Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Food memories: 'rubbish'

As in, the kind of rubbish I ate as a youngster. Out of the house. At school. After school.

I was a child of (for the most part) the Eighties. There was a lot of terrible food: Findus Crispy Pancakes, Pot Noodles, boil-in-the-bag fish and so on. Processed stuff was everywhere at the time, although interestingly to this day I've never actually tried a Crispy Pancake. It was back when, post The Good Life and Laura Ashley and the publication of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, we were all about American influences. On TV and film, on fashion, and on food. I remember going to a newly-opened McDonalds for a birthday party and we were all ridiculously excited at the prospect of burgers and fries.

The words 'organic', 'artisan' and 'seasonal' were not yet part of the epicurean vocabulary, let alone that of regular consumers. Food, to a young Me, was exciting: artificially coloured and sweetened and enticingly packaged and advertised. I was, like most children, a sucker for a gimmick. I once went to great efforts to befriend a not-very-likeable girl simply because she had a Soda Stream.

At home we ate simple food, cooked from scratch. It was the least expensive option at the time. The frozen and packaged stuff got short shrift and rarely made an appearance. If it did, it was usually in dessert form (Angel Delight or a just-add-whatever cheesecake topping mixture, or Rowntrees jelly made with tinned fruit suspended in it). Fresh cream during the week wasn't something we had. Instead, Tip Top. Sweet and runny and poured straight from the tin.

At high school we progressed from school dinners and packed lunches to dinner money. This was spent on some truly dreadful foodstuffs. In fact, I can remember very clearly three of my favourite lunchtime options:

1. A hot dog with ketchup and onions, purchased from the ever-present (and now, apparently, banned) ice cream vans parked outside the school gates. The hot dog was invariably followed by a 'screwball' - whippy ice cream in a clear plastic cone with a bubble gum dropped into the bottom and a flake on top.
2. A cheese and onion pie with the lid carefully removed. KP Meanies or a packet of Space Raiders (both cheap, pickled onion flavour 'savoury snacks') were pressed into the cheese filling then the lid was replaced again. This abomination was eaten sitting on the wall of Joan's* shop. The very embodiment of fine dining.
3. A Cornish pasty from the bakery with an iced finger for pudding.
*Joan was one of the angriest women I've ever met. She despised children. Running a shop opposite a high school probably wasn't the wisest career choice.

Oh dear. If I ate like that now I'd be in agony from stomach cramps no doubt, not to mention in need of an entire new wardrobe several sizes up from my current one. When I think of all the sweets (kola kubes, Skittles, cherry lips, gummy bears) and the fizzy pop and the chocolate...

Things didn't improve that much when I progressed to the sixth form. Helping to run the tuck shop wasn't the best favour I ever did for my dietary health. And the little kitchen downstairs served up soggy chips which smelt deliciously of vinegar, and meltingly soft jacket potatoes with their centres scooped out and refilled with bubbling, lightly-browned cheese. Everything was served up in white paper bags which quickly turned transparent from the amount of grease oozing out of the food.

Once I got to university I continued on my path of nutrient-devoid eating, particularly in my second year when I moved out of halls of residence and into a shared house. Kwik Save sold 'Doll' noodles for twenty pence a pack. You covered them with boiling water then sprinkled an alarmingly-hued powder into them, once drained, for flavour. Student food was very bad indeed. My friend Chris once said, in all sincerity, that there was nothing he enjoyed eating more than No Frills bread thickly spread with Stork margarine. I really do hope things got better for him.

Of course, somewhere along the road I found my way again and started cooking and eating well. I do still enjoy a treat but sweets really don't do it for me any more. Chips... Yes, occasionally. And I still love a bag of pickled onion flavoured savoury snacks. But Crispy Pancakes? I don't think I'd ever be tempted. I don't even know if you can still buy them...


  1. This was such an interesting read. I've never heard of most of the foods you listed here, or I've heard of them but have never seen them in the US, except at stores that stock foreign groceries. In thinking about my own childhood eating habits, I know I ate plenty of candy and snack foods but we almost never ate anything "instant" at home. My mother didn't enjoy cooking but what she made was almost always from scratch. I think it's funny today to look back at the things I never ate as a kid that I eat all the time today, like fresh pineapple or avocados. I was in my twenties before I tried either one! They just weren't part of my experience as a kid.

  2. I believe you and I ate the same. In what we called Junior High, every day for lunch I had a chili cheese dog and a donut that was filled with cream that I referred to as pus, a pus donut. Yuck!

