Breakfast, Dinner and Tea

30 May 2019

Chatting with new friends over afternoon tea, different backgrounds, ages 40's to late 80's, we had something in common. All grew up calling the 3 daily meals Breakfast, Dinner and Tea. Supper now means an evening meal, but in childhood it was a bedtime snack with a milky drink. Lunch was sandwiches, popped into satchel or briefcase. Brunch was yet to be invented.

Most of us were no more than a couple of generations away from farm labourers, factory workers, or in my case, housemaids, soldiers, miners.

The food we grew up with was clearly influenced by that ancestry.

My father grew up in a mining village. Every night his mother filled a tin bath, water boiled on the coal-fuelled range. She scrubbed her collier husband clean, before laying out a big stodgy, fatty tea. Food meant energy, body heat, essential calories. Smashed avocado on toast, with a lightly poached egg and a drizzle of balsamic would just not cut it for them.

Dad did not go down t'pit, but he still demanded Yorkshires the size of a pillow, stew and dumplings, spotted dick (anyone young reading this, it is not an STD, it's suet pudding with currants.)

My mother was from Ulster, where the "pan" is worshipped. Any leftovers or stale food like fruitcake, were made palatable chucked in the pan with a pound of butter. Fried Yorkshire with jam anyone?

My favourite tea was beans on toast, but tinned spaghetti or cod roes were often on the menu. Moving to London aged 17, I was puzzled by the blue paper packages in the grocers. I had no idea spaghetti started out like that. There was usually bread and jam, maybe wonderful Kunzle cakes.

The conversation moved on to more foods of the past. Whether state or privately educated, there was seemingly a universal cookery book for dinner ladies, dishes never seen anywhere else,like Concrete Pudding. This was cocoa-coloured, so solid that if you jabbed too hard with your spoon it flew across the table. Always served with pink custard. Nowhere else but at school did I have corned beef salad with mashed potato.

One woman recalled her grandmother's influence. A frugal woman, she made casseroles from the vegetables peelings. If she was really pushing the boat out, a tin of baked beans was added. For "tea" they had bread and butter sprinkled with sugar. I recall being put outside to play, with a stick of raw rhubarb and sugar for dipping, a hot drink made with blackcurrant jam.

We all fondly remembered tinned fruit with Carnation evaporated milk, banana custard, Instant Whip. Something in the brain fires up whenever I walk past our local swimming pool. One whiff of the chlorine and I am tearing open the box that held the fruit pies sold at my childhood baths. My ex-husband craved meat pies and Bovril whenever he watched Match of the Day.

The topic was an ice-breaker, everyone joined in, so how about you, were you a breakfast, lunch and a bite of supper family, or common as muck breakfast, dinner and tea folk?


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