Popular restaurant booking website, bookatable.co.uk have recently launched a campaign to celebrate desserts that have inspired our sweet treats today – ‘Desserts Through the Decades’. This exciting campaign, showcases desserts that were once all the rage, both conventional and bizarre, from the 1910s to the present day. Food nostalgia, whether it is memories of school dinners, childhood party favourites or a general interest in how and what we ate in the past, is at last being viewed with a keen interest by a number of amateur as well as professional chefs.
Earlier this year, The Art of Dining, ran a series of Abigail’s Party themed pop-up events at the Rose Lipman Centre in De Beauvoir Town, London which promised the diner a modern take on retro cuisine, in this case from the 1970s:
…food classics from the era, but with a twist…a prawn cocktail may look like it’s come straight from Fanny Craddock’s fridge, but will tingle the taste buds with its subtle, infused Thai flavours. As you toy with a Twiglet while gazing at your companion over a half grapefruit spiked with cheese and pineapple chunks, prepare to re-discover the magic of mousse and the fun of fondue. Although the food may look retro, you can expect bold, zesty flavours and truly innovative cooking.
Other pop-ups, by The Art of Dining, that have tapped into this current trend for food nostalgia, include a 1940s inspired event, ‘Rations’, and one that evoked memories of childhood camping holidays from the 1950s onwards, ‘Gone Camping’.
BBC Two’s recent time-travelling food adventure, Back in Time for Dinner, also proved to be a surprise hit with both devotees of retro food and newbies to this culinary genre. Presented by food historian Polly Russell and journalist Giles Coren, this six-part series challenged the Robshaw family to eat their way through various dishes from post-war Britain to today. Beginning in the 1950s and filmed over a period of one summer, each week representing a different decade. The final episode focussed on food trends of the future.
Retro cuisine (meaning dishes from the 1920s onwards) is often the subject of much heated debate as to whether we should even be bothering to revive these recipes and, ‘heaven forfend!’, try to put them back on the dinner table in 2015! Overly complicated recipes using dull ingredients or dishes far too rich for the modern digestive system to cope with (chicken chaud-froid immediately springs to mind!), these are some of the criticisms levied at food from this genre.
However, to dismiss retro recipes with a snort of derision is to miss some of the more positive aspects of these dishes. We can drawn upon elements to enrich our culinary adventures in modern times. Home cooks, particularly living in Britain’s ration book era (1940-1954) or in the tough economic climate of the 1970s, were highly inventive in their uses of available ingredients and equipment. Time to revisit those vintage cookery books lurking at the back of your bookshelves or found tossed in a rotting cardboard box in your local charity shop or boot fair. Take the plunge, you might be surprised what gems you will find.
Interest in British retro cuisine is starting, finally, to gain momentum. There are plenty of retro dishes that SHOULD be welcomed back onto our tables in 2015.
I was recently browsing through my latest retro cookbook acquisition, Meals For Every Occasion by Marshall Cavendish Books Ltd (1979). It is packed full of fantastic recipe ideas and as the title suggests, covering every possible occasion from ‘dead-broke dinner for six’ to ‘cook ahead dinner for eight’ to ‘garden barbecue for twelve’ and pretty much any other occasion you can think of inbetween. One dessert recipe that caught my eye was a ‘pashka’ from the chapter ‘a Russian meal for six’.
The menu for this 1970s Russian-themed meal consists of: caviar on fingers of toast, borsch, chicken Kiev with new potatoes and spinach à la Russe, for dessert a pashka. Pashka is a Russian version of cheesecake:
..traditionally eaten at Easter. In Russia it is made in a special tall pashka mould, but similar results can be obtained by using a large well-washed terracotta flowerpot. The cream cheese mixture is strained through muslin to remove excess liquid so that the resulting cheesecake is firm. If you cannot obtain muslin, a double thickness dishcloth can be used. Make sure that the butter is soft before you begin. Choose your favourite nuts for decorating the pashka and use glacé cherries to add colour.
