Potatoes and other vegetables

Boiled potatoes with butter, salt and pepper at dinnertime and a glimpse of a meal more than fifty years ago.

Long Sutton Primary School and a harvest supper. We sat along tables that stood in lines in a classroom. Perhaps it was the autumn of 1965, perhaps of 1966.

What we ate other than boiled potatoes is gone beyond recall. The potatoes remain in the memory because they were dry and crumbly. Perhaps they had been overcooked, perhaps they had been left too long in the big pans in the school kitchen, perhaps butter or gravy would have improved the flavour.

Potatoes and vegetables were an important part of our diet. Being honest, along with a daily portion of meat, potatoes and vegetables were our diet.

At least once, our potatoes at home must have come from government intervention stock. The brown paper sack bore the inscription “not fit for human consumption” and the potatoes had been sprayed with a purple dye. To ensure potato prices did not fall below a minimum price set by the Potato Marketing Board, potatoes were “destroyed.” The purple dye may have made the potatoes unsaleable, it did not affect their flavour.

Vegetables were seasonal, which meant many that during the winter months there were a lot of dinners with a lot of brassicas. Swedes and turnips also featured strongly on the winter dinner plate, but not as strongly as cabbage, broccoli and kale. There was no shortage of iron in our diet.

Dinner on Saturday was a large pot of stew, which would be adjusted according to the content available. Sometimes, it was left to me to make (there is not much that one can do wrong with stew, and I could listen to Sports Report on the BBC whilst making it ). My stews frequently included almost every vegetable I could find. Carrots and onions were staples, but would be supplemented by other root vegetables and sometimes peas or beans.

Summer days were salad days, tomatoes and cucumbers (which, our primary school teacher would have told us had skin, flesh and seeds so were technically fruit), along with lettuces, spring onions, beetroots and radishes.

Summer also brought baskets filled with runner beans and broad beans. The runner beans are memorable because there was a hand-turned machine for slicing them that might have sliced fingers, had anyone been silly enough to insert their fingers.

Stand now in Sainsbury’s and look at the vast range of fruit and veg, and our diet seemed to have been without much variety. However, what it lacked in variety, it made up for in taste.

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