COLUMN: Looking Back with Pete Colman

The Cafe Victoria on Market Place in Ripon where Boots the chemist now stands. (S)
The Cafe Victoria on Market Place in Ripon where Boots the chemist now stands. (S)
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Pete takes a fond look at food habits over 40 years.

With food and fizzy drinks being in the news at the moment and with one in four adults obese, there could never be a better time to take you back to when food seemed a lot simpler.

Today we take a lot of care in what we eat, never have we had so much choice. During the Second World War many foods were rationed, including bacon, butter, sugar, meat, tea ,cooking fat, jam, cheese, eggs and milk.

People were encouraged to grow their own food, with children helping to grow vegetables, etc. Rabbit was popular during the war when rabbit pie was never off the menu because it was cheap and plentiful, hence the war time song Run Rabbit Run.

Food rationing lasted for 14 years, from 1940 until 1954. After being deprived of meat for so long many people concentrated on meat dishes when rationing ended. The biggest difference between food back in the 1950s and today is probably portion size.

We were always made to eat everything on our plates and told to eat all your greens up. School dinners on the whole weren’t too bad, but we did have boiled fish in that lovely creamy sauce and the vegetables always seemed to have a yellow look with it.

Puddings were usually jam roly-poly or spotted dick served with thick custard, or choc pud with pink custard, and not forgetting the dreaded chewy (frog spawn) tapioca.

As regards to drink in the 1950s, memories of milk at school come to mind. It was always half-frozen in winter or top-warm in summer.

The pop man would come round the estates on Fridays selling bottles of lemonade and there would always be a few pennies for taking your empty bottles back. Food was almost always home cooked and limited to whatever the local shop on the street corner was selling.

You would shop for meat at the local butcher and fruit and vegetables would come from the greengrocers, bread from the bakery and fish from the wet fish shops.

One food that was never rationed in war time was fish and chips. There is nothing else like the taste and aroma of fish and chips eaten out of newspaper doused in salt and vinegar, especially when they were someone else’s. Why do other people’s chips always taste better? (“Give us a chip!”)

In 1860 the first fish and chip shop was opened. They are now a national institution and they are the one food the British miss the most when they are abroad. Fish and chip shops I remember going to and asking for one of each with scraps was Fletchers and Harry Bell’s and they were the takeaways of yesteryear. Another nostalgic smell seems to be lost in time is the smell of Sunday roast dinner.

In the 1960s every home seemed to cook a sunday dinner; people today now go to the many pubs and restaurants that now serve sunday roast instead. Left over food from the Sunday roast was never wasted and would be used as sandwich fillings or made into bubble and squeak.

Ripon also boasted its own “Bettys Cafe” back in the 60s with the Cafe Victoria at 27 Market Place. It was owned by James Wright and my great-uncle George Tempest and great-aunt Gerty Tempest both worked there in the baking department.

It survived into the 1970s and is currently occupied by Boots the chemist.

Probably the most well-known beer of the 60s and 70s was Watneys Red Barrel (remember the slogan, “Roll out the barrel”?). Also Watneys Party Four and Party Seven were all the rage and the in-thing to take to parties, even when you had to keep shaking the can to stop the beer from going flat.

With 30 per cent of kids aged two to 15 now obese, surely it’s time to teach kids how to cook and what foods are good for them. At school in the 60s we had a house craft lesson every week. In my opinion children should be taught basic life skills at an early age.

Miss Miskin and Miss Gould were the teachers at the Secondary Modern School who taught us house craft. The first thing we made was our own apron, followed by learning to bake scones, cakes, and how to make a dinner.

Cooking was fun in those days, and you also got to eat what you had just made. Before we leave the 60s I must mention the one meal I could not eat – pigs’ trotters and tails, followed by tripe in milk and onions. How my father ate that I will never know – yuck! Give me a Vesta beef curry and rice followed by Angel Delight instead. (So much for proper home cooking, Pete! – Ed.)

Into the 70s more and more takeaways were opening, with more foreign food becoming popular. Some of the 70s drinks at that time were brandy and Babycham, Cherry B, rum and cola, port and lemon, and Martini “any time, any place, anywhere”.

So there you are – 40 years of food and drink, and don’t forget readers: you are what you eat.