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.

The Books We Read and Loved.

I have talked about children’s books in the 50s and 60s before but this time I’m focusing on the ‘classics’. There were fewer books available then so those we had we read and re-read. They are still around but if they are known to children today it is more likely to be as a Disney film or a TV cartoon.

This is not an exhaustive list of classics from the time, it is a personal selection. I have limited it to the ones we had at home or borrowed from the library. As we were two girls and a boy, some of my favourite books were ‘girls’ books’ like Heidi. I remember less about the ones my brother read.

When we were still quite young my mum would read books like Alice in Wonderland and The Water Babies to us. Once old enough to read fluently I can remember losing myself in books like Black Beauty, The Children of the New Forest and The Secret Garden.

alice  I have such clear memories of our mum reading this to us before bed. We were in turn fascinated and horrified by it. Some of the images are pretty scary – a baby turning into a pig, for example!

black-beauty I absolutely adored this book! It is SO sad in parts! I pictured Squire Gordon as the kindest, most handsome man ever.

borrowers-mary-nortonMy sister and I were totally charmed by the Borrowers books. This was the first one then came The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Aloft and The Borrowers Afloat. Years later, as a teacher, I have read The Borrowers to children in my class and it still has a timeless appeal.

lion-witch-wardrobe-lewis      water-babies  As a child I was slightly disturbed by some of the weird things in these two books. I was easily scared I think and they had the same effect on me as Alice in Wonderland.

 

 

secret-garden What a lovely story this is! When I was about ten or eleven it was serialised on TV and shown at teatime on Sundays for eight weeks. The Sunday dramas were brilliant. Several of the books mentioned here were shown as TV serials in the 50s and 60s.

vintage-capt-marryat-children-of-the-new I remember when I was given this as a present my mum explained the Civil War to me in child’s terms. When we are young it’s difficult to picture the span of time and she told me years later that I completely misunderstood the time scale and asked her which side she’d been on!

little-princess-book-cover I’m fairly sure this was a Sunday afternoon serial on TV too but later than the 1960s.

 

poohbookcollectionThese were a huge family favourite! I think there were parts of some of them which the three of us knew off by heart.

heidi Oh, how I loved these books! I wanted to BE Heidi! I longed to live in a house with bedroom in a loft like Heidi’s. I read all three – Heidi, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children but my true love is the original Heidi.

Another book I really enjoyed was What Katy Did. There were two further books in the series – What Katy Did Next and What Katy Did at School.

katy

 

The following four photographs are showing the books I still have which were mine in my childhood and teen years. There are two showing spines only. This is because they have lost their dust jackets. In the ‘old’ days books had a paper jacket with a picture and writing on and underneath that was a plain cover with title and author on the spine. One of them is entitled Thunderhead and was written by Mary O’Hara. This was mine but had been my mum’s. It had been one of her favourite books as a youngster and she had kept her copy and gave it to me when I was old enough to enjoy it. It has her name and a date in 1947 written on the fly-leaf.

my-books           my-books-2

my-books3           my-books-4

These last few are just a collection of well known books from the time.

arabian-nights     secret-seven-on-the-trail     f-five     greengables26     littlewomen3-204x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Things we didn’t realise were unsafe, dangerous or just plain inappropriate (non-PC!).

img_0311       These first three images come under inappropriate/ non-PC. Can you imagine letting a child have sweets which are pretend cigarettes now? I also remember that you could get pipes and pipe tobacco which were sweets.

img_0304    img_0309  These two speak for themselves. The Black and White Minstrel Show was huge in the UK in the 1950s – and, of course, every family had one of the ubiquitous gollies! Unimaginable now.

 

img_0303   Moving on to unsafe/ dangerous. I remember having a paraffin heater in the bedroom I shared with my brother and sister. We now know that there was a poisonous gas problem (carbon monoxide, in particular) with these but also a serious fire risk. In a cold winter with no central heating a paraffin heater was very welcome and comforting.

img_0307  I can remember helping a local farmer with his hay making. At the end of the day we children would be sitting on top of the pile of hay as the tractor pulled the cart down the lane towards the barn.

img_0308

I have covered this in a previous post but – yes, we did all have penknives as children.  We knew how to use them safely too!

img_0305  Cars didn’t have seat belts and children could sit in any part of the car – as in this picture.  I can remember my sister sitting on the bench seat in the front in beteeen my mum and dad on long journeys as she suffered with car sickness in the back.

