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.

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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.