The Sev­en­ties are served

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Lifestyle -

This Tues­day, the new BBC Two cook­ery show Back in Time for Din­ner has a very spe­cial guest at the ta­ble, none other than moi. This se­ries, where the Rob­shaw fam­ily eats, cooks and shops its way through the decades, has now got up to the Sev­en­ties, my decade, as I like to think of it. And on Tues­day, the Rob­shaws give a din­ner party. The Sev­en­ties was the decade when the din­ner party came into its own and young so­phis­ti­cates such as my­self dar­ingly served up fancy for­eign dishes and showed off our newly ac­quired culi­nary skills to fam­ily and friends. Ei­ther that, or we faked it with recipe books such as Delia Smith’s 1971 How to Cheat at Cooking, the in­spi­ra­tion for this Tues­day’s fare. Delia showed us how to jazz up tinned soup with fresh herbs and how to in­cor­po­rate newly in­tro­duced con­ve­nience foods such as in­stant mashed potato into din­ner-party dishes. Ac­cord­ing to Delia, there was no need to be snob­bish about pre­par­ing meals from scratch as, when en­hanced with her sneaky lit­tle ad­di­tions, no­body would ever know the dif­fer­ence. So the guests, writer Mary Gwynn and my­self, sit down to car­rot and potato soup, cottage pie with dried mince and Smash, and brandied tinned plums served with dou­ble cream. Along with this cheat’s food went the cheat’s wine, and so we are poured glasses of Blue Nun, the semi-sweet Ger­man wine so popular in the Sev­en­ties. It was spe­cially blended for peo­ple who didn’t know any­thing about wine and, as such, soon ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing naff. I un­der­stand the wine has been re­for­mu­lated since the Sev­en­ties, but our Blue Nun (yes, you can still get it) still tasted very sweet. Mind, it could have been worse in the ac­tual Sev­en­ties, as you might have been treated to a home-made wine made by the man of the house from a kit. Th­ese, and home-brew beer kits, sold in their mil­lions dur­ing this decade and were pro­duced with a tri­umphant flour­ish, even if the poor guests had the urge to pour the stuff into the near­est pot­ted plant. As we sat around the ta­ble, we dis­cussed what it was like to be a Sev­en­ties host, or host­ess. Although in 1971, 42 per cent of women worked out­side the home, com­pared with only 21 per cent in 1951, roles re­mained strictly seg­re­gated and women’s work was still women’s work, even if you brought home an equal, or greater, wage. I, as one of the 42 per cent of women work­ers, would rush around the shops in my lunch hour buy­ing in­gre­di­ents and then lug them home, be­cause how­ever hard you cheated, you still had to cook. Then on Satur­days, I would trun­dle around one of those new­fan­gled things, the su­per­mar­ket, while my hus­band sat in the car park read­ing the pa­per. You would never see a man in a su­per­mar­ket in those days and all su­per­mar­ket ad­ver­tise­ments were aimed at housewives. Men were ner­vous of be­ing seen as un­der the thumb, so it was con­sid­ered a ma­jor con­ces­sion if your hus­band drove you to the su­per­mar­ket and helped you un­pack back home. I’m not say­ing the man didn’t do his bit. If you were re­ally lucky, he might buy you a dish­washer for Christ­mas. Or a Mag­imix food pro­ces­sor. I still have the Ken­wood mixer that my then hus­band bought me in 1975 for my birth­day. Just what I had al­ways wanted! In the event, it has done ster­ling ser­vice and is still in use, long out­last­ing the hus­band. In the Sev­en­ties, the man would al­ways buy, un­cork and pour the wine, fill­ing the glass of each guest as the lit­tle woman would wheel in the din­ner on a heated host­ess trol­ley. Even in those days th­ese ap­pli­ances were seen as hor­ri­bly nou­veau, and many peo­ple said they pre­ferred cold food to be­ing served from a host­ess trol­ley. My own Sev­en­ties guests were served through the hatch, a use­ful de­vice for hand­ing food through the wall rather than walk­ing it down the hall. Hatches have pretty much dis­ap­peared, as dur­ing the Sev­en­ties knock­ing through be­came popular and once-sep­a­rate scul­leries, kitchens, dining rooms and living rooms grad­u­ally be­came open plan. This at least meant that the cook could join in the fun rather than be out in the kitchen all the time. One thing that was not au­then­tic in this episode was the lack of smok­ing. In the real Sev­en­ties, ev­ery guest would smoke, not only be­fore and af­ter the meal, but dur­ing it as well. It was com­mon to have a smok­ing break be­tween cour­ses and some peo­ple even smoked while eat­ing. No­body thought any­thing of it, or even of the over­flow­ing ash­trays and fags stubbed out in the re­mains of the spaghetti bolog­nese. No­body both­ered, ei­ther, about drink-driv­ing and guests of­ten drove home hor­ri­bly drunk. It was com­mon for din­ner par­ties to last un­til four in the morn­ing, but ours ended long be­fore that, to the re­lief of the Rob­shaws no doubt. Mu­sic al­ways ac­com­pa­nied a din­ner party: Pink Floyd, Cat Stevens’s Teaser and the Fire­cat, Roxy Mu­sic – ah, those were the days. For me, this de­servedly popular se­ries has a par­tic­u­lar res­o­nance as it marks the tele­vi­sion de­but of Dr Polly Rus­sell, a food his­to­rian and co­p­re­sen­ter with the witty Giles Coren. I have known Polly since she was 12 and at the same board­ing school as my son. As teenagers, Polly and Will were girl­friend and boyfriend. In the end they mar­ried other peo­ple but re­main friends, living just around the cor­ner from each other, and no doubt invit­ing each other to strictly 2015-style din­ner par­ties. ‘Back in Time For Din­ner’, BBC Two, Tues­day March 31, 8pm Through­out this decade, house­holds were ob­sessed with elec­tri­cal gad­gets and the more you had in your kitchen, the mer­rier. Th­ese came into their own dur­ing the Sev­en­ties: The eye-level grill Mar­garet Thatcher had one in her Sev­en­ties kitchen and they were all the rage, along with ce­ramic hobs dec­o­rated in a wheat­sheaf pat­tern. The Bre­ville sand­wich toaster Launched in Australia in 1974, it soon be­came hugely popular all over the world. Its in­ven­tors were Bill O’Brien and Harry Norville, who put their names to­gether to form the word Bre­ville, which has be­come the generic name for a sand­wich toaster. You can still get them. The elec­tric carv­ing knife Ev­ery mod­ern home had to have one dur­ing the Sev­en­ties and they were billed as “the glam­orous way to carve a turkey”. The chest freezer Ev­ery home as­pired to a vast chest freezer, of­ten kept in the garage, and cooking for the freezer be­came popular. Of­ten housewives would cook a full week’s meals and then freeze them. The mag­a­zine Home and Freezer Di­gest en­joyed huge sales and whole cook­ery books were writ­ten for the freezer. What you kept in your freezer was a popular din­ner-party topic of con­ver­sa­tion.

Re­lived: Liz joins the Rob­shaws in ‘Back in Time for Din­ner’, top

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