Originally published 12th July 2007

One of the most talked about and publicised aspects of life today is our diet. We are constantly being told how many calories our bodies need and the maximum amount of fat and sugar we can consume daily if we want to maintain our correct body weight and stay fit.

Did You Know?

Among youngsters found in such places as School playgrounds there has always been fat and thin children even though they were all brought up on much the same diet. Most of them would have been only too pleased if something had been done about it because together with those who had ginger hair, they were the individuals most subjected to bullying.

It was the same in the Services where the ones with the biggest appetite were not necessarily the largest or fattest. There were of course people from every walk of life, just as there are today, who made a habit of eating far too much whenever it was available and consequently put on weight.

The differences in the way we lived then made the problems we now have with our weight almost non-existent. Before and during the war families had regular meals, usually three times a day. They didn’t have such a great variety of food and most of it was seasonal and home or local grown. Children were told it was better to leave the table feeling a little hungry rather than full up. Not many households could afford eggs and bacon for breakfast nor were they able to have toast unless someone had been up very early and got a glowing fire going.

There was usually a gap under the grate where a slice of bread could be slid in and browned. If there wasn’t, the top coals were pushed aside and the toasting fork came into use. At least that way you didn’t find yourself biting into a cinder.

Youngsters sometimes had corn flakes or porridge but others had to make do with a slice of bread and jam. Sometimes very young children in the poorest families were fed ‘tea slops’. This was pieces of bread soaked in sweet weak tea. Men with manual jobs might start their day with bread and milk.

Many working men came home for their dinner. Meat and fish were expensive while vegetables, which were often home grown, were quite plentiful. A traditional and common dish was sausage and mash and in those days they were pork sausages and boiled, not fried or grilled. The water they were cooked in was poured over them as a gravy.

In the autumn many families depended on the rabbits. They had them baked, made into pies and stews or sometimes eaten cold. At other times two pennyworth of bones from the Butcher’s with a twopenny packet of peas and a few carrots and potatoes made enough soup to last a couple of days. With a Norfolk dumpling floating on top this made a real meal.

From time to time there was a favourite ‘afters’ to be had. Perhaps when the baking was done on Thursday there was enough spare dough for a Jam Roly Poly, Spotted Dick or treacle pudding. If not they might have a Bread and Butter pudding, Apple or Fruit pie or just a Rice pudding in an enamel dish with a very brown skin on top. The children all fought for that!

When salads were in season most families took advantage and had lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, beetroot, celery etc. for tea. Cheese and jam were a regular standby with homemade scones or a cake of some sort to follow.

When fruit and vegetables were plentiful lots of women took the opportunity to make their own jam, pickles and chutney.

Some made a variety of wines and even sloe gin. A glowing fire on a cold winter evening was the chance to cut a large piece of American Red cheese, hold it on the end of the toasting fork, then turn it until all sides were bubbling. Some skill was needed to prevent it dropping off the fork into the fire when it would cause a flame to shoot up the chimney.

The Fishmonger regularly did his rounds calling out at the top of his voice so everyone knew he was there. He had all sorts of fresh fish displayed neatly on his barrow for all to see. For those that could afford a special tea there were shellfish like whelks. cockles, muscles, shrimps and winkles: – The rattle of a pint of winkles in a brown paper bag sent everyone searching for large darning needles.

When they were in season, even the poorest families could have longshore herring they cost no more than a ‘penny halfpenny’ a pair. It didn’t matter how little money people had, from time to time they managed to find twopence for a fried cod and chip supper from the Fish shop.

At that time many people believed fat was good for them. Fish shops, like people in their homes did all their frying in lard. Sausages were so full of fat they didn’t need any. During cooking they usually burst open in the pan. Unaware of the dangers of eating too much fat and sugar when they could afford to, everyone ate what they fancied.

However, they had nothing like the wide choice of luxury foods that are available in the shops now.

Judging by the past, it isn’t only the choice of food we eat that determines our weight and size. It is more likely to be the amount we consume and how often.

If we could go back to home cooking with three regular meals eaten at the table each day we would have no need to indulge in so many snacks. Provided we make sure to exercise physically on a regular basis, that could make a big difference to people of all ages who are worried about their lifestyle.

We know we will have to put up with and ignore the non stop adverts which appear in Newspapers, Magazines and on the Television urging us to indulge in a multitude of foods and products that are not good for us.

On the same day there is often an article where the experts tell us to avoid those very things. Obviously they have their own reasons for the advice they offer but no matter what they tell us or what we do there is one thing for sure:

Among the population there always has been, and will always be, a proportion of large fat people as well as small thin ones!

valley lad – [EIGHTEEN]