Monday, 5 November 2018

Kitchen Gadgets

50s Scoop for creating perfect melon/ice cream/mashed potato balls.
Vast heavy Kenwood mixer which takes up huge amounts of space.
Horlicks maker.
Icing bag. Ditto for creating decorative mashed potato effects.
Potato peeler.
Nutmeg grater.
Bread board with BREAD carved into the rim.
Enamel bread bin in which the bread goes rapidly stale and mouldy.
Heavy metal mincer you screw to the pine kitchen table.
Canteen of cutlery (wedding present).
Everything "wipe-clean".
Apron home-made from remnants.
Role model: perfect housewife.

Gas-powered corkscrew.
Sink waste disposal unit.
Electric carving knife.
Vast earthenware mixing bowl suitable for a country house kitchen.
Coffee percolator.
Filter coffee maker (easy to tip over).
Knives with a serrated bit, a cutting edge and a spike for picking up and serving chunks of cheese.
Wooden salad bowl which you're not allowed to wash, heavy iron omelette pan ditto.
Victorian style set of flour, sugar, cocoa etc tins.
Cream maker.
Egg poacher.
Pressure cooker.
Rubber pan scrapers.
Salad servers with decorated ceramic handles.
Toasted sandwich maker.

Freezer, and a freezer compartment in the fridges (food came marked with stars showing how long you could freeze it for).

Wooden steak tenderiser.
Fish knives, but designed in Sweden and made of stainless steel.
Runcible spoon with a serrated edge.
Potato masher.
Kebab skewers.
Skewers for skewering a vast joint of meat.
Lemon zester.
Gadget for piercing the top of a boiled egg.
Mandolin for slicing boiled eggs.
Striped unisex butcher apron.
Role model: perfect housewife, sophisticated lady.

Fondue set.
Enamel saucepans, coffee pots and colanders from France (classic design, if it ain’t broke).

Tinny coffee makers you set on the gas and then turn over – again from France or Italy. (Only common people had percolators, perhaps because they were American.)

Skewers for baking potatoes faster.
Orange and blue Le Creuset casseroles.
Lever corkscrews.
Thick pottery soup bowls with a handle.
Mezzaluna from Italy for chopping fresh herbs.
Large glass jars with wooden lids for displaying different types of pasta.
Wire vegetable racks (we used a set of office in and out trays).
Wooden knife block.

Marble pestle and mortar sets that we gave each other for Christmas and nobody ever used (they were for crushing your own cardamom seeds instead of buying curry powder).

Bouqet garni bags we gave each other for Christmas. Single people in particular got given these to encourage them to give dinner parties – it was the speed dating of its time.

Bunches of dried herbs and dried flowers.
Stripped pine standalone furniture.
Bamboo egg whisks from Chinatown.
A shelf of paperbacks.
Butcher apron as before, or a plastic one in the same style with a jokey message.
Role model: earth mother or academic.

Pasta maker.
Catering-size toaster.
Catering knives and equipment from Jaeggi in Soho.
Fish slices and tureen spoons hanging from hooks.
Set of bamboo steamers from Chinatown, never used.
Philippe Starck lemon squeezer (because everything has to be "designer").
Alessi knives (ditto).
Don’t phone for the fish knives, we don’t use them any more.
Brushed steel counter tops like a French café, everything built in.

It was about efficiently whipping up gourmet food despite working long hours and earning pots of money. All these gadgets were mainly for show, the gleaming steel being a sign of practicality, modernity and ruthlessness.

No apron – you just got soup on your dirndl skirt. Role model: banker.


Pizza wheel.
Raclette set.
What's an apron?

Electric lemon squeezer.

At some point we worked out that we could keep sliced bread in the freezer compartment instead of a bread bin. Enamel bread bins turn up on Bargain Hunt.

Plastic tomatoes and onions for saving half apples, onions etc. Also come in “banana”.
Apple slicer.
Slow cooker.

What’s a corkscrew? And how am I going to attach the mincer to the island?

Saturday, 3 November 2018

We'll Eat Again: the 80s

1980: M&S starts selling packaged sandwiches, and everybody follows.

