Monday, 5 March 2012

Those were the days...

or were they?

During the nineteen forties we used to have a Sunday school anniversary tea every year. It was always the same - potted beef sandwiches, caraway seed cake and a plate of fairy cakes (one each). One girl, called Nora, used to always start with the cakes so that by the time the others got round to the cake stage (having been taught by their mothers to always begin with sandwiches) there were none left. No-one wanted to sit near Nora, understandably. Her mother used to complain that people were ostracising her.

But, as you will see, the fare was plain and simple, so easy to prepare - and easy to eat because you knew exactly what you were sitting down to.

We were talking about cooking and cookery books yesterday and my daughter-in-law mentioned that she was going through her cookery books and throwing some of the old ones out. The photo above shows one of the books that was going into the recycling bin. This book is the 34th edition.
The one I used to have must have been much earlier and had a brown cover. But for old times
sake I asked if I could have it. I have just been looking through it over my coffee. Oh, how simple things were in those days. Most cakes had butter or margarine, sugar, eggs, milk and flour (Bero naturally). Maybe a few ground almonds, a squeezed lemon, a few sultanas.

I opened one of my cookery books at the cake section and took a few 'modern' ingredients at random - polenta, corn meal, vanilla pod, frangelico hazelnut liqueur. Need I go on? It has all got so sophisticated, but is it necessarily better I wonder.

My mother was what was always called a 'good, plain cook'. Friday was her baking day and it was always more or less the same - enough bread for the week, plum or currant bread to slice and spread with butter, scones, victoria sandwich cake, jam tarts, maybe lemon curd tarts for a change and maybe a few maids of honour. Sunday lunch would add an apple pie to this lot. She must have spent more or less the whole day baking, but that is what mothers did in those days.

Now, of course, the modern housewife (if they still use such a term) works and buys most of the stuff our mothers used to bake. That is unless they are health conscious, in which case they forego all of it and eat salad instead.

Now we try cooking Italian, or Thai, or Chinese, or Spanish - we will have a go at anything. And think of all the vegetables we can buy - in and out of season. And whoever thought of stir-frying in those days and yet it is the simplest and tastiest way to cook so many vegetables.

And what about steamed puddings? Do people still eat these? Oh golly I would love a steamed apple pudding made with brown sugar, so that when you cut it open a golden brown syrup runs out. Or a treacle pudding, or a spotted dick - but of course I don't make them - bad for our health.

Well, I have by no means exhausted the topic of then and now food, but my mouth is watering and my senses are swimming with all those tastes of long ago. So I shall stop. But I shall pop this Bero book on the shelf and think of something I can make from it. As it is Dominic's birthday on Saturday I may well make a Bar Gateau (Page 41) which is the old Victoria sandwich cake recipe cooked in an oblong tin - I am sure he will appreciate it.


Rachel Fox said...

I've been cooking from an old Good Housekeeping book recently (cakes mainly). I don't even know whose book it was first... it's falling to pieces. It may have been my Mum's, or my Grandma's or maybe even my Dad's first wife's... I have no idea! Cakes still taste good though (though I do change the margarine for butter most times).

MorningAJ said...

We had the old brown version too. And there was nothing so fancy as a colour photo on it!

I remember those coconut towers, spread with jam to keep the coconut on.... and rock cakes.
My mum made what she called a 'one two three four cake': 1 egg, 2 oz marg (it was always Stork), 3 oz sugar and 4 oz self raising. It worked a treat every time!

There was a 2225 that she used for butterfly buns too.

Heather said...

I have had serious problems with some modern baking recipes and think the old ones are probably more reliable. Instead of keeping the best of old practises, have we thrown it all out and lost some sound knowledge? Never mind, some bright young thing will rediscover it for us!

Gerry Snape said...

Well when in Kendal or Kirby Lonsdale...we always have a sticky toffee pudding!! but is that a modern take on an old recipe? I'm not sure.

Pondside said...

