(All illustrations by Hannah Presdee.)
Ever noticed how your grandparents always tend to look the picture of health in old photos, despite the black and white film and stories of them eating three slap-up meals a day made with full-fat, whole ingredients?

Tales of hearty soups with homemade bread, creamy desserts and pies with lashings of sweet custard, pork chops with tonnes of spuds and gravy. Foods that are vilified now in favour of a gluten-free option were the staples to which our grandparents and parents grew and managed to live such strong, healthy lives, without ever having to go on a diet – without a spiraliser in sight.

My mum’s parents…


My dad’s parents…


What’s changed? As I’m writing this, I’m currently back in my birth-city of Birmingham, discussing with my parents the food they were brought up on back in Northern Ireland, where they both grew up a not too far from one another with their multiple brothers and sisters and parents.

My mum’s family had a much more luxurious upbringing than my dad’s (my dad only tried a prawn cocktail for the first time when visiting my mother’s family for a BBQ – served in none other than a crystal glass #glam), but they both grew up eating very similar things and in similar ways generally. Everything was basic, good cooking and it was all made from scratch at home – except for the odd trip to the fish and chip shop.

Here are a few classic dishes that my parents remember from their own childhoods to demonstrates the simplicity of how food used to be.

Spuds, meat and veg…

Dad: It was boiled potatoes with the skins left on and you sat around the table peeling them off if you so desired, although I preferred the skins left on. Or they were mashed with a slab of butter. Very seldom would you have had the typical chicken and pork chops you see today, instead you would’ve had bacon or sausages as we couldn’t afford anything else. As for veg, it would’ve typically been cabbage and carrots – I don’t remember ever seeing this broccoli and newfangled varieties of veg you see today. I don’t remember there ever being gravy, and if we ever had chips growing up, they would’ve been homemade and cooked in lard.

Mum: Every dinner we’d have this and I never even knew there was such a thing as pasta until my 20s. Everyday we’d have either pork, sausages, chicken, steak, gammon steak with pineapple rings on the top. As for potatoes, they were mainly boiled in the skins and you had to peel them yourselves. On a Sunday you might’ve had roast potatoes, but every other day we’d have them boiled – but that never put me off, I just love potatoes. We’d have carrots, turnip, parsnip and peas for the veg and we’d also have gravy too. I never saw an avocado or aubergine when I was growing up, never even heard of them. My father would’ve grown his own veg in his greenhouse. Sometimes we’d have champ, which is potatoes with scallions (spring onions) mixed with lumps of butter.

Roast dinner

Soda bread…

Dad: Soda bread was sometimes available at home and potato bread too, although this wasn’t necessarily homemade and we didn’t have them in all the time. This would’ve been served mostly for breakfast with some scrambled eggs and bacon. Dad (Laura’s granddad) was always a big tea drinker and would always ask for half a cup of tea – never any coffees and lattes.

Mum: My mother wasn’t a great baker, so we used to buy it from the bakery which was always fresh – soda, potato and wheaten. We would’ve had them with lunch with some salad and ham. For breakfast we would’ve had fried potato bread with bacon on the weekends, otherwise it was cereal.

Soda bread


Dad: There was always a big pot on the go of soup, broth or stew. In the stew would’ve been much the same as what was on your plate for the spuds, meat and two veg. There were parsnips, potatoes, turnips, onions and a bit of lamb.

Mum: Our stew was onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beef and potatoes. My mother (Laura’s grandmother) made her own stock and used this to make the stew with a bit of parsley. It was always better the next day. We never would throw anything out.



Dad: Never really had puddings – if we did it was a scoop of ice cream.

Mum: We used to have a lot of desserts, and lots of the time it was Angel Delight. I can’t remember if we had desserts everyday, but if we did it might’ve been apple crumble with custard made by my mum. My mum also used to be the master of making pavlova. It was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside with fresh berries on the top. But that was for special occasions.


Laura Denno signature



  1. December 22, 2016 / 1:07 pm

    My Grandparents pretty much still eat like this, with a few differences. There is always lard in the kitchen as my Nan says it’s the best thing to cook with. We have tried introducing them to other foods but they always go back to the basics.

    • laura.dennison@icloud.com
      December 22, 2016 / 5:59 pm

      Your grandparents sound like they’re onto a good thing! No point fixing something that isn’t broke, eh?

  2. Maureen Smith
    December 24, 2016 / 7:56 pm

    Hi Laura
    Your Great Grandparents on the Catney side had a diet of spuds and cabbage. We were brought up on good wholesome plain foods.

  3. Emma
    March 14, 2017 / 7:11 pm

    My mum was from Belfast and reading this just makes me…happy.

    • laura.dennison@icloud.com
      March 14, 2017 / 7:36 pm

      Hi Emma! I’m glad you can relate and that it too makes you happy 🙂
      I’ve very fond memories of growing up on potato bread and Tayto cheese and onion…

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