  3. Hey Sarah,
    I watch the sugar laden junk that my older boys consume with horror. But then I look back at my teenage self and realise that I did too!! I think I must have burned it all off by growing and doing lots of sport, but as you said not intrinsically good for my health. My Mum cooked from scratch every day, and I always ate a lot of fruit and drank a lot of milk so perhaps that cancelled the other crap out. Bit like my boys hopefully. I'm afraid I still have the world's biggest sweet tooth. I love pick and mix sweets the most. Dreadful I know. I have found that I tend to eat them just before my monthly bill arrives, so perhaps there's a reason for everything.
    I loved the trip down memory lane too. We had a doughnut shop next door to our school. We were forbidden to enter. So we did, and ate them on the bus on the way home. They were bloody lush!
    Hope all is well with you.
    Leanne xx

  4. Oh Sarah, how I loved this post. A trip down memory lane! I was brought up at home on healthy, home cooked food. My mother didn't allow any 'rubbish' at home but my Granny was always good for a sneaky packet of crisps! My mum did occasionally make lemon meringue as a treat but the lemon was made from some strange powder in a packet. I have vague recollections of stirring it as it got thicker and thicker. When I was at school I had a very different diet. Not always very healthy. And I think I may have eaten my own weight in Caramacs through grammar school. Thanks for the memories! Bee Xx

    PS I've never tasted a Crispy Pancake either!

  5. Fantastic! I especially like the idea of a cheese and onion pie with crisps inside of it, brilliant. I've eaten those noodles quite a bit too, goodness knows what was in them. We used to have a bubbly moussey thing for dessert sometimes, made from a packet, that we called flummery. Loved it. And my favourite meal when I was little - packet rice, cooked then topped with cheese and heated under the grill. Called that one Cheese Melted On The Top. It was heaven.

  6. I think my favourite (because it's the one that made me simultaneously cringe and think 'gosh, I wonder what that tastes like?') is the cheese and onion pie with monster munch. I am so tempted to try it, just to see......

  7. I remember Crispy Pancakes - the cheese filled ones - being vegetarian I found most people I visited could at least cook a Crispy Pancake. I would smile politely and eat it but wonder why they thought this was a meal! I grew up more in the 60's and it was an absolutely sugar laden time - always two spoons of sugar in your tea and often a dessertspoon on the Cornflakes and Weetabix. No wonder my blood sugar was like a roller coaster. I managed to stay quite skinny but my teeth suffered badly and most of my back teeth are filled. I protected my daughters from sugar - no fizzy drinks or cola and no sugary sweets. They are now in their thirties and have never had a filling and thank me now for saving them from the effects of too much sugar.

  8. This brought back some not so pleasant memories although it was at university that I started to learn about healthy eating and cooking from scratch due to the influence of my vegetarian house mate. I have never eaten a crispy pancake though!

  9. Maybe we all have to go through a phase of bad eating habits before we become sensible. I remember lunch at university often consisting of a coffee and Mars bar. I loved Mars bars!!

  10. What a lovely post Sarah. I am really glad I read this post, my oldest son is eating horrendous food when he has a chance and I am happy to realise it is probably just a phase. I didn't really experience this myself, mostly because we had to go home for lunch every day. But I loved those Findus crispy pancakes. I thought they were Swiss.... and we got them as special treats very occasionally! Another favourite treat was white bread with a fat layer of butter sprinkled with sugar. I think I might still like that actually, but I am quite restrained these days. x

  11. Great post, you just described my 80's teenage years, my mum cooked from scratch too but dinner money and going down the street with pals was my chance to rebel and eat what I wanted, and no it wasn't healthy. Fortunately now its a happy balance of healthy with a sprinkling of treats :)

  12. Flipping heck, that read was a trip down memory lane!! Lots of food stuffs I'd forgotten about. Did you see that recent programme on BBC Two about how eating habits have changed in the post war period? I only saw the last one but it looked interesting. My mum never let us have crispy pancakes, either.....

  13. I really enjoyed this post! (And I'm sorry I'm so behind with my reading.) I remember many of those treats, especially Angel Delight. A while ago I bought some for the kids, thinking fondly about how I'd loved it at their age. It was bloody revolting. It foams in your mouth, Seriously, eugh. I've never to this day eaten a Findus pancake, Pop Tart or anything Boil in the Bag, but I do love pick and mix sweet very much indeed. xx

  14. You could have been describing my childhood eating habits, minus the McDonalds but only because I'm a few years older, well almost 10 years older! I have the corresponding fillings in mouth as a reminder and trophy of sorts of all the hard boiled sweeties consumed, and cream filled iced fingers. I did consume the dreaded Findus pancake... And they were revolting!

  15. Oh crikey - you've reminded me of the horrors that were Findus crispy pancakes!! I use to love that cheese filling. I use to eat quite a few Microchips too. How am I still alive!? lol


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