BBC Food blog

« Previous | Main | Next »

Retro recipes: 1970s Vegetarian

Post categories:

Fiona Beckett Fiona Beckett | 09:58 UK time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

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...)

It appears you're using a device or browser that does not have:

  • Javascript Enabled
  • Correct version of Flash

Please visit BBC webwise for instructions:

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.

Delia Smith demos vegetarian cooking to Kate Bush - 1979.

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?

Five more veggie recipes with a seventies flare:
Cheese, onion and potato pasties
Lentil, chard and roast plum tomato gratin
Puy lentil lasagne
Veggie sausage and pineapple canapés
Carrot spelt cupcakes with cream cheese frosting


  • Comment number 1.

    "Dense home made bricks". This was my introduction to wholemeal bread in the seventies by a well meaning older hippy relative. Still have an aversion to wholly wholemeal bread! I am an omnivore but veggie food has changed beyond all recognition and for the better - I have enjoyed some really good vegetarian and vegan food recently. In the seventies it seemed to be various kinds of stodge - root vegetable pies made with wholemeal flour (inside and out) and dhal that could have been slices into pieces are two examples that spring to mind. The emphasis seemed to be on recreating meat and two veg style meals with vegetables or pulses.

  • Comment number 2.

    Totally agree @cooksalot. I often choose the veggie option when I got out to eat these days. And bread is so, so much better

  • Comment number 3.

    I can't stand cheese - it smells and tastes vile! Along with its villainous sidekick, mayonnaise, it ruins the vast majority of sandwiches intended for vegetarians, and blights many a 'vegetarian dish of the day' in British pubs. Down with that sort of thing!

  • Comment number 4.

    Came across this recently and it got me wondering:

    So - is this stuff okay for vegetarians or not? As a vegetarian, I'm quite used to not eating meat - I haven't eaten it for 25 years and I find the very idea off putting. I don't miss meat at all and don't think I'd even want to try this stuff. How about other vegetarians - would you eat it or not? What about the people who want to be vegetarians but struggle with the idea of going without meat?

  • Comment number 5.

    I still have my Tassajara bread book. The beat veggie food i ever eat was at Tassajara. It has the best nut laof recipe i have found

  • Comment number 6.

    Goodness, Debbie that sounds totally bizarre. I never quite get vegetarians wanting dishes that look - or taste like - meat.

    Can't agree with you though about cheese, Paul. It has its place - just not in cooked veggie dishes. Or only occasionally.

    Lizzie - you must obviously get together with my husband ;-)

  • Comment number 7.

    "rather daringly - garlic"!! Garlic with everything. It has made my vegetarian life a nightmare. Why Oh why. My mother never used it. I have tried it, usually against my will and find it unbearable! At least Delia never included it in her recipe for custard [I think!] I have to read the list of ingredients on supermarket ready made meals very carefully, some of which are initially tempting for someone who has to fend for himself; but most are rejected. Linda Mac's sausages being an exception. Eating out at a restaurant or chez somebody, is now virtually impossible without having to ask whether the dish contains GARLIC.

  • Comment number 8.

    Where do people still queue for veggie meals nowadays? Food for Thought in Covent Garden still had queues up the steps the last time I visited. And rightly so!


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.