By Rose Lock
Women’s magazines. Trivial, eh? Just a collection of inconsequential articles on how to keep your man happy, patterns for knitted shorts, vile make-do-type recipes, and adverts for lipsticks and washing powder.
Well, yes, all of these things can be found in the copies of Woman’s Own, Woman’s Friend, Woman’s Realm (do you see a pattern emerging?) and Woman that we hold as part of the archives at The Keep, but to dismiss them as trivial really does this amazing slice of history a disservice. The idea of the feminine being somehow less important (as I am sorry to say has been the tendency for more time than I care to think about) gifts us archival time travellers with a view into the past that is wonderfully unguarded and true to the moment. Adverts, advice columns, recipes, short stories; none of these exists in a vacuum, they all come from the worlds women lived in, aspired to, and wished to escape from.
We can use these snippets to see through the wormhole and into the past, and catch a glimpse of the sort of woman who might make Carnival Queen…or, as I have always thought of it, Weetabix Trifle.
Just look at it, will you? Resplendent in the ‘best’ glass bowl, with the ‘fancy’ china ready, layered in bright colours with glace cherries and angelica carefully placed in regal fashion. Mrs. Crisp is glorious in her best frock, hair done, and you know she made that crown herself, for she, too, is the Carnival Queen. It’s a real period classic, from December 1950, and with rationing still in place for many of the ingredients that would normally create such a dessert, the recipe tells us so much more than how to make a pudding.
Greengage Jelly is not one of the classic jelly flavours that we all know these days, but a quick google search shows us it is still a popular flavour in South Africa. Greengage feels like a very British flavour, made with fruit from home, and overflowing with a Dig for Victory style patriotism. Then there is the Weetabix – Oh my. Well, I suppose if cake is a rarity then you’re not going to be using it for a trifle, but really? The rationing period adverts are rife with these ‘interesting’ ways to use everyday products. The horrors of Woolton pie and potato fudge must have made these seem palatable, but I struggle to imagine viewing them as a treat.
Although some sweetness will have come from the custard, jelly and jam, two spoonfuls of sugar is all that we see in the pudding. Was that sweet enough to please, or just sweet enough not to create a savoury monster crouching in the corner of your party, awaiting the unwary? One of those spoons goes into the dangerously artificial sounding ‘Mock Cream’. Long lasting dairy products such as powdered and evaporated milk were ubiquitous during rationing, so directions on how to make this creative substance are provided. It says much that it is not suggested as an alternative if you cannot get fresh cream, but as the only possible topping.
The advert states “This recipe serves 8-10 people”. That’s not a great deal of ‘Carnival Queen’ per serving, although I wonder if that was a blessing. We certainly expect larger servings these unrationed days. Another statement that our modern eyes find a bit off is ‘EXTRA SUGAR AND SALT’. The packet of Weetabix in my cupboard boasts that it is low in sugar and salt, quite the reverse of this proud pronouncement of extra taste in a much blander world.
This recipe has fascinated me since I first saw it in the pages of a gigantic volume of Woman’s Own; a whole six months of the weekly publication kept together for students and researchers to peruse in a library filled with academic promise. I have always wanted to try it out and the exciting discovery of the continued existence of Greengage Jelly has inspired me once again, although I might wait for the end of lockdown so that instead of inflicting it on my family, I can force my colleagues to eat what might be my worst culinary disaster since the horror that was Snickers Salad. Did the women who bought the single, brightly coloured little magazine carefully create this treat and present it proudly to their families? I really hope so; with a paper crown, in their best glass bowl, of course!
To see the full catalogue for our Woman’s Own collection, go to https://www.thekeep.info/collections/getrecord/GB181_SxMs154