Stories of 1970s food lessons in an east London school
I’m really in love with Angel Delight, especially the butterscotch flavour. What a magical new product this is! Add milk to the powder, then whisk until it thickens to peaks of buttery, sugary, foamy chemical alchemy – it’s finger licking delicious. But what is it made from? There are no clues on the packet but why should I care?
I sent my mother a coupon for a free packet explaining that it takes less than a minute to make. She’s so busy teaching, and Angel Delight could be her answer for speedy puds. But there’s no mention in her letters to me and I wonder if she’s thinking ‘muck’ like she did for my French dressing.
Today we’re making Angel Delight tart for our lesson on Convenience Foods and the class can bring any flavour of their choice or a packet mix of something that they think saves cooking time. I’ve bought in ready baked pastry shells, and they’ll fill them with different flavours of Angel Delight – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and the perfect butterscotch. We’ll sprinkle Hundreds and Thousands on the top – another brilliant new product that comes in loads of bright colours and gives a crunchy, sugary topping to this delicious dish. My mother will be horrified.
Instant goodies line up on my demonstration table. Packets of Instant Whip, Bird’s Chocolate Blancmange, and Green’s Sponge mix. An empty cardboard carton of Vesta Beef Curry still has a whiff of spices. Such an easy way to show them the foods of India – just add water to the dried ingredients!
My convenience food display has a can of Campbell’s Condensed Mushroom Soup which we spoon as a vol-au-vent filling, a packet of Quick Jel, Carnation Evaporated Milk, and bottles of Heinz Salad Cream and Tomato Ketchup. Convenience foods are exploding onto shop shelves and cooking in the 1970s is going to be more exotic and quicker.
Cooking is a grand term for this lesson and I expect letters from home.
Terry puts his hand up as the rest gather on the stools.
I’m impatient to get on and Terry can ask irritating questions.
‘Miss, me mum says you’re supposed to teach us cooking, not opening packets.’
Others nod wisely. They like the mystery of making things from scratch in my lessons yet at lunchtime they pop into my room with their instant food.
‘Can I mix this packet soup with hot water, miss, for me lunch?’
But Terry needs an answer. He won’t stop until he knows why, what or how long.
‘Look! We have to learn about convenience foods for the exam. Angel Delight tart is a perfect convenience food for easy puddings for busy mothers. It saves lots of bother.’
My brain cells scream with the nonsense coming out of my mouth. There is no food yet invented that looks remotely like the creamy, soft foam of butterscotch Angel Delight. It is not a convenient way of inventing anything, just a spectacular triumph on its own.
I show them how to froth the powder and milk into foamy peaks, then pile the Angel Delight into the pastry.
‘Get going with your tarts then come round for a mark when you are done.’
Len and his group let out a snigger. Ah – it’s the tart talk that has made them laugh this time.
They file past with tarts piled with pastel coloured foam. A mark is a joke for following instructions from a packet of chemistry.
But now they’re off and it’s the end of the school day.
Sylvia puts the kettle on. We wrap our hands round warm mugs of tea and share a slice of beige, foam topped tart. A spoonful of caramelly froth melts in my mouth.
Thankyou Mr Food Chemist for this taste sensation.
Nutritional value of this pudding – bah humbug! Who cares!
60p buys a 59g packet of Angel Delight in the most popular Butterscotch Flavour. The packet says made with real butter but the Ingredients list says Butter Powder 1% so the Food Chemist has been busy again creating Yummy tastings clouds of fluffiness – that’s the packet description, not mine.
The instructions are really simple and I can understand why, in the 1970s, a parent wrote me a grumpy letter asking that I taught her son to cook and not open a packet.
- Pour 300ml chilled milk into a bowl.
- Add Angel Delight and whisk until light and creamy
- Leave to thicken for 5 mintes before serving.
I wonder if the this compote needed whisking at all. Strangely the clouds of fluffiness separated out the next day to leave a puddle of brown liquid at the bottom of the bowl.
Angel Delight was first launched in 1967 by the Bird’s company famous for their custard powder, and became a really popular family dessert in the 1970s – 50 years ago. People thought it was healthy as it encouraged kids to eat more milk. Today you can buy ready made Angel Delight in a pot so no need to even whip it for 5 minutes!