20 February 2010

1980s Food - Posh Nosh For The Masses...

From an August 1986 ITV ad break - talk about conspicuous consumption! A witty salad cream ad (many of us were experiencing mayo for the very first time), posh potatoes (baked, of course!) and very posh biscuits with yogurt and muesli in them...

What was it with baked spuds? Perhaps the
F-Plan Diet had a lot to answer for, as spud fever gripped the nation in the mid-1980s. There was a very fancy potato cafe near me, decorated with old fashioned advertisements from the early 20th Century, where you could go and eat spuds filled with wonderful things. Now, who's for a nice jacket with prawn mayo, sliced hard boiled egg and grated cheese? Baked beans on top? Well, OK, if you insist...

In the early 1980s I was happy to simply give a baked spud a quick dollop of marge and a bit of grated cheese before wolfing it down. Not any more. In the mid-'80s I began scooping out the potato and mashing it up with butter and chopped chives, before replacing it in the jacket, placing grated cheese on top and then browning it under the grill. Or the potato might be mixed with tuna, chopped peppers and mayonnaise (I didn't meet peppers or mayo until the 1980s - before that I was only acquainted with salad cream and spring onions!).

Me, a humble working class lad, was suddenly scoffing posh nosh. I was eating food I'd never even laid eyes on back in 1982.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, supermarkets had reflected our thrifty (and ignorant of posh nosh) ways. Food ranges on offer increased - they always had - and there was a move in the early 1980s away from processed, tasteless products (more further on) - but there was still a rigid class thing when it came to food.

There was what "posh" people ate and what we ate.

And never the twain shall meet.

And there wasn't much point in supermarkets offering food that customers could not afford or were going to reject out of hand.

Remember the wide range of "Basics" and "Economy" products on sale at supermarkets in the early 1980s? These were dead cheap versions of everyday necessities to help us through the ravages of the recession. They started a trend, and you can still buy similar "cheap-as-can-be" supermarket items today.

Back then, Sainsbury's and Tesco's were different planets compared to the supermarkets of today. There simply wasn't the range of foods on sale we take for granted today.

My wife recalls a flatmate of hers making her own pasta from scratch in the '70s - the dried varieties were not available on supermarket shelves. The only dried pasta I saw back then in the supermarkets was of the long spaghetti or macaroni varieties.

The early '80s were hard times. There were, of course, the (then) super doopah out-of-town hypermarkets of the late '70s and early '80s, but you needed a car to get to them, and decent nosh didn't come cheap.
And even then, the food ranges couldn't hold a candle to the posh nosh explosion hitting even humble, everyday supermarkets in the mid-1980s.

But the 1981 newspaper article
below reveals some hopeful trends...

The '80s saw us cheap and common chaps and chapesses turning away from tasteless, processed foods and towards tasty, quality nosh. Even in the recession-ridden early 1980s, the move was back towards food that you could taste!

From the Daily Mirror, January 2, 1981:

Do yourself a flavour for 1981

Mmm! Delicious, that smell of fresh-baked bread!

And it's an aroma you're likely to savour more this year as shoppers elbow aside bland, over-processed foods in favour of good old-fashioned flavours.

Natural foods, till now a speciality of health food shops, will be popping up on supermarket shelves and - costing less.

We are already drinking more natural fruit juices - stand by for the "long life" type that don't need to be kept refrigerated.

We'll also be brewing more of our own money-saving beer and wine.

Tastier non-alcoholic drinks are on the way. And there will be more flavoured pintas to boost sales of ordinary milk.

Look out too, for new varieties of yogurts and cheese.

There will be no let-up in the High Street price war. Sales will run and run.

Retailers will be enticing customers with ever-more ingenious promotions. Tesco, for instance, are tying up with Heinz in a scheme based on prices 50 years ago when the supermarket group was founded.

Coupons will be a real snip - manufacturers make those offers on the basis that not everyone will take them up so there are some good bargains to be collected.

Watch out for new money-saving offers arranged between British Rail and the Post Office.

More stores will switch to electronic check-outs where prices are "read" by a laser beam and customers get itemised bills [Andy's note: Sainsbury's began the switch in 1982].

