balconies and boxes.

Microwave oven. One evening I was in our campus sports centre. I was there for social reasons not sporting ones! In the cafe I decided to order myself a pie. At that time I was particularly partial to a chicken and mushroom pie made by Pukka Pies and this cafe sold them. To my amazement, the pie was placed in a small glass-fronted oven and then spent a few minutes rotating on a turntable and puffing up at high speed as if time had been fast-forwarded. In awe, I accepted my pie which was piping hot and enjoyed it. It was several years before microwaves became household objects and I realised what I’d seen.

 

1977microwaveoven     pukka-pies

Spaghetti Bolognese. In my second year I left the hall of residence on the campus and took a room in a rented house in the city shared by a number of other students. In the autumn the annual rag magazine was printed. In it was a recipe for spaghetti bolognese which was something I’d heard spoken about but hadn’t tried. Being self-catering was novel as halls of residence in those days were mostly full board. I decided to cook this amazingly exotic-sounding dish for a few friends. I have no memory now of how the meal turned out but I do remember having to go out and buy things I hadn’t bought before like olive oil, garlic salt and tomato puree.

10 Pin Bowling, Pinball, Bar Billiards, Table Football.

table-football                    barbilliards

pinball 1.jpg               Three games I discovered and played during my student years – Table football (often called ‘rods’, bar billiards (does this still exist?) which was not quite billiards, pool or snooker but played on a similar table top, and pinball which always reminded me of an old wooden game we had at home called bagatelle. Ours was very like the one below.

Vintage-Bagatelle-Board.jpg

Cling Film. I went into a university cafeteria one day to buy myself a sandwich for lunch. The sandwich was handed to me wrapped in a very thin soft plastic which appeared to cling to itself. This was my first sight of cling film.

cling film.jpg

Some of these experiences were new to me because I’d moved from the country to the city; others were new inventions and developments. I hope they trigger some interesting memories for readers.

In the Kitchen.

 

One of the things which has changed a lot since I was a child is the equipment used in the kitchen. Here are some things you might remember seeing used in the 50s and 60s.

img_0317

Every home had a mincer. This was clamped to the work surface or table top and food (mostly meat) was fed in through the top. As the handle was turned minced food came out of the front. My mum normally used it for mincing cold leftover roast meat on a Monday and using the minced meat, in pies, rissoles (who ever uses that word now?) etc.

img_0321

The picture above shows a mill which also ground food up using a slightly different mechanism.  This lighter weight gadget was for herbs such as parsley and mint.

img_0319         img_0318

This is a pressure cooker. My mum cooked all her vegetables and all her soups and stews in hers. They were considered to be very high tech and they cut the cooking time to a third. The vegetables sat above the water and were steamed losing less goodness – although I don’t think anyone thought about that then.

bowl We all have mixing bowls but back then many of them were this colour and design.

whisk

This is how eggs and cream were whisked before electric mixers and food processors.

 

plate Every household had enamel ware in different shapes and sizes. All tarts and pies in our house were baked in these.

img_0263   The ubiquitous lemon squeezer! The design has not changed but then they were all glass.  I still have (and use) my mum’s.

tea-strainer Less common now since tea bags arrived on the scene, but back in the ‘old days’ you couldn’t make tea without using a tea strainer.

Chrome-Plated-Metal-Cobalt-Blue.jpg This blue glass and chrome ware was extremely popular. My mum just had a sugar bowl (for best!) and I thought it was beautiful.

egg-slicer When I was a child every salad had sliced boiled egg on the top. I used to sneak into the pantry and puck the wires to play a tune and if my mum heard she would tell me off thinking I would snap the wires. I now play guitar – perhaps that’s where it all started?

pastry-tool             img_0266              funnel

The first picture above shows a tool for rubbing fat into flour for pastry and dough mixtures. You can now buy them again and I wouldn’t be without mine! The middle one I remember seeing but have no clear memory of what it was used for. Cutting potatoes for wiggly chips perhaps? The third one is a pie funnel. You can now by some great ones if different shapes and designs but they used to be just plain white china. My mum didn’t have one but always used a china egg-cup placed upside down in the pie.

tala             tala-1

This is one of my favourites. I hadn’t seen one for years until recently when they reappeared in the shops. My mum used one for all weighing and measuring. They are brilliant. I now have one and no longer use a kitchen scale. The design hasn’t changed in decades. The only difference is the use of metric instead of imperial measures.

 

 

 

 

Words I Didn’t Know in the 1950s.

There are words and phrases in everyday use now which were never heard when I was a child. Some of them are technological words and refer to things which have been invented in recent decades, some are words from other countries, often food words, others are expressions which have evolved over time.

 

I will begin with food. In the UK in the 50s, especially in remoter parts such as where I grew up, the range of food encountered was far more limited than it is now. With the rise of international travel and trade new food and drink broadened our experience. I was 13 before I saw or ate in a Chinese restaurant, my first curry in an Indian restaurant was in 1969 and my first ever pizza a couple of years later. Other food and drink we think of as ours now, which were unknown in the UK then, are;

baguette, bagel, croissant, panini, pasta (we had tinned spaggetti, macaroni cheese and that was it!), sushi, cappuccino, latte, Americano and espresso, green tea, mayonnaise, chilli, couscous, wholemeal, wholefood.

heinz-spaghetti              1941Menu2 What, no pizza?!

Household objects which were unknown, not even dreamed of then include;

TV remote control, microwave, mobile phone, Internet, website, laptop, email – this particular list is endless.

Some words and expressions which have evolved over time or been invented are;

road rage, gridlocked, anger management, food allergy, chronic fatigue syndrome, post traumatic stress, hyper, OCD, ADHD.

Several decades ago if you were green it meant you were somewhat naive, it had nothing to do with your attitude to the environment. If you were cool you were not warm. A tablet was something you swallowed when not well. If something was brilliant it shone brightly. If you were chilling you were becoming colder. Coke was a fuel for an open fire. Olive oil lived in the bathroom, was bought at the chemist’s shop in tiny bottles and used for earache. If you were gay you were jolly and happy. A mouse was always a small furry creature with a tail. If you were in possession of grass or weed it was in your garden and legal. Camp meant to holiday in a tent and was also a brand of coffee substitute. Fanny and Gay were girls’ names. Spam was a tinned, processed meat.

gay ad     gay ad 2      fanny ad 2

camp ad      spam ad 2

To finish with, here’s a random list of words which didn’t exist (as far as I know!) or meant something completely different in the 1950s – digital, chargrilled, logistics, browser, strimmer, recycle, shredder.