My mother baked on Friday too - such a treat to come home to a house full of goodies and wonderful aromas.
I'm still cooking from the book I received at my wedding shower 39 years ago. There are many new books on my shelf, but I keep going back to the old one.

H said...

I cook about 60% of our meals in my faithful wok, but my mother would never have heard of such a thing! I never bake (well, once in a blue moon!), but my mum used to do so regularly.

Reader Wil said...

Stirfrying is very easy and very tasteful. I often do it. I used to do Indonesian food, but now I am kind of lazy and cook for a couple of days together.
Thanks for your comment. In wartime there is always the risk that people are treated cruel.

Hildred and Charles said...

My old favourite is a Purity Flour Cookbook. My mother had one, my grandmother had one, and I am on my second or third copy (can't remember which). It is held together with elastic bands, has many loose pages, but it is my most reliable cookbook and I use it for many recipes.

It has no stir-fries in it, but this is such a wonderfully cook way to prepare a healthy meal I make one often, usually with what is on hand. Nice post, Pat, - full of remembrances.

angryparsnip said...

I have a few cookbook I use, but mostly use my Japanese ones now.
I had my Mums cookbook that burned in the fire, so I bought a Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook to help me with all the basics. I miss my Mum's cookbook.

Right now I just finished reading "They Draw They cook" 107 recipes by Artist from around the World. The recipes are drawn instead of listed... really funny, beautiful and tasty.

cheers, parsnip

GillyK said...

Just finished making some scones from my Bero book. I always go back to it for the basics.

Gwil W said...

My goodness, I'm once again licking mum's wooden spoon and "cleaning the bowl" as she called it ;)!

Crafty Green Poet said...

good plain cooking generally uses good local (or relatively local) ingredients so is more environmentally friendly. Also those good plain ingredients come in time and again for all kinds of recipes so you're less likely to be left with half used packets of weird things you've only ever used for one recipe.... So I'm in favour!

mrsnesbitt said...

Most important - can you buy the ingrediants at local shop? Comment on your modern list - "Not bloody likely" You'd be laughed out bloody shop!

Hope I sounded like a true down to earth northern housewife from grim oooop north! lol!


Penny said...

Interesting topic as I have returned to baking biscuits for J instead of buying increasingly inferior ones at great expense. I have hens and eggs, and after looking at all the new magazine recipes I went back to the cookery books that pre dated my wedding (53 years ago) and found really simple, full of flavour biscuits and rock buns.
When it comes to meals we eat, yes I go for modern recipes.

ChrisJ said...

I keep maintaining I don't bake but I love rock cakes. I think I might just try the 1,2,3,4. version. Sounds right about my level of expertise.

John Gray said...

The cookbook I use is a 1976 "Dairy book of home cooking"
no Nigella or Jaimie for me

Bovey Belle said...

I still mostly use my old baking books - many from the 1970s - as they are straightforward ingredients which I always have in my storecupboard. I've just had to have my Canadian apple recipes cookbook rebound (spirals had gorn) as it's had so much use.

Having said that, the best ginger cake I've ever made/eaten is the River Cottage one - a "new invention"!

I have one baking day a week so that the oven isn't on for a short while each day (expensive).

I love stir-fries too - had one last night in fact.

Dave King said...

It seems that the more cook books folk accumulate these days, the less they cook.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad to read that I am not the only one still baking. Rachel is quite right though - home made cake does taste good. Thanks for joining in.

EB said...

I've just finished eating some biscuits I've just made. I was shocked though to see how much fat is in them - I haven't made them for a while, and this is a recipe I devised myself and keep in my little book. Nostalgia, even for my own private past, is so fierce in me that it wars with nutritional knowledge and nearly wins... but no quite - I won't risk making these again until I've got someone else there to share them.

Golden West said...

I love to read cook books! One of my favorites is "The Joy of Cooking", although the one I use most frequently is a collection of recipes fro country fairs - love the homemade sweets!