Eating In 1900-1950
At the start of the 20th century, malnutrition was widespread. Although the importance of clean water and good drainage was recognised, little was known about the dangers of a bad diet. During the First World War it was found that almost half the men called up to enlist were not in good enough health to serve. Efforts were made in the 1930s to improve the situation and the nation's health became a government priority.
In 1909, the population of the United Kingdom ate more meat and fish than the population ate in 1954. By the mid-20th century, the amount of dairy products, cereal and fruit in the average diet had increased, as had the amount of fat and sugar.
There was more variety and availability of tinned and packet foods at this time. Heinz baked beans first appeared in Britain in 1905, and later a factory opened in Harlesden. By 1914, Britain was the world's largest importer of tinned food. As the popularity of tinned food grew, the consumption of fresh vegetables and meat declined.
New foods included self-raising flour, yeast, baking powder, jelly, custard powder, lentils, pickles, margarine and dried vegetables. Breakfast cereals became popular, and the Shredded Wheat Company opened a factory in Welwyn Garden City. The invention of instant coffee, first sold in England in 1939, led to a dramatic rise in its popularity.
Some common recipes from the early 20th century include sheep's head soup, rissoles of game, fig pudding and the Battenburg cake. For the first time, newspapers published recipes and adverts for cookery books. The Daily Mail Cookery Book (1927) includes recipes for steamed fish, mousses, casseroles and some foreign dishes such as risotto. It also has 'Entente Pudding', whose ingredients include one packet of tangerine jelly and one pint of custard made from powder.
The preparation of food at home has changed dramatically. By 1914, most new London homes had gas cookers. With the shortage of servants after the First World War, gas cookers greatly increased in popularity and became a recognised alternative to the coal-fired range. By the 1920s, it was considered the most desirable cooking method. Electric cookers also became more popular, especially after precise temperature controls were developed. To encourage more households to use the new gas and electric cookers, some manufacturers, such as the General Electric Company, offered appliances on loan.
Until the development of the domestic refrigerator, fresh food was bought daily and the preservation of food proved a considerable problem. The first household refrigerator in the United Kingdom was sold in 1924, although at this time they were regarded as a luxury for most homes. As they became smaller and cheaper demand grew, and after the Second World War more people regarded the refrigeration of food a necessity rather than a luxury.
In the 1930s, electrical supply and production were sufficiently regular to allow the mass-production of electric kitchen appliances. Labour-saving devices were popular, and included mincing machines, potato-peelers, apple-corers and knife-sharpeners.
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