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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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.