Updated: Sep 24
It's hard to relate my younger years' shopping and eating habits to those of today. The small row of shops 'up top' that catered for a post-war council estate where pennies were hard-won and foodstuffs basic, was a far cry from today' s supermarkets. Until the advent of the much-heralded Tesco on our local high street, the concept of everything under one roof had not yet arrived.
We had separate chemist, butcher, sweet shop-cum-tobacconist, off-licence and a greengrocer who only sold fruit and veg in season. A dedicated fish and chip shop provided the occasional treat with long queues on 'fish' Friday's.
We had a baker's where being sent to fetch the bread was a chore softened only by pulling back the sheet of tissue paper wrapping and chewing off the crispy crust on the way back home. Seedy Bloomers, Large Tins, French Sticks and everything else were white-only loaves, and pre-slicing unheard of. I once visited a house where the mother stood at the tea-table and buttered the cut end of a large loaf jammed under her arm before deftly sawing off the slice and flipping it onto the plate so that it arrived ready-spread.
For an extra-special sweet treat from the Baker we had a choice of Banbury's, (currant-filled, sugar topped pastries in the shape of a flattened canoe), madeleine's, angel cake and the oddly-named cheesecake (with nothing remotely cheesy about them), smothered in white icing and coiling strings of sugared coconut strands. All made on the premises.
Our home biscuit tin hosted Nice biscuits, Garibaldies (also known affectionately as 'squashed flies' on account of the embedded black currants), arrowroot biscuits and ginger- nuts, quite a poor selection by today's standards! In addition though, Mum was always knocking up batches of individual sponge cakes in their little crimped grease-proof paper cups, and jam tarts filled with Robertson's jam from which we collected golliwogg cut-outs slipped in behind the label on the jar. There was also a method of collecting enough to warrant an enamel badge. Golliwogg badges and dolls with their past colonial associations are taboo nowadays (for very good reason), but for us innocents, they were a very much loved part of our childhoods.
All our shopping then, from mud-bound potatoes and caterpillar-ridden cabbages from the green grocer, black and sulphurous eggs returned in bitter complaint to the grocer's in tea- cups and jam-jars, was a very long way from today's sanitised supermarket offerings and the exotic fruits and vegetables available to us all year round.
How lucky are we nowadays you might say. And yet and yet...?