Food in the 1960s: Actually it was quite good.

A joint post today by two of the boys from Mr Keith’s class in 1965.

Sparked by lots of comments on here and on Twitter about the awfulness of blancmange a few days ago, even involving the band Blancmange themselves in the end, I thought it might be good, in a perverse sort of way, to do a post about the general awfulness of food in the 1960s.blancburn-vinyl1new_med

So I got in touch with Barry Ward, hero of the 1963 birthday party incident and one of my boyhood best friends, and suggested we both dredge through our food memories. Which we duly did.

Only to come to a conclusion that surprised both of us. Food in the 1960s was actually quite good.

Early on we identified some obvious slop like semolina, sago and tapioca puddings that neither of us have touched since. And some strange stuff like pig’s trotters and tripe, that Barry’s dad and other Liverpool blokes of his generation liked and we wouldn’t touch. But on the whole we ate better than our memories would have had us believe. Here’s Barry:

Tripe. You just wouldn't, would you?

Tripe. You just wouldn’t, would you?

“I don’t actually remember disliking much of what I ate in the sixties, although I didn’t like the fact that we had to have fish & chips or egg & chips on Fridays. I always considered it a stupid rule….although until I was a teenager I never broke it. Fear or Guilt ?  And I think our mums did more home baking than modern women do. I was regularly sent out to pick wild blackberries from the banks of the Leeds Liverpool canal between Maghull and Lydiate so my mum could make a blackberry pie. Corned Beef Hash and Spam formed a big part of our mid-week meals, once the ‘Roast’ from Sunday had been used up. Ham as well. I was fascinated by the slicing machine in the grocers, Claremont Stores on Liverpool Road South.”

Sounds like a bygone idyll doesn’t it. Small boy out picking wild blackberries so his mum can bake a pie. Part of the regular home baking that went on then. I remember in our house ‘shop bought’ was a term of abuse.

The 60s. Not actually our families. But they could have been.

The 60s. Not actually our families. But they could have been.

Nearly all the mums in our bit of north Liverpool were housewives then. Leading highly regulated post war lives where they did all the cleaning, all the washing, all the shopping and all the cooking. There were set days for set activities. Monday for washing, Friday for big shopping. Though since we didn’t have a fridge, some shopping would happen most days, some of it done by us children:

“I remember ‘running messages’ for my mum and dad. I had to go to lots of different shops for different things. Claremont Stores for ham, bread and bacon, the butcher’s near the Hare & Hounds for chops or mince, Steads Greengrocers for vegetables and fruit,  Lucy’s for sweets and Smiths for the Echo, the local paper.  And there were 2 supermarkets within walking distance. A small Scotts round the corner from my house and the big Lennon’s in Central Square, but I don’t think my parents liked the supermarkets.”

The only days when cleaning and washing didn’t happen in our house were Tuesdays and Saturdays when our mother would get the bus to Bootle and clean her elderly mother’s house, regularly. But she still cooked. Our tea when she came home on Tuesday afternoons. And a hot lunch before she left for Bootle on Saturdays.

What we ate was regulated too. You could tell what day of the week it was by what we were having for our tea. Monday was bacon, cabbage and boiled potatoes. Tuesday was steak and kidney pie and so on. Saturdays, when our mum was at our Nan’s, our dad would supervise a light tea of bananas and bread one week, alternating with boiled eggs and toast the next. Once, and once only he gave in to our pleading and made us chips. There was murder. A line had been crossed.

So, monotonous maybe. But all fresh, all locally bought and usually followed by a second course of home baked apple pie and custard, rice pudding or lemon meringue.

Sundays were of course a Sunday roast for lunch, often followed by a visit to relatives. Barry again:

Sunday tea.

Sunday tea.

“I’m not sure if you were taken to your grandparents on Sundays, but this was a regular occurrence for me.They lived in Milman Road, very near Everton’s ground at Goodison Park, and Afternoon Tea always, every week without fail, consisted of ham salad with radish and beetroot, followed by a slice of battenburg cake. They also still used ‘sterry’ milk in their tea.  I used to love going there, but I’ve never eaten radish or beetroot since…or battenburg cake for that matter. And can’t stand the taste of ‘sterry’ in tea.”

So again, all fresh, even if some of it was horrible!

School milk.

School milk.

And then there was school. We were one of the golden generations that got the full benefits of the welfare state. So each morning we’d all have a third of a pint bottle of milk. And in the junior school I remember us getting orange juice too. And school dinners?

“School dinners on the whole weren’t too bad, except for the dreaded tapioca & jam. I was never a fussy eater.”

I didn’t like the prunes either and mainly remember us dissecting them and throwing the stones at each other. But again, undeniably, it was good fresh food we were throwing around!

So where does this memory that we ate rubbish come from?

Guilty.

Guilty.

“I think it must have been towards the end of the sixties, and certainly in the seventies that artificial ‘delights’ such as Cadbury’s Smash, Angel Delight, Squirty Cream etc became popular.”

