The Supersizers Go...to the 1970s, grooovy

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.

70s1.jpg

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.

70s2.jpg

  • 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

First course:

  • Rougets Grillé (grilled whole fish, not fileted)
  • Garlic Rolls
  • Chardonnay

Second course:

  • Duck à l’Orange
  • Mixed Vegetables
  • Bordeaux

Dessert

  • Crême Brulée
  • More red wine

TV Dinner

First Course:

  • Boil in the bag fish
  • Faggots (sort of like a cross between meatballs and sausages)
  • Crispy pancakes
  • Smash (dehydrated mashed potato)
  • Tinned vegetables

Pudding:

  • Butterscotch Angel Delight (instant pudding)
  • Banana Custard
  • Arctic Roll (a frozen swiss roll of sorts)

School lunch

  • Liver and bacon
  • Lumpy mashed potatoes
  • Boiled cabbage

Pudding:

  • 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

i Aperitifs:

  • Caviar and smoked salmon canapes
  • Dom Perignon

Main course:

  • Cold breast of chicken with fois gras and asparagus spears
  • Mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing
  • More champagne

Dessert:

  • Poached orange in Grand Marnier
  • More champagne

Digestifs

  • Assorted cheeses
  • Brandy
  • Cigars

Après-ski fondue

  • Melted Gruyère Cheese Fondue
  • Bread cubes
  • Boiled potatoes
  • Vin chaud (hot mulled wine)

Sweet fondue:

  • Melted chocolate
  • Angel cake
  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Marshmallows

Diet food

  • Ryvita
  • Nimble bread
  • Cottage cheese
  • Strawberry Slim-Fast

The perfect dinner (according to a 1970s poll)

First course:

  • Tomato soup
  • Riesling

Second course:

  • Prawn cocktail garnished with a tomato rosette

Main course:

  • Steak Diane
  • Crinkle-cut chips (fries)
  • Mouton Cadet

Pudding:

  • 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

Pudding:

  • 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

Dessert:

  • Hot fudge brownie
  • Hot fudge sundae

Breakfast in bed

  • Tea (made with a Teasmaid, a combination alarm clock and tea maker)
  • Fried eggs
  • Bacon
  • Fried bread
  • Bloody Mary

Cocktail party

(following Fanny Cradock’s The Party Cookbook; cocktails following Len Deighton’s Action Cook book)

Preliminaries:

  • 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

Party food:

  • Twiglets
  • 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)

Dessert:

  • Black Forest Gateau
  • Cheesecake
  • Cheeseball
  • Baked Alaska

Fanny Cradock

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:

bananacandles-s.jpg

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:

bananacandles1.jpg

bananacandles2.jpg

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.

fannycradok-breaddisplay.jpg

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:

swedishbirdsnest.jpg

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.

crouteforestier.jpg

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

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Fågelbon

Well, as a swedish person I must say I have not seen a fågelbo presented outside one of my mothers cookbooks from the 70s - although I think the ansjovises was then pickled herring instead - that sounds more swedish. So it is not a staple course in swedish everyday life :)

Susanne | 12 June, 2008 - 21:05

Fågelbo

Hi there! Another swede comment! I hadn’t heard the term Fågelbo before, for me the dish is known as Solöga (sun’s eye) but when I searched a bit I did see both terms used together. The recipes I’ve seen doesn’t include potatoe but do include pickled beetroots. And it really is a typical 70’s dish although people do still eat it judging by the number of swedish recipes you find when googling on Solöga (but I wonder where these people are, we’ve never made this at home and I don’t think I’ve ever been served it)

Anna | 12 June, 2008 - 22:48

It’s good to know that it

It’s good to know that it does actually exist in Sweden and wasn’t just made up by Fanny! Pickled herring does make a lot more sense though.

I found this recipe for Sologa, which sounds quite similar, though they use pickled beets instead of cold boiled potatoes.

maki | 13 June, 2008 - 10:07

I was skeptical of this show

I was skeptical of this show because I was a kid of the 70’s and thought it couldn’t be so much different from today - But I was so wrong! This was a rather fascinating show. When Sue picked that bag of food out of the boiling water I had flashbacks to many a portion of Chicken A La King I was given as a kid. The swilling of so much milk made me dyspeptic just watching it, but I remember drinking a half gallon a day as a kid - may explain the lactose intolerance of today.

Overcoming the very British xenophobia and embracing foreign foods was nice to see, because now-a-days it’s the opposite with British tourists insisting on a Full English breakfast when in Spain.

I had to laugh when you mentioned the ab roller - I remember as a kid playing around with my Mom’s exercise doohicky of choice - The doorknob gym!

Lyvvie | 13 June, 2008 - 12:12

OMG I think we had one of

OMG I think we had one of those too! (my sister and I pulled on it so vigorously that the door knob fell off…oops)

maki | 15 June, 2008 - 13:16

My mother had/has the most

My mother had/has the most wonderful cook book from the 70s. The front had a embossed picture of a phesant or somesuch being hung.

