BBC – BBC Food blog: Retro recipes: 1970s Vegetarian

retro diet

BBC Food blog

The Hairy Bikers new series Best of British this week is a real blast from the past, particularly when it comes to vegetarian food. I well remember their two featured dishes – Glamorgan sausages and Homity pie – the first learnt from Delia, the second from Cranks just off Carnaby street where you were lucky to get in without a queue. Who queues for a veggie meal these days?

Vegetarian restaurants were popular just because everywhere else was so meaty. The standard response to a request for a veggie dish was a cheese omelette, as it still is in many parts of rural France. It’s no coincidence that Dave and Si’s chosen veggie dishes contain cheese. You found it in everything from salads to nut loaves and vast sodden baked potatoes (remember Spud-u-Like?) a lunch that lingered heavily on the stomach. Beans, lentils and grains like millet were compulsory too. No wonder one of Oxford’s most popular restaurants (still trading today) is called The Nosebag. Let Delia show you around the food on offer at Cranks in the 1970s (especially if you’ve got back trouble. )

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If it was a tough time for vegetarians it was even harder for vegans or the dairy intolerant (not that that term was coined in those days). Apart from veggie Indian restaurants round the back of Euston and in neighbourhoods like Southall, Tooting and Wembley there wasn’t a lot else. Japanese food hadn’t come on the scene. There were no noodles (apart from chow mein), no miso, no edamame, no veggie sushi, no Thai green – or yellow – vegetable curries. There weren’t the great fistfuls of fresh herbs you can buy nowadays to make your own pesto. (What was pesto?). You were lucky if you found one variety of hummus let alone the half dozen you now find on every supermarket shelf. No couscous. No quinoa . . .

Vegetarianism wasn’t just perceived as a dietary choice but a lifestyle one. If you were veggie you were a hippie. My husband still has his dog-eared copy of the Tassajara bread book from which he produced dense home-baked bricks which he used to slather with nut butters. (These were the days before sourdough). My first copy of The Vegetarian Epicure – well thumbed for it’s ‘Potatoes Romanoff’ recipe, a very seventies concoction of cubed cooked potatoes, cottage cheese, sour cream, spring onions and – rather daringly – garlic – actually fell apart and had to be replaced. Oh, and it was topped with grated cheddar. Of course.

Vegetarian Eccentric: Delia Smith demos vegetarian cooking to Kate Bush in 1979.

Maybe that sweat-inducingly heavy, cheesy food is the reason that a lot of people didn’t and still don’t stick with vegetarianism – one friend swears to it. (I even remember an Asian veggie restaurant in San Francisco called Betelnut (also still going) which had a notice on the door proudly proclaiming ‘No Cheese’.) Has the perception of vegetarianism changed enough so that we can eat our vegetables without racing for the grater?

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