I had a bit of a strange day yesterday and came home with the urge for a Vesta meal.
I’m not sure I’ve eaten one since i was about twelve… but I definitely needed one last night… so as Jane was off to Tescos I asked her to get me one.
Beef chow mein with crispy noodles.
I was so excited… the deliberation over which were the soft and which the crispy noodles (printing on packets too subtle).. the pouring of water… the stirring of stuff… the frying of the noodles.
The boy and I had eaten most of the crispy noodles by the time the ‘chow mein’ had cooked..and they were good…crispy and noodley.
The chow mein, however, was pretty foul.
Bore no resemblence to anything else I’ve ever eaten by that name.
But then… Vesta made its name with its ‘meals for one’ in the 1970’s… such things were almost space-age let alone ‘foreign’.
At that point in our house you could pretty much tell what day it was by what was for….oh…. I was about to say supper and then remembered as a kid meals had different meals.
Until my mum went back to work when i was mid junior school we all went home from school or work and had a proper cooked dinner…. then tea at night.. the supper was a drink of highly coloured and sugar saturated squash and a biscuit to help me sleep.
No wonder I got confused by my first real rub up against the middle class when my (eventually to be) ex-husbands parents invited me round to meet me and have supper!!!
Anyway…you could tell what day it was by the food…with some seasonal adjustments…like a scarcity of dumplings in summer and the introduction of salmon loaf (how to make a tin of salmon serve 8) and cold sliced egg salad.
My mother was a good plain cook… well..when i say ‘good’…..
rissoles, liver and onions, boiled mince with a bit of bisto in, potato and meat pie with a suet crust, belly pork, stew and dumplings, sunday roast served VERY thin and then again cold on Monday.
Rice was for puddings…macaroni too.
I believe people did attempt foreign delicacies at his time… my friend jon has a childhood meal he recreated for me once called ‘sweet and sour spam’…. but not at our house…oh no.
So Vesta gave me my first taste of chinese, indian and spanish cuisines… totally inaccurate…. but a chink in the meat and two veg wall my childhood built around me.
I’ve tried to explain to my kids ‘just’ how different food was then… how narrow the range.
I remember my first olive at about 16. (the same night i was introduced to saki, lentil loaf and Hampstead pubs)
My first chinese was a business mans lunch, three courses for a set amount in st Ives in Cornwall… my sister took me when i was about 12. I’m pretty sure the first choice was prawn salad or soup… the pudding iced-cream… but I’m sure here was something chinese in the middle.
Until i met my husband I didn’t know how to peel prawns…or that pheasants were for eating.
Compared to my daughter born 19 years ago…whose favourie snack was olives… who sat in a restaurant at about 3 and ate mussels..
the foodie world is a totally different place… but is it all good?
I always remember my grandma telling me to eat seasonal and eat local… to her, i think it was a very holistic thing that the place that grew you must grow the food most ideally suited to you. A way of thinking that predates families moving willy nilly round the country.
When we used to holiday up in cumbria where my grandma grew up she’d tell me where to go and find watercress growing to take her some back… that and local honey.
A fusion perhaps of trying to refind her ideal diet, but also to regain the tastes of her own childhood….
its a bit sad that the taste of my childhood is a vesta meal*…. that sort of epitomises why there was the whole foodie swing back towards my grandmas way of thinking.
I’ll have to ask my daughter what she remembers as the tastes of her childhood.
*its probably as much a taste of rebellionism as childhood as it was never something served up as a family meal…but a treat that had to be asked for.