Food labels will be fuller. For instance, added water in products like tinned ham will have to be listed. You'll be told exactly what variety of potatoes and melons you are buying. And claims that products provide special benefits will have to be explained on the label.

Turkey will gobble up more of our money in unexpected ways - turkey bacon, burgers and bangers.

Fewer vegetables and more Continental made-up dishes and gooey gateaux will fill frozen food cabinets.

Personally I thought some of those new turkey products were "Bootiful!" - more here.

Supermarkets truly underwent a revolution during the mid '80s boom period, introducing many shocked shoppers to such oddities as avocados, peppers, olive oil and courgettes for the first time ever. The working classes would never be the same again.

These things were suddenly available in large numbers, were affordable, and there was a brash spirit of adventure in the air.

Yes, we were going to eat classy nosh!

There were even posh new potato crisps ranges - cheese and onion? No, ta, cream cheese and chive, please!

I giggled when I first heard of carrot cake. Carrot cake?!! Oh please - surely it was a joke? But it wasn't. And it was delicious.

As Andrew Marr, referring to the mid-1980s, said recently: "This is the moment when British shopping goes turbo charged."

And our supermarkets reflected that.
Sainsbury's started to seem quite classy back then - I'm sure I was rubbing shoulders with vicars and school teachers whenever I nipped in - and more than a few yuppie types. It all seemed very strange.

Cosmopolitan magazine, July 1983: "Good Food Costs Less At Sainsbury's" - and don't forget the fancy water to go with it! Sainsbury's had its own varieties in 1983 - from Shropshire and Perthshire.

As affordable posh nosh trickled down to the working classes, we also loved prawn cocktail - which was being slagged off by Fanny Cradock as long ago as 1967! But Nouvelle Cuisine was really "it". I could probably have eaten about nine Nouvelle sized portions in one sitting, and wouldn't give it house room.

My own personal favourite was all those fancy salad dressings suddenly so widely and cheaply available. When I was a kid, and indeed into the early '80s, salad to me meant cold meat or a wedge of pork pie, cheese, some limp lettuce, a few spuds, maybe a few spring onions, and a dollop of salad cream. Eating salad was a chore. Not any more!

The supermarket revolution wasn't just confined to expanding ranges of food. A female friend of mine was working at our local branch of Sainsbury's in the mid-'80s, and witnessed the arrival of bar code scanner tills there.

The beeping sound was dreadful, she told me.
Completely unused to it, the awful repetitive sound echoed in her head when she got home, and many of her colleagues experienced similar difficulties. On her honeymoon in 1986, my friend halted things at a very romantically-charged moment to ask: "Was that a beep?" Fortunately, her new husband also worked at Sainsbury's and was entirely sympathetic!

A Tesco magazine advertisement from December 1984. Pasta was just becoming exciting in the UK. Before the 1980s, my only experience of pasta was confined to tinned spaghetti - and the only dried ranges I ever saw in Sainsbury's and Tesco's were of the spaghetti and macaroni varieties. But in the 1980s, we truly woke up to culinary pasta possibilities as new dried pasta ranges burst onto UK supermarket shelves.


While Italian restaurants have been popular for years, we're just beginning to recognise how versatile pasta can be in our home cooking.

It comes in so many different forms, it can be used for main meals, snacks, soups or salads.

In creating the Tesco pasta range we use Durum wheat, which is the finest quality you can buy.

Then in some cases we addd eggs to give a richer taste and spinach to make our distinctive pasta verde.

Our range includes spaghetti, tagliatelle, lasagna, macoroni, shells, vermicelli, quills, conches, wheels and bows.

Whichever you choose, you can be sure the Italians can't buy better...

To anybody who doesn't know/remember what it was like to be working class and the food we ate before the 1980s, I'm sure all this must seem bizarre.

Mind you, it wasn't all posh nosh once the mid-'80s had arrived - I also ate TONS of Batchelors Savoury Rice, and Bejam "bubble and squeak" portions and mini pizzas were a wow!

More about 1980s food soon...

Some jacket potato recipes from The F-Plan Diet. I can personally recommend the sausage and mustard pickle.

1 comment:

Keith B said...

My diet changed tremendously during the 1980s - and continued to in the 1990s. The days of lard and tasteless sausages were well and truly numbered!