Near the end of the fourth episode of The Supersizers Go in which the food time travellers go to the 1970s, Sue Perkins says that she saw the ’70s through the banisters of the staircase, as she and her siblings peered downstairs at the goings on of the adults. This was how I experienced a good chunk of the ’70s too. I used to peer through the treads of the very ’60s open-tred wooden staircase in the house my parents rented in Wokingham, Berkshire, head upside down, spying on my parents and their guests when they entertained.
In any case, the ’70s episode was a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be, purely for the nostalgia value. I kept on squealing in recognition at many of the various foods trotted out. It did help that I actually spend a few years in the ’70s living in England with my family, since the Supersizers focused naturally on a very British version of that decade.
Giles and Sue eat dinner on trays while watching the telly.
Some fun facts from the episode
- Convenience foods and pre-prepared, pre-packaged foods took off in a big way in the ’70s. Frozen food flourished because 2/3rds of the population now had freezers. There were also dehydrated ‘just add water’ foods, boil-in-a-bag dinners, tinned (canned) foods. The ’70s housewife barely had to cook at all. Eating with a tray in front of the TV became popular.
- When they weren’t eating in front of the telly with trays balanced on their knees, people were eating more in the kitchen, as informal dining became popular.
- People in the 1970s Britain ate on average 800 more calories per day than we do today - fatty fried foods, meat, eggs, full fat milk (delivered in glass bottles by the milk man), lots and lots of sugar. However they were slimmer than we are, probably due to the fact that they moved a lot more, working to work or at least to the bus stop, going up and down stairs in buildings without elevators, and so on. Exercising for fitness also took off in a big way in this decade. (I’m a bit disappointed they didn’t show Sue or Giles working out with an ab roller wheel , but they did show one of my favorite childhood toys, the Space Hopper or kangaroo ball.) Not to mention disco.
- Weight loss did become a big concern. Along with exercise regimens, dieting and diet food became quite popular, including meal replacement drinks like Slim-Fast. (I vaguely remember my mother following a national diet spearheaded by the BBC…she ate a lot of tuna with some sort of sour onion sauce.)
- Children apparently consumed sugary sweets with abandon in the ’70s. (I remember regularly having a fruity ice lolly (popsicle) that was dyed a bright blue. I loved the way it made my tongue blue. ) Mandatory hot school dinners were phased out at the end of the decade, by Margaret Thatcher.
- They drank a LOT during the ’70s. According to the aptly named Action Cook Book (written by spy thriller novelist Len Deighton of all people), for a cocktail party the host was supposed to allow for the consumption of half a bottle of liquor per person for the first 2 hours, and three quarters of a bottle per person for every subsequent 2 hours. So, during say a 6 hour extended party, theoretically the guests would consume 2.5 bottles of liquor each.
- Speaking of cocktails, cocktail parties were big during this time, as well as the in-home bar. I remember that my father had a fully stocked liquor cabinet in the large teak sideboard in our living room, even though he rarely if ever drank a drop of alcohol himself. He also kept a few ashtrays in the liquor cabinet despite the face that he hated smoking. (He still doesn’t drink at all. The liquor is long gone, but the teak sideboard has survived several moves and is lying under piles of books in his current living room. It’s a Midcentury Modern classic.)
- This was the decade when the package tour holiday really took off. People, or at least the affluent middle class, jetted out of the country for vacation and brought back exotic food from the Continent. They experienced fondue whilst skiing, and brought back cheese fondue from the Alps. They didn’t mention it in the program, but apparently a cheese fondue set was a standard wedding gift during this decade. (Now of course I do live now in the land of the cheese fondue, Switzerland, and I can attest to the fact that people still do eat fondue here at home (it’s an easy way to have friends over). However, I’ve never seen chocolate fondue here, which was invented in New York in 1964 , allegedly as a marketing ploy by Toblerone.)
- American fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s invaded Britain during this decade. The Hard Rock Café, with their American Diner menu of humongous hamburgers, chips (fries) and ice cream sundaes, opened in London in 1971. (I never had fast food when we lived in England. When we moved to the U.S. later on, going to McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken was a big treat for us.)
[Edit:] Some things I forgot to include:
- The 1970s were aptly described as ” decade of non-stop gateaux and indiscriminate sexual activity”. Sounds like the adults were having fun while I was peering through the stairs. (Not that I think my parents were ever swinging!)
- The in-house chef for this episode was Mark Hix , who until recently was the chef-director of Caprice Holdings, owners of The Ivy (a famous/infamous London restaurant) and The Caprice; he now runs his own restaurant. He was the winner of two of the courses in the Great British Chef contest last year, one of which was a take on a traditional British fish dish called Stargazy pie . He seemed to enjoying himself, though he was rather disgusted at the ingredients he had to use.
