Keeping Food Fresh

Nowadays we don’t have any problems keeping food fresh and safe to eat. We have fridges, freezers, vacuum packs as well as the dried and tinned foods which have been around much longer. Also, everything – even tinned food! – has a sell by/ use by date printed on it. The humble sell-by date actually has a surprisingly short history here in the UK. It was introduced in Marks & Spencer’s storerooms in the 1950s before making its way onto the shelves in 1970. It wasn’t even called a “sell-by-date” until 1973. Like a lot of people who date back to pre-sell-by date years, I still rely on the look, feel and smell of food rather than panicking and throwing food away the day after the date has passed. I appreciate that people who eat meat and fish have to be extra careful and to take no risks.

       

 

       

 

When I was very young, in the early 1950s,  we didn’t have a fridge. I remember the arrival of our first one being so exciting! In the summer, my mum used to hang bottles of milk in a string bag in the stream to stop the milk going off. We had a pantry with a stone slab in it which was meant to keep things cool. It is very easy to tell when milk has turned sour. Bread goes dry, cheese goes mouldy, potatoes go green and start sprouting, some foods start smelling bad. When these sort of foods have been kept too long or have been stored incorrectly the result is obvious. The hidden danger is when food has turned and could be hazardous but there are no obvious signs which is when sell by dates are important.

 

A 1950s kitchen with an early fridge.

UK’s first frozen food product was asparagus made by Smedley’s of Wisbech which is a fact which surprised me as I had assumed the ubiquitous pea would have been the first frozen vegetable. Although frozen food went on sale for the first time in Britain on May 10, 1937, the average UK householder did not have easy access to it until the 1950s and 60s. Home freezers first became popular in the 1970s .  Apparently, the sales of frozen food were boosted during the Second World War as metals for tins were in very short supply but I reckon that would only have been in cities and not in the more rural areas such as where I grew up.

The face of Birds Eye in the UK – Captain Birds Eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remember These?

A friend of mine mentioned recently that her favourite tinned soup is Mulligatawny but that she never sees it in the shops any more. I remember it too and her comment made me think of some other food items which have disappeared or almost disappeared in the past few decades. Some of these have been mentioned before in posts about foods I remember eating and ones I remember arriving on the scene when I was young.

I am not saying that these things don’t exist any more (although some of them definitely don’t) just that I don’t hear of or see them any more.

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I used to love Kraft Dairylea  triangles and for a while there was a box of flavoured ones being sold. I loved them! The picture is the nearest I could find to what I’m remembering but the flavours are not exactly the same.

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Turnips and swedes were once as common as carrots and parsnips when I was a child but are now they are like the poor relation of the root vegetable world. I certainly never see them on a menu when eating out! And does anyone still eat tripe? Or mutton?

I was watching a programme on TV the other night called Back in Time for Tea (recommended to me by the same friend) in which a family’s home is transported back to earlier decades. In the one where they were living as if in the 1960s – complete with 60s furniture, decor, clothes and food – there was a food item in their pantry which was Heinz tinned Vegetable Salad. I remember that there was also a Potato Salad one. There are many, many varieties of salad dishes available on deli counters now – coleslaw, rice salads, cous cous salads and tons more – in plastic pots. I had completely forgotten that their precursors came in tins!

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My grandmother absolutely loved butterscotch gums and I often took her a packet – weighed out from a large glass jar into a paper bag – when I went to see her. Spangles were a popular sweet when I was a child and for a while they had a packet called Old English Spangles with flavours like mint and liquorice. They were brilliant!

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Surprise Peas, which I have mentioned before, were what came before frozen peas and were ‘freeze dried’ and very quick to cook. The rise of home freezers and cheap frozen peas meant that Surprise Peas were no longer desirable so they disappeared.

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Now we come to blancmange. Everybody of my age and older remembers blancmange. It was a set milky fruit flavoured dessert made in a mould and went with jelly like fish go with chips. It could be made from scratch but there was a packet mix which most people used. I read on a website when I was looking blancmange up that the nearest equivalent is the Italian dessert panna cotta.

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Burgers hadn’t reached Britain in the 1950s but we did have things called rissoles (I never hear that word now!) and faggots. I know faggot has a non-food meaning in some parts of the world but to us it was a kind of meatball.

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A few other edible things which are no more . . . .

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It’s unthinkable in this PC age but children could buy imitation cigarettes which were sweets!

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The tinned milk products below are still available but are largely used in cooking desserts. Back in the 1950s in Britain when most homes, and many local shops, didn’t have fridges these were what we called ‘cream’ and we had them on fruit salads (tinned in those days!), trifles and fruit pies.

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