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The return of retro recipes

Rum babas

Recipes from bygone eras are making a comeback, featuring in programmes such as The Great British Bake Off. But why?

"In baking and cakes there's only six core recipes and then they're just tweaked and amended," says Paul Hollywood, master baker and presenter of BBC Two's competitive baking show.

"Nowadays 'new' recipes don't really exist."

Blast from the past

  Jam roly poly

Create a 'retro classic' jam roly poly

Learn the art of the rum baba

Try a spotted dick with custard

Explore wild 70s vegetarian dishes

Styles of cooking from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s keep on returning, he says, as "what goes around comes around, just as in music, fashion and art".

In the first week of the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, in which 12 contestants compete each week to be a star baker, Mr Hollywood demanded they create a 70s French dessert: rum baba, a "hybrid of cake and bread".

"I have been doing rum babas for a long time. I began years ago in the hotels I've worked in like the Dorchester," he says.

"Picking rum baba, I felt it was time to bring it back. What we find with doing anything on Bake Off, is that is really sets it off again, like with other things we've done, like homemade sausage rolls."

But why is it time for a retro food revival?

"There's one person on Bake Off fascinated with recipes straight out of the 70s, and for anyone really, it takes them back to their youth," says Mr Hollywood.

They are not the only people with a taste for nostalgia. Bloggers are embracing the cooking craze.

For example Anne Fisher and Ann Rocca have taken to cooking with pineapple. Not just any dish, but recipes within a "crazy" Australian 1960s Golden Circle Tropical Recipe Book, which they chanced upon in a second-hand shop.

Banana boats Banana boats made using pineapple?

Written by home economist Ruby Borrowdale, the book features "everyday meals with a tropical holiday flavour", as a promotional tool for canned fruit firm Golden Circle.

"I've always been a bit obsessed with retro food," says Ms Rocca, a home economist who learnt to cook in the 70s.

"Now we've cooked the (pineapple) works; a kidney recipe with pineapple, pineapple toad-in-the-hole... which really wasn't very nice even though it was cooked perfectly," she says.

The two Australian friends from New South Wales have turned their pineapple mission into the Pineapple Princesses blog, taking inspiration from Julie Powell, the American who charted her journey through Julia Child's seminal book Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Child's story was turned into a Hollywood film called Julie and Julia starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.

Creme classics:

Creme caramel
  • Creme caramel became popular in European restaurants in the late 20th Century as "restaurateurs could prepare a lot in advance and keep them until needed", says food historian Alan Davidson.
  • The name creme brulee was first coined in France in 1691. It was eaten in France and England in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
  • The recipe was turned down by Trinity College, Cambridge when an undergraduate tried to introduce it to the kitchens in the 1860s, but in 1879 he retried as a fellow and it become a favourite dish at the college.

The Golden Circle book "is very Queensland and very 1960s, when food wasn't adventurous", says Ms Fisher.

"It is about nostalgia for both of us, to begin with it was a bit of a joke. My first disaster was a boiled fruit cake - I burnt the top of it," she says.

"It was about our childhoods in the 50s and 60s and how things have changed - it was a bit of a shock to see how much salt and sugar is used in these recipes, but it charts a time in Australian post-war food history," Ms Rocca explains.

"It's... reminding us what food in Australia was like 50 years ago. To cook with pineapple you'd have to be daring... as the attitude to food was very conservative."

The pair's fascination with food from the past is mirrored in similar blogs, such as The Way We Ate, which each week recreates recipes from old issues of Gourmet magazine.

The authors of that blog, New York photographers Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz, say they "share a desire to re-create, cook and capture some of the best recipes of the 20th Century that we either missed the first time around, or want to relive".

"For us, Gourmet wasn't only a document of the decadent and gastronomic, it was also the pre-eminent historian of food trends worldwide," the pair explain.

"Every time we cook out of a vintage issue, we try to think about what was happening in the world at that time.

"It's pretty inspiring to be making something in the kitchen from the same month as the lunar landing, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or an invited guest's birth month and year.

Strawberry shortcake recreated from Gourmet, July 1983 The Way We Ate blog features vintage recipes like this strawberry shortcake from Gourmet, July 1983

"Cooking through history seems a worthwhile pursuit to us, especially when we think about all we are learning. It's like a free education in the culinary arts!"

Perhaps this fondness for yesteryear and history is driving the recent passion for retro baking.

In many cases, recipes for such treats have been handed down generation to generation, as people keep family traditions and food memories alive.

Bettina Siegel, author of the blog The Lunch Tray, which promotes healthy eating for children, decided her family's recipes needed to be documented for future generations.

She has put together a cookbook representing her mother's Eastern European Jewish family, which relatives could contribute to.

Vintage inspiration

Elizabeth David
  • Elizabeth David has been credited as the most important cookery writer of the 20th Century for bringing European cooking to the UK. Her first Mediterranean cookbook was published in 1950, when there was still post-war rationing.
  • Marguerite Patten has been called the "doyenne of British cookery" and has written 167 cookbooks. The home economist has also done thousands of practical cooking demonstrations.
  • Julia Child was dubbed America's "national treasure" after she introduced French cuisine to the US public. In 1961, she published her seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and did a TV series The French Chef.

"I think that food is always part of our memories, of holidays, of festivals, and that made this project meaningful."

The book contains recipes, but also photos, and written memories of individual's food, as well as a family tree.

"The project offers a really visible connection to the past, a centre of connection to that person I don't normally get to see," Ms Siegel explains.

"Some of the recipes I will never make again, but I am so glad I got, like a baked carp recipe. It's quite old-fashioned, but it's neat to have.

"It's important to record the heritage, find and save old recipes people aren't making anymore."

Paul Hollywood believes old-fashioned recipes help people develop cooking techniques as well, meaning they never go out of fashion.

"When you know the basic techniques of a recipe, you're fine, whether it's folding or whipping, and whether it be pavlova or sponge... the differences are the things that can be added to it, like a chantilly cream, and then you can change the flavours of it, flavours that have not been around before, like mango, and tweak it again."

Ann Rocca also believes the classic training that comes with following old recipes means retro recipes will forever be reinvented.

"You can always learn from the past even if cooking now or in the future.

"It's about flavours, textures, techniques. The current trend of making do with what you've got, and sticking to a budget, means these recipes are relatable."

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