Boeuf en croute (Beef Wellington), salmon en croute

Belgian creperies were everywhere. (The crepes were wholewheat, and stuffed with stuff. They were small, thin, limp, tepid and not much use if you were actually hungry.)

Vegetarians ate “something something bake”. Layered aubergine, tomato and mozarella. Or stir-fried veg with satay sauce.

fried potato skins with dips

raspberry vinegar

raspberry coulis (very thin, non-fattening sauce)

garlic cheesecake

steak sandwiches washed down with Rolling Rock, Sol and Peroni


sun-dried tomatoes (as a dish on their own in too much olive oil)


French onion soup

beetroot shavings

American burgers and burger sauces

blueberry muffins (fairy cakes)

blueberry cheesecake

kiwi fruit

nouvelle cuisine (Tiny portions on a black octagonal plate. Again, no use if you're hungry.)

raw baby spinach salad

herby sausages with far too much sage


balsamic vinegar

shiitake mushrooms (You were supposed to grow your own on a log.)

pears in chocolate sauce

tomato tart

fried black pudding with potato/swede mash (Black Lightning)

Banoffee pie

baby vegetables

mange-tout peas

wild rice, red rice from the Camargue

black Puy lentils

steamed vegetables (Meant you had to buy a steamer - it was a decade of kitchen equipment.)

brandysnap baskets

mustard dressing with whole dark mustard seeds


mozarella in carozza

deep-fried breaded Camembert

sorrel soup

But the bread in sandwiches was always stale, unless you went to a café where they made a bespoke sandwich before your very eyes, taking the sliced bread out of the plastic. Thank heavens for Pret!

More food here.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

We'll Eat Again

While updating my mini ebook Whatever Happened To...? I began to yearn for Oat Crunchies and prawn-flavoured Niknaks. So I put together this menu for the perfect retro dinner party.

This is the food I want to eat again. I’ll do a menu of chops and boiled cabbage followed by junket, all washed down with sweet white wine, another time.

Cold consommé with sour cream and chives
Caramelised onion tart
Crudités and dips

Veal escalope
Minute steaks
Chicken Kiev
Turkey rissoles

Rye bread with caraway seeds
Cottage loaf
Poppy seed rolls
Orange and watercress salad
Curly parsley
Green salad (butterhead lettuce) with French dressing
Russian salad (cooked diced vegetables in mayonnaise)
Pommes Duchesse (creamed potato swirls)

Swiss roll
Apricot gateau
Dundee cake
Individual fruit pies
Seed cake and sand cake
Ambrosia creamed rice
Apple doughnuts
Apple strudel
Baked apples
Banana custard
Black cherry yoghourt
Lemon meringue pie

Smoked cheese
Cheese Whiz
Cocktail biscuits

Aqua Libra

Clarnico mint creams

Buy the book! It could prove useful if you are writing a novel set in the last 50 years.

More food here.

Thursday, 26 January 2017


Strip cartoons
stay in the year they were first published. Modesty Blaise: 1962. Fred Basset: 1957 (suburbs, man in granddad clothes. In 2014 he’s got a laptop, but they’ve still got an open fire in a 30s grate, with an armchair either side. Clive and Augusta: 1967. Bristow: 1960 (ancient adding machines and everything done on paper).

In radio documentaries, quotations from 18th and 19th century writers are read by an actor putting on a silly voice. They’ve used the same silly voice for 30 years: deep, fruity and with a faint mummerset inflection.

The mantua began as bedroom wear, but developed into a stylised and strangely fossilised uniform for formal occasions. In the slow-moving world of the court it was still worn in the 1760s, but looked like an extreme parody of the off-duty outfits of nearly a century earlier. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley) Court dress was still being advertised in the 30s. Debutantes wore a modified version to be presented at Court in the 1950s, before the Queen abolished the practice. The debs weren’t daunted: they now wear long white dresses and curtsey to a cake at Queen Charlotte’s ball. In 2017.

150 years after the invention of the typewriter, some are still insisting that children should be taught “joined up writing” or cursive (the reasons given change). Back then, if you could write good cursive, you could get a job as a clerk. These days, why not teach all children proper touch-typing?

