Noshtalgia – the memory lane of food from a Retro Childhood.
When you think back to the simple days of childhood and food you grew up with you find yourself reminiscing about an age of sandwich spread, Angel Delight and Bird’s Ice Magic. Indeed ice cream was never the same after trying Ice Magic, the amazing chocolate sauce that turned hard when poured over ice cream. It belonged to an age when soft scoop ice-cream didn’t exist when you needed a strong ice-cream scoop to chisel the ice-cream out of the tub or else you stuck with a block of ice-cream you could just slice.
Yes, in the era before supermarkets became crammed with organic juices, delicatessen treats and artisan breads, we enjoyed a retro heaven of heavily manufactured snacks, sauces and treats. These were the days when only Heinz Salad Cream (not mayonnaise) would go on your egg salad sandwich, a time when Smash was a staple alongside frozen fish fingers, chicken and mushroom toast toppers was a posh snack whilst Birds custard powder was not condemned under a veil of food snobbery but devoured with relish in great yellow pools with apple crumble.
The intense nostalgia we feel for the brands of our childhood are now tinged with embarrassment. How could we ever have tucked into boil in the bag cod with parsley sauce with such glee and turkey dinners laden with the catchphrase ‘bootiful’? No matter how unfashionable Brains Faggots , Fray Bentos pies and boil in the tin syrup puddings have become, these foods are indelibly part of our childhood gastro memory.
The taste of Smash may not have been as delicious as mash made from scratch, but the 1974 TV ad made Smash every child’s favourite. Indeed the smash advertising campaign has seen it hailed as the best TV character ad of all time after all who can forget those laughing Smash Martians?
Tinned rice pudding with a dollop of jam was seen as a good Sunday tea treat with Ambrosia Creamed Rice and its pale beige shade being the creamiest and most sought after. Otherwise tinned fruit cocktail saw every child searching for the cherries and the slithers of pineapple, in some regions this was served with a slice of white bread and butter.
How can anyone forget the addictively, synthetic taste and strangely airy texture of the sickly pink Angel Delight. This wonderful cocktail of sugar, starch, emulsifiers, gelling agents, flavourings and whey powder was a childhood favourite for generations. It was targeted at the new time-poor generation of working parents in the 1960s. By the 1980s, however, nobody could be bothered to mix up a packet of stuff for tea; it was eclipsed by ready-to-eat upstarts such as frozen cheesecake. It may proclaim itself the “instant dessert for little angels”. It’s strange powdery, synthetic airy taste is not for the sophisticated palate but it was quick and it was classed as a treat especially if was sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.
Corned beef was always a store cupboard staple . Until it closed in 1979, the original Fray Bentos factory was in Uruguay. Some fans have even made a pilgrimage to the site and once there, doubtless to the bewilderment of the tour guide, they often become emotional at the teatime memories the place name evokes. “Bully beef”, as it was once known, is beef preserved by curing it in brine and then boiling it and used to be principal to army rations, not least because it could be eaten cold, straight from the can, but now it has been retired from the ration pack in favour of mushroom pasta and curry; how times have changed.
As Marks and Spencer’s launch their fish and chip pie, I can’t help thinking back to Goblin puddings and with their meat and gravy filling made for one. Then there was the family sized Fray Bentos pies. Then a pie cooked in its own tin is perfect. These store-cupboard steak or chicken delights are still popular and are worth £20m annually to Fray Bentos and were one of the first true convenience foods. Whilst Fray Bentos has been with us since 1899 we had to wait until 1961 for their first steak and kidney pie to be launched.
In an age when we are obsessed with good bacteria, optimum grains and pretty looking vegetables it is nice to reflect on some of the things that have gone out of fashion as we all move towards becoming food snobs. I wonder if sushi served on large white plates is really as satisfying as instant mash and Birdseye’s ocean pie followed by artic roll?