Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Afterlife of Things 6

Silversmiths love to produce supposedly practical objects for people to give each other as presents. We’ve had silver holders for billiard cue chalk, vesta cases (for phosphorus matches that would catch fire if kept loose in your pocket), tops for canes, comb cases, wine coasters, pencils, handles for shoehorns, buttonhooks and parasols, silver pheasants for your dining table (why?), clocks, menu holders, handbag clasps, cigar-cutters, cigarette cases, hip flasks, snuff boxes, toothpicks, powder compacts, scent bottle tops, lorgnettes (spectacles on a stick), money clips, pill boxes, vinaigrettes…

Vinaigrettes were not small bottles of salad dressing, but boxes containing a sponge soaked in aromatic vinegar. You sniffed it if you felt faint, or if you were surrounded by nasty niffs (before the germ theory of disease caught on, we thought noxious odours caused disease).

So are they making silver phone covers now? Garrards usefully offers a cocktail shaker, a champagne bath, claret jugs with lion and unicorn heads, and a statuette of Edward VII. The Asprey's catalogue has a rather disappointing selection including a birth certificate holder. Thanks, just what I wanted.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Food in the 60s

Food suddenly became quite... nice! Instead of being used to punish your children, it was used to keep up with the Joneses who had been on holiday to Italy.

eggs Provençale
artichoke vinaigrette
prawn cocktail
Instant Whip
Lyons Princess Sandwich

Dairylea cheese triangles (in many flavours, in a presentation box)
chicken/veal/ham/cheese sandwich breadcrumbed and deep fried

steak tartare
almost-raw steaks
steak au poivre
steak Diane (flambee)
filet mignon (very thick steak eaten almost raw - possibly popular because unobtainable during rationing)
peppers, red and green

melon with powdered ginger and no sugar
melon with everything
melon balls (made with a special device)
prosciutto crudo (very thin smoked ham)
prosciutto crudo with melon balls

Russian salad (delicious, and probably out of a tin or bottle)
Danish pastries

Caerphilly/Cheshire/Wensleydale (very sharp, sour cheese that you had to pretend to like)

trout, trout, trout, trout
cocktail biscuits in the shape of clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades
salade Nicoise
Irish coffee

crème brulee, especially making your own
avocadoes which you had to force your children to like
tuna mould in a ring
salmon mousse
kipper pate

Briefly, Swiss and Dutch food was very chic – fondue, Emmental and Gruyere, Petit Suisse (a bit like creme fraiche and delicious with caster sugar). Dutch Edam cheese with its red wax coating was everywhere.

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Afterlife of Things 5

What happened to those flexible knives with a serrated edge designed for cutting up grapefruit ready for eating? Grapefruit’s decade was the 60s. You served half a grapefruit as a starter, with sugar (but it was more posh to eat it without while exclaiming how delicious it was). Or you could sugar the halves and put them under the grill (better). Or you could cut it up and add it to salads or sweet’n’sour chicken. You might also use a “runcible spoon” to eat it with – a spoon with a serrated edge. I think these, and the terminology, came in in the 70s. (Borrowed from Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat: They dined on mince, and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.)

More here, and links to the rest.

50s Food

The standard meal was boiled mutton, boiled cabbage and boiled potatoes. It was even worse when the mutton was cold and the cabbage had been boiled for three hours.  We also ate cold tongue and cold ham (both delicious).

Breakfast and tea were lovely (Chelsea buns, lardy cakes, fairy cakes, cup cakes, pink icing, shredded coconut), lunch and dinner were revolting. Huge joints of meat were cooked and eaten for Sunday lunch. (Joints had been unavailable during rationing, wartime and after. After years of bacon and sausages, people fell on steak and roast beef. Not so much fun for children who struggled to cut it and chew it. We’d have been happy with sausages – or macaroni cheese – or fish and chips.)

Anything that might have made this spartan fare palatable – butter, chutney – was strictly rationed, even when rationing was over. The mindset lingered for years.

Vicarage Mutton
Hot on Sunday
Cold on Monday
Hashed on Tuesday
Minced on Wednesday
Curried Thursday
Broth on Friday
Cottage pie Saturday.

For school lunch, we were often given “mince” – grey, tasteless and overcooked but at least you didn’t have to try and cut it using adult-size knives and forks, or chew it using tiny milk teeth.

Spaghetti came in. Bohemians were ahead of the game. Many wondered how to eat it, so they cut it into short lengths – sometimes before cooking. Others bossily snapped: “Twirl it round your fork!”, “It’s supposed to be al dente!”, and “Don’t cut it!”. Heinz brought out tinned spaghetti (very soft, in sweet tomato sauce). We ate it on toast. The middle classes had hysterics.