Radio 4’s The Reunion addicts will no doubt have logged in last week and heard the pre-telly chef greats talking about food back in the dark days of the 1960s and 70s. But if you missed it and have even a passing interest in food, it is worth a listen.
Claudia Roden’s description of all English food as beige and white – white cauliflower cheese, white macaroni cheese, white sauce, chicken in a cream sauce, fish in a white sauce, milk pudding – so dreadfully depressing after the vibrant colours of her own Jewish Egyptian cuisine; Rose Elliott on how her father had to drive 50 miles to buy brown rice and how exciting it was when Cranks restaurant (called Cranks as all veggies were thought to be cranks!) first opened! Prue Leith on how worried she was when her restaurant got an award for vegetarian food because she thought that the 95% of her customers who were red blooded meat eaters would desert her!! Mary Berry who, long before her re-incarnation as the nation’s favourite baking granny, was known as ‘the Aga lady’ and who resolutely refuses to be known as a chef – just a ‘good home cook’! And Katherine Whitehorn, without whose Cooking a bedsitter very few 1960s and ’70s students would have got through university and who seriously shocked her fellow guests on the programme by admitting that she was only too delighted to buy prepared ready meals and reheat them in a microwave!
This was a bit of a trip down memory lane as far as I was concerned – back to the days before I got involved in allergy, when I was a proper ‘foodie’ and an active member of the Guild of Food Writers. And I was particularly amused by Prue Leith recalling that she used to do a food slot on the Today programme back in the days of Jack de Manio in the 1960s – just imagine a regular cookery spot on today’s Today!! Following in big brother’s footsteps, LBC radio whose AM Programme hit a high spot in the 1970s and /80s under Bob Holness and Douglas Cameron, also had a cookery slot filled, first by Glynn Christian and then by me! As you can see… (Please note the pink and turquoise hair highlights! I was particularly proud of them…)
The other delightful memory brought up by Prue Leith was of the wonderful and late lamented Jane Grigson. Apparently, when her daughter Sophie was a toddler she was wondering to a friend what to give her for supper. ‘Baked beans’, the friend suggested helpfully. ‘What a good idea’, from Jane ‘but do I really have time? They take so long to cook.’
The only shame was that my lovely friend Anna del Conte was not also among the guests. Anna arrived in England from Italy around the same time as Claudio Roden – to be equally horrified by the grey and white, flavourless slurp that was so often offered to her for dinner! Anna too stayed on and, as Claudia introduced us all to ‘real’ Jewish and North African food, so Anna introduced us to ‘real’ Italian food.
You can find a number of her recipes on our recipe pages (just Search Anna del Conte) or you could order any her books, including her very latest, just out, Anna del Conte on Pasta, from any good bookshop or via Amazon here. For her memories of her arrival in England go for Risotto with Nettles….