How Fresh Food Trends Since the 1940s Have Affected Tastes
I Was Six Years Old the First Time I Saw a Banana
This fact is hard imagine nowadays when imported bananas are so common-place in the UK where I live, and pretty well all over the world. It was not until a couple of years later, when I was eight years old, that I found out how bananas actually tasted.
During World War II, we left home and led a nomadic existence, travelling around the UK to be near my father, who was in the army. After the war ended in 1945, we returned to our home in Essex. I went to the local school, and I have a clear memory of a girl in a dark blue uniform and pale blue blouse rather ostentatiously peeling a creamy-coloured fruit with yellow skin; she was surrounded by a circle of curious blue-uniformed onlookers. None of us had ever seen a banana before. It was another two years after that before I found out how bananas actually tasted.
My Childhood in Africa
When I was nine, we emigrated to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Imagine my excitement to find we actually had banana trees growing in our garden.
Water was sometimes in short supply, so we had a hosepipe attached to the water pipe and used our old bath water to feed the bananas. I learned as the plants developed that they grow beautiful dark reddish-purple flowers, which gradually turn into bananas—green at first, and then yellow and brown. We also saw red bananas, which came from the nearby Belgian Congo (now Zaire).
We didn't have food rationing in Africa, and I only saw ration books when we returned to England. Bananas were still rather special in England for a few years, but they gradually became commonplace. Now they are one of the cheapest fruits here, and they are immensely popular with both the indigenous and immigrant population. It's so easy to grab a banana if you don't have time for a meal, to eat on the run.
Mothers Are Not Always Right
My mother wouldn't let me eat a lot of bananas because she said they were fattening and had no nourishment—so how is it that I have always been fat?
However, many years later I spoke to a Peruvian who told me that bananas are very nourishing, with lots of trace elements, and that she was brought up to eat two bananas a day. All the nutrition research nowadays echoes this.
Large quantities of fruit and piled-up fruit bowls are a lot more common now than when I was a child.
My family have always been big fruit-eaters, but I know many people only ate seasonal fruit like berries in summer and apples and pears over the colder months. Fruit seasons have now been much extended due to technological advances, and importation of fruit has become relatively cheap over the years, so that exotic fruits sit side-by-side with local fruit, and are not prohibitively expensive.
Ethnic Food in London
Here in London, our greengrocers vie with each other to display the widest range of fruit and vegetables, some of which I have still never tried as they look a bit suspect. They are displayed in large quantities, however; obviously, many people are buying them.
Our government has been running a campaign for a few years, encouraging people to eat their five fruits per day, and more and more people are taking heed and doing just that.
We are now told we should eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, and the British government has campaigned for this.
Do you eat your Five a Day?
Herbs and Spices
In the 1950s and 1960s, if we made curry at home, this meant curry powder, not the wonderful, aromatic range of herbs and spices you see in most grocery shops nowadays. We might have added a little powdered ginger, some cinnamon and a clove to be adventurous, but that was all. We certainly didn't use garlic, because that made your breath smell.
On the whole, English food was tasty but fairly bland.
Immigrants Continued to Swell Our Population From the 1960s
Gradually, at Asian-run grocery stores, from 1960 onwards, we would become accustomed to seeing coriander (haldi) and cumin (jeera) as well as garam massala, mixed spice, cardoman, methi, mixed Chinese five-spice, monosodium glutamate and lemon grass.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as we began to travel more to the Mediterranean countries for our holidays, we became more used to the Southern European style of food, realized what we were missing, and began using garlic more, as well as peppers and chillies.
Increased Use of Garlic
Because of its health properties, I aim to use at least two cloves of garlic a day. I also use a pound of red peppers a week and love chillies so much that I eat a teaspoonful of Chinese chilli prawn oil nearly every day—-is that an addiction or what?
And in the 1990s we began to use fresh coriander leaves and fresh ginger regularly, and ethnic food stores sprang up everywhere, with a marvellous variety of bottled peppers and olives, a huge variety of herbs in small plastic bags, and other Greek and Turkish delicacies.
More recently we have seen shop shelves filled with tins, packets and bottles of Polish food—mysterious unpronounceable mixtures of sauerkraut, beans and sausages—and now, lately, Bulgarian and Roumanian imports.
1950s: Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables
Seasonal fruit and vegetables were grown locally, or within easy transport distance as imports were rare and expensive. So in winter we had mainly root vegetables and some greens like cabbage and Brussels sprouts, and seasonal fruit such as apples and pears.
Then in spring there was more cabbage, apples and pears, and in summer asparagus, lettuce, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and other soft fruit.
Strawberries at any other time were unheard of, whereas now we can get them virtually all the year round, at a price.
So nowadays we get mangoes, melons, oranges, lemons, pineapples, figs, bananas and kiwi fruit throughout the year. I can't remember seeing kiwi fruit in any quantity at all until about the 1970s, and they have gradually become more popular.
Tomatoes in the Post-War Period
After the war, we were only able to get tomatoes from late spring to about October. Then we started getting them over a longer period as they were grown under cover and later on they were imported from all over Europe. We now have tomatoes all year round. They do become more expensive from about January to May, but they are still plentiful.
I've noticed recently that a lot more tomatoes are sold still on the vine. They used to be substantially more expensive than loose tomatoes, but the difference in price is much smaller now, and tomatoes on the vine have a stronger flavor, as well as lasting longer, and being more decorative, if you care for such aesthetics.
Frozen Fruit and Vegetables
Although the process of freezing fresh produce has been around since the war and even earlier, I don't remember seeing frozen vegetables around much until the mid-1960s. Then we would get frozen peas, beans and sprouts. Gradually we would see the introduction of frozen chips, roast potatoes, rice, roast parsnips, and spinach.
Only in the last few years have we been buying things like frozen soya beans and edamame beans, frozen okra, frozen peppers and frozen mixed Mediterranean vegetables, as our taste for these more exotic vegetables increased, along with our taste for a variety of ethnic meals.
I Love My Blender for Fresh Produce
- Smoothies: Recently I have made fruit and vegetable smoothies, and rather daringly even added raw beetroot. I thought it might taste revolting, but in fact it had a pleasant, sweetish flavor. Years ago I would have made soup with beetroot, or pickled it, but never thought of using it raw until I read on the internet about its health benefits.
- Soup: I've also used up all my oddments of vegetables from my fridge, cooking them, and then blending the mixture with the vegetable water, adding a little yogurt or milk to make a very nice creamy soup.
- Ice Cream: I've also very successfully made an ice cream mixture by blending fruit with plain Greek-style yogurt and then freezing it in an ice cream maker.
The beauty of doing all this at home is that you know precisely what ingredients have gone into it, and you can limit unhealthy additions like sugar or salt, by using about half the quantity you'd get in manufactured products.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Diana Grant