D’Oyley Carte productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas became fossilised versions, weighted down by accreted “business”. The company closed in 1982 and others were free to interpret G&S in their own way. But there’s a moment when everybody believes that is the thing. English folk songs just are dirges about mine disasters sung by old men putting on a rural accent. Or else they just are twee choral arrangements sung affectedly by the BBC singers.


A skeuomorph is an article based on an earlier model made in a different material. The classic skeuomorph is the china spoon copied from a metal one – the china version has a fake rivet.

Imbrication (a pattern like hanging tiles) derives from Roman Dacian scale armour via the 15th century, says historian Jonathan Foyle.

Horn of plenty or cornucopia: in prehistory, people used animals’ horns like handbags or baskets.

Doric capitals (the curly ones) on columns follow the horns of rams' head capitals. (You can see some in Whiteley's in Queensway.)

Were deckled edges on writing paper derived from the uneven edges of torn parchment?

Scroll decoration: look at a real scroll.

Stone garden planters sometimes have a ring carved on the side – originally a real ring for carrying the object with two poles.

Instructions on party invites for “carriages at 12, black tie”.

We still talk about “horsepower”, and the Deux Chevaux was a popular car.

Fictive damask: it’s painted on the wall.

Some new office blocks are modelled on converted warehouses.

Cabriole legs on furniture descend from Egyptian tables and chairs which had legs modelled on animals’ limbs.

You can get a tattoo imitating cross stitch.
Battery tea lights and votive lights in churches imitate wax candles.

Plastic nit-combs: originally made of bone, the design is unchanged for 1000s of years.

CGI imitates hand-drawn animation, Thunderbirds puppets, stop-motion (Mr Fox).

The underscore key (and character) on a computer keyboard: it used to be for underlining.

Nobody has worn a waist-cinching corset since the 50s, but Disney princesses have 1880 waists.

Modernist houses were modelled on TB sanatoria (flat roofs, sun loungers, covered corridors, balconies, big windows).

Brooms and whisks were originally branches and twigs.

Dummy chimneys on new houses.

Earthenware dishes were based on wooden originals.

Curb chains worn as jewellery are modelled on part of a horse’s bridle.

Buildings are given watchtowers when there’s no need to look out for an enemy, a returning fleet, or misbehaving prisoners.

Lead bullets were fired by slings before guns.

Architects are building tower blocks inspired by Excel spreadsheets, points out Adam Nathaniel Furman.

Banqueting suites and venues for hire still provide gilt “rout chairs” from the early 1800s. Light and moveable, they were the plastic stacking chairs of their day. They go with white tablecloths, and give the whole place an air of formality, social awkwardness and deep gloom. You place them round the edge of the ballroom for wallflowers to sit on and wish they’d never been born.

Do Olympians pretend to bite silver and bronze medals as well as gold? (You bit sovereigns to make sure they weren’t counterfeit – gold is softer.)

The fashionable stopped wearing patches (artificial beauty spots) in the late 18th century, but that was no reason to close down the thriving patch box industry, and the makers carried on designing new models and selling to collectors.

Saw a plastic jamjar with a handle for sale in Sainsburys. (PM)

In the early 20th century, makers of classical marble, slate and onyx clock garnitures took a long hard look at their unsold stock and designed some Art Deco Cubist versions to use up their warehouse full of marble etc.

forelock-tugging: It’s constantly invoked as a sign of overdone deference, though nobody has actually tugged a forelock since about 1920. You clutched the brim of your hat (tipped your hat) as a vestigial version of raising your hat out of respect. If you weren’t wearing a hat, you tugged your forelock. Why did you raise your hat? Because you were supposed to remove your hat in the presence of a lady, or someone further up the social hierarchy. And raising the hat was a vestigial version of taking the hat right off and bowing low.

Notorious Bank junction '... too many people milling around in a space designed for horses and carts. ' (@susieclapham)

TV screens (squares with rounded corners) turned up all over 60s art. Sunglasses were much the same shape. Windows were modelled on aeroplane windows – with round corners to stop them cracking.

