So old-fashioned stodge is good for you, is it?

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The Independent Culture
IT'S OFFICIAL then: stodge is good for you, so is over-cooked cabbage, calves' foot jelly, tapioca and Spam. Ugh, the very mention of these childhood staples turns my stomach but, if the latest report about child nutrition is to be believed, this is the sort of diet modern, caring parents should be feeding their children if they want them to be as healthy as those of us who grew up in the Fifties apparently were.

Were we? I don't particularly remember being all that healthy at school. But I do remember being hungry, not because there wasn't enough to eat but because the food that was on offer was so ghastly.

The report, funded by the Medical Research Council, talks nostalgically about huge quantities of bread and milk and red meat and fresh vegetables, invariably home-grown on allotments, which we Fifties children consumed, in contrast with today's unhealthy kids weaned on junk food. It sounds wonderful - rather like the contents of Ratty's picnic basket, which had poor old Mole salivating down his trousers.

In reality, it wasn't like that, I promise you. True we did eat quantities of bread but that was just to fill us up. For some inexplicable reason it was always coated with a strange beige-coloured spread, 90 per cent margarine abd 10 per cent Marmite, which the nuns reckoned was good for our bones. Meat and two veg at the Convent of St Francis de Sales was a joyless platter comprising two small slices of slightly spongy greyish meat (from an animal unspecified, possibly hedgehog), accompanied by boiled potatoes and the ubiquitous overcooked cabbage, so sloppy it could be wrung out like a pale green flannel.

This wasn't everyday fare, it was Sunday lunch, the high point of our gastronomic week, a meal whose culinary attractions we had ample time to anticipate all morning on our knees in chapel. During the week, we had calve's foot jelly or Spam by way of red meat with beetroot as an alternative to cabbage, followed by one of Sister Mary Joseph's famous stodge puddings.

Nowadays I know it is fashionable to talk about the delights of the traditional English pudding - spotted dick, jam roly-poly, treacle sponge. Sister Mary Joseph's puddings were tasteless mountains of uncooked suet liberally spread with jam.

The only food I remember eating with pleasure as a child were sweets. Significantly the nutrition report makes no mention of tooth decay among Fifties children before fluoride was automatically introduced into drinking water. Parents today boast that their children have not had a single filling, in my day every child had a mouthful thanks to the gobstoppers, sherbet lemons and Harrogate toffee bought from the corner shop.

So, with old-fashioned nutrition uppermost in mind, I went to the supermarket to buy two pounds of neck of lamb to make an old-fashioned Lancashire hot pot. Now that's something I do remember from the old days with a certain wistfulness.

We used to visit an aunt in the country who made Lancashire hot pot. And, on Sundays, when Uncle Jim carved the rare roast beef (on the bone of course) he would tip the blood into a separate jug to spoon feed the younger children, for extra nourishment he said. I sometimes think of Uncle Jim when I hear seven-year-olds in restaurants calling for balsamic vinegar. How about a spoonful of blood instead, sonny boy?

"Neck of lamb," said the man on the meat counter, I might have been asking for two pounds of organic snow leopard. They didn't sell cuts like neck of lamb any more, there was no call for it. He had fillet or noisettes or cutlets that came complete with those little paper frills to stick on the ends when they were cooked. Even if I wanted to give my treasures some old-fashioned nourishment, I couldn't physically get hold of it. At least junk food is available.