(For Every Occasion by Marshall Cavendish Books Ltd (1979), p.162)
I did, however, make a few changes to this recipe. I added some thick Greek yoghurt to the mix (2 tablespoons during step 1 of recipe method below), instead of a flowerpot, I used a fancy cake tin that I brought from IKEA last year. Next time I make this, quite frankly delicious dessert, I will try and source a suitable flowerpot. I wanted the dessert to set quickly, so I did cheat and put it in the freezer for a couple of hours and then stored the cheesecake in the refrigerator to keep it soft. It still kept its shape in the fridge and after a couple of days was still firm.
Here is the original recipe in full:
Pashka – Russian Cheesecake
(For Every Occasion by Marshall Cavendish Books Ltd (1979))
Ingredients: (Serves 6), 350g full fat cream cheese, 50g softened unsalted butter, 1 medium-sized egg yolk, 40g caster sugar, 60 ml (4 tablespoons) thick cream, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence, 40g mixed peel, 40g almonds (blanched), 40g small raisins. For decoration: 15g glacé cherries, 15g nuts of your choice (pecans work well)
- Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until soft then beat in the cream cheese with a wooden spoon or electric whisk;
- Place the egg yolk and sugar in a bowl and whisk until thick and creaming in colour;
- Pour the cream into a small heavy-based saucepan. Add the vanilla and warm over a low heat to blood temperature;
- Pour the heated cream into the egg yolk mixture, beating continuously with a wooden spoon;
- Put the bowl over a saucepan quarter full with simmering water and cook for 5 minutes, stirring continuously, until thickened slightly;
- Remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir in the mixed peel. Allow the mixture to cool, stirring frequently;
- Roughly chop the almonds and fold them into the cream cheese mixture together with the raisins and cooled cream and egg yolk mixture;
- Line a dry, cool, medium-sized flowerpot with a piece of muslin and spoon the mixture into it;
- Cover the mixture with another piece of muslin, a small plate and a weight. Place flowerpot on a wire rack on top of a tray. Leave in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight;
- Remove the weight, plate and top piece of muslin and unmould the pashka on to a serving plate.
If you want to have a go at making a retro dessert, similar to the examples shown above, then here is a selection of original recipes to inspire you:
Chocolate Cake (Devil’s Food Cake)
(Highclass Sweetmaking: Chocolates, Candies and Dessert Bonbons by May Whyte, 1909)
Ingredients: 1/4 lb butter, 6 ozs caster sugar, 1 teaspoonful baking powder, 8 ozs flour, 3 teacupfuls milk, 6 ozs chocolate powder [cocoa powder], 3 eggs, 1/2 teaspoonful ground cinnamon, vanilla essence to taste.
Method: Beat butter and sugar to a cream in a slightly warmed basin, add the eggs (well beaten) and mix well. Dissolve the chocolate powder in the milk over the gas ring till quite warm and thoroughly melted, then add it and the other ingredients to the eggs and creamed butter. Mix all very thoroughly, and bake for one hour, or until firm.
Chocolate Icing: 6 tablespoonfuls of grated unsweetened chocolate, whites of 2 eggs, 1 and 1/2 teacupfuls of castor sugar, vanilla essence to taste. Put the chocolate and sugar in a pan with 2 tablespoonfuls of hot water. Stir over the gas ring until smooth and glossy. Beat the whites of the egg stiff, and add the sugar and the chocolate. When the cake is cold, spread the icing over the cake, and if wished put a layer in middle of cake.
Bread and Butter Pudding
(The Bickton Cooks’ Book by Margaret Hussey, 1947)
Ingredients: 1 pt milk, 2 eggs or 1 and 2 yolks or 3 yolks, 1 tablespoons sugar, vanilla flavouring.
Method: (baked custard) warm the milk, beat the eggs then mix the two together and beat well. Strain into a greased pie dish and add the sugar and flavouring (a strip of lemon rind or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or ratafia). Stand the pie dish in a tin of warm water and bake for about an hour in a slow oven above the handle till set. This custard cooks well in rising heat or in residual heat and can be made in advance as it is so good served cold. (Bread and butter pudding) This is a more substantial variation of baked custard. Recipe and method as above but keep back a little of the milk to soak the bread. Cut thin slices of stale bread and place strips over the bottom of a pie dish, cover these with dried fruit, raisins, sultanas, or dates, then soak in milk for 10 minutes and sprinkle with a little sugar. Pour on the custard mixture then float more bread and butter on top, sprinkle with sugar and grated nutmeg and bake at once as in previous recipe but for rather longer and high up in the oven. The top layer of bread should form a crisp tasty crust and the custard be nicely set below. Keep all fruit away from the surface and if another egg can be spared, put it in. When served, a portion should sit upon the plate with the crust on top quite steadily.