List of food and recipes mentioned in this episode
Breakfast in the kitchen
- Grilled Grapefruit
- Boiled Eggs with Soldiers
- Croûtes Forestière (see below for recipe!)
Lunch for the ad executive at a restaurant
- Rougets Grillé (grilled whole fish, not fileted)
- Garlic Rolls
- Duck à l’Orange
- Mixed Vegetables
- Crême Brulée
- More red wine
- Boil in the bag fish
- Faggots (sort of like a cross between meatballs and sausages)
- Crispy pancakes
- Smash (dehydrated mashed potato)
- Tinned vegetables
- Butterscotch Angel Delight (instant pudding)
- Banana Custard
- Arctic Roll (a frozen swiss roll of sorts)
- Liver and bacon
- Lumpy mashed potatoes
- Boiled cabbage
- Chocolate sponge
- Chocolate pudding with the skin on (Sue and the kids loved this combination)
Sweet shop sweets
Candy bracelets, chocolate cigarettes, sherbet fountains, bubbly bubble gum…
Concorde Meal from the maiden Paris-Bahrain flight
- Caviar and smoked salmon canapes
- Dom Perignon
- Cold breast of chicken with fois gras and asparagus spears
- Mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing
- More champagne
- Poached orange in Grand Marnier
- More champagne
- Assorted cheeses
- Melted Gruyère Cheese Fondue
- Bread cubes
- Boiled potatoes
- Vin chaud (hot mulled wine)
- Melted chocolate
- Angel cake
- Nimble bread
- Cottage cheese
- Strawberry Slim-Fast
The perfect dinner (according to a 1970s poll)
- Prawn cocktail garnished with a tomato rosette
- Steak Diane
- Crinkle-cut chips (fries)
- Mouton Cadet
- Sherry trifle
- More red wine
(followed by one of the regular power cuts that occured in the UK in the ’70s)
Fanny Hill’s Lunch (at a swinger’s party)
- French Kiss (a sort of ox tongue casserole?)
- Nymphomaniac’s Prayer (asparagus spears and some kind of sauce)
- Potatoes Masoch
- Red wine
- Ali Baba au Rhum
- Banana Candles (a la Fanny Cradock, see below)
American diner food at the Hard Rock Café
(The first Hard Rock Café opened in London in 1971)
- 10 ounce burgers
- Fries, onion rings
- Chocolate milk shakes
- Coke floats
- Hot fudge brownie
- Hot fudge sundae
Breakfast in bed
- Tea (made with a Teasmaid, a combination alarm clock and tea maker)
- Fried eggs
- Fried bread
- Bloody Mary
(following Fanny Cradock’s The Party Cookbook; cocktails following Len Deighton’s Action Cook book)
- Table decoration: Lemon Pigs (lemons cut to look like pigs) and a foil gondola, both a la Fanny Cradock (see below)
- Cocktails (allowing 1/2 bottle of spirits per person every 2 hours; 3/4)
- Wine cup (Black Tower, soda water and Curaçao with ice, served in a big bowl…a punch bowl of sorts in other words)
- All the guests except one bring a bottle of Mateus Rosé as a hostess gift
- Ritz Cracker Hors d’oeuvres
- Cheese and Pineapple
- Coronation chicken vol-au-vents
- Avocado and prawns
- Swedish bird’s nest (see below)
- Steak tartare
- Haddock mousse
- Fish sandwich cake (layers of sardines, prawns, canned salmon and lumpfish eggs combined into a stacked sandwich, iced with mayonnaise )
- Roast chicken with green mashed potato (mashed potato colored with green food coloring)
- Salmon and cucumber mould with Liebfraumilch jelly (a salmon and cucumber gelatin mould..Liebfraumilch is a type of semi-sweet white German wine)
- Black Forest Gateau
- Baked Alaska
All in all the episode was very entertaining. They did however engage in quite a lot of Fanny Cradock bashing. Fanny Cradock was (in case you didn’t know) a tremendously influential TV cook and cookbook author, the precursor to Delia Smith in the UK, the Martha Stewart and Nigella Lawson of her day. Fanny Cradock gets bashed fairly regularly on British television, because she was so of her time. Besides, she evidently wasn’t very nice (she was as horrible snob, a nightmare employer, and more), her television career ended in disgrace when she ruthlessly humiliated an ordinary housewife on air , and she and her sidekick/husband Johnnie Cradock are both long dead. (I was waiting to hear Graham Kerr, aka the Galloping Gourmet, be discussed, because his cooking and style were so very ’70s - perhaps even more so than Fanny, whose television career ended abruptly in 1976 and whose heyday was probably the 1960s. But he didn’t get even a passing mention. He did get equal billing with Fanny on a documentary about television cooking that aired back in 2001 called The Way We Cooked.)
