If there was a decade warped by change in just a few short years, the 60s qualifies as a Technicolor world of opportunity. It was out with Dickens’ ‘bleak London’, in with a rampant spell of ‘swinging sixties‘ and the promise of revolution. Finally free of conscription, teens were allowed to have a childhood. Society, especially the younger generation, were liberated from the repercussions of war. Britain welcomed a new kind of self-awareness and spread its arms wide open to mass consumerism.
Men could head to Carnaby Street for the latest ‘Mod’ fashion. Women went to King’s Road for Mary Quant’s mini skirt that gave them a new kind of femininity. The 60s music scene walked hand in hand with the hallucinogenic phenomenon of LSD, meaning a serious ‘trip’ not only towards music, but films; along with the rise of beat poetry and more attractive absurdities making the 60s iconic.
Keep Calm and Carry On
With the rise of immigration from former British colonies, Britain’s culinary desires were set on fire and a taste-explosion was unleashed. The diet of the early 60s household, was still along the lines of meat and two veg, nevertheless mum’s made sure meals were…interesting. As a nation recovering from rationing in World War Two, there was a lot of promise in 1960s food – whether the taste was a revelation, is debatable.
Supermarkets were a fairly new outlet in the 1960s as local or corner shops, were still within reach. Door to door grocery service was still a factor with milk, but people quickly realised they could get value for money in bulk, with more on offer in a superstore. It was an even split between the two outlets; urbanites ventured to the big supermarkets and ruralites preferred the quick and convenient stroll to the locals.
In the early 60s, ¾ of the population had a T.V and near enough 100% by the end of the decade. A fridge significantly aided the variety of cooking, though a freezer wasn’t as frequent in homes, but people were more equipped than ever to make their own attempt at culinary fusion.
Kim and Jim in the kitchen
After the wonder of canned food sent to soldiers with ease during the First World War, packaged and freeze-dried food had become the next best thing since sliced bread. The 60s culture was all about convenience. Working mums handling the home front enjoyed the simplicity of packaged goods.
Made for ease and convenience, packaged food made cooking more exciting, with the help of tips and recipes offered by Kim and Jim in the kitchen. These cartoon strips were anecdotal little stories of the ‘nuclear family’, suggesting all kinds of recipes, techniques and food ideas to make a filling home-cooked meal.
This said, 60s recipes weren’t for the half-hearted. After years of rationing during WWII, food shortage and the emergence of flavours from distant worlds, housewives were creating all manner of food combinations.
Weird, and Wonderful?
Below are some of the mind-blowing recipes in the 1960s Cookbooks from Newspapers that really made the decade, for lack of a better word, recognisable.
Staple dishes were prawn cocktail jazzed up with sea-food dressing, Del Monte pineapple slices finished off with a maraschino cherry or onion dip, Battenberg cake, spam and of course, smash. OR, instantly recognisable vintage food of the 1960s, would be anything ‘creamed’, ‘whipped’ and ‘jellied’.
Transitioning from iceboxes to a refrigerator was a revolution in itself for the busy housewife. They could experiment with food and try delicacies not fixed to class. Gelatine was an inexpensive ingredient through the 50s and 60s, built for ease and increasingly popular.
Made from animal fat, gelatine was extremely labour intensive in the process. Major time and effort to make this ingredient meant it would be expensive to buy, therefore only available to those who could afford it – the rich. Then gelatine sachets were made as an equivalent and it was the uprising of sweet/ savoury jelly as it acted as a brilliant preservative for food.
A Taste of China
However, we have to give the cooks of this newspaper a round of applause for venturing into the unknown with Chinese food. Though the first recognised and official Chinese restaurant opened in London, Piccadilly Circus in 1908, the phenomenon of Chinese cooking broke out in the 1950s and 60s with the arrival of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong.
The Star of India
Indian infused food has long been a favourite amongst exotic flavours since the 18th century. Next to fish and chips, it’s considered Britain’s favourite dish. This culinary delight has taken us by storm for hundreds of years, and first famed by Sake Dean Mohamed, a charismatic Bengali entrepreneur. His legacy, was the Hindoostane Coffee House opened in 1810.
It was a common practice to serve staple dishes such as curry in coffee bars and taverns, before many started cooking Indian food in their own homes. Vesta foods were shortly about to takeover with microwave meals, but we’ll touch on that in the 70s decade.
A Bit Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
As a decade, the 60s were fleeting. There was a British counter-culture, where the spirit of the underground ran deep. It was pro-rebellion and anti-establishment. Authority figures meant squat to the peace-loving youths and were utterly against another war. In response, they branched out into a shared sense of exploration.
It was also a period of unforgiving ‘Beatlemania‘; the Who; the Rolling Stones and a cataclysmic rejuvenation of music that led to rock ‘n’ roll. Their lyrics screamed fun, love, and in the latter years of the period – angst and rebellion against the authorities – and prompted a spiritual revolution.
Though the Vietnam War was happening miles away since 1955, American helicopters officially landed in Saigon in 1961. John Lennon protested for peace, to recognise the British government’s support of the war in Vietnam, and Britain’s youths began to stand up for their beliefs and want for peace. The Profumo Affair of 1963 riled the public’s trust in politicians and anger towards authority figures quickly developed into distrust and doubt. Rightly so, the younger generation wanted to shake things up a bit, even if it was only for a little while.
Attitudes towards food had changed substantially in the 60s. Economic growth in jobs meant plentiful food. People were more open to cooking food in oil instead of just braising or boiling it in stock. Newspapers became creative and advised society on the best tips to shop for ‘Cheap Meat’, ‘How to find the best groceries’ and how to enjoy ‘Bacon with everything’ – all of which, can be found in the 1960s Recipe Book.
Like most influences of substantial change, the 60s was reactive, to the war and hardcore wartime values. People lived like never before, embracing technology, invigorating culture through music, sexual liberation, and London was at the epicentre of this teeming land of fun. It’s no surprise people experimented with food we wouldn’t dream of reviving today. But, on the contrary, it is believed that the diet of the 50s and 60s was substantially healthier than our food intake today.