Wednesday 27 March 2019

What's for dinner? by Janie Hampton

'Simple but appetising' minced meat pie. Woman's Own, 1964

When Mary Gallati wrote her Hostess Dinner Book in 1953, she thought her recipes were the height of modern cooking. Reading it nearly 70 years later, it has become social history. Mary Gallati was the daughter of Italian restaurateur Mario Gallati, who co-founded 'The Ivy' restaurant in London in 1917. Thirty years later he opened the equally famous ‘Le Caprice’ restaurant behind The Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly.
July by Raymond E Meylan
In 1953, food rationing in Britain had another year to go, making fourteen years of miserable meals. The restrictions on the sale and purchase of all types of food, including bread, meat and eggs became even stronger after the end of the Second World War. People were fed up with dried eggs, tinned Spam, limited fruit, and the expense of using the black market. They were ready for something new, and Mary was ready to show them how to entertain. She wanted to share her cooking skills with post-war Britons. Her recipes were designed to fit the seasons, so she offered roast woodcock and ‘fried éperlans’ (smelts, a small fish) in March; and ‘kid au romain’ and shrimp cocktail in April. Lobsters and ‘potatoes parisienne’ feature in May, as do copious eggs and butter in preparation for when rationing was over.
April by Raymond E Meylan
However, tastes and ingredients were not as culturally diverse as they are now. Even Gallati with her Italian background, only used garlic sparingly. Avocadoes were a rare treat reserved for dinner parties, not for every-day sandwiches. Other ingredients were available. Not many recipe books now would include gulls eggs, smoked eel or 'cannelloni stuffed with calves' brains'. Duck aux cerises froides (duck with cold cherries) involved crushing the cherry stones to retrieve the tiny nuts. Aspic appears often, an ingredient my mother used  50 years ago for parties. With aspic and jelly moulds, she could make one chicken and tin of peas feed 20 people. I remember being surprised by old men saying with glee, ‘Mmmm, aspic! I haven’t had that since the nursery!’ Egg en gelée is poached eggs in aspic. To achieve that special 1950s look, you could mix aspic with mayonnaise (homemade, obviously) before piping it artistically onto your fish. Remember ‘Russian salad’? Tiny cubes of carrots and turnips with peas, mixed into mayonnaise, served in tomatoes with their insides scooped out, and a touch more aspic. Don’t forget the sprig of parsley!
The days of tiny supermarket trolleys, trendy baskets
and kitten heels!  Photo by Tesco Stories, 1963.
Gallati also suggested which drinks to serve, including cocktails. In January, one could drink ‘Peter Pan’, made from equal parts of gin, French vermouth, orange juice and peach bitter. Shaken not stirred, as is August’s ‘Highland Cooler’ of whisky, bitters and lemon. Whereas July’s Pimms no.1 demanded No Shaking.

February by Raymond E Meylan
The illustrations by Raymond E. Meylan still look modern – stark black and white ink drawings adorn the start of each month’s recipes. They remind me of 1950s tiles or Heal’s fabric, and would work well as tapestry designs. Meylan also designed logos for chemical companies in the 1960s, when abstract corporate logos were all the rage.
March by Raymond E Meylan
I love the mixture of French and English to give the recipes continental class, such as ‘carrots vichy’ and ‘crayfish a la russe’. ‘Moussaka á l’algerienne’ brought together Greece, France and North Africa. At my very first dinner party, cooked on my 13th birthday for six school friends, the menu I wrote by hand stated ‘Saucissons en toade dans une hole.’ Maybe Mary Gallati’s French was as bad as mine, and she just didn’t know the word for carrot or crayfish? Like Gallati, I also tried the latest pudding – Baked Alaska. Only I had never seen one, just heard about it. So the cake underneath was soggy, the meringue  chewy, and the ice cream completely melted. My friends claimed to be delighted by the glacé cherries sprinkled all over it.

