Nostalgia! There’s nothing quite like it, is there? It only takes a few bars of music or the aroma of something cooking to take us straight down Memory Lane.
We all know fashions change, but the average Joe is much more likely to think of clothes or cars than the foodie world. For those of you fortunate enough to remember the 70s culture, you’ll understand why I think it was such a fabulous era and how it changed our tastes and our lives.
While supermarkets were around in the 1970s, they weren’t the power they are today. Housewives (and I’m not being politically incorrect when I say this – that was how it was in those days) were still frequenting their local butchers, bakers and greengrocers. The world was a much larger place back then. We didn’t have the extensive range of international foods coming in by the planeload in the 70s.
Take pasta, for example. Pasta wasn’t even in the vocabulary, let alone on the average Brit’s menu. Spaghetti, for most people, was something that came in tins covered in tomato sauce. Although macaroni cheese was a popular staple dish, lasagne or tagliatelle had yet to arrive on the British plates.
Pubs were places you went to drink and their food service culture had yet to evolve. This was on its way, though, as enterprising landlords discovered the profitability and potential market for basket meals. ‘Chicken in the Rough’ was a classic example of its day. Chicken and chips were served in a basket and eaten with fingers rather than cutlery.
Your chicken would be washed down with pints of lager or bitter for the men, while the ladies sipped delicately at their schooners of sweet sherry, Babycham, Cherry Bs, or snowballs (with the obligatory cocktail cherry, of course).
Indian restaurants were springing up in the 70s, but tables often sat empty until the pubs closed, when drink-sodden revellers flocked through the doors hoping Chicken Vindaloo would help soak up the evening’s excesses. Remember, curry to the Brits in those days was something dehydrated that came in box, lovingly produced by Vesta.
Chinese restaurants too were on the up and were one of the earliest pioneers of family dining out. Dishes like Egg Foo Yung and Chicken Chop Suey entranced the British public as they struggled to master the art of chopsticks.
A classic 70s legend was TV sitcom, The Good Life. The inimitable Margo Leadbetter was the role model for many would-be sophisticates of the day. If you’re familiar with The Good Life (and I can’t believe you’re not), you’ll understand the complete role reversal that’s come about since then.
Margo was the hostess with the mostest, wafting around in her expensive evening dress and frilly pinny, serving only the very best food money could buy (from Fortnum and Mason, where else?), while the poverty-stricken Tom and Barbara were making do with home-reared meat and fresh-from-the garden veg. Today, Margo would be reviled for serving anything that involved food miles, and Barbara would be the icon of self-sufficient cuisine.
So, if we could travel back in time, what could we expect the likes of Margo to tempt our palates with? No doubt we would be treated to a few pre-dinner nibbles. If you could put a cocktail stick in it, Margo would have served it. Cheese and pineapple and cocktail sausages were popular choices. The cocktail nibbles on sticks would be artistically presented, perhaps in an orange or if you were less posh, in a large potato covered in tin foil.
Your pre-dinner drinks might be gin and tonic (a timeless classic) or Campari and soda. Rubbing shoulders with the nibbles on the coffee table could be a miniature silver-plated wine cooler filled with multi-coloured Sobranie Cocktail cigarettes. What self-respecting hostess today would be encouraging her guests to smoke, let alone in her house!
The classic starter was, of course, the Prawn Cocktail. The degree of your hostess’ sophistication could be dictated by its sauce, and whether it was made from mayonnaise or good old salad cream. Of course, one doubts Margo would stoop to using anything so common as salad cream!
Your main course might be Duck a l’Orange or perhaps a Beef Wellington, if your hostess was adventurous enough. The wine cellar of the 70s almost certainly included Mateus Rosé or a Blue Nun Liebfraumilch. Oh they did know how to live in those days!
And, when it came to the pudding … sorry Margo … the desert, the one thing to beat Artic Roll would be the hallowed Black Forest Gateaux.
Finally, if you’re wondering where garlic came in all this nostalgia, the answer is, it didn’t. Can you imagine Margo even countenancing her breath smelling of something so noxious the next day?
Recipe books of the day described garlic as something ‘The Continentals’ used. Recipes recommended just wiping it round the bowl because it certainly was not to British taste!
That was all to change in the 1980s, but that was another era so I’ll save that for another day…