Vanilla Ice Cream
(Parkinson Gas Cooker Cookery Book, 1947)
Ingredients: 1 quart milk, 3 dessertspoonfuls cornflour, 2 eggs, 4 teaspoonfuls vanilla essence, 1/2lb sugar, 1/2 pint cream. Method: Make custard with eggs, sugar, milk and cornflour. Allow to become quite cold, add whipped cream and essence. Freeze till stiff. If a richer custard is desired use 2 more eggs and leave out cornflour. Various flavourings may be used, e.g. chocolate and coffee. Use 1/4 lb grated bitter chocolate or 1 gill coffee essence.
For fruit ice cream and ice pudding: Use preceding recipe, omitting vanilla. Add juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 orange and the cream. Freeze till a thick batter, then add 1 cup of crystallized fruit, dates, nuts, figs, etc. Fresh fruits may be added.
Apple Jelly Ring
(Marguerite Patten’s Recipe Cards by Paul Hamlyn Ltd, 1967)
Ingredients: 8 dessert apples, 1 pint water, juice of 2 lemons, grated rind of 2 unwaxed lemons, 2 ozs sugar, 2 lemon flavour jelly tablets. For the cheese balls: 6-8 ozs cream cheese, 2-3 ozs blanched almonds. To decorate: slices dessert apple, squeezed lemon juice.
Method: Peel apples, cut into neat pieces, save few pieces of peel. Put water, lemon juice, rind and sugar into pan, bring to boil. Put pieces of apple into this syrup and poach very gently for 10 mins. Lift out the apples, and strain the syrup. Measure and add enough water to give a good 1 and 1/2 pints. Reheat, dissolve jellies in this. Pour very thin layer of jelly into the mould, allow to set, arrange some of apple pieces and thin strips of peel on this and cover with cold liquid jelly. Leave to set. Continue like this until mould is filled. Split the almonds and brown for a minute under the grill. Mould cheese in balls and coat with the almonds. To serve: Dip mould in hot water for 30 seconds, turn out, fill with cheese balls, decorate with the remainder and apple slices dipped in lemon juice.
Rice and Fruit Gateau
(Marguerite Patten’s Recipe Cards by Paul Hamlyn Ltd, 1972)
Ingredients: 4 ozs long-grain rice, 1/2 pint water, 1 pint milk, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence, 2 ozs, 4 ozs seedless raisins, 2 ozs sultanas, 2 tablespoons rum or brandy, 2 oz candied peel, 1/4 pint thick cream. Method: Cook the rice in the boiling water for 5 minutes, drain. Put into the milk with the vanilla and sugar and cook over a low heat until soft, stir from time to time. Allow to cool, cover to prevent a skin forming. Meanwhile soak the fruit in the rum or brandy. Add the fruit to the rice together with the finely chopped candied peel. Finally fold in the stiffly beaten cream. Spoon into a mould, leave for several hours.
(Kellogg’s Cookbook by The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, 1980)
Ingredients: 1/2 packet of strawberry or raspberry jelly, 1 x 213g can fruit cocktail, 75g Kellogg’s Country Store cereal, 30 ml custard powder, 30 ml sugar, 568 ml milk. Topping: 150ml double cream, 25g Kellogg’s Country Store, glacé cherries to decorate. Method: Dissolve the jelly in 150 ml boiling water, then add the syrup from the can of fruit cocktail and enough water to make up to 300 ml. Divide the fruit cocktail and Country Store between four individual sundae glasses. Pour over the jelly and leave in a cool place until set. Mix the custard powder and sugar with a little of the milk, and heat the remaining milk until almost boiling. Stir into the custard mixture, then return to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Cook for a minute, until smooth and thickened, then cover with a piece of wet greaseproof paper and leave to cool. When the custard is almost cold, pour it over the set jelly and spread level. Chill until firm. Whip the cream until stiff and pipe or spoon around the edge of each glass, on top of the custard. Pile Country Store in the centre and top each trifle with a halved cherry.