Did food taste better years ago and if so, why?
My mother's generation regularly complained that food didn't taste like it used to. She was born in the early years of the 20th century while Edward VII was on the throne, and her mother, who did the cooking for the family was using Victorian methods.
I think that my mother was almost certainly right that food used to have more flavour years ago and I believe that there are several reasons - see below.
Why food probably tasted better in years gone by
In years gone by:
- Food really was organically produced. There was no intensive farming of cereals and vegetables, and farm animals and poultry roamed freely. Their diet included scraps from people's tables and what they could scratch around to find for themselves.
- No food was ever served really cold because there were no fridges. A shaded outhouse or food safe was in every home, but it was never colder than the surrounding temperature, and, apart from in the depths of a cold winter, it was never as cold as a fridge. Food that is colder than room temperature is never as tasty as food served at room temperature. Just try bread or chocolate straight from the fridge, to see for yourself.
- People in the past were not as concerned about germs as we are today, so all kitchens had what was known as a stock pot. The liquid leftovers from one meal were placed into it and then added to the next meal and so on. This considerably added to the combination of flavours in the stock pot making future meals far more flavoursome than than if only the stock cubes of today had been used.
- Excess fat from roasts was poured off into a basin and kept for later use - again with no concern for germs. Provided that food smelled all right it was taken as all right.
- Many foodstuffs, herbs and spices etc were not available during the severe rationing of World War II and into the late 1950s. So a whole generation - me included - grew up without learning the associated cookery tips and tricks by watching their mothers. This generation was accordingly not able to pass these tips and tricks on to their own children. So, for me, and I suspect for most other people, finding out about old methods of food preparation has involved spending time talking to old people and reading old books. It is not automatic. Incidentally the old cookery book that everyone has heard of is Mrs Beeton's. However, just glancing through it shows that she was writing for the more affluent members of society with time on their hands. My interest and the focus of this group of pages is in the old ways of everyday cooking in ordinary families.
Today we are concerned about germs and we have less time to devote to meal preparation. So is it possible to achieve that old fashioned taste with modern labour-saving methods, without paying a premium for organic food and without a risk to health? I believe that the answer is yes, to a large extent.
Carrots, to take the example of just one vegetable, certainly did taste better years ago. See the extract from the World Carrot Museum.
Curator, World Carrot Museum
The above links are to pages which show how I have done my best to achieve the old fashioned taste while making my own amendments to capitalise on more modern techniques, equipment and attention to food safety. I hope you find the pages interesting and useful.