Growing up in the 1970s, when food was no longer enjoyable
Outside of technology, it’s hard to think of any aspect of daily life that would change as radically in a generation as the way we eat. For a child growing up in the suburbs of London in the 1970s with parents open to new culinary influences from the continent and beyond but in in an unconfident, cashless, British wayFood is both a comfort and a horror.
Twice a day, we gather around the oak, porticoed table in the living room, my siblings and I in a state of anticipation or dread, depending on what’s on the menu. Breakfast is safe and predictable. Until I entered my teens, my mother used to get up every morning to make bacon, eggs, and fried bread, all cooked in lard, for the whole family. I did the math once and realized that by the age of 16, I was consuming slightly more animal fat than my body weight – from breakfast alone.
Now it’s hard to equate the lavishness of those everyday meals with the frugal that dominates other meals. The only lamb we’ve ever seen is the brisket, a flat, fatty piece of meat that’s rolled and tied with string and cooked until it’s crispy and about a tenth of its original size. When I lived in New Zealand in the 1990s, I discovered that this cut, known as the “sheep flap”, is not even sold to humans but is fed to dogs. Another midweek staple—designed to produce an underwhelming amount of mince—was stuffed with marrow. A giant three-inch-long slice of this watery veggie is filled with rice and traces of minced and onion, its disappointing interior concealed by a layer of breadcrumbs and grilled cheese.
My mom doesn’t like sweets, never eats chocolate because it gives her migraines and hates baking, so pudding is always something to think about. A pack of buttery flavored starches called “Angel Delight”, whipped with milk, is an everyday treat, while on special occasions “mousse” may be available. This is a poor and very distant British relation to the delicious French dessert, made by dissolving a packet of jelly in hot water and then putting it in a can of evaporated milk until frothy. . Once placed in the refrigerator, the top layer forms a pleasantly bubbly “mousse”; The disappointing bottom layer is a rubber pad.
My parents are also innovators. Among my schoolmates, I was the only one who ate homemade curry. I’m not saying I like it, or that it’s recognizable as curry to anyone from India, but it tastes of something other than salt and pepper, which makes it a treat. should be interesting. We eat it with a topping of chopped bananas, peanuts, desiccated coconut and diced tomatoes, which are said to “relax” and hint at flavors from abroad.
My father’s ingenuity was severely tested during a time of threatened coffee scarcity in the 1970s. He enjoyed his daily cup of coffee, which he brewed by stirring a spoonful of Nescafe. into boiling milk. Until I was quite old, I didn’t realize that coffee came in any other form, and I was disappointed by the water beer of the same name at other establishments. To get around the scarcity, he tried creating a coffee substitute by roasting carrots in the bottom of an oven at low heat until they wilt and turn brown, then ground into seeds. They certainly looked like the real thing, but the resulting drink – unsurprisingly – had a foul odor and the experiment was abandoned.
Food lasts forever in those days. All my childhood, a pan of vegetable oil without a lid, without a lid. Mom would sometimes use a tea strainer to remove shriveled and blackened potato chips, but I don’t remember if the contents were discarded and replaced. It probably follows the same schedule as changing the oil in a car — once a year. There was a small cock of crushed parmesan that, with the consistency of dandruff, had lived in our lard for at least a decade. Ketchup also never saw the inside of the refrigerator but had sat for years in a cabinet whose interior was slightly warmed by smoke from the chip pan.
When I write my novel Little joy, set in suburban London in the 1950s, a decade of post-war austerity, which began with rations still in force, I knew that food would play an important role in making signs for personality, class and era. The constricted life and modest expectations of the protagonist, Jean, are profoundly revealed in her colorless, tasteless meals of reheated cauliflower cheese, canned pears, and rice cakes. , “anyway”.
“Cornmeal seems to be the magic ingredient included in everything. If it’s thin, thicken it! If it’s thick, make it thicker!”
Food served as gifts and bribes – an abundant amount of beans from the garden was shared with an elderly neighbor in exchange for a gift; “Strawberry tea” was used as an inducement to convince Jean’s reclusive mother to accept the invitation to leave the house. An apple-picking passage that carries an erotic connotation, as well as the sharing of some precious mandarin, remains rare. A bar of chocolate, packed for a week, is one of those “little pleasures” that brings solace in the face of grueling work. Olives – rich in Mediterranean flavors, cocktails, glamor – appealed to Jean in theory but tasted like gym shoes and were quickly rejected.
As part of my research, I tricked my palate back into the 1950s by trying out several recipes from women’s magazines of the period. These are miracles. Olive oil – now the main ingredient in every chef’s lard – is only available at home chemists as an earwax treatment. Cornmeal seems to be the magic ingredient included in everything. If it’s thin, thicken it! If it’s thick, make it thicker!
A recipe from 1952 News about World Household Handbook and Diary for the eight-serving “Chinese Egg Fries,” the following ingredients were used: celery, onion, cabbage, a can of baked beans, hard-boiled egg, chopped tongue, and cornflower sauce, water, brown gravy, and, for flavor, “three teaspoons soy sauce (available from the chemist).” Reader, I have not made this meal. Baked beans? Brown sauce? Three teaspoons of soy sauce between eight people?
At every book fair or signing I’ve attended since publication Little joy, older readers spared no expense in commenting on the memories it evoked of their horrible childhood meals. We joined our children’s skepticism in a world without pesto, falafel, burritos, oat milk latte and 24-hour takeout. Although many people have expressed nostalgia for certain features of 1950s life – quiet streets, lack of traffic, neighbors, frugality – no one has ever claimed that the food is good. than in the “good old days”.
Clare Chambers is the author of SMALL FUN, published by William Morrow.
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