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.

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