Piracy had ceased to pay, but a vocational tradition will last long after it has ceased to be economic, in a decadent form. (Richard Hughes)

Women go on making rather dull, simple pillow lace long after the fashion for trimming all clothes and underwear with lace has passed (and lace has been made by machine for 100 years). Yet lace never entirely disappears. it lingered in various forms into the 80s with a revival of lace collars and petticoats. There was a revival in the 90s and somebody wrote a brilliant article on the semiology of different coloured lace. White – you look like a doily. Black and red – tarty. Navy blue or brown – mother of the bride. Pale green? Turquoise? Lilac?

Medieval great halls were modelled on Bronze Age round houses which were modelled on yurts with seats round the edge and a brazier or hearth in the centre.

Maes Howe, Kevin’s Kitchen (ancient underground spaces with huge corbelled “spires”) copy caves. Cathedrals are the same thing above ground (apart from the crypt).

Seaside piers were originally for steamers picking up passengers – they could only sail in deep water. When the steamers went, towns went on building piers.

After the War, wire-grid stretchers were converted into fences for council estates in Deptford an East Dulwich. Subsequent council estate fences were modelled on the stretchers.

Early newspaper computer systems used the language of “desks” and “baskets” (what we called “metaphors” in those early computer days). We still talk about a computer’s “desktop”.

Writer and priest Ronald Knox noticed that in the 20s, women who had had their hair “shingled” (cut very short), still patted the backs of their heads as if to check their updo.

Ranch-style houses of the 50s copied genuine ranches – wooden cabins built around a chimney put together from whatever rocks you could find lying around.

Deeply buttoned leather sofas were copied from car interiors (It was as if a motor car had spawned. EM Forster), which in turn were copied from carriage interiors – padded to protect you from the lurching of the vehicle, and probably for warmth as well. And leather would be hardwearing and waterproof.

Gas lights were modelled on the lanterns hung at the doors/gateways of grand houses. Electric “carriage lamps” outside your 30s villa are a further evolution.

New houses are modelled on converted Victorian houses (a long thin “living area” with windows front and back, copying two small rooms “knocked through”).

In the Ice Age there was no distinction between dolls and idols (articulated figures have been found). There are wooden Egyptian figures in the British Museum with articulated arms. Egyptian (and early Greek) statues of gods follow articulated figures, with a slot in the hand to hold a rod or spear.

Digging at Silbury Hill revealed successive layers of chalk and turf. It was a model of the moon: you could clad it in chalk so that it would shine (especially by moonlight), and then make it go “dark” again by covering it in turf. And when the moat fills with water the hill is reflected, and the moon is full. It is this that it is, my theory.

Reverse skeuomorph: Zoroastrians use real flaming urns in their ceremonies.

More here.

Ionic capital

Lagging Behind

This blog is really about how the way we live now grew out of the way we lived then. The future doesn't arrive all at once: there are odd pockets that fail to keep up with the march of progress and are always lagging behind.

Pub opening and closing times (introduced in World War One) fitted contemporary work start and end times (sometimes 8am to 4pm), as did last tube and last bus times. When we started work later and left later, these were slow to catch up.

Some letter-writers don’t seal post because they think it’s cheaper to send unsealed envelopes. Not true since 1969 and the introduction of 1st and 2nd class post.

Treasury tags resembled tiny green shoelaces and were used in old-fashioned filing systems. They lived on in office drawers long after becoming pointless.

People are still using (and buying, and supplying in cafes and restaurants) teaspoons and jam spoons that are too short for the tall glass coffee cup, or the jampot. What they need are long “parfait” spoons, designed for eating ice cream from one of those tall glasses.

Most Essex/Cardiff girls get breast implants, but clothes manufacturers haven't caught up. They’re still using measurements taken immediately after the war, in the 50s, when food had been rationed for 10 years. And the average unaltered English woman has hips that are two inches wider than her bust. Another side effect of better nutrition is that people are now taller – again, manufacturers pay no attention. So the girls at Aintree Ladies' Day wear dresses strained over the bust, with a waist that’s too high and a skirt that’s too short.

New, groovy craft books recycle the same old patterns for – tumbler cosies? Wine bottle cosies? Did anyone ever a) make them or b) use them? (They might have gone with the raffia placemat aesthetic of the early 60s.) Also unwearable slippers (slippery), knitted summer tops and dresses (hot).

Why did anyone object to “illegitimate” children if they didn’t think unmarried sex was a mortal sin, and the laws had been changed so that you could legitimize a child?

