You only have to read W H Auden's September 1,1939 to understand the 30s. 80 years on and for some, the reality of the period compared to today’s world is as fresh as a newspaper off the press.
All over the world, countries were dealing with the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of America in 1929. Alarmed, America cut off loans and implemented customs barriers to stop foreign foods importing into the country. Trade was majorly affected amongst other existing issues after WWI.
For Britain, it was a period of stagnation for the industrial heartlands. Coal mining, iron, steel and shipbuilding had already suffered during WWI from competition of other countries and became increasingly restricted after the Wall Street Crash.
It was a time of mass unemployment where 22% of Britain was jobless. Though this statistically dropped from ‘33, ‘35 and almost 10% by ‘38, there was a semi-permanent depression for Northern England, Scotland and South Wales. It’s undeniable; the 30s, were a time of great deprivation.
But it was also a major movement for economic growth. Whilst industries like Jarrow in Northern England diminished, new ones prospered in the Midlands and South East in the manufacture of electrical goods; aviation, cars, vacuums, washing machines, radio and TVs.
With the changing position of Britain thanks to the EU Referendum, we’ve decided to take a brisk look into the woebegone world of 1930 from news collected during the period. With 1930s Cookbooks from Newspapers as our guide, we journey through iconic 1930s recipes, original adverts and the leading columns of the cooks who fed the nation during a time of ambiguity.
These recipes and adverts were largely aimed at the housewife; concentrating on nutritious food for the family, child rearing, and how to cure an acidic stomach - all whilst maintaining employment. Jump back just a few years prior and we remember a woman’s position, or rather, ‘place’ in society as Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes not long fought for equality and a woman’s right to vote. By establishing a women’s identity, a difference in tone of voice is evident during the decade by its female writers; apparent in A Women’s Point of View.
Beginning as a weekly contributor every Friday, Jenifer, (yes, she was established enough to warrant only her first name in articles), was featured every Friday in the Daily Mirror till 1934. From then onwards, Pauline Paterson, Margaret Blake, Dorothy May, and many others featured as somewhat agony aunts. Providing a variety of advice/ witty, tummy-rumbling 1930s recipes, these cooks created inventive cuisine from what was advertised at the time, and offered comfort against a bleak backdrop.
The best and cheapest food was paramount, like Jenifer’s Soup – Beautiful Soup. As melted butter and flour is the base of any roux, the stock component of every soup requires two essential ingredients: carrots and onions. Jenifer’s Tomato Soup printed on Friday, October 9, 1931 uses freshly sliced tomatoes, onions, carrots and seasoning, as does her Vegetable Soup (plus the additional turnip).
A vital component of all soups is stock. Made from boiling off chicken or beef bones mixed with vegetables or just veg for veggies, stock intensifies the flavour of any dish and gives a taste that marries each ingredient. Simmering bones to get stock can be a lengthy process, so, the handy little OXO cube was used to cut cooking time in half and brought with it a magnitude of flavour.
OXO cubes are highly concentrated squares of salty, meaty heaven, made from meat extract by 19th century Organic chemist, Justus von Liebig. Though these amber gems don’t sound appetizing in their amalgamated dehydrated vegetables/ meat/ seasoning form - they completely transformed cooking in the 30s.
The health benefits of this little cube were endless. In 1908, OXO sponsored the London Olympics and greeted marathon runners with fortifying drinks of OXO; WWI ration kits supplied to veterans had to “Be sure to send OXO” and Lynda Bellingham appeared in the much-loved ‘OXO Family’ TV adverts in 1983. And OXO, (along with half a bottle of wine) is an essential drink for Sunday dinner, as gravy.
Another favourite of this decade, was Pudding; boiled, steamed, fried, Christmas Pud – all styles satisfied Britain, with accessible ingredients they already had in the cupboard. If you want authentic tones of Christmas from the past decades, our Nostalgic Christmas Memorabilia Gift will certainly make you feel Christmassy.
By the time of 1934, the papers said goodbye to Jenifer and Margaret Blake entered the scene. The 1930s Cookbook from here on transitions from one chef to a plethora of ‘themed’, featured cooks who prospered at feeding the nation.
Margaret Blake delighted family homes on Friday, May 15, 1936 with The Children’s Breakfast; creating ingenious recipes to deceive a child’s palette and allowing their natural curiosity to at least try these 30s dishes.
Harriet Lonsdale featured Chinese Food is the Best in the World on Friday, July 3, 1936 and was even prepared to back this claim up to a Frenchman, as she vows Chinese food was “perfectly feasible in an English home”.
Dorothy May wrote A Curry Gourmet’s Wonderful Recipes on Friday, June 7, 1935 and taught its readers how authentic curry was served just like and English roast; on a Sunday, in a silver platter. Violet Boy created SOS Tin Suppers to the Rescue and Pauline Patterson schooled women on the art of Non-Stop Marmalade and Preserve Making, to give Brits the opportunity to make the most of the economy in 1930.
The tone of the articles was always proper, pleasant and written as if gourmet connoisseurs of food were creating a masterpiece with every article. Yet they were everyday cooks, practicing at home or in far off countries to bring some warmth back to our stomachs in light of the surrounding misery of the 30s. They used what was in season, what was cheap and especially what was advertised.