THESE days people look back at the days of home baking and drool. They have a point.
To my mind Gran’s homemade bread, butter and jam was a meal comparable with anything that swanky London restaurants might offer.
Back when people were too poor to afford much meat, a tray or tin was placed under the cooking meat to catch the beef fat. This supplied the week’s beef dripping to warm us up on cold, damp days. It was also perfect for roasting potatoes and making gravy.
Towards the end of the cooking time a batter was placed in this smoking tin and Yorkshire pudding was born. This large, rectangular pudding was cut up into large squares and served with gravy as a starter, the idea being to cut down on expensive consumption of meat by filling one’s stomach with something cheaper.
Leftover meat was used to make further meals like meat and potato pie, shepherd’s pie or sandwiches. We had Lancashire hotpot with either beef or lamb.
One of our favourites was boiled onions, mashed potatoes and minced beef.
Corned beef was made into large patties, dipped in flour or breadcrumbs and fried, then served with gravy, if desired, and bread and butter or margarine, peas or beans.
Later Yorkshire puddings were often made smaller and served with the meat and veg, or even, with custard, sauce, treacle or jam, as a sweet, like my Auntie Hep in Staffordshire did.
She and Uncle Ben were most surprised to see it used as a starter and refused to believe we had it like that every week. They thought we were showing off, producing something special just for their visit.
Why am I prattling on about Yorkshires, you may ask? No reason, apart from the fact that, like potatoes, rice and bread, it’s filling food – and the memories are good!
Around 1950, when I was seven years old, there was a great buzz in the air. People were stirred with excitement and anticipation – the sliced loaf was coming!
Now the occasional slice of thick cut, fresh bread is a delight, but unless you want an inch of thick cheese in it, your sandwich filling is overpowered by the bread.
Also not everyone could cut it well, even thickly, and those who could would often deliver great fat wedges or, if desiring it thinner, holes to drop your fillings through.
Whether you shopped at the Co-op or the Economic Stores or the local shop across the road, there were shelves filled with shiny, waxed bags of loaves, sliced thin, medium and thick.
We ran down to the shop to get ours, then waited for mother to catch us up!
Back home you could now actually enjoy the taste of potted meat and the like or enjoy a snack that wasn’t a meal. Or – special treat – some of mother’s sugar ration sprinkled on margarine bread when no sweet coupons were available. Ah, the simple pleasures of life.
Later I discovered that a bread slicing machine had been invented in 1912 by an American called Otto Roh-wedder, but efficient wrapping escaped him until 1928.
Britain had sliced bread by the early 1930s but, like many things, it was banned under war measures, which were kept in place long after the war was over.
Many people had bowed legs when I was growing up. During the war the Government was shocked to find how many people had or had had rickets because of a lack of vitamin D, which led to the softening of bones in children. From 1941 calcium was added to flour, which appears to have helped do the trick.
l Anthony Buckless lives at Sunnybank Road, Mixenden, Halifax.
l Share your memories of home cooking in times past. Or the shortages and rationing of the war years. Please get in touch with Nostalgia. Contact details are at the top of the page.