I’m very interested, well, fascinated, by how we used to eat and what we used to eat, and how we cooked what we ate… and I came across an article about a Radio 4 documentary broadcast in 2015, in which Andrew Webb who writes about food discussed the changes which have happened over the last seventy years. The article looked particularly at what people bought which demonstrated the changes in what they ate. He outlined nine of these changes from figures from the Office for National Statistics which began to record the prices of everyday items on a ‘national shopping list’, to help calculate inflation. It included such items as corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, prunes, tea, cocoa, condensed milk and sild, a small fish which was bought in tins; I think it might still be available, I must go and look next time I’m shopping
- Rabbit was very much on the menu in 1947; I guess it was readily available then but it went out of fashion in a major way after myxomatosis, which arrived in Britain in 1953, killed nearly all of the wild rabbits in the United kingdom. The population recovered, but rabbit as meat never became as popular as it once was.
- Tinned food was found in every store cupboard in the 1940’s and for the next decade as so few people had fridges. We didn’t have a fridge until I was a teenager, and that wasn’t unusual among my friends families either. In the winter we had tinned fruit and vegetables such as peas and beans, and even meat was tinned; my husband tells the story of when his mother was in hospital over Christmas, she left a whole tinned chicken for him and his dad to have for Christmas dinner. In the 1947 shopping basket list, baked beans were there as well as many other tinned goods – but no tinned tomatoes; although there were tinned tomatoes, they didn’t become really popular until the 1970’s and by 2009 they were one of the three tinned items which then were in the basket, along with baked beans, of course, and sweetcorn
- Tea, the national drink, has been in every basket since that first, in 1947… although these days it comes in the form of teabags rather than leaf tea, and many of those are herbal or fruit teas!
- Corned beef could come under tinned goods, but it was such a staple that it has its own little paragraph. There from 1947, it had disappeared forty-five years later, although there was ‘canned meat’ which I suppose was a cover-all term for ham, chopped pork , corned beef etc.
- Breakfast cereals appeared in the national basket five years after it started. The article makes comment of the fact that cereals like Weetabix and Shredded Wheat were first introduced as something which could offer an interesting alternative to bread; Andrew Webb seems quite astonished that they could be eaten with butter and jam, or other toppings, even poached eggs. I remember having butter and marmalade on Weetabix at breakfast time… and I remember recent TV adverts for Weetabix with different toppings.
- Bread –it’s no surprise that bread is in the basket; at first it was plain white brad, and only fairly recently brown bread made an appearance – as well as such speciality breads as pitta and continental breads
- Yoghurt first appeared in the 1974 basket and gradually in the years after that other dairy produce such as fromage frais; my first meeting with yoghurt was when I was about fourteen and one of my friends had some – her mother was brought up in France and was very fond of it. I tried it and thought it was awful!
- Instant mashed potato was a favourite with us poor students… so cheap! It was invented in the 1960’s and within ten years was in the basket; however, it gave way to oven chips within another dozen years.
- Tinned fish according to the article appeared in the basket in the 1960’s… I’m not sure that is so, I think it might be a typo as sild was there right in the beginning; I’m sure tinned sardines and pilchards were also a staple, and probably salmon. However our standby, tuna, surprisingly didn’t appear until the 1990’s.
Here is a link to the article:
… and here is a link to the Office of National Statistics: