Train food… before the British Rail sandwich

I love travelling by train, even if I had to do it every day as my son does, I still think I would love it – looking at other people, meeting other people, looking out of the window whether it is day or night, clear or misty, reading on a train, writing on a train… just being on a train… Then of course there is eating on a train. When we go on long journeys we take a picnic… unfortuantely I’m usually unable to resist it and eat it within the first half hour of the journey… then it’s over to the buffet car or the refreshments trolley. I know British Rail (as it was and as it still is in my mind) has a poor reputation for catering, but these days it’s got a great selection, and even in the post there was something romantic about the wilting sandwich and luke-warm, strewed tea…

A couple of years ago I wrote about train food… here I’ve combined two parts of something I wrote about train food:

(i)

Train travel in a bygone era… For first class passengers utter luxury! Constance Sprye was born in 1886, and in the chapter on Food For Special Occasions in the cookery book she wrote with Rosemary Hume, she recalls a first train journey alone when she ordered a luncheon basket. From the way she writes it sounds as if she may have been about eighteen:

I well remember the first time I had a luncheon basket on a train; ordered ahead by wire it was brought to the carriage at some main-line station en route. Now, I thought, I really am gown up, no more packets of sandwiches for me. Someone must have tipped the guard, for a remember he