It makes sense to ban contraception when you need cannon and factory fodder. But the idea that contraception was somehow sinful continued after these were no longer needed, and we worried about overpopulation. Some doctors would only prescribe the pill for married women. And in the 70s some women having abortions were pressured to be sterilised at the same time, or have an IUD.

Prom dresses are copied from ball gowns designed for ballroom dancing, but girls wear them to “bop”. They have looked silly for 40 years.

When will social etiquette catch up with idiots who blare songs/videos on their phones in restaurants already playing music? (@andybud_o New technology always takes some time to develop its own code of manners.)

Toner was intended to clean off greasy cleansers, like cold cream, in the days when women were convinced by beauty pundits that soap was too "drying", and at the same time their faces were being destroyed by ingrained dirt (more likely before the Clean Air Act). So toner went out of style. But toners are back, says the Times March 2015: “The toners that we used to know were harsh, aggressive and dried out your skin. Now they are designed to soothe, hydrate and calm.” Old versions of revived products were always “harsh”. (Women's products are always sold as “gentle and kind”.)

There’s a lingering feeling that doctors need something to give patients to “keep them happy”. If they can’t refer to homeopaths, what can they do? Before regulation, they handed out useless “tonics”, or prescribed rest cures – perhaps we should bring these back.

Historian Quentin Bell pointed out that because of the lag between design and construction, buildings “with bobbed hair, cloche hats and short skirts” were being finished when women’s fashions had moved on to curls, frills and drapery.

We went on making steamed puddings long after we’d ceased to cook over open fires in a cauldron (when boiling a pudding in a cloth made sense). And they were recommended in WWII, when we were also urged to save fuel.

Men’s shirt pockets still fit cigarette packets, not mobile phones (and why do women’s tops have a tiny useless pocket?)

Elastic was in short supply during WWII, hence all those instructions to cut up old rubber gloves and hot water bottles to make elastic bands, which persisted long after the need for them had gone. We were still being told to wash rice and lentils in the 70s, when they came in packets. My mother used to save the wrappers from butter and margarine to grease pans for baking long after vegetable oil became available, and butter and marge were no longer rationed. We were also told to grease pie dishes because that was how you stopped the pudding sticking to the sides of a pudding basin – but pointless when you're making a casserole.

Continuing to lay a table cloth on a deal kitchen table, or one with a plasticised surface. Converse: marking your polished wood table because you don’t realise that you need a woollen cloth, covered with a linen cloth, and place mats.

Insisting on shallow, tepid baths even though you now have constant hot and cold running water. (And only three times a week.)

An older person pointed out c. 1970 that girls were wearing long, floaty, old-fashioned, feminine dresses – with the big clumpy platform shoes that went with mini-dresses. And it looked all wrong. She was right.

We still talk about “bed linen” even though it’s made of cotton, and used to refer to “under-linen”. We still “tape” when we record, and refer to recordings as “tapes”. Well, you can’t get “sex recording” into a headline. We still “film” things (“videoing” is awkward).

Newspapers called the Something Herald or Bugle. When was news last announced by a herald with a bugle?

Sitting with your back to the engine (or facing) on trains was relevant when carriages were open, and if you faced the engine you might get a face full of ashes, sparks and cinders. It continued as a superstition that some people felt sick unless they “faced the engine” or vice versa.

Gas lighting used up oxygen and people began to stifle, so keeping one window open even in winter was a good idea.

Tomato pincushions still have an emery-filled strawberry attached for de-rusting your needles. Modern stainless steel pins and needles don’t go rusty or oxidised.

Enamel hot water jugs and galvanised iron baths lived on in houses after we all acquired indoor plumbing. They were just repurposed: the baths ended up in the garden, full of earth and plants (as now with Belfast sinks). Or else they were used as drinking troughs for animals. The enamel jugs became flower vases. Some tin hot water jugs became watering cans (enamelled and  painted). (And cattle drinking troughs in cities are now full of plants.)

Brushing your hair 100 times a day keeps it glossy, we're told. It's a relic of the days when Victorian women had waist-length hair. The (soft) brush distributed the oil from the top to the end and probably did make your hair smooth and glossy. Detangling was done with a comb. But there's no need to brush short hair 100 times.

