Family Meal Rituals
Let’s start at the top of the day, breakfast! Did your family have a sit down breakfast or were you more grab and go? What beverages were served at breakfast? What was your favorite (and/or least favorite) breakfast meal?
Mum didn’t work so she always made a sit down breakfast. When we were children she liked to make sure we had a good meal inside us before going to school. During the week it might be cold cereal, toast, eggs, boiled or scrambled or porridge. At weekends it was nearly always bacon and eggs which was my favourite. As for beverages, well we’re British so of course it was tea.
Did you snack before the mid-day meal?
If we wanted to snack between meals we were supposed to ask, not just help ourselves. Mum usually responded with “Apple, pear, banana?” She did let us have biscuits and cake but not usually before lunch or just before any meal.
Lunch for most children was eaten at school with the exception of weekends, holidays, or summer vacation. At school, did you buy your lunch from the cafeteria, or did you pack lunch? In high school, were you allowed to leave school grounds during the lunch period?
When we lived in England there were hot school dinners. They smelled horrible to me so I was glad that I was allowed to go home for lunch. In Australia we usually went home for lunch when we were in Primary School, or mum met us at the local shopping centre with sandwiches and drinks. In High School I stayed at school for lunch and ate my sandwiches and fruit in the playground or wherever we were allowed to eat when it was raining. Usually you were not allowed to leave the grounds.
For times when you had lunch at home, was it sandwiches, leftovers, or a newly prepared meal?
I can’t remember exactly. I think it was usually sandwiches when I was coming home from school to eat. In cold weather it might be something hot, if mum had made stew there might be a bowl of stew and a slice of bread or a roll.
The evening meal is usually the most formal meal in many homes. Did your family sit down together and enjoy the evening meal or were you more of a TV dinner in front of the TV family?
The main meal of the day whether it was in the evening or at lunchtime was at the table which while I was growing up was not in the same room as the TV.
How did your weekend meals differ from your weekdays?
Mainly that we more often had our main meal at lunchtime and instead of dinner we had “tea”. That might mean a boiled egg or sliced ham with tomatoes, lettuce and cheese or it might be sandwiches, toast or crumpets. When I was very young it was usually bread and jam followed by a piece of cake. On Sundays we had roast lamb with roasted potatoes and three veg, peas and carrots were usually two of them. Mum usually also made Yorkshire pudding which was always a bit of a drama because it might not rise properly and mum would be disappointed. It always tasted fine though. Creme Caramel was a favourite Sunday dessert.
Who did most of the cooking in your household? Did that person also do the meal planning and grocery shopping? Were you taught to cook or were you shoo’d out of the kitchen?
Mum did all that. She did teach me to bake which I enjoyed. When I was older she taught me how she planned the meals and did the grocery shopping. I learned never to go to the supermarket without a list.
Did you have dessert served at your meals? If so, what types?
Yes, we usually had dessert. It might be fruit salad with cream or custard, jelly or blancmange, sometimes a fruit pie or a Bakewell Tart. In England ice cream was a bit of a treat. We usually only bought it when the ice cream van came down our street. Then mum would buy a “family brick” of icecream in a cardboard container. Or we might just get cornets as a treat. In Australia ice cream was readily available at the supermarket so it became a regular dessert.
Who cleaned up after meals? Was it a shared responsibility between men/women, girls/boys or was it delegated based on gender?
Mum did not ask us to do a lot but I did help her with the dishes sometimes. We were an all female household so there were no gender based chores. I recall that our male cousin when asked to do the dishes invariably broke something. I am still not sure if he did it on purpose so he wouldn’t be asked to do the dishes again.
How about late night snacks? Okay or discouraged?
We generally had supper before going to bed. Naturally the time for this varied as we got older. As children it was generally a glass of flavoured milk, or maybe cocoa or hot chocolate and a couple of biscuits or a slice of cake. Later it was just more tea. We drank a lot of tea.
Were dining manners stressed in your household? No elbows on the table, no hats at the table, no belching, please, thank you, and may I be excused?
Good manners at the table were encouraged. No elbows on the table, saying please and thank you and asking to be excused. I can’t recall anyone even thinking of wearing a hat to the table. Hats were for outside.
Did you have occasions where you had large family gatherings for meals? What occasions?
Christmas usually. It was also mum’s birthday so during my teen years we often had her sister and family and maybe some others come for Christmas lunch.
Did you say grace or have a blessing before meals?
No. Mum had been obliged to do it when she was growing up but did not enforce it with us.
Now for the fun part. What dishes are you glad disappeared over the years? What dishes have you carried forward into your own home?
We have mum’s stew recipe and still make it. Naomi does it better than I do. I have her bread pudding recipe although I haven’t made it in years. I rarely have stale bread in the house. The one thing that mum made that I absolutely hated was boiled cabbage. I just could not eat it, it made me gag and the smell was vile. I still don’t really like cooked cabbage although I love it in coleslaw.
BONUS: Care to share any favorite family recipes?
Having mentioned it a couple of times I feel I must share mum’s stew recipe. It was given to her by our downstairs neighbour when she was first married and it’s very simple. The ingredients are what was readily available in 1950s Britain but it’s the sort of recipe that you can substitute other ingredients and use what you have. Naomi and I never use the soy sauce and if we can’t find turnips and swedes at the shops we just use more carrot and potato. Mum used to say that the secret to this stew’s flavour was the HP sauce so try not to leave that out. Sorry I don’t have a picture of this stew.
- 500g/1 pound of stewing steak, mum liked to use gravy beef.
- 1 brown onion, chopped
- 1 parsnip, chopped
- 1 turnip, chopped
- 1 swede, chopped
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 potatoes, diced
- 1 cup celery, diced or 1 cup peas (or both)
- 1 chicken & 2 beef stock cubes
- 1 cup gravy
- 1 tablespoon HP sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional)
- pepper, herbs or spices if liked.
- Brown the meat and onion in a very large pot with just enough water to cover it. (I must admit I never understood how you brown anything in water so I add some cooking oil spray first, brown them and then add the water. Maybe that’s what mum meant anyway.)
- Add stock cubes and stir in.
- Add all the vegetables except the peas and potatoes and add more water. (The recipe does not specify how much water. I generally use about two cups and add more if I need to.)
- Add all the sauces and stir thoroughly.
- When the vegetables are close to being cooked add the potatoes and a cup of gravy to thicken the stew.
- Last of all add the peas if you are using them.
- Simmer until the potatoes are cooked and add pepper and whatever herbs or spices you prefer to taste.
These amounts make enough stew for a family. It’s fine reheated the following day too.
Thanks for joining in. Your picture of a Sunday dinner looks mouthwatering. Yummy. I had to look up HP sauce as I have never heard of it. Your stew recipe looks yummy too. Foods from our youth can be such terrific comfort foods.
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Yes they are.
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Thank you for joining. With us again this week. I loved reading your post. My grandmother had the Willow pattern dishes, and I recall my cousin having a blue willow children’s china playset. I love Yorkshire pudding, but I have not made it in years. I will try your mother’s stew. (I had to look up what a swede was – we call them rutabagas). I think the HP sauce would need to come from a specialty store or online as I don’t think it is carried in our grocery stores. Thanks for joining in!
There might be some equivalent sauce you can use. The ingredients are tomatoes, malt vinegar (from barley),molasses, glucose/fructose syrup (from wheat), spirit vinegar, sugar, dates, maize thickener, rye flour, salt, spices and tamarind concentrate.
It is OK for vegetarians but probably not for gluten intolerant people.