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As we celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Bury St Edmunds CASA’s Maria Broadbent looks back at eating habits through the decades



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I thought I would look at some comparisons between the eating habits of 1952 when the Queen was crowned and 2022. The conclusion I have drawn is. . . there is absolutely no comparison whatsoever! What I went on to read though was a fascinating journey of how our food culture has evolved.

Back in 1952 people rarely ate out and most main meals would have been meat and two veg. Rationing was still in place until 1954, with meat the last item left on the list. Spam, tinned foods, including fish, seasonal vegetables and good old British puddings, when sugar rationing allowed, were weekday mainstays. Perhaps eggs, kippers or porridge for breakfast, plus for the lighter meal of the day – soup or salad, depending on the time of year. Food waste was unheard of and every edible part of the animal would be used. It was during the 1950s that domestic refrigerators started to become affordable, yet by 1959 still only 13 per cent of homes had a fridge. Pantries, larders and meat safes all provided an alternative to this now commonplace kitchen appliance.

It was during the 50s that dining out started to percolate through to the wider general public. July 1956 welcomed the arrival of the first Berni Inn in Bristol. This was based on an American model and served steaks, and, unlike other restaurants at the time, they bought in their high quality meat pre-prepared. By the 1970s it was the largest food chain outside the USA. The progressive management style meant that in the early 1960s they appointed a female manager of their Nottingham branch, The Sawyers Arms. Selling on the restaurants, the chain eventually became Beefeater outlets.

Maria Broadbent
Maria Broadbent

In the mid 50s (who would have guessed it?), American burger bars started to appear on the scene. The first Wimpy opened in 1954. Also towards the end of the 50s and into the early 60s, an inflow of people from Asia saw Chinese restaurants and then Indian restaurants popping up. With these and the other immigrants from the Commonwealth came new flavours and ingredients. Curries were already in recipe books, such as Mrs Beetons, but additional spices started to appear. Most domestic curries and exotic dishes would still have been courtesy of Vesta, who’s curry and chow mein kits made it onto the shelves in shops from the late 1960s. During the 60s, alongside the burger bars, fish and chip shops and the odd pickled egg in the pub, cafés and bistros started to appear with the welcome arrival of lager! (Real ale was already a thing).

From the 60s we head into the 70s when food and life in general became much more varied. I cannot think of entertaining in the 1970s without referencing the hostessing skills Margot in The Good Life. Glamorous dresses, pretentious meals and ‘posh’ wine. It was an era of experimentation, ‘exotic’ by the standards of the day and much more ‘foreign food’. Spaghetti bolognaise and Mateus Rosé wine, prawn cocktails, Black Forest gateaux and the dawn of French dressing! Let’s not forget the arrival also of the vegetarian movement which accompanied the hippy vibe of this era. A favourite cookbook of mine came from a London restaurant called Cranks – it was one of the first in the country to be solely vegetarian.

This is the decade when I started to nurture my interest in food and cooking. I can clearly remember my Mum being a good cook and adventurous to boot! Adventurous and not just in the kitchen. . . aged 18, she went camping with three ‘chaps’ around Europe – she tells me there was safety in numbers. Coming home from school in the late 70s we could expect sweet and sour pork, Mexican liver, pasta, curry and rice and even a stroganoff – all extremely tasty. I have to say though, her Sunday roasts are legendary.

Now we reach the 80s – my era! We had one of the first microwaves and I reveled in asking friends if they would like a hot chocolate and then seeing their horror when I put cold milk in a mug. A Chinese supermarket had opened in Nottingham and coupled with the Ken Hom Chinese cookery series on BBC, I started my own journey with ingredients and recipes. Along with Delia Smith, this was the beginning of the onslaught of celebrity chefs. Although, for the record, the first TV cookery programme was aired in 1946. At school I had friends who were Seikh, Jewish and German – it was always a delight and interesting trying their different dishes.

Restaurants of all types were arriving, a different cuisine for every day of the month. In some ways I feel it is sad that much of the international cuisines become homogenized to adapt to the perceived British palate. I will often ask for the chef’s specialty or choice. We took friend’s to The Spice Garden on Risbygate Street last weekend and asked Alam to put us a few dishes together. It was a way of me getting the BF to order something other than biryani! Our sharing menu at CASA works in a similar way and because it is all in the middle of the table, it is easier to try something new.

