Rachel Laudan recently made the point that while there have been much dietry advise given along the lines that we 'should not eat food that our [great] grandmothers wouldn't recognise as food' (i.e. don't eat "processed" foods), the fact of the matter is that is is actually very difficult for us to know exactly what our ancestors recognised as food. While the way people interact with food has changed hugely in the last century, most commentary in the general media have only placed emphasis on the fact that the average Westerner should feel bloody guilty about their relationship with food. Everything was better in the old days (except in the UK where people have a somewhat disfunctional relationship with their food history - "Food is much better now then in the past" v "Food was much better and wholesome in past"). Well it maybe difficult to know what people thought about the food they were eating, but at least in the England we can look at some of their eating trends. Below is a graph of household consumption in England from the post war period until the mid-90's.
Well one thing is clear from this, if "grandma's chicken" tasted better, not many people knew about it as very little of it was being eaten before the 1960's. Cabbage is less popular also it seems....
As both of my grandmothers have recently died, all of this made me think that it is a worthwhile exercise writing down what I can remember about the food they cooked for me. For some background, Grandmother Pickles was of British descent and lived on a relatively isolated Australian farm. The farm was mostly sheep and grain, but for family consumption there was a milk-cow, chickens, pigeons and geese as well as the endless mutton. Baka Balic came from a very poor rural family in Croatia, but in Australia lived in a middle-class suburban home - no animals. She worked as a house-keeper for an even more middle-class family, converting the rose garden into a potato patch in her spare time
- Roast leg of hogget/mutton - my uncles killed a weather once every 7-10 days
- Chops - from the above
- Shepard's Pie - made from left over roast - as it should be
- Liver, eggs, bacon and kidneys -served for breakfast the day after the kill
- Roast veg, mashed potatoes (sometimes mixed with swede/pumpkin)
- Pressed tongue
- Mushrooms on toast - when in season my grandmother would take me out to pick buckets of field mushrooms (Agaricus campestris), which were cooked in butter and milk.
- Eggs - from free ranging hens of various breeds, poached fried or boiled
- Hogget/mutton stew - carrots, onions, celery, barley
- Chicken Stew - as above, made with excess cockerels, which were far too tough roast
- Mince - as above , made with mince
- Chicken with Apricots - chicken cooked in apricot nectar with a packet of dried French onion soup mix, pasta added towards the end.
- Toad in the Hole - sausages poached in a curry flavoured white sauce, not the usual dish of the same name of sausages baked in a Yorkshire Pudding batter.
- Sausages, rissoles (sausage meat balls)
- Roast Goose, Orange Jelly, Ham (canned). All served for Christmas, geese raised on the farm. The jelly was made with orange juice and mint and served with the goose
- Roast Ducks - during shooting season
- Green salad - very rare
- Rice Pudding - yes cooked in an wood fired stove
- Jelly/Flummery - commercial jelly mix, Flummery was this made with milk, rather then water
- Ice cream
- Stewed fruit -in season
- Tinned fruit - huge amounts of tinned peaches
- Scones - made regularly, especially during the shearing season
- Jam (tinned, normally plum) and Bread (sliced white), Salted Butter
- Sandwiches of all sorts
- Cups of milky tea
- As a special treat I would be taken into the local town (1.5 hours drive) to go to a Chinese restuarant and I would have "Special Fried Rice" and a bottle of Coke bought for me, followed by "Deep fried icecream".
- Chicken Noodle Soup (all main meals started with this soup)
- Home made Bread, un-salted, cultured Butter
- Roast Pork
- Roast Chicken
- Veal schnitzel
- Roast Turkey with Mlinci - an Easter meal
- Green bean salad - beans dressed with garlic, olive oil and vinegar while hot, searved cold
- Green Salads - very common
- Bean Soup
- Sauerkraut Soup
- Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
- Stuffed Peppers
- Baked Fish
- Strudel (walnuts or poppy seeds or apple)
- Seafood Risotto (rare)
- Papricka stew
- Spit roasted pig or lamb - for large family gatherings
- Cured meats
- Cakes and biscuits
This is what I can recall of meals mostly made in the 1970-80's. I'm not sure that either of my grandmothers actually enjoyed cooking. Certainly it wasn't a hobby or passion for either of them, it was a duty. Which isn't to say that the food was made grudgingly or was bad, actually it was very good. Baka in particular was a stellar cook. But, ultimately cooking was something that they had to do, at least twice a day, every day. However, I think cookery was easier for them then for me, after all I have to produce family meals day after day and work full time which means being out of the house. The daily grind of providing a family with meals can be very wearisome, not matter how passionate you are about food.
So I don't think that either of them would have objected too much to processed foods. Grandma Pickles could have preserved fruit until the cows came home (literally), but she didn't. She bought in tinned fruit in thick sugar syrup. In terms of what I eat now, well I think that this would have been quite shocking for them. I eat a much wider range of foodstuffs then either of them, from a much broader range of ethnic backgrounds. I'm pretty sure that they would have considered much of the ethnic foods to be beyond the Pale. So I'm not going to feel too guilty about my relationship with food, I was very lucky to have had the influences of my grandmothers cookery, but I am just as lucky to be in the position of being passionate about cookery having been exposed to a whole range of foods that are completely outwith my grandmothers experiences.