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Over the last few years there has been a huge amount of focus on “healthy” eating and on how to solve the rapidly increasing food related illnesses and their impact on the National Health Service and the general health in society. My Facebook feed is flooded with recipes for “healthy” foods, sweet and savoury. Just recently I’ve been looking back and reminiscing about the foods we enjoyed to eat while I was growing up – when we had nobody telling us what is good and what is bad for us to eat, when we never considered “going on a diet” (that started to happen in the mid-70s) and when most of us were of a normal weight and certainly not hung up with body image as young teenagers. We lived in a world without the internet and with very little to watch on TV. A world where Chelsea Girl and C&A were the only large stores selling fashionable clothes and where people in Bradford could open an account at Brown and Muff’s and be allowed to take home clothes on approval without paying for them first!
Looking back at the foods we ate in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, our diet wasn’t particularly amazing. It certainly wasn’t devoid of sweets, chocolate and cake. But in contrast to the current trend of eating fast or processed food, most of our meals were home cooked using real ingredients which were in season. In fact the only items of processed food in the cupboard were a few tins of soup, baked beans and spaghetti and of course custard powder though at one point my Mother excitedly bought a Vesta Curry – do you remember those? Fish fingers and frozen peas were the only items nestling in the freezer – a tiny cabinet in the top of the fridge. Cornflakes and Ready Brek were the only cereals bought each week but I think I did succeed in persuading my Mother to buy Frosties once or twice though she never bought Coco Pops, which I longed to try. And despite the fact that I nattered and nattered her to buy the cute little variety packs when they hit the shelves, the only chance I had to try those was when we were on our annual farm holiday once or twice.
We went on holiday during the first two weeks in August, when the mills shut down. We always went to the South West, often to Cornwall and stayed Bed, Breakfast and Evening Meal on a farm. The day began at 3 a.m. so we could reach our destination before dinner. Often we would make a stop at Bourton on the Water to visit the model village and drink coffee with cream which we dribbled slowly over a teaspoon so it floated on top of the coffee. For lunch, we would maybe stop at a café. When we finally arrived 10 to 12 hours later, we were treated to a wonderful home cooked three course meal. Pictures of my Father’s face eating rhubarb crumble spring to mind. Breakfast was always delicious, apart from eggs which I detested and the warm raw milk which we were served to pour over our cornflakes that tasted strangely unusual. Every day, my Mother used to buy a loaf of French bread, Cornish Pasties, a cucumber and apple pies in a box for the picnics we enjoyed on the beach. How she managed to fit the picnic basket into the Triumph Herald along with four people and a trunk has always been a mystery to me!
On a normal week, I knew exactly what we would be eating for tea (dinner was always called “tea” and “lunch” was always called “dinner”) depending on the day. Left over meat from the Sunday roast on a Monday with chips and a vegetable (predominantly cabbage), liver on Tuesday (the day the small packet of meat was delivered and left in the coal house) and sausages on a Wednesday, Shepherds Pie on a Thursday and toasted cheese and ham sandwiches with a bit of salad on a Friday. The highlight of the week was always Sunday Dinner – roast beef, roast potatoes, vegetables (cabbage, swede, carrots or peas) and Yorkshire Puddings (3 each).
There was certainly no shortage of festive food at Easter, Christmas and Bonfire Night. I remember calling at my Grandma’s one Saturday to see a baker’s tray of Hot Cross Buns in the Dining Room and often we would receive quite unusual Easter Eggs. The run up to Bonfire Night meant a steady supply of scrumptious home made parkin and parkin pigs as well as treacle toffee which would stick together in a great big clump and stick to the paper bag too. On Christmas Day the focus was always on the turkey and the stuffings. Even now, I cook gluten free versions of the vegetarian stuffings we were served back then. A magical box of dates would appear on the sideboard (though I never liked them) and home made hot mince pies would be enjoyed by everyone. And I mustn’t forget the tins of biscuits! We weren’t allowed to open them until after Christmas and we drooled over the layers of custard creams, pink wafers, bourbons and chocolate biscuits all separated in plastic trays. There were always one or two partitions which lasted longer than the others (the chocolate ones went first) – the lemon puffs and pink wafers. My favourites were the Nice biscuits and the Bourbon Creams.
The meals were always freshly prepared at school. At Junior School, I loved sausages, swede, mash and gravy and my favourite pudding was chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce. I didn’t much care for the jam pudding with coconut sprinkled on the top nor did I like sago pudding or “frogspawn” as we called it! I used to really look forward to the day that beetroot was served as a vegetable – not one or two slices from a jar which we were given at home but a third of a plateful of freshly cooked beetroot. I’ve always loved beetroot! We weren’t given any choice and we weren’t allowed to leave any food whatsoever. You just had to sit there until your plate was totally empty and I still feel sickly when I recall the head teacher demanding that we mix the fat from the meat in with the potato, it used to make me gip (Yorkshire for wretch)! Was this one of the primary factors that led to me eventually becoming a vegetarian in the late 70’s?
