Wednesday, 19 September 2012

My 1980s Childhood in Ten Dishes: What Were Yours?

I was born in 1977, and so my childhood was spent backcombing my hair and wearing lace gloves and pixie boots, pretending to be Madonna; listening to Wham! on cassette tapes and fiddling about with a Rubix cube. And so, as you may have already gathered, most of my childhood took place bang in the middle of the 1980s.

Sadly, the 1980s seemed to be the era of two extremes, food-wise. You had the haute cuisine of expensive but fiddly little portions of food served on huge plates for what my dad called the 'yuppie' crowd. And then you had the likes of us eating anything that could be covered in breadcrumbs, frozen and pinged in a microwave. And when I look back at my childhood, here are the top 10 dishes that I remember the most. And if you grew up in the 80s too, do they jog any memories for you as well?

Me, aged about 5. In the 1980s.
Fish and chips
We lived in a little town near Southampton, so seaside trips were quite a regular thing for us. But funnily enough, although seafood was constantly eaten in the house, the nearest us kids got to it was mass-produced fishfingers from the freezer. My Dad ate fresh whitebait, lobster, cockles, crab and squid but although we got to have the odd taste, it wasn't ever considered 'kid's food'. Even after a trip to the chip shop, I used to go all wide-eyed at the curled up, crispy cod fillets that my parents crunched on with their chips, while I was only allowed a fishcake or a crispy battered sausage. But no problem - on our birthdays we always got to choose what the family dinner was going to be that night: I always, always chose fish and chips. With proper fish.

Tinned rice pudding with a blob of cold raspberry jam
I didn't know it then, but looking back I realise that as a family, we didn't have much money. And tinned rice pudding, heated up and with a fridge-cold teaspoon of raspberry jam blobbed on top was one of the cheapest puddings there was. I love it even now, on a cold day, and my children love it too.

Liver and onions
I dreaded liver and onion day. I don't know what she did, but my Mum would serve up chewy, grey, gnarly pieces of liver with slippery onions and a thick, brown gravy, all piled onto mashed potato. Only when I grew up and started cooking for myself did I realise that liver cooks in just a couple of minutes - she must have been cooking that for ages, bless her.

Fish and chips... one of the dishes of my childhood

Rounders
Anyone remember Rounders? They were breadcrumbed, fat discs of mashed potato - I think there was some sausage meat in there too, with a baked bean centre. I loved them. I can remember the taste of them now, always dished up with oven chips and some tomato ketchup. And we always had a steady supply from the (I believed) bottomless chest freezer in the hallway.

Coke float
Summer holidays were the best. They seemed to always be so hot for a start - and I'd go out with my sister and friends at 9 in the morning and come back for dinner at 5. But if we got thirsty riding our bikes or rollerbooting around the block, we used to stop off at one of our friend's Mums' houses, where, if we were lucky, we would get given a coke float. We showed our Mum how to make them, with coca-cola and vanilla ice cream and I reckon I spent most of the summer of 1988, with scuffed and muddy knees, sipping one of these frothy, ice-cold drinks on the steps of our porch.

Brain's faggots
'Euuurrrgh!!!' Tommy Lucas screeched at me one day across the school dinner table when I was 6. 'You don't eat Brain's faggots, do you? They're made from brains!!!'. But I did eat them, and I loved them. I tried to ignore what Tommy Lucas had said while I was tucking in, though. I don't know if you can still buy them. They were little balls made up of different cuts of meat and offal, doused in a rich, thick and quite sweet gravy.

Coke Float
Microwaved cakes
I remember a distinct change in my Mum when we got our first ever microwave oven. She was a keen baker - always baking something, and all our birthday cakes were home-made, golden and had a gorgeous crumbly, buttery crust. And then one day my Dad brought home the microwave. Overnight, our cakes turned a strange, pale colour and turned bubbly, chewy, rubbery and perfectly-shaped in whatever it was they were zapped in at the time. I remember lots of murmuring between my Mum and my grandmother about the 'rays' and wondering if they were really safe. Well, it didn't stop her cooking practically everything in it - even 'fried eggs' (microwaved on a buttered plate).

Jam tarts
These were one of the first things I learned to cook with my Mum. I have a really very fuzzy memory of standing up at the kitchen worktop on one of the dining room's wooden chairs and spooning the jam into pastry circles. Awww.

Apple flavoured pizza
I wondered if this was actually a bad dream (and was kind of hoping it was), until I asked my Mum about this the other day. "Oh, yes," she said, "I used to buy them off the freezer man at the market." So it was true. A pale, stiff pizza base, with bright (almost luminous) green 'tomato' purĂ©e, bright green 'cheese' to match and a sweet, zingy apple flavour coming off it. They were labelled with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters on the box. And I think they were marketed to try and get kids to like pizza. Get that? To get KIDS to like PIZZA. Sheeesh.

Findus Crispy Pancakes
I used to love Findus Crispy Pancakes, until I bought some to try again recently. And then I felt cheated. They were tiny! Have they got smaller, or did they seem bigger in those days because I was tinier? Crispy and breadcrumbed on the outside, these little half-circles were filled with either minced beef and gravy or cheese and ham. We loved them, with peas. Oh yes, and oven chips (again).

Which foods do you most remember from your childhood? Let me know in the comments below...

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