“Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish, game or any other dish? Who would not give all else for two pennyworth of beautiful soup?”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Those of you who know me or have read some of my earlier blogs will not be surprised by the heading of this one. But today as I made soup it took me on another trip down memory lane.
I got the recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod. And once I have tried it I shall report on whether it tastes as good as it smells. It certainly looks like the minestrone soup of my memory.
It was 1956 and I had recently left school to work in the American Express Company’s Freight Department 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 above was displayed so that you could easily identify where to use these vouchers.
It later transpired that LVs 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 Luncheon Vouchers to dress up in lingerie and be spanked by young women.”
There were many shops and establishments that didn’t sell food displaying the voucher sign.
Well back to my memories. 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.
I understand that many companies still use Luncheon Vouchers for their staff. Here in New Zealand if this were the case the company would have to pay Fringe Benefit Tax and that of course, is another story.
“Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don’t catch steak hanging around when you’re poor and sick, do you?”
Judith Martin (Miss Manners)
1. WordPress was playing up today. I wrote this blog and then it disappeared into the ether never to be seen again. So this is the second attempt. and
2. I have tried the soup and it is delicious. More memories to follow.