Food and water. Real fundamentals of human existence. Our bodies need energy to work, from the movement of our limbs to the power needed to keep our brains running the whole operation.
Even if we’re at work for longer than we have spare time at home, home is still where we do most of our food preparation and eating. Meal times are very varied and reflect our own lives – we could be sitting down together at the kitchen table for a meal or grabbing a quick bite to eat from the fridge before heading out the door.
A lot of the objects associated with food and drink from homes reflect the lives of those that owned them, from basic things like knives, forks and plates to elaborately decorated dishes and bowls for special occasions. Drinking objects are also a reflection of their function and situation in which they are used, whether it’s a humble mug for the morning cup of tea or nice wine glasses that are dusted off for a toast at Christmas.
Cookery is one of the integral parts of home life. Before we could instantly turn on a gas hob, or set an oven to an exact temperature, household cookery was a lot more difficult and the meals that could be made more limited. As with other household labour, this considerable duty fell mostly to the mother in a home.
The coal-fired kitchen range was the centre of most household activities, and food preparation was one of them. Being situated in a coalfield, North Lanarkshire’s households had a plentiful supply of this fuel on hand. Without a thermostat-controlled oven or hob however, skill and experience was needed in being able to judge the heat that was being produced and the amount of time for cooking, from toast in the morning to a stew in the evening.
Recipes from the time reflect this, being simpler and more focused on hob-based meals. Baking or roasting in the oven would have been more difficult to judge, as a cook would have to balance the heat from the coal to prevent from burning food.
With greater access to electricity in our homes, more people began to enjoy the ease of using electric ovens which allow greater control. Cooker instructions and recipe books from the 1950s and 60s reflect this newfound enthusiasm for things such as temperature control that we’d think of as pretty standard today.
With a greater variety of recipes now achievable for the household cook, people could experiment and try out different things. Home baking for example is more popular now than ever before, and owes much to these advances in domestic cooking technology.
Cooking and eating utensils reflect the variety of foods that are being prepared or eaten in a home. A lot of the basic styles in pots and pans or cutlery are recognisable to us today as their functions are pretty much the same. The shapes, sizes, or materials used to make a spoon might be different, but you’re hardly going to try and eat soup or ice cream with anything else! Other objects, on the other hand, have fallen out of favour as eating habits have changed.
Before fridges became affordable in the 1950s, food was limited to what was affordable, what was seasonal, what could be kept in the pantry, and what perishable goods could be bought from the shops that day.
Our increasingly globalised economy means we have a greater availability of food – and meals to make from it – than ever before.
A mug or a hauf?
Will I put the kettle on? Apart from water, there’s one household drink that’s been a constant companion for generations: the humble cup of tea. Its adulation in Britain and Ireland is well known throughout the world. It’s quite a story too. Its popularity is a very direct callback to our imperial past. The majority of tea consumed in Scottish households is grown in former British colonies such as India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, and was originally mass cultivated in those countries with the purpose of exporting it to Britain.
A whole culture around tea drinking – and by extension, other hot drinks too – is very much alive and well even today. Our houses are filled with hot drink paraphernalia. Cups and mugs, kettles and teapots, even saucers, trays or special tea sets for a bit more pomp and circumstance.
It even has emotional and social importance. It might seem daft, but it’s true – making a cup of tea for a neighbour, friend, or work colleague is seen as a welcoming gesture, a signal that you’re being hospitable. It might also be comforting or relaxing in times of distress. We might even have a favorite mug or cup to drink from!
Staying with the liquids, another aspect of drinking is our love of soft drinks. Ginger, pop, juice – whatever you call it, we drink a lot of it. North Lanarkshire has even had its own share of manufacturers as well as consumers. A wide variety of small local manufacturers were making their own variants of lemonade and ginger beer by the early 1900s. More recently ginger giant A.G. Barr shifted its production from Glasgow to Cumbernauld in 1996.
Alcohol too has its own story to tell in relation to the home. Traditionally the pub was the place to have a bevvy, as off-licenses were not as common as they are now. Because of the perceived threat of the ‘demon drink’, local authorities were reluctant to sanction the sale of alcohol by shops to try and focus drinking in the public houses. Households might get in a bottle of whisky for special occasions such as Hogmanay.
The rise of offies and supermarkets since the Second World War has meant the presence of alcohol in the home has increased, and with it a whole variety of different drinks glasses, bottles and other paraphernalia.