Recall Christmas of days gone by

THIS week, guest columnist and local historian Paul Mould takes a festive trip down memory lane...

It is hard to imagine now, but a chicken was a luxury in 1939, when the Second World War had just started, and turkeys were only ever eaten by the very rich.

Christmas was, for most families, the only occasion each year when a chicken graced the dinner table.

A few lucky people had relatives in the country who had chickens and were able to enjoy a second banquet during the year.

There was nothing to prevent anyone keeping chickens, but you needed a licence to have a pig.

My uncle, who lived in Powell Street, off Fishtoft Road, brought us a chicken every Christmas and we gave him a Christmas cake in exchange. He also had two pigs every year and, when the time came to kill one, he took a ‘fry’ (sausages, liver, kidney, belly pork and a joint) to all his many relatives. He was a very popular visitor.

Dried fruit was not rationed but was very scarce, and housewives had to put currants, sultanas and raisins by during the year to make a cake for Christmas.

We were bakers, but still had difficulty obtaining enough fruit to make the Christmas cakes and special doughcakes ordered every year.

Other items we take for granted now were very scarce at that time. Tinned fruit was allocated and twice a year in our shop we received a supply of peaches, pears, apricots and pineapples and had the onerous job of sharing with numerous customers. The quality, however, was much better than the tinned fruit available in shops today, since we joined the common market. They came from Australia and California and were superb. Tinned fish – salmon, prawn, shrimps and crab – was also allocated only occasionally and, as with fruit, people put by for Christmas any tins they were lucky enough to get.

It sounds silly now but most children were pleased to find an apple and an orange in their sock at Christmas with a few sweets and a toy. No bananas – they did not reappear until after the war. You even had to take your ration book to be marked to buy oranges.

In restaurants today you can pick out the people who lived during the war years; they never leave food on their plates.