I have had a long term fascination with Fanny Cradock (see here and here ), and in the course of my interest I’ve acquired some of her cookbooks over the last few years, including the massive 5-volume bound set of Fanny and Johnnie Cradock Cookery Programme, a subscription-only magazine in 75 parts or issues. Apparently the producers of this Supersizers episode referred quite a lot to the Cookery Programme, but they shoehorned her recipes in to fit their narrative.
For instance, for their Swinger’s party they made something called Banana Candles:
They said that the recipe was from Fanny Cradock, saying ‘even she got into the swing (wink wink) of things’. They also made fun of a table garnish she came up with, Lemon Pigs. I looked up the original recipes, and in fact she was not suggesting to adults that they make sexually suggestive erect bananas or decorate their cocktail party spread with lemons cut to look like pigs. Both are on the back pages of the Cookery Programme, as projects for the Small Fry, or children. Here are the Banana Candles, where the instructions clearly call for adult assistance:
Of course, Fanny did suggest some jaw-droppingly kitsch party table presentations. Here’s one of the more staid onces, also from the Cookery Programme, made entirely of deep fried bread.
I do think Fanny gets criticized more than she deserves though. Her cookbooks are on the whole not bad at all, and really encourage her readers to cook things from scratch, using good ingredients. She pays attention to economy too rather than relying on expensive food. Sounds a lot better than Butterscotch Angel Delight pudding and frozen faggots with Smash to me.
Two other Fanny Cradock recipes presented on this episode were Swedish Birds’ Nest and Croute Forestier. I’ve found the original recipes for both! Here are the Swedish Birds’ Nests:
A bed of finely chopped (“scissored”) chives, parsley or a mix are arranged on a plate, in a sort of double helix pattern. On top of that are arranged (going from the outer rings inwards) capers, cold diced potatoes, finely chopped anchovy filets, then finally two raw eggs. “These are particulayrl delicious when served with dark rye bread and butter”, says Fanny. Now apparently these are called Faagelbo (Fågelbo) in Swedish, but the only things I could find for the term in Google was a type of Ikea sofa, or an actual nest of eggs. Do Faagelbo exist as a food in Sweden?
Incidentally, just about all of Fanny’s recipes in the Cookery Programme have French names attached to them, with the exception of the few which presumably came from a particular country, like the Faagelbo. This is in keeping it seems with the ’70s when speaking French was considered to be very chic. (I guess that attitude still lingers to this day in some circles, especially food ones.)
Finally, here’s the Croûtes Forestière, or Fried Bread Case Filled With Mushrooms and Bacon Rolls. In the episode it’s presented as a breakfast dish, but Fanny clearly meant it to be served at a dinner party.
Here is the recipe presented in its entirety…my comments in [brackets].
- 1 top of a cottage loaf [For non-British people: a cottage loaf is a large, round loaf]
- 1 small egg
- 3 fl. oz. milk
- 4 to 6 de-rinded rashers [bacon used to come with the rinds still on!]
- 6 oz. mushrooms
- 1 1/2 oz. butter
- 1 1/2 fl. oz. oil
- 1 rounded dessertspoonful flour
- 6 chopped tarragon leaves [6! exactly!] fresh or dried
- salt and pepper to season
- 1 rounded eggspoon English mustard [is an eggspoon smaller or bigger than a teaspoon?]
- 1 6 fl. oz. good bone stock or 1 fl. oz. cooking sherry and 5 fl. oz. stock
- oil to fry
Scoop crumb from bread knob, invert on table and when hollowed out, vandyke the top edges (see picture). Beat egg with milk, pour into what is now a bread water-lily, swill round until absorbed, lower immediately in smoking hot oil and fry until interior is a good golden brown. Keep warm on serving dish in oven at Gas Mark Low or 200°F. Fry bacon rashers dry in a shallow pan turning them carefully until cooked to desired texture. Roll up, keep warm on dish with bread case and add oil and butter to bacon fat in pan. When hot toss unskinned, sliced mushrooms [people used to skin, or peel, mushrooms!] and their stalks into this mixture, shake and turn over moderate heat until they have taken up the frying agents. Toss in flour and mustard and work until smooth with the back of a wooden spoon, add chopped tarragon, dilute gradually with small additions of stock blending thoroughly after each addition until all is smooth and creamily sauced. If choosing sherry, add before stock. Season to taste, pile into ‘water lily’, arrange bacon rolls on top as in our picture and serve piping hot.
Except for deep frying the bread, this may even be edible…
Next week the Supersizers go back to the time of Shakespeare. My recap, which should be considerably shorter than this one, will be delayed until the week after since I’ll be away next week.
Supersizers Go recaps