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.
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:
“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.
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:
“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!
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?
“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.
So 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!