What would Grandmama make of it?

I have just been shopping. Rivetting, huh?
But, as I was unpacking, it struck me that my grandmother would have recognised or known what to do with very few of the items.

Tahina - definite no
Canned chickpeas - dubious
Aubergine - she would in later years have recognised one but she wouldn’t have had a clue what to do with it
Lemon - result!
Mozzarella - nope.
Sumac - definite no
Kalonji - definite no
Pul biber flakes - definite no
Canned tomatoes - yes
Garlic - would have been recognised and shunned. Possibly with a grimace.
Pickled brined peppers - no, but obviously would recognise the principle, although pickles would be something made rather than bought, on the whole.
Plain yoghurt, Turkish - no. In later years she was familiar with flavoured yoghurts. Didn’t, need I say, hold with them.

Now I realise that this is not exactly an original thought and concede that this was not a typical load of shopping - I went to the Turkish shop for a reason and stocked up on other needfuls while there - but I’d be intrigued by what proportion of your provisioning is new-fangled stuff/furrin muck as a rule.


I used occasionally, when fetching a child from school when they were about six or seven, to look at the children as they came out in their little uniforms, with hair neatly tied up in bunches or cut in a neat short-back-and-sides, the girls in summer dresses and the boys in respectable, long shorts, and think, “These children do look very like the illustrations for Swallows and Amazons – nothing has changed much.” Then I would look around the mothers waiting to fetch their little darlings and realise that in the 1930s almost all of them would have been arrested for indecent displays of flesh, and certainly seen as the sort of tramps with whom a decent prep school would not wish to associate…

On the catering front; not a lot of what I buy is not either things which were around at the beginning of last century or things my grandmother would have recognised; but then, Granny was a well-travelled woman and had a daughter-in-law from Turkey, so she was familiar with more foods than many, perhaps. What she would not have been interested in was boughten tinned food: she made her own preserves and pickles, and would have cooked chickpeas from scratch rather than buy a tin of them, I suspect. She did like garlic, especially in what she called “Spanish Rice”. (And she cooked using wine! Gasp!)


A bit of rum for the Christmas pudding and rum butter (er, yes, Gus!) and a splash of brandy in the mincemeat was Right and Proper, Fanta, but cooking with wine would probably have been an indicator of dubious morals and all sorts. My grandmother was 1910s vintage, not at all well travelled and highly conservative in her tastes.

I seem to remember some tinned things passing muster and the purchase of others being an symptom of Gross Moral Turpitude - but I couldn’t swear to which was what, now…

No hats either, I’ll be bound…


Just so! Hatless and fancy-free.

My grandmother, I would have you to know, was the respected wife of a respected Don (though FR Leavis didn’t like him, which I can’t help feeling might be taken as a point in his favour) and her morals were Unimpeachable! She was a little earlier than 1910 vintage, and was among the first female intake to read medicine at Edinburgh (at the University, not at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women) and actually be allowed to qualify – or so the family mythology said, very firmly. For this reason she insisted that all her daughters were properly educated in a profession: social work, medicine, teaching (one of my aunts owned and ran a nursery school in Oxford, and at one point employed Philip Pullman’s wife) and so on: she felt that it was a good idea for them to have something they could fall back on if their husbands, like her father-in-law, decided to be Artists and were totally hopeless about providing for a family, or which they could do if they decided not to marry.


I bet tinned sardines and pilchards would have been ok.


My very dear ole Fish, I am - and was even before your encomium - sure that your grandmother was an all-round Good Egg. And hurrah for the educating of her daughters! I was merely viewing ‘cooking with wine’ through my grandmother’s eyes (actually, it was OK when my mother did it, but that is because it was my mother doing it, iyswim). Gran was a hospital paughter’s dorter* and married a Met policeman and was as ferociously respectable as only someone from slightly precarious beginnings can be.
She was also, and with hindsight, mad as a spoon. Smart, elegant, with cracking legs and even when elderly and after a first stroke which left her somewhat tottery, a great one for the high heels. And a marvellous and highly extrovert pianist, playing excellently by ear if the occasion arose: something seemingly at odds with much of the rest of the face she presented to the world.

You are right about the tinned fish, with the proviso that in my view the only good tinned pilchard or sardine is one that does not come my way. Mrs B. Cat has a little weakness for the former, mind…

*it started out wrong, so I ran with it.


My grandmother was born in 1890ish and died in the mid sixties, both she and grandad born in the Hebrides and he became a minister and they lived in a freezing manse outside Inverness.
I don’t think she’d recognise much of what I buy. Salads were homegrown and either a bitter cos or flabby leaves. Potatoes were very functional carb providers, a far cry from sweet potatoes, celeriac, butternut squash and red onions that I roast for a meat accompaniment.
Various milks that inhabit the fridge - almond and oat for example - would bewilder her. Couscous, quinoa and bulgur wheat would be weird as would be any vinegar other than sarsons. She’d be very familiar with pearl barley and surprised that it ever went out of fashion.
She wouldn’t recognise pasta except spaghetti or all the various charcuterie. She’d be amazed that smoked salmon came in packets.
A friend worked for M&S when they were developing their food offering - this would be in the 80’s and all their smoked salmon was sliced
by hand whilst they were working on developing machinery to do the job. They didn’t stock parmesan until they could persuade dairies to invest in insect proofing their production.
She would be disappointed that I didn’t have a pantry full of preserves but bought jam and pickles. She’d also be surprised at how little meat we eat - for her a meal meant meat. As someone who lived through two wars and the depression she had very frugal habits - either jam or butter, never both. But takeaways would have utterly shocked her. That would be profligacy beyond belief.


Ditto for mine, Marjorie, although her loudest objection would have been that ‘You don’t know what they put in it’.

‘A freezing manse outside Inverness’ - proper freezing, that would be. None of yer soft sassernach cold.


That, at least, hasn’t changed!


I’ve done similarly whilst wandering around the supermarket. How life has changed.

The number of things I’d never heard of when a child which are staple now. I guess the amusing, if slightly exaggerated “things overheard I Waitrose” sums it up well. Indeed, the Waitrose “essential” range is a treasure in it’s own right.

One something no-one would have expected, is the impact of 12 month availability of seasonal foods. Whether imported from all parts of the globe, or hot-housed nearer to these shores. Soft fruit, many vegetables are now on the shelves all year round. Tuna (only last week a girl at work asked “how many tuna does it take to fill a can ?”), squid. Whole sections for “foreign muck”.

When I went to University, longer ago than I care to recall, I avoided Halls and went into self-catering accommodation as I wanted to cook for myself. Some friends thought I was crackers. It was the year of the Jamaican sugar strikes and sugar packages almost tripled in price, I soon found it too expensive and cut it out from coffee & tea. From 3 per cup (can you imagine ?) to none. I didn’t mess with reducing. It took about a week to get used to the new taste.

I blame the EEC.

… & refrigeration.


‘I hope Abdul Makkar won’t be late with the strawberries,’ he said.

‘Strawberries?’ I asked in amazement, for it was the middle of January.

‘Oh yes, I’ve sent Abdul Makkar, who is a jinn, to New Zealand for some.’

(From My Friend Mr Leakey, 1937)


“With what?”, I hear you ask.