Let's step back to the 1950s; When austerity measures were a way of life As the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Weekend approaches, Hilarie Stelfox takes at look at what families were eating during the post-war austerity years of the Fifties and asks chef Stephen Jackson to cook up a famous retro chicken dish that has stood the test of time.
The country had just endured a world war and 14 years of rationing of basic foodstuffs such as meat, sugar, butter and eggs.
Families with gardens grew their own vegetables and allotment holding became a national past-time. It was not unusual for people to keep chickens or rabbits for food. The Government's Ministry of Food advised on how to make the most out of rations and what to do with seasonal produce.
Wind the clock forward 60 years and there are some striking similarities between the early 1950s austerity and the growing interest today in allotments, sourcing locally-produced food and cooking from scratch. But in the 21st century it is Jamie Oliver's 'Ministry of Food' that is campaigning to get the nation cooking wholesome meals with the primary purpose of reducing obesity caused by the widespread availability of cheap, high calorie processed foods. There's a resurgence of interest in allotmenting with many allotment societies now operating a waiting list - and chicken keeping is also enjoying a renaissance. Back in 1953 there were no supermarkets as we know today. Few people had cars and home freezers were still a glint in the manufacturers' eyes.
Meltham octogenarian Sheila Sinclair got married in coronation year and remembers her 'wedding tea' as a modest affair - although by the standards of the day it was quite lavish. Sheila, her husband Donald and guests, dined on cold beef and ham, salad and pickled onions with a fresh cream trifle to follow.
The only reason they could get meat in any quantity was because Sheila's parents were stewards at Meltham Golf Club and the golfing community rallied round for their special day. At the time meat was still rationed and the cream for the trifle - another prized ingredient - came from a Co-op butcher who had his own dairy herd.
"I think we were better off for food than most people because we had chickens in the orchard, our own apples and pigs," said Sheila. "But quite a lot of people had chickens and everyone grew vegetables."
The home production of fruit and vegetables reached a peak during the war when everyone was encouraged to 'Dig for Victory.' It was essential that the nation attempted to feed itself as in the first month of the war food imports dropped from 55m tons to just 12m. In the 1950s housewives were still running their homes thriftily.
"Meat was very hard to get," says 83-year-old Sheila who was one of five children. "So if you had a joint of meat at the weekend it lasted all week with cold cuts and leftovers.
"Meals would be a little bit of meat with a lot of vegetables." With protein in short supply, many housewives were prepared to try unusual foods.
Sheila said: "On my 21st birthday my mum wanted something special to make supper for me and a few friends so she went to the trawler shop in Lockwood to get some fish. Afterwards she told me it was whale meat." Because there were no freezers or refrigerators, women had to shop every day for fresh food so meals were prepared from scratch. Sheila's friend, 75-year-old Shirley Watson - also from Meltham - recalls watching her mother cook every day for a family of nine.
"She was a full-time housewife," said Shirley. "There were six children, mum and dad and grandad. We lived in a house with two bedrooms - one for the girls and one for the boys - and a box room where mum and dad slept. Grandad slept on the landing.
"My mum made her own bread every day along with jams and potted meat. We'd have things like Spam fritters and corned beef fritters for tea.
"For puddings she'd make rhubarb and custard and prunes and custard. She'd bake robin cake, jam buns and drop scones. We never had cream or chocolate and I never eat them today because I suppose I didn't get a taste for them."
With few convenience foods, no takeaways or frozen ready meals life for 1950s families was, it is said, generally healthier than today. Most people had to walk to fetch groceries and were leaner and fitter.
"We ate a lot more freshly-prepared food," said Sheila, who used to work for the Meltham Co-op.
But perhaps even in 1953 the idea of convenience food was starting to appear. Sheila added: "You could buy a jug of ready-made gravy. You just took your own pot along.'' . Coronation Chicken THE well-known retro dish Coronation Chicken was created for the 1953 coronation and is attributed to chef Rosemary Hume and florist Constance Spry.
The two women ran a domestic science school. Rosemary was a Cordon Bleu chef and Constance had been commissioned to provide the flowers for Westminster Abbey.
Their students were asked to cater a lunch for foreign delegates to the coronation. Coronation Chicken with its mild blend of spices, cream, mayonnaise and meat is said to have been inspired by a previous dish called Jubilee Chicken, invented for the silver jubilee of George V in 1935 which had similar ingredients. The cold chicken dish combines spices from the former British Empire with traditional British ingredients.
Because fresh, individual spices were difficult to get hold of in the 1950s, the recipe called for curry powder.
Coronation Chicken has had a lasting popularity and is one of Huddersfield chef Stephen Jackson's favourite classics. A former student of the Leith School of Cookery, Stephen says it was taught to him in the first week of his course.
He said: "It teaches you quite a few of the basics of cookery - how to make mayonnaise, dry frying spices, sweating onions, how to joint a chicken as well. I absolutely love it."
Stephen, former chef patron of The Weaver's Shed in Golcar and now joint owner of T&Cake in Almondbury, says he'll definitely be putting Coronation Chicken on his menu for the jubilee celebrations.
Customers can look forward to feasting on a Cordon Bleu-style recipe called Chicken Elizabeth from a 1991 copy of Leith's Cookery Bible. Stephen says the key to mouthwatering results is to use freshly-ground, dry-fried spices rather than curry powder which can give the dish a harsh flavour. But to save time on the original recipe, buy a rotisserie-cooked chicken and ready-made mayonnaise.
Stephen says the austerity cooking of the 1950s is enjoying a revival.
"The new austerity, as it's being called, is forcing a lot of people to use cheaper cuts of meat," he said. "Chefs have been doing it for the last five or six years. The best fillet steak has become prohibitively expensive so they're doing interesting things with braised ribs, ox cheek, shoulder of lamb - the cheaper cuts."
Along with austerity has come an increased awareness of local, seasonal produce. "I've been banging on for years about it," said Stephen, who still has a kitchen garden at his parents' farm and also keeps chickens. "General knowledge about food is incredibly strong now and people are interested in farmers' markets and the provenance of food. It's almost getting back to the 1950s with allotments and chicken keeping."
Chicken Elizabeth, from Leith's Cookery Bible.
Grind and dry fry 6 teaspoons of coriander seeds; 4 of cumin seeds; 6 dried red chillies; 1 teaspoon black peppercorns; 3 teaspoons mustard seeds; 3 teaspoons fenugreek seeds. Don't allow spices to burn.
Sweat a chopped onion and the spices in 2 teaspoons of oil.
Add a dash of tomato puree, 3 tablespoons of water, a bay leaf, 4 tablespoons of red wine; pinch of salt and black pepper; 2 teaspoons of apricot jam; 1 slice of lemon; 1 teaspoon lemon juice and simmer for 8 minutes.
Cool and sieve mixture. Use to flavour half a pint of mayonnaise and add 2 tablespoons of half-whipped cream.
Mix with cold, chopped chicken and serve.
[bar] MEMORIES: Sheila Sinclair, of Meltham (left) got married in coronation year and remembers her 'wedding tea' as a modest affair while her friend, Shirley Watson, recalls her mum baking fresh bread every day. Right: Chef Stephen Jackson says Coronation Chicken has had a lasting popularity and is one his favourite classics. The finished dish can be seen, inset left
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|Publication:||Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)|
|Date:||May 30, 2012|
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