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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

What our family ate in the 1960s and 1970s and strict table manners.


Going to the Jamie Oliver do the other night and enjoying some Colwick cheese has started me thinking about foodstuffs I would have eaten in my childhood and teenage years (1960s and 1970s).


I was brought up in Chaddesden ( a very large council estate near Derby in the East Midlands) and after my mother passed away (I was nine years old) my dad re-married and suddenly a father and son family became a five member family with my step mum and her two daughters and me and dad. Later on we had a baby brother join the family. So lots of mouths to feed with the family tightly packed round the dinner table. The council house kitchen was pretty small with a gas cooker and a pantry. After we moved in my industrious and ever practical dad knocked part of the kitchen wall out and installed a serving hatch with sliding doors! Misty the cat loved climbing through the new hole in the wall.

We always had a Sunday roast of beef or lamb and chicken was considered a luxury in our house and many other working class households during the 1960s. I think they were considered an expensive item of food. There was no starter and we all had to follow very strict table manners. For example, no talking at the table whilst eating, no elbows on the table, no eating with mouth open and food had to be chewed vigorously before swallowing (no bolting it down). None of us children were allowed to leave the table before everyone had finished and this caused some resentment if any brother or sister was slower in eating. It was deeply frowned upon if any of us kids accidentally slopped food or gravy on the linen table cloth. Invariably we did. And you had to eat EVERYTHING put in front of you because there were kids in Biafra starving. They were on the telly so it was true. We ate a lot of cabbage and greens. My dad was the only one who ate 'stinky' blue cheese though! He loved it.

The Sunday lunch would be about one o'clock and we all had to wash our hands before eating and we got inspected by my dad for any dirty hands or nails and had to go and wash them again if he thought they were grubby. Stomping up the stairs we would lather up again and rinse and run back down the stairs for another telling off for the noise we made on the stairs.

Dad always carved the Sunday joint after making a big show of sharpening the ever blunt carving knife on a steel with a finger guard for safety. My step mum had done all the prepping and the cooking. Most Sunday lunches came with roast potatoes, Brussel sprouts, diced carrots, home grown stringy broad beans and Yorkshire pudding with Bisto gravy. We often had a pudding with custard. Mostly it was in the form of a home made fruit tart but on occasion we would enjoy a volcanically hot baked Keswick cooking apple each. "No eating with your mouth open now!"

The puddings were often a big fruit pie that my step mum had made from shop bought or gathered fruit. It was quiet common for the family to go for country walks as far as Breadsall Village foraging apples, blackberries and damsons. Back home we would troop laden with plastic bags of purloined fruit. My step mum also made tons of jam – damson, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry etc. Raspberries and gooseberries were grown in the small back garden and were always had a glut of home grown tomatoes from the greenhouse and for a while we enjoyed new potatoes from a small patch of soil dug near the greenhouse for the cultivation of spuds. The space then got dug over for growing French beans on several wigwams of canes. Behind the greenhouse there were three big rhubarb plants and they supplied the fresh rhubarb for many a yummy rhubarb pie sweetened with golden brown cane sugar. We never had an allotment but my dad used to buy his fruit and veg growing ingredients like seeds and fertilisers from a local allotment association and wheel them home on the front of his bike. Some fruit and vegetables would have been brought from the greengrocer at the top of Scarborough Rise, though not many. We were relatively self sufficient.

I don't recall us eating that much fish at home but if we did it would have come from either a formerly great fish market at the covered Victorian Market in Derby or from a fish/meat counter at the Co-op store, again at the top of Scarborough Rise on the estate. We did eat a fair few fish fingers and home made chips cooked in a dangerous chip pan most weeks. The chip pan may have been dangerous but by God them home made real potato chips cooked in beef dripping were the best ever!

On occasion we would eat out as a family – fish and chips and mushy peas mostly – at a cafe in town. I don't recall us ever going to a restaurant except if we went on holiday – maybe a Berni Inn perhaps. There just wasn't the choice there is today. Eating out at a Wimpy bar was seen as exotic in our family!

Sunday tea was a selection of crab paste, salmon paste or beef paste sandwiches or maybe a Cheddar cheese or ham salad sandwich and sliced pork pie with Branston's pickle or Piccalilli and pickled onions. There may also have been a bowl of radishes to crunch on and there were always sticks of celery that were even crunchier to eat.There would be individual packets of Golden Wonder crisps to be enjoyed and I can't remember if these were the ones but there was a small blue packet of salt in the crisp packet for you to administer your own salt on the crisps. Hours of extra fun would be had trying to open those blessed Dairy Lea cheese triangles – a processed soft cheese tightly packed in individual bits of foil and arranged in a circular box as segments. There would be a simple salad bowl with Coss lettuce and sliced cucumber, tomatoes and spring onions and plenty of Saxa table salt to dip the spring onions and celery sticks into. Oh and a selection of meats. Don't be silly, I don't mean continental meats! I mean luncheon meat and Spam and corned beef and brawn.

Funnily enough we used to eat this fine repast from our laps ( a real treat) in the front room whilst we watched Cliff Mitchelmore present the Holiday Programme or watch Sunday Night at the London Palladium or Billy Smart's Circus or The Onedin Line. Regardless of whatever day the meals were cooked, myself and my step sisters always had to do the washing up. This caused endless arguments about who was on the unspoken rota to be the washer up, dryer up or the putter away! Funny now but we used to get so tense about the chores!

Breakfasts were a small affair with either a choice of  Kellogg's Cornflakes, Kellogg's Frosties, Rice Crispies, Shredded Wheat, Sugar Puffs, Weetabix or Sugar Pops. We normally ate these with cold milk but my dad preferred his with hot milk warmed through in a milk pan on the cooker. I can just see that white enamel milk pan boiling over on many an occasion with my dad getting tetchy as he tried to retrieve the scolding pan from the gas ring. Bless him.

We were allowed toast as well but, as with all children, we got into trouble for being greedy with the home made jam and fighting about how unfair it was that one sibling other had taken the biggest strawberry from the jam pot by digging to the bottom with the butter knife. We were also monitored by the parents about the amount of butter to spread on the toast. When we thought we could get away with it we'd slather it on! Otherwise it was proposed that we use as little as possible as it was expensive. It is quite possible we'd have a boiled egg too with little lion images printed on them.

On a Sunday we all had a full English fry up and I hated (and probably still would avoid eating) the fried bread element of the Sunday breakfast. Everything was fried in lard and although from memory it tasted good it was probably swimming in fat. To mop up the fat and sauces left on the plate we'd use sliced fluffy white bread and butter. To wash this down we would always drink fresh tea made with Brooke Bond tea leaves kept in the tea caddy. It got quite stewed but we still had to drink it. This probably explains why I prefer my tea weak these days.

Sometimes we would have an alternative Sunday breakfast and this was something we looked forward to very much. Mum would be kept busy supplying the family with plate after plate of fried egg sandwiches.

Saturday tea time in the slightly more affluent 1960s and 1970s was a big salad and a cream cake for afters brought from Birds the Confectioners in Derby city centre. Us kids drank a lot of sugary pop from the pop man who came round once a week. The drinks were mostly lemonade, dandelion and burdock and orangeade. On a rare occasion we'd get Lucozade in to drink. This came in bottles with some crinkly orange coloured wrapping paper over the neck of the bottle. Weird.

Earlier in my childhood (after my mum had died and I was looked after at lunchtime by neighbours and aunties) I got obsessed with strawberry flavoured Angel Delight  or Instant Whip style desserts given to me by my aunty Edith. First she cooked me a plate of chips and I was allowed to dip them in a generous blob of salad cream and then the chilled Angel Delight/Instant Whip appeared from her 'oh so mod' refrigerator. "Fab!" as they said in the 60s! My Auntie Dora used to look after me too and with her I had regular dinners of cold tripe, vinegar and pickled onions. I used to love the slithery texture of the tripe as I ate it and the sharp vinegar taste. She used to like pickled eggs too but I wasn't so keen.

The Mr Whippy or Mr Softy ice cream man used to appear every Sunday afternoon and we often got given an ice cream as a family treat. The Lowe family favourite was a wafer 'shell' full of creamy dairy ice cream. Other popular choices were: a Cornish Mivvi, Orange Maid ice lolly (9p) or a Zoom ice lolly shaped like a rocket. Once in a while we'd be treated to a Choc Ice or a block of ice cream called a Cornish Dairy brick that we'd cut up and eat with wafers. There was a similar 'brick' that I think was called a Neapolitan and was a sectioned mix of vanilla ice cream and strawberry and chocolate. Quite often we'd have the ice cream with tinned peaches or apricots.

For all these foodstuffs my step mum Marnie and my dad Bob worked very hard each in their own jobs. Marnie worked at a variety of places including Liptons Grocery store in the Cornmarket (sometimes returning home triumphant with cheap tins of broken biscuits to share) and Bob, my dad, worked mostly for Rolls Royce as a turner and cycled to work every day come hail or shine. With five hungry mouths to feed there was no way that my step mum could afford the luxury of being a stay at home housewife with just my dad bringing in an income. All credit to them for bringing us all up to be decent appreciative adults.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Your experience of food is exactly the same as mine and, I suppose, every working class household of the time.
I remember that chicken was a luxury served only at Christmas or Easter, which is amazing considering that it's the cheapest meat you can get nowadays.
Your mention of 'no starter' reminded me that nobody had starters in those days, it was just mains and a pudding. I can't remember the first starter I had but I do remember being very confused! It was probably a prawn cocktail served at a dinner party in the 70's. the first time I held a dinner party of my own I served grilled grapefruit -you don't see that nowadays!