The sophistication of meals in the 1970s

Amongst some of the things that have now been relegated to the history books and which every self-respecting housewife owned in the 1970s are cocktail shakers, fondue sets and hostess trolleys. With apologies to all the households who are still using them today!

Thursday, 7th November 2019, 12:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st November 2019, 1:37 pm

Hostess trolleys were designed in the 1950s, but it was the 1970s before they caught on in a big way in the UK, as the ultimate status symbol.

The fake teak cabinet with barely hot plates and Pyrex dishes was the dream of every aspiring hostess wanting to climb up the ladder to ‘Abigail’s Party’ level of affluence.

The ‘Play for Today’ of that name was shown on BBC television in 1977 and showed the aspirations and tastes of the new middle classes who of course all had the new trolleys. It was quite common for neighbours to call round just to view the acquisition.

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By the early 1970s dinner parties had become very popular and often featured the new foreign dishes like spaghetti bolognese and paella which had been enjoyed on the up and coming package holidays. These were accompanied by wine.

Previously only the upper classes drank wine but now Blue Nun, Chianti, Lambrusco and Mateus Rose were the drinks of choice. And you could decorate your dinner table with an empty wine bottle complete with candle.

Of course, many men didn’t drink wine. It was thought of as a woman’s drink as was the pale ale and barley wine which were becoming popular. But once lager became readily available, it was enjoyed by men and women. Although it would be some time before many women started to replace their Cherry B, Babycham or Snowballs with half a lager!

Possibly more popular than dinner parties were the buffet suppers which weren’t thought of as quite so pretentious.

Cubes of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks stuck into a grapefruit which was wrapped in foil. Sausage rolls. Quiche. Cheese straws. Pickled onions, potato crisps and Twiglets. Vol au vents. Trifle or Arctic roll for dessert.

Fondue suppers became popular. You could buy a proper fondue pot complete with long forks. Bread was cut into squares to be dunked into the pot of hot melted cheese.

One of the 70s’ traditions was that you had to kiss the members of the opposite sex if your bread fell off its fork into the mixture!

And bread came in few variations. It was usually either white or brown.

Although fondues dipped (sorry!) in popularity it seems that they are making a revival due to the Brits present obsession with cheese.

Today it is likely to be mixed with wine and served in a scooped-out loaf of bread rather like clam chowder.

Cocktail shakers were often associated with the glamorous life of movie stars and after the war, the building boom gave many families the chance to install a home bar complete with a cocktail shaker, which they had seen in Hollywood films. The ultimate in sophisticated home entertaining!

James Bond introduced us to the concept of ‘shaken, not stirred’ in the popular movies of the 1970s. His preferred cocktail was the Martini cocktail. Martinis both dry and Bianco were very popular all through the 1970s but were then replaced in favour of more exotic cocktails like Margarita, Manhattan, Negroni, Old Fashioned and Pina Colada.

By and large, though, meat and two veg was the staple diet for most families in the 50s and 60s. The average family rarely ate out. The nearest that they would ever have come to it was in the pub when you could get potato crisps in two flavours – plain or salted. Cheese and onion flavour wasn’t launched until 1962.

One of the great innovations of the time was the seafood man who came around the pubs and clubs selling cockles, winkles and whelks, usually at weekends. It was a while before pubs started selling chicken in a basket!

And even if we went on our annual holiday in a caravan to somewhere like Scarborough, mother would still cook a proper meal each evening. The only exception being if we had fish and chips on the last night for a real treat!

The end of the 60s started to signify a change in British eating habits, there was more affluence and we started to eat out.

At first, our restaurants of choice were the Berni Inns where we enthusiastically embraced prawn cocktail, T-bone steak and black forest gateau which became known as ‘The Great British meal’.

Before long, with a rise in immigration from the former British colonies, Chinese and Indian restaurants started to appear, although viewed with suspicion by some people who associated rice with milk puddings. However, they quite happily had chips with their Chop Suey.

Bachelor's Foods here in Sheffield, very cleverly introduced the exotic Vesta dishes, which, with their curries and chow mein brought a taste of holidays abroad into our homes, although to be fair, they tasted nothing like the real thing being produced in restaurants, but for many people it was their only taste of foreign food.

What a total change we’ve seen in British eating habits. The meals we remember from childhood like Sunday lunch complete with roast potatoes, veg and Yorkshire puddings have all but disappeared.

Family mealtimes seem to depend on the social and sporting activities of the children and in any case they all want to eat different things. No longer do they have two choices – eat or go without!