You’re right Barry. Cadbury’s Smash was invented in the 60s but didn’t take off until the mid seventies when they did those TV adverts with mechanized aliens laughing at potatoes. And Angel Delight, introduced in 1967, may have been slop, but it was at least a direct and comparatively tasty replacement for the hated blancmange.

d85ad589f843de9207a6e1e4ebe36ed5So it’s the 1970s when we enter the gastronomic desert of our memories. The supermarkets are getting hold of the food chain and television adverts are seducing us with the delights of ‘convenience’ foods. Some of it ‘foreign.’ I had a Saturday job at a Lennon’s supermarket then, (where we had a single shelf labelled ‘Foreign Food’) and remember buying a box of Vesta beef curry and rice when it first came out. Served up by  a bemused mother after she’s boiled up the two bags of contents. Not everyone was so lucky:

“I never once, ever, had a Curry, Pasta, Pizza, or any other type of ‘foreign’ food whilst I lived at home.  I thought spaghetti came in tins and was ‘hoop’ shaped or (even stranger) alphabet-shaped.  My wife Ann’s dad, who is 78, has still never eaten anything foreign in his life.”

Well you can’t please everyone. But there we are. In the 60s, we shopped and foraged locally, baked from scratch every day and ate well. What a surprise.

Sweets, mind you, were another thing. But that’s another post!

So, see also ‘Sweets in the 1960s. Or, where did all those fillings come from?’ and ‘Food in the 1960s: What else were we eating?’

Plus ‘Food in the 1970s: What went wrong?’

8 thoughts on “Food in the 1960s: Actually it was quite good.

  1. stan cotter

    I remember a tale of my wifes grandmother who lived in New Brighton. She was of the old school, everything was cooked at home and nothing frozen. All was fresh from the individual shops, like Barry said. However, near where she lived, in Magazine Lane a small supermarket opened and in she went.

    Only to be stopped by a young lad who said “you must take a trolley.” She said “I dont want one!” But he insisted and in the end he pushed the trolley round the store and she walked alongside, ’til she got to the butter counter, chose her half pound of best butter, and put it, unwrapped of course, in the trolley, and marched him round to the checkout!

    Well you do have to abide by the rules don’t you ?

    Reply
  2. cheethamlibMandy

    This was such an interesting overview of 60’s food and the routines of certain meals on certain days must of carried over for several generations. I remember the 60’s as being a time of cautious experimentation with food. Newly married and not really trained to cook I was a follower of the great bible of cookery – The Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook. The 60’s edition actually included a section headed ‘International Foods’. Here were recipes for Spaghetti Bolognese (not tinned of course) Sukiyaki, fried rice, Indian curry. In those days I was a bit of a rebel and decided these dishes would be more exciting then the usual fare for new cooks i.e.steak, chops, stews, roasts and they could be cooked in my new Sunbeam frying pan (a wedding present of course).Looking back I seem to remember that my efforts must have been successful in terms of the Weekly’s strict instructions because my memory tells me the tastes were good. At this time restaurants that offered real Italian, Chinese and later Indian and Japanese food were just appearing on the scene. This was the beginning of the great public love affair with fine food. And yes I did make quite a good lemon meringue pie and cheese cake which was popular at this time. As for that vile tapioca, sago and red meat (corned beef in a thin mustard sauce) thank heavens I’d left those behind at boarding school.
    I look forward to Sweets (lollies in Australia) in the near future.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well there was no one as radical as you in 1960s north Liverpool. You wouldn’t have been able to get the ingredients. Even by the mid 70s as I started to learn to cook, using Delia Smith’s books, ‘exotic’ ingredients like garlic were not that easy to come by.

      ‘Sweets’ will be along any day now!

      Reply
  3. lindsay53

    Lovely Ronnie! I can identify with so much of this. Living in very rural Norfolk as a child, we did get the grocery van passing once in a while to deliver I don’t remember what. Pre-Tesco home delivery! Yes, home cooked was the thing. Making a little go a long way. Half a pound of mince made a casserole for four of us in the family for two days, filled out with home grown potatoes and other veg. Tripe was one of my mother’s favourite dishes but you’re right, you just couldn’t could you? Interestingly, tripe and pigs trotters are great delicacies over here and eaten quite regularly by the French, in this area, anyway. I get those disdainful, surprised looks when I say that I can usually eat most thing put in front of me at a French table but I just don’t get the tripe thing nor the cooked pig’s trotters draped in vinaigrette, to be picked up and gnawed at! You have to hand it to the French, they don’t waste much and it does constitute good food. Looking forward to the sweets post! Already I’m remembering penny packets of Smith’s crisp (there was a Smith’s Crisps factory on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth) and Corona (that fluorescent, lime yellow colour one was my favourite!). XX

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      I’m sure Barry’s dad would have been astonished to hear that French people liked the same food as him!

      And yes, the ‘Sweets’ post is being boiled up right now. Hadn’t planned to include crisps or lemonade, but maybe I should? x

      Reply

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