'Three Course Dinner cooked in a pressure cooker'.
Why does it look so unappetizing? Maybe because it's served on school plates.
Woman's Own Cook Book, 1964.
If only I had used the Woman’s Own Cook Book of 1964 which has handy tips on ‘The etiquette of dining’, such as how to cut a grapefruit, and where to place the glacé cherry. I didn’t know that ‘the chief male guest sits on the hostesses right, and the chief woman guest on the host’s right.’ Woman’s Own usefully pointed out that if there were eight people round the table, the sexes couldn't alternate and ‘adaptations are made at the host’s end.’ How confused the hostess of the 1960s would be by same sex couples, and non-binary people. The ‘chief duties of the host are pouring out wine and carving.’ Thank goodness nowadays, we can pour our own wine, and carving meat is a rare occurrence at a dinner party.
An exciting dinner party in 1964.
Which side of the hostess will the chief guest sit? 

How do these colour photos make the food look clean but cold and dull? 
Woman’s Own Cook Book, 1964.  
The chapter about children’s food insisted that they needed bland, tasteless, preferably steamed, mush – what we used to call ’Nursery food.’ Oat or barley ‘Jelly’ was recommended to build up weak children, and raw beef juice ( i.e. watered down blood) for delicate and anaemic babies. Colour, experimentation and taste were not encouraged.
'All-on-a-level kitchen', Woman's Own 1964.
I've often dreamed of a tidy kitchen like this,
and to wear kitten heels for cooking. 
My favourite chapter, one that clearly demonstrates how things have changed, was ‘Routine for Putting on Weight’. ‘Plenty of rest and exercise, a good diet of fattening foods and no worries – those are the essentials.’ The underweight reader was encouraged to stay in bed after breakfast; eat plenty of cake and ice cream; avoid green vegetables, salads, vinegar and egg white; and drink more cocktails. That’s a diet to aspire to!

Here are some recipes from Mary Gallati’s Hostess Dinner Book:
August: Sweetbreads Maréchale Place 2 large sweetbreads (lamb’s pancreas) in water and boil. Cool and remove fat and sinew. Cut into slices, roll in breadcrumbs and shallow-fry. Garnish with points of asparagus. Pour melted butter over . [Note to reader: à la maréchale is a French phrase for cooking food à l'anglaise ("English-style"), i.e. coated with bread crumbs and fried.] 

December: Smoked Eel. Cut into 3 inch sections. Garnish with quartered lettuce and tomato. Pass round horseradish sauce separately. Horseradish sauce: 4 tablespoons fresh grated horse-radish. ½ teaspoon salt. 1 ½ tablespoons vinegar. ½ cup cream. Cayenne pepper. Mix, add cream beaten stiff.
May by Raymond E Meylan


  1. That nest of potato, filled with peas and legs sticking up! Glad I've had breakfast because I think that's put me off eating for quite a while.

  2. An 'established', shall we say, restaurant I sometimes visit has for years featured a salad of deviled-egg, tiny shrimp, celery, and mayonnaise. And parsley. At the end of last year a new chef was hired, who completely changed the menu, including removal of the afore-mentioned salad. The cries of persons who one wouldn't think still possessed strength to cry so loudly could be heard throughout the room - "Where's the shrimp-and-egg salad?!? You've ALWAYS had the shrimp-and-egg salad!"
    Within a few weeks the shrimp-and-egg salad returned to it's traditional position on the menu and the revolt was forestalled.

  3. Cooking was very different in them days! And earlier. I have a copy of Alice B Toklas’s cookbook, very enjoyable as history, and she does chat about where she got the recipe and people she and Gertrude Stein met, but I wouldn’t cook any of her recipes - all full of cream and fat! If you are interested in historic cooking and home stuff, the National Library of Australia’s Trove section has digitised Women’s Weeklies from 1933-1981.

  4. And in rural Downunder we ate mutton stew and...roast mutton on Sundays if we were lucky. This was interspersed with fried chops (sometimes coated in breadcrumbs.)If my mother had been in to the butcher 45 miles away we might get "mince and tatties" (my family is of Scots descent).


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