“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth,
for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:
it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell, British poet and critic 1887-1964
Winter has arrived in force now. We have been lulled into thinking it won’t happen, but yesterday and today, the rain fell, the wind blew and the temperature plummeted. June, July and August are winter months here in New Zealand.
I think the days of quietly sitting reading in the warm sunshine are now over for the next several months
Not surprisingly, therefore, today my thoughts turned to soup. For those of you who have been following me on my other blog
If you have been following me on my other site Growing Younger Each Day you will know that I love soup. I need no excuse to make it whatever the weather. When my children were at home, we always had clearing out the fridge soup for Saturday lunch. That left space for the new vegetables I was to buy. And there were always other people for Saturday lunch.
After making soup and enjoying a hot bowlful for lunch I took a trip down memory lane. Back so many years to when I was a young 18-year-old living in London.
It was 1956 and I had recently left school to work in the American Express Company’s Freight Department in The Haymarket, as a secretary. It was only some 11 years after the end of the Second World War and rationing had dragged on for many of those years. As part of our salary (which we called wages in those far-off days), we were given Luncheon Vouchers.
Luncheon Vouchers were introduced in 1954 and were used to ensure that workers got a good meal in the middle of the day without companies having to provide their own canteens. They were readily accepted in cafes and food bars, coffee shops and sandwich bars. The image was displayed so that you could easily identify where to use these vouchers. They were in use for many years and who know, maybe they still are.
And there were many shops and establishments that didn’t sell food displaying the voucher sign. The vouchers were as good as cash.
But later it came to light that Luncheon Vouchers were being used for many other things. The famous case of Cynthia Payne who was charged with keeping a brothel brought this to light. “Payne first came to national attention in 1978 when police raided her home and found a sex party was in progress. Elderly men paid in out-of-date Luncheon Vouchers to dress up in lingerie and be spanked by young women.”
So what does this have to do with soup?
The Haymarket is a short stroll to Soho. At the time there was a number of small Italian cafes in the area and this is where we used our Luncheon Vouchers for lunch several times a week. We were introduced to different soups including Minestrone with Parmesan cheese on top and pasta in its different forms. All of these were very strange to our London tastes at the time.
So most days saw us having cappuccino coffee – a true luxury as coffee had been rationed during the war years – after our soup. My parents weren’t particularly happy about my going to Soho with its reputation for prostitutes on every corner and of course, the Windmill Theatre, most (in)famous for its nude tableaux. Very daring for the time. Did you see Dame Judi Dench in the movie “Mrs Henderson Presents” that was made about the Windmill?
And for me, Minestrone soup always takes me back to a little cafe in Wardour Street where young women used to meet and think we were so sophisticated. Remember 18 year-olds at that time were very innocent. Not nearly as worldly-wise as those of today. With my sisters, I lived at home and we were quite tightly controlled by our parents as far as what was acceptable and what was not. And what we were allowed to do. How different it is today.
“Soup is cuisine’s kindest course. It breathes reassurance;
it steams consolation; after a weary day it promotes sociability,
as the five o’clock cup of tea or the cocktail hour.”
Louis P. De Gouy, author of The Soup Book.