Back to the 80s (oh I wish!) – things became flashy with nouvelle cuisine. Tiny portions and not so tiny prices (actually I don’t wish). The era of the egoist chef was born. We are very fortunate in Bury St Edmunds, we have fine dining establishments but they are all focused on their diners needs not the egos of their fabulous chefs. I might grimace if someone asks for steak cremated and ice for their red wine, however, at the end of the day the customer has a right to ask and be served what they wish. If a restaurant refuses to accommodate, then the other diners will be forced elsewhere. Dining out is about so much more than the food, it is about conviviality, service and ambience.

Our timeline has now reached the 90s. At this point I had two small children and ran a fashion business. Dining was a very mixed bag. Pubs with play areas and McDonalds, yet I also took my children to restaurants to dine. If children are not permitted into restaurants then they will not grow up either knowing the joy of a meal out or indeed knowing how to behave. Do check with restaurants when booking as to whether they have age restrictions. At CASA, for example, we need to know so that we can seat in an appropriate location (the same goes for dogs). By the mid 90s there were themed restaurants such as TGI Fridays as a sophisticated American bar/diner and Las Iguanas selling Latin American food and drink.

Travelling to London on regular fashion buying trips there was a plethora of restaurants and it was a great deal of fun exploring; the Chinese quarter with all the ducks and other unidentifiable items hanging in the windows; Soho with the interesting bars and quirky restaurants. There was a lovely little Italian restaurant on a corner – it was a neighbourhood restaurant in so much as they knew their customers even if you were an occasional visitor. This is something all independent restaurants aim to achieve and pride themselves on.

Post Millennium, things continued in a similar manner, with the notable arrival of sushi as a mainstream restaurant offering. The other massive shift was the increase in the prevalence of dietary requirements. Whether these were religious, ethical or medical – the hospitality trade was faced with much more diverse demands from their clientele. I have the same take on this as everything else – and that is that we aim to provide a menu that has something for everyone and that it is all the same standard, not simply an afterthought. It is a challenge, especially for places like ourselves who specialise in sharing – however, it works really well and the delight from those parties with mixed dietary needs is well worth the extra effort.

Unsurprisingly, as dining out increases, cooking at home decreases. Ironically, the amount of home cooking is directly inverse to the amount of cookery programmes on TV! Help comes in the form of Hello Fresh – full cooking kits to make your own meals at home and for those just seeking inspiration then organic and/or local veg boxes can be delivered. Whilst the latter require creativity and food knowledge, the former simply require you to follow instructions. These are not cheap and whilst may be a good way to remove the fear factor, they are not a long-term solution to the lack of cookery lessons in this country.

One thing that has remained constant throughout the Queen’s reign is the Great British tradition of a street party! Street parties are for everyone and are the perfect way to bring communities together. What better way to celebrate than with a slice of her Majesty’s favourite chocolate cake. The Queen apparently enjoys a slice of this biscuity, chocolatey cake on a regular basis. Created for her by Royal chef, Darren McGrady. Here’s how you can make it for yourself at home. It is a no bake cake but does require three hours in the fridge, so patience is needed and one of those new-fangled fridges (97 per cent of homes now have them).

William and the Duchess of Cambridge also requested this cake for their wedding!

If you would like more royal recipes from McGrady, be sure to check out his cookbook, Eating Royally.

Chocolate fridge cake (57016480)
Chocolate fridge cake (57016480)

THE QUEEN’S CHOCOLATE FRIDGE CAKE

Ingredients:

100g dark chocolate

100g granulated sugar

100g unsalted butter

1 egg

200g Rich Tea biscuits

½ teaspoon butter for greasing

200g dark chocolate (for coating)

25g chocolate (for decoration) – or buy some things to decorate with!

Method:

Lightly grease a 15cm diameter by 7cm high cake ring and place on a metal baking tray on a sheet of parchment paper.

Break each of the biscuits into almond-sized pieces by hand and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until the mixture becomes pale.

Melt the 100g of chocolate, either in a bowl over a pan of water or slowly and carefully in a microwave – then add to the butter mixture whilst constantly stirring.

Beat in the egg to the mixture.

Fold in the biscuit pieces until they are all coated with the chocolate mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake ring. Try to fill in the gaps on the bottom of the ring because this will be the top when it is turned out.

Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least three hours.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it stand while you melt the 200g of chocolate.

Slide the ring off the cake and turn it upside down onto a board with a fresh piece of parchment beneath it.

Pour the melted chocolate over the cake and smooth the top and sides using a palette knife.

Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature.

Carefully run a knife around the bottom of the cake where the chocolate has stuck it to the baking parchment and lift it onto a plate.

Melt the remaining 25g of chocolate and use to decorate the top of the cake.

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Tel 01284 701313

Visit www.casabse.co.uk