It was full of crepe suzette (sp?) and duck a l’orange. heh.

Pippa | 13 June, 2008 - 16:04

70's sweets

Do you know which sweet shop Su and Giles filmed in?

Mo | 15 June, 2008 - 01:46

I didn’t recognize it (I

I didn’t recognize it (I wish they’d make the store signs clearer!) but googling around lead to this store. This online shop has a lot of nostalgic sweets. In the US Economy Candy in NY gives a similar nostalgia and sugar rush.

maki | 15 June, 2008 - 13:09

This brought back memories!

I’m so glad you saw this episode and have commented on it.
Whilst I don’t have all of Fanny Craddock’s recipes, I do have a few of those magazines tucked away and remember the candles and lemon pigs as part of the ‘small fry’ series. She was rather badly served in this episode.

I remember having friends from school over for dinner in the 70s, many of them had spaghetti and meat fondues for the first time at our house (my parents considered cheese fondues to be too alcoholic for children). The Swiss House in London’s Leicester Square was where we bought Swiss Cheeses and cakes, in the basement was the dimly lit restaurant, above was a shop which may have also served a a tourist information centre. The whole place was decorated with Swiss photos and folk-crafts and then there were the bells and clock outside which played music on the hour while cute little figures churned around. This was the first place I ever saw chocolate fondue but I don’t remember it making it onto the menu until the 1980s.

For many, many people their first taste of foreign food was packaged by Vesta. Some websites aimed at expat Brits still offer these things, but they were vile. Basically a do-it-yourself package with all the constituent parts to making your own chow mein or curry dish - all dehydrated. There was even a Vesta paella which was particularly disgusting.

Whilst I got to live in England in the 70s as a Brit, I also got to stay in Spain as a Spaniard during this decade and witness Brits abroad. Package holidays did indeed take off, and whilst sophisticated tourists were eating local delicacies off-piste, in Benidorm few visitors were brave enough to sample Spanish food, instead they’d insist on a fry-up for breakfast and moan and moan that the sausages had some flavour and meat in them and that the food was made with olive oil. In the 70s it was pretty much impossible to buy olive oil in London, unless you went to a shop catering to immigrants a request for olive oil led to your being directed to the Chemists where it could be purchased in a small glass bottle as a skin treatment.

Maki, the part at the end where their health was checked by a doctor was thoroughly glossed over. I’m not even sure what the conclusion was.
The guy was less constipated - contrary to expectations - as a result of the diet, but we didn’t learn if they’d gained weight, had a higher cholesterol count, or anything else really.
Did you figure out if their health actually suffered as a result of the week?

Loretta | 16 June, 2008 - 13:21

According to Giles Coren, at

According to Giles Coren, at the end of the week he was “skinny as a pencil”. His theory is that all that ‘gunk’ passed right through him. I have a theory that if any person drastically changes their diet for a short period, their system goes into some kind of shock and rejects the food to an extent. Totally unscientific of course!

maki | 16 June, 2008 - 14:52

Re: The Supersizers Go...to the 1970s, grooovy

Fanny Craddock had a receipe for seasoned flour which I have not been able to find - it had lots of spices in it and lasted in a jar for ages - does anyone out there have it and if so could they share it? Pretty please! Angela

Angela O'Sullivan | 19 August, 2010 - 22:19

Re: The Supersizers Go...to the 1970s, grooovy

All that I can say, is that I was in my 20's during the 70's and I remember ALL TOO WELL many of the things discussed in this episode.
I remember the BOOZE (in TEXAS in the USA, one never sent a guest home without a "roadie" cocktail in a 12oz. red plastic "go cup.") When mixing frozen Margaritas, I always planned ONE BLENDER per person (each blender has 7 oz. alcohol in it.) My best friend would never buy a car unless it had a place between the two bucket seats for him to place his drink (this was before cup-holders!) I had a full bar in the back seat of my sports car nicely placed in a blue Tiffany's (NYC) Box.
Yes the sex was plentiful - it was before herpes and AIDS.
I still serve some of the foods for parties, such as an American version of the Fish sandwich cake (layers of sardines, prawns, canned salmon and lumpfish eggs combined into a stacked sandwich, iced with mayonnaise ) whereas we did layers of prawn salad, chicken salad, ham salad and iced with cream cheese. There is never any left.
I just did beef fondu last week for friends and this past Sunday did the egg, bacon, toast with a bloody Marys for friends who came over for Sunday Brunch.
Whereas I never did then or would now serve tomato soup for a nice dinner, I still thrill my guests with Steak Diane and Creme Brulee as well as other flaming fun foods.
The show was closer than many people could ever guess.

William - still stuck in the culinary 70's.

P.S. I don't miss the clothing, but I wish I could find someone who knew how to "bump." (You demonstrated the dance in the show, but never named it!) LOL

William | 5 March, 2013 - 20:03

Re: The Supersizers Go...to the 1970s, grooovy

Thanks for sharing your memories - that was great!

maki | 6 March, 2013 - 01:09

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