Culinary Nostalgia

Last week, I watched my very first episode of The Great British Bake Off. I had heard of the program before but it wasn’t until I got the UK that I could settle in and see what all the fuss was about. Now, let me be clear. I am not a huge fan of the unscripted bread and circuses known as reality TV but given a choice between competition between people with a particular skill set and a competition to see who can withstand the most humiliation, I pick skills every time. I also like cooking shows so cooking competitions (Chopped, Iron Chef America, etc.) are occasionally on the TV viewing schedule here at Transatlantic Towers.

I have to say – I really enjoyed it. There was a nice array of contestants, the judges seem to all be related to the field (I’ve never understood how someone can judge something they know nothing about but many shows seem to be more interested in name factor) and though the comments and criticism were occasionally biting, they were also coupled with constructive guidance and/or interesting factoids. In addition, the presenter/host is Sue Perkins and when Sue is enthused about something, it’s hard not to be enthused with her. So, I enjoyed it and will be tuning in again this week.

But – I didn’t actually sit down to write about The Great British Bake Off. This will surprise those of you who have made it all the way down to the third paragraph. Usually by now, I’ve gotten to the point and am holding onto it for dear life. My point this time is culinary nostalgia and the reason I began (and got distracted by Bake Off was one of the challenges last week was rum babas. I had not heard of rum babas and seeing how yummy the results on the program were, I went to look into it. Turns out they were very much the thing back in 70s – then like many dishes that have their moment in the sun, became unfashionable, disappearing from sight except in out of the way eateries – then suddenly they’ve been go so long, they are like new again.  Well, everything comes back around (as evidence by the fact that we still can’t get rid of velour once and for all) and food fashions are no exception.

There’s been interest in this idea elsewhere as well – the resurgence of certain dishes, the way food was presented in the recent past. It’s always been a favorite topic of those who love kitsch (I’m thinking specifically of the hilarious Gallery of Regrettable Food) but the media are on board the Taste of Yesteryear Train as well. The BBC is all about it. It was in their recent The Return of Retro Recipes (which prompted part of this post) that I came across The Way We Ate – the blog of two men intending to work their way through the entire run of Gourmet magazine – 815 issues! Of course, the BBC’s food coverage has touched on the cyclical nature of recipes before – last year it was vegetarian dishes of the 70s and their Retro British Recipes Collection. To take your taste buds for a stroll down the American side of memory lane, check out Midcentury Menu.

TV is awash in food shows and there is a strong theme of nostalgia and retro eating that these shows come back to again and again. I tried a fondue after watching the Nigella Express 50s cocktail party episode – love cheese? Fondue is for you. Fondue also figured prominently in the 70s episode of Supersizers Go . . . (who took the word retro and ran with it – all the way to Roman times and back) There’s very often a retro foods feel to the places featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Obviously places that would be classified or classify themselves as diners, drive-ins or dives are by their nature steeped in that atmosphere even if the menus have new twists but it’s also (in my opinion) that a lot of those places are being run by second or third generations or families working together. These are recipes they’ve known, loved and worked with for decades. Retro, as these establishments demonstrate, doesn’t mean tired.

If you want to turn your own kitchen into a time machine, you could always google “vintage recipes” but hey – if you’re gonna go old school – go old school all the way and get a vintage cookbook or two. Find out which suits you at Retro Cookbook.


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