Remember the bygone era of the 50s? 50s food, 50s economy and 50s Britain? Historic Newspapers revisits this halcyon decade; looking back on its economy and 50s dishes from 1950s Cookbooks from Newspapers.
The feeling resonating in Gatsby’s heart when he reaches out his hand for the green light on Daisy’s dock, is how many people still feel about the 50s. A time for utmost respect, conformity and wartime values, was woven into British society. After the war years, people wanted a sense of normalcy returned to their lives.
The arrival of the Festival of Britain brought with it a gateway into another world; a modern, nourished Britain that followed with a prospering 1950s economy, dominated by cars, polished furniture, credit, refrigerators, freezers. Two world wars had gone by but the resonance of war was inherent in society and its future generations. Kids treated sticks as guns ‘fighting in the war’, films produced in the decade were themed around war and rationing still remained.
Tea was rationed till 1952, sugar and eggs rationed till 1953 and finally cheese and meats were available with the end of rationing in 1954. It’s amazing 1940s food made exciting dishes at all with the lack of food, let alone variety. The one insatiable moment before ration’s end was the extra pound of sugar and four ounces of margarine society received from the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.
Very few homes owned a refrigerator and a freezer was virtually unheard of, so people shopped daily from local produce and this trait became an iconic role of the ‘wife's' daily routine. It was the norm to visit separate shops for each food; the butchers, the bakers, greengrocers, or a fishmonger. The only exception was milk, delivered to homes each day.
Not just for eating, food was used for a variety of outlets and still pretty limited. Olive oil was kept in the cupboard as medicine, used to drain ear wax. All crisps were plain till Golden Wonder launched cheese and onion in 1962, where before, only plain or salted was available.
Meat was expensive. Turkey or chicken was only eaten as a treat for Christmas if a family had the connections to a farm or raised poultry themselves. Rabbit’s weren’t pets, they were cheap and filling, though there wasn’t much meat on them at all. Fish was for Fridays and summer was about blackberry picking, so jam, conserve and pies were always plentiful.
All this said, a popular memory for anyone growing up in the 1950s, were school dinners. They were pretty awful due to the austerity still felt post-war (like we’ve said, the resonance of war was abundant, even if people regarded the period as a time of great promise). Children didn’t have a choice of what to eat in school. It was usually delivered in packs from lorries, meaning not all the food was prepared fresh on site and largely limited.
1950s dinners were made up of mince, mainly the skin, fat and gristle, with either boiled potatoes or boiled vegetables. These meals weren’t appetizing or made with fancy spices as many spices and herbs other than salt, pepper and curry powder, were still used for medicinal purposes. Pudding was a little more appetizing, and nearly always served with custard, referred to as ‘stodge’.
Yet the recipes of 1950s newspapers told another story. They were imaginative with food, filled with taste and seemed to taunt one with its advertisements of iconic food. The Daily Mirror's iconic cartoon creation, Patsy, was still whipping out ‘no-nonsense’ recipes till 1952 with simple, doable dishes from the cupboard, like Halibut Rabbit, Baked Bread Omelette, Kidney Pudding and Cottage Broth.
It’s evident housewives were becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of variety in food on the home front. By 1953, Ambrose Heath took over the cooking column and aimed to bring some spontaneity into the kitchen with Bangers in Beer; introducing the foreign Rice Cream and even making dessert out of carbs with Spaghetti Pudding.
But, look what was available in contrast, shadowing today’s ungodly love of packaged food. Everything in a tin or packet was imminently tempting, within reach if you had the means to afford it (many didn’t even though majority of all Brits were employed), or regarded as a treat.
It was truly a time of innocence, where after so much misery, death, austerity and restrictions, was it wrong for society to want more? There was a shared sense of certainty after so much uncertainty.
The 1950s was a much-loved decade, spoken of as a beloved pet that brought many moments of happiness. But the negatives weren’t to be ignored. It was a time of the ‘Nuclear Family’, a simple time that was almost fleeting. Everyone lived in each other’s ‘back garden’, where neighbours treated one another with a shrill prim falseness and in the distance; one cannot forget the unwelcoming signs to anyone who wasn’t white.
But mums made food with heart and warmth, adapting to their limited climate of goods. Their recipes were admirable and succeeded to satisfy. Little did they know everything about their world was going to change with the arrival of dishes from distant worlds and the swinging 60s revolution. Microwave meals and more to come in 1960s food. But in the meantime, why not enjoy our range of Vintage Recipe Cookbooks to muddle your taste buds.