I first came across the the word “Vegetarian” at senior school. Vegetarians were given the mucky yellow dinner tickets, the rest of us had green ones and their food wasn’t particularly appealing. The very sloppy cheese pie they were served was disgusting! We named it “cheese slop”. Funnily enough, I was made aware of Celiac Disease from a much earlier age since our doctor’s son suffered from it. I remember the special sandwiches and cake he always brought with him to our birthday parties and felt quite sad that he missed out on the delicious banana and jam sandwiches, the sausages on sticks, the iced buns and the Birthday Cake.
There wasn’t an emphasis on healthy snacking at school or at home. However, we weren’t permitted to just help ourselves from the food cupboards except for a crust from a white sliced loaf when we came in from school which I lavishly spread with butter and strawberry jam. At junior school a small tuck shop was open for mid morning break which sold Wagon Wheels (my favourite) for 3d and 2 chocolate finger biscuits for 1d. At senior school, we could buy Seabrooks Crisps for 6d. And of course we were all entitled to the free school milk. At Senior school, I used to take a Golden Delicious apple most days. At the time, the green grocers rarely offered much of a variety. We could only buy Granny Smith’s apples or Golden Delicious – sweet or sour!
Most Mothers (sounds sexist doesn’t it but I don’t remember men doing the cooking back then) could bake some sort of cake. Virtually every household owned the Bero Cookbook! Our dessert at home was often a slice of home made Victoria Sponge or Chocolate Cake and during the school holidays, my Mother made a wonderful treacle pudding with custard. My Grandma baked every week and specialised in Madeira & Christmas Cakes. She sometimes added a scattering of sultanas to the plain cake for a treat. She also made Eccles Cakes (basically currants and sugar in pastry) and fruit pies – gooseberry, plum and apple, all of which she grew in the garden. But she couldn’t make pastry well, she always managed to get a soggy bottom!
Every Saturday lunchtime for years we visited my Grandma for sandwiches and pie or Toad in the Hole after our morning’s shopping at Shipley Market, Woolworth’s and the Co-op. We also visited her again for Sunday tea which was often another roast dinner in the Winter or salad, trifle and strawberry or vanilla blancmange in the Summer as well as raspberries and strawberries with cream. Oh I loved the blancmange! She left the glass mould containing the blancmange to set on the doorstep with a flat stone placed on the top and we would carry it in with us. My Grandmother lived to the grand age of 92 and always cooked everything from scratch. She strongly advised me to eat a carrot and an onion everyday, a little piece of advice which I have rigidly adhered to.
My pocket money regularly used to go on Yorkshire Mixtures, sweet cigarettes – I used to buy the broken ones cheaply in bags from John Street Market in Bradford, kali which was bought by the ounce in paper bags and Fireman’s Hoses (red liquorice). We rarely had pop (soda) but for a short while there was a pop man who regularly delivered pop to our neighbourhood. It was in glass bottles and the empties were collected next time he called. My favourite flavours were “dandelion and burdock” and “lime and lemonade”. Does anyone else remember the pop man? There was a shop at the top of the street which we unimaginatively called the Top Shop. They used to sell food and other items ranging from toys to knitting wool. I often cycled up to the shop to buy ice lollies (Fab and Rocket lollies) and sweets though I remember once buying a packet of Morning Coffee biscuits because I discovered they were better value for money! I was rather spoiled with chocolate. My Great Aunt (who owned a village shop and Post Office) used to kindly give my brother and I two bars of chocolate each a week. My favourites were Smarties, Opal Fruits, Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate bars and Milky Ways. My brother always received a Mars Bar which I wasn’t keen on.
Eating out was never an option! I don’t even remember eating a take-away meal apart from Fish and Chips wrapped in newspaper despite the emergence of Wimpy Bars on the high street. In fact, apart from occasionally on the long journey to the South West for our holiday, I never ate in a restaurant until I was 17 (sausages, mushrooms and chips at the Italia Café on Great Horton Road) but we were often treated to toasted currant teacakes with lashings of butter melting on the top or a scone at “Morning Coffee” time if we were out in town.
I learned to cook at senior school. Domestic Science was a compulsory subject for a year but I continued to take it for O’level and I was also taught the nutritional value of food. For two years, my family were treated to a whole new exciting menu on a Wednesday including American Fish Pie, Russian Fish Pie, Cauliflower Cheese, Pineapple Upside Down Pudding, Lemon Meringue Pie, Damson Jam, Icebox Cookies, Chocolate Éclairs and Brandy Snaps. The knowledge I gained over these two years certainly prepared me well for the future.
Budgets were tight back then. We didn’t even own a TV, we rented one and though both my parents were working, they had to manage their food spend carefully in order to save up for the family holidays etc. Even though it appears that I had a very unimaginative diet (I probably haven’t remembered everything), I suppose you could say that, in the main, it was quite nourishing at the time. I certainly treasure the very fond memories of our family life and the meals we ate around the table when TV dinners were unheard of!
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