Thursday, 23 February 2017

Further Back In Time For Dinner: 1920s-1940s

1940s: a delivery of veg to make Woolton Pie
I saved these three episodes of Further Back In Time For Dinner to cover all at once, as I figured they'd be the meatiest – no pun intended. I thought the 1940s would be far and away the most interesting, as it's almost certainly the time in history when the national diet underwent the biggest change across all classes in a very short time.

If you ever watched Giles Coren and Sue Perkins doing their Supersizers programmes, or you read many magazines from the 1920s and 1930s, you might be familiar with the brands and even the fads of the day. One of the strengths, for me, of the original Back In Time For Dinner was that they followed actual menus, as recorded in the National Food Survey, which ran from 1940 to 2000. Obviously that wasn't possible for most of the decades covered in this series, so instead there were focuses on trends and events: a cocktail party in the 1920s, a meal cooked entirely from tinned food, and Ryvita and slimming biscuits in the 1930s. It was interesting, but Supersizers did cover that, and I felt it prevented us from getting a really good idea of what people ate day-in, day out. Sticking to the menus gave a better sense of what was normal.
Rochelle wisely stands back from the grenade-like 1930s pressure cooker.
The atypical event I appreciated was the trip to Brick Lane and the Jewish meal afterwards; given Rochelle's Jewish heritage (and, indeed, that of presenter Giles) it would have been very odd had they not acknowledged the politics of the 1930s in some way.
Chicken soup and matzo balls. A Jewish classic.
When it came to the 1940s, the gap between the family's experience and what living at the time must have been like was even more clear. The sheer grind of making do with rationing-size portions, day-in, day-out, was impossible to cover over the course of a week. Making pigmash for your pig club porker is jolly fun for a day – how vastly more important would that club be when you'd lived on rations for a year? I've seen bloggers/Instagrammers try the Ration Book Challenge, where they follow rationing for a month, and really admired their dedication.
Lack of eggs in the 1940s means this dried egg substitute for breakfast.
Because the programmes are all about food, the visual side of things is more to set the mood rather than aimed at accuracy, and I really felt that when it came to the furnishings and outfits in these three episodes. I think a lot of the clothing Rochelle and her daughters wore might have been original – the colours and prints gave me that impression – but far less work went into their hair and makeup than the previous series. (I wonder if they wore their outfits all day off camera?) The 1920s and 1930s houses looked more like a modern idea of what homes looked like in those decades than what homes look like in most of the magazines and books I've got from the time, though I did find myself coveting some of the wallpaper. The 1920s house, in particular, didn't seem to have as much colour as I'd have expected.
I like this 1920s room, but it doesn't feel authentically colourful to me. Seems more 30s.
So weirdly, I didn't find these three episodes nearly as satisfying as I'd expected to. I enjoyed them, but I didn't love them. I think I'd have preferred a fuller immersion in a time, perhaps with a family spending a month or two in a particular decade.

The makers are now looking for families for a follow-up series, Back In Time For Tea, which will focus on food in the north of England. I'm a little baffled by that as the first series followed menus from all over Britain anyhow, not just the south, and 'tea' is a working-class expression for the evening meal, not a purely northern one*. But it will be interesting to see what they come up with; if it's anything like the food Mr Robot remembers his Lancastrian nan serving up, they'll need proper grit and determination to get through it all.

Did you see the programmes? Did you long for a bit more immersion, like I did, or find it a fascinating look at food fashions and trends?



 * It comes from 'high tea', the substantial meal served at around 6pm, so earlier than dinner, at about the time working people usually got in. Working-class people had high tea, posh ones had dinner.

17 comments :

  1. I really enjoyed the 1930s and 40s ones but as you say they covered the trends or the more obvious events of the decades, rather than getting down to the nitty-gritty everyday meals.
    The 1920s one, however, irritated the hell out of me. The whole thing felt like costume 1920s, from the clothes to the house and it meant that I found it very hard to concentrate on the food side of things. Don't get me started on the eBay bought over the knee socks the girls wore whilst learning to Charleston or those god awful hats that didn't fit! xx

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    1. 1920s evening wear is not difficult to get correct, but so many people get it wrong. I always think the modern addiction to cleavage means people now can't get the silhouette right. They fear looking frumpy instead of embracing the style.

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  2. Yes, the food up north (if that includes the Black Country) was and still can rather grim - chitterlings, faggots and grey peas and tripe.
    I haven't seen any of this series but did notice the women's hair on the advert was a bit off. I do like the look of that 1920s room, the wallpaper and the painting are right up my street. xxx

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    1. Chitterlings is still a thing down here, though it's mostly old people who eat it. And I like faggots, though the peas I have with it are green :-)

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  3. I watched the 1940's episode last night and actually found it a bit irritating it didn't go into the detail I would have liked and also first one daughter and then the other just disappeared without explanation! I'm guessing they must have been doing 'war work'.
    Himself found Rochelle and her merciless destruction of toast through these three episodes very amusing.
    Overall I liked the first episodes better.

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    1. I didn't notice Rochelle and the toast; I was too busy looking for tin openers.

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  4. I have enjoyed the series in total and have enjoyed the costumes and the hairstyles and make up - I don't know how accurate it all was but at least you got a flavour of it all. I would have liked a closer look and more examination of many things. For example, I would really have liked a closer look at utility furniture.

    I thought Debbie was wonderful and deserves her own series!

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    1. Debbie was ace! It would be nice to see the food side of things from an actual cook's perspective.

      Oooh! Imagine if they did a country house version of the show. That would be ACE.

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  5. I've recorded the whole series on our Digibox thing (that's what we have in Belgium) and I've just been watching the 1910s. I've been enjoying it so far. I've been wondering the same thing, if they wore their outfits all day ... As for the interiors, I'm quite fond of kitchenalia, so I've been concentrating on that. In the 1910s episode, I've spotted some scales we have too. I was also chuffed to see they (or rather, Debbie) cooked out of a Belgian cookbook ... xxx

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    1. In the first series, they actually lived in the house. I didn't get that impression from this programme. One of the others (not with this family), Back In Time For The Weekend, looked at hobbies and recreation, and that family actually moved between different period houses. (There were some amazing homes in that one.)

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  6. I watched this series and have to admit now, that I didn't enjoy it as much as the first series. I felt that the dining room interiors looked a bit cobbled together, but the kitchen seemed more 'authentic' - apart from that mocked up 1900s oven; that was hilarious with its wrought iron oven handle and latch taken off a door!

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    1. Apparently one of the later cookers was a 1960s one, though I would never have spotted that.

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  7. I too found it a bit 'lite' in places. I really appreciated some of the authentic costumes, but the hair and makeup drove me a little mad! What on earth was all that free-flowing hair through the 30s and 40s?! I know it's supposed to be about the food, but it's hard to concentrate on that when some of the details are off. However, I think we have to remember it's not an academic insight into the past, it's an entertaining TV show that's a little bit educational.

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    1. The 30s hair was particularly bad. I also found the lack of co-ordination in the 1930s outfits surprising; I know it's difficult to get authentic 30s stuff but the colours were all over the place.

      However, it was a fun programme. I still enjoyed it :-)

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  8. I wonder if we'll get this program here in Asia?
    Black & white was the most popular color scheme in the 20's & the 30's so I'm surprised they didn't choose that.
    That pressure cooker looks frightening!

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    1. 20s interiors here - normal 20s interiors, not high-end Syrie Maugham ones - were pretty colourful. Colour schemes in the books I've got include several shades of green, or black with bright yellow.

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