 

img_0312

Finishing off with inappropriate/ non PC. Just why did everyone find it so hilarious to read about an overweight schoolboy who couldn’t run and who loved cakes? It seems so wrong now yet Billy Bunter was a part of our childhood in the 1950s.

Bows and arrows, guns and penknives.

The subject of children playing with toy guns, knives etc. is a controversial one. Many parents will not allow their children to play with any toys resembling weapons. I am not going to explore the rights and wrongs of that here, my thoughts in this post are about the large number of toy guns, swords and bows with arrows we played with as children in the 1950s. We also had penknives, sheath knives and catapults (not toy ones).

First the toy guns. There was quite a choice! Cap guns had a little roll of paper with dots of gunpowder on. When you pulled the trigger a little metal hammer hit the gunpowder spot and there was a satisfying click followed by a puff of smoke and a lovely firework-like smell. Excuse my very un-technical description of the mechanism!                                               Pop guns fired out a cork from the barrel which was attached by a string so couldn’t actually hit anything but made a great noise.                                                                                              Potato or spud guns fired small pellets of raw potato. My memory of the details fails me a bit here but I believe the gun was pressed into the raw potato and a pellet was punched out ready for firing.                                                                                                                                                   Lastly, there were the water pistols. I never enjoyed playing with them as much as I didn’t like getting soaked with cold water!

 

potato gun.jpg                               pop gun 1

 

marshal-2 cap gun                                                   cap rolls

 

watergun03.jpg

 

To understand our love of toy guns, it’s important to remember how massive Westerns were at the time in the form of both TV series and films. Who remembers The Lone Ranger, Laramie, The Range Rider, Rawhide and Bronco? The gun-toting cowboys versus the arrow-firing ‘Red Indians’ were the stuff of our childhood – even here in the UK. As children we had cowboy (and cowgirl) and Red Indian dressing up outfits. Which neatly moves us on from guns to bows and arrows. The bought sets had suckers on the end of the arrows which would stick (if you were lucky!) to a door or window. The cheaper ones, however, were the ones we made ourselves using wood from hedges and trees. Willow was the most flexible for a bow I seem to remember.

 

bows and arrows 1                  bows and arrows

 

 

 

outfits.jpg                             lone ranger

 

50s toy sword

 

Whereas the guns were toys,  the penknives, sheath knives and catapults we had as children were real. It was the norm for kids, especially boys, to have a child-sized penknife. They might have been smaller than adult ones but they were nonetheless real. They were great for whittling sticks! Because we all had them, we knew how to handle them and not misuse them. The same applied to catapults. The picture shows a typical bought catapult but we also made them from twigs and small branches.

 

roy rogers penknives                         sheath knife

catapult

 

 

1950s Home Decor.

There is plenty of information available on the Internet about 1950s styles. Some are now being reintroduced as fashionable. I’m no style historian but I have very clear memories of the way things looked in my home and in other homes we visited. The photographs shown here are images which match these memories and I am in no way covering 50s styles completely.

Kitchens were not fitted, they had freestanding cupboards and cabinets. This is like the one we had. The middle section hinged out to make a working surface and I have very clear memories of being just the right (wrong) height to bang my head on the corner as I ran through the kitchen to go outside to play. In the middle is an image of the blue and white table ware which was very popular then – and is now quite collectible. We didn’t have a full service of it but I remember breakfast bowls and a milk jug. The clock is a popular 1950s style and was often seen on a kitchen wall.

1950skitchencupboardlarder               Cornish-blue-tableware.jpg           clocks 50s.jpg

lemon squeezer.jpg   50s tea set.jpg

Every kitchen had a glass lemon squeezer like this one – I now have (and use!) my mum’s. Tea and coffee sets with different coloured cups and saucers were briefly popular in the fifties and we had a set of six – I still have three or four of those.

The 50s was the era of spindly legged furniture. Those tapering legs looked so modern compared with the heavier 30s and 40s furniture which they replaced.

furniture  sofa

furniture 50s                   philips2 radiogram

The fourth item above is something called a radiogram, now an extinct species. Very cool at the time, they were basically a sideboard (everyone had sideboards then!) with a record player and a radio inside and cupboard space for records.

Making a quick visit to bedroom styles of the time, my main memory is of candlewick bedspreads. The one below is very similar to the ones I and my sister had on our bunks. We also had sheets just like the ones on the right. The close up gives an idea of the texture of candlewick – I can feel it now when I look at that! The stripes on the sheets  were known as candy striped and we had cotton in summer and lovely warm, cosy brushed cotton (flannelette) in winter.

c wick     cwick     sheets

 

Moving on to ornamental things, we really did have three flying ducks on the wall! i have managed to find pictures of some of the other things I remember us having. They now turn up in charity shops as bric a brac.

ducks.jpg   wade.JPG   china ornament

re pouf-600x600  This is a pouffe – very common then, less so now!

 

Finally, here are a few furnishing designs like ones I remember.

wallpaper.jpg     -1950s-wallpaper-custom-fabrics-lights-diamonds-183984      curtains    curtains 50s   lampshade x

1950s-atomic-ranch-house-atomic-retro-lampshade.jpg

There were also plenty of floral and striped designs around but these are the ones which were very much of the 1950s.

I will think about moving on to what I remember of 1960s styles next.

 

 

Space Exploration in the 50s and 60s.

As I follow Tim Peake’s travels in the news I have to remind myself how much Space travel has advanced in my lifetime. We take it all in our stride now and read Tim Peake’s adventures much as we would follow a Polar expedition. But then I stop and think. It is absolutely amazing that travelling to Space has become ‘normal’ in a handful of decades.

My memories are just that – my own personal recollections and impressions. This is not a scientific account. I have checked dates for accuracy but the rest is my own thoughts.

When I was a very small child the sky had stars, the Sun and the Moon in it and that was the sum total of my knowledge of Space. Children’s stories and rhymes of the time talked about the Man in the moon. We used to gaze up on a clear night and try and make out his face.

Moon          moon (1)          Moon

In 1957 the first satellite was launched into Space and the name Sputnik became a household word. I was distressed to hear about a little dog being sent up to Space by herself. Several dogs went up into Space and the idea haunted me. I particularly remember hearing about one whose Russian name meant Little Lemon. All of this was followed on the radio as I was ten before we had our first television.

Laika_(Soviet_dog) Laika, the first dog in Space.                                         Laika_ac_Laika_(6982605741)Her monument in Moscow.

Bush-radio

My next main memory of Space travel is that of the first man to be launched into Space, Yuri Gagarin. This was in April 1961. I was in my last year at Primary School. My little village school had around 30 pupils and two teachers, Our Head Mr Lewis acquired the school’s first television in time for us to watch the TV coverage of the launch as it fell on a school day. This was such an exciting thing to happen! The first man in Space and the school’s first TV!!

It would probably have looked like these and the picture was, of course, in black and white.

tv 2    1961 tv

A lot of other things happened before and after Yuri Gagarin – more dogs went into Space and some returned, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in Space and the first men stepped onto the moon. In 1970 I was a first year university student and although there were televisions in most Common rooms (definitely none in students’ rooms!) the only colour set on the whole campus was in the main Union building. In April 1970 Apollo 13 was launched and loads of us crowded into the common room with the colour TV to see this major event. I couldn’t actually see very much as I was right at the back behind a huge crowd of other students who had got in there first – but I didn’t care, I was there! Apollo 13 was the ill-fated one which suffered an explosion and had to limp back sooner than planned – with no loss of life, fortunately!

tv4 The 1970 TV was probably something like this with a larger screen than the 1961 models and a few more buttons.

 

 

 

TV and Radio

Well, I say TV and radio but until 1962 it was all radio for us. We got our first TV when I was 11 and we had just one channel – BBC1. Radio programmes I remember are Forces’ Favourites which was always on while we ate our Sunday dinner. Children’s  Favourites on a Saturday morning – was it Uncle Mac who presented it or am I confusing two programmes? Mum and Dad used to listen to Round the Horne and the Navy Lark. If I was ever at home during the day such as in the school holidays, my mum would be listening to Housewive’s Choice, Mrs Dale’s Diary, Eileen Fowler’s keep fit programme and Woman’s Hour. My earlier memories from pre-school days are of Listen With Mother. That theme tune still thrills me when I hear it.

    

Before we had a television in the house we sometimes congregated at a home with a TV to watch a national event such as a royal wedding (Princess Margaret in 1960, for example) or funeral. Once we had a TV I can remember other people coming to our house to watch events and Princess Alexandra’s wedding was one of them.

We kids were too old by then for the pre-school TV programmes but in the school holidays we loved to watch Watch with Mother. Television was such a novelty it didn’t matter one bit that Rag, Tag and Bobtail, The Woodentops and Andy Pandy were aimed at 2, 3 and 4 year olds.

Here are some early television programmes I remember enjoying –

R.C.M.P., Whirlybirds, Garry Halliday, Noggin the Nog, Sketch Club, Tales of the Riverbank, Zoo Quest and What’s My Line?.