Early Man threw precious objects into bogs from 10,000BC. We still throw coins into water, and tie rags and more onto sacred trees.

Hats and gloves for formal wear lasted into the 50s. Originally the gloves kept your hands clean – and the veil on your hat kept your face clean and protected it from the sun.

Why do some people STILL refer to utility companies as 'boards' 30 years after the shackles of nationalisation were cut away? (‏@davidkingmozart)

The menservants who worked in large and lavish households were still made to wear powder, and grand footmen looked like extras from Cinderella right up to the Second World War. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley)

And isn't it time for lawyers to junk those stupid wigs?

Picture by John Leech.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

More 60s Food

In the 50s, aprons were all frilly and feminine (or gingham), and if a man wore one – cue laughs. Mid-60s, Habitat started selling unisex butcher aprons, with a practical plain design of white stripes on navy (it was traditional, but went with the geometric and yachting themes in fashion). They sold in millions and coincidentally it became OK for men to cook, and kitchens and dining became far less formal, with earthenware plates instead of fine china, and stainless steel cutlery instead of ornate silver. You ate round the (stripped pine) table in your (big, Victorian) kitchen.

Previously, the woman slaved in the kitchen for three hours, passed the food through the serving hatch, then nipped round to the dining room and joined her guests. With smart eat-in kitchens guests could talk as the hosts cooked, and even help out. It was also part of the “fun!” approach to life. No more boring white candles and Georgian candlesticks, have these pink/red/blue ones in a stainless steel modernist holder! Don’t launder those napkins, have a fun, red paper serviette! Don’t decant everything into separate vegetable dishes you'll have to wash up, bung everything into this oven-to-table casserole dish decorated with futuristic snowflakes! And the quickly prepared food (spag bol) was a lot tastier than the standard roast and two veg.

It was DIY cooking (led to the 70s fondue party – playing with your food!). It was a new kind of oneupmanship, and some caught on faster than others. It was about being modern. There was a lag between the vanishing of railway porters and the invention of pullalong suitcases, and a similar gap between the disappearance of servants and the junking of the stuffy lifestyle they had made possible. Duvets, dishwashers and freezers helped, too. 

Sheets and cookware became colourful. And mugs (easier than fragile cups and saucers). Plastics enabled patterned formica wipeclean worktops and wacky cutting boards. No more scrubbing kitchen tables. And goodbye antiques - a circular mirror framed in red was the icon of the new look.

So what did we eat in our trendy new kitchens?

Coffee ice cream, rum’n’raisin ditto.

Steak was a treat. It had to be rare. We bought sets of serrated steak knives. But if you ordered it in a restaurant you quite often didn’t get a steak knife and it was practically impossible to eat.

Potato scoops produced spheres of mashed potato, like melon or ice cream balls. They went with radishes/tomatoes cut into flowers. (How I miss those mashed pot balls in a sea of Bisto gravy.)

Mortadella: a horrible pallid sliced Italian sausage. People were outraged if you wouldn’t eat it. Why? It symbolised “abroad”, and sophistication.

cottage cheese
tinned mandarin segments

With variations including mayonnaise, smoked salmon and caviar. It was sooooo sophisticated! And delicious. Wet, sweet, salty and bland. And pumpernickel was different in those days: thinner and blacker and tasting faintly of salt and treacle. Oddly, it was delicious with butter and Silver Shred marmalade.

As well as fussing about how to eat pasta (twirl it round the fork), there was an immense amount of fussing about how to cook it. You had to take it off the heat just before it was cooked, and then quickly decant it so that it didn’t go on cooking because otherwise it might go soft and it wouldn’t be al dente and that would never do! It might become like very soft spaghetti in tins. Middle class food always has to be tough. Meanwhile common people were making macaroni mould in a pudding basin (it's rather delicious – combine with cheese sauce and peas and eat cold). We still had pudding basins – they were left over from the steamed pudding era.

Food was more expensive. Sainsbury’s sold bags of cracked eggs, and corner shops (then called “grocers”), sold bags of broken biscuits.

I'm sick of kitchens like science labs with an "island" you can't sit at. I miss those big kitchens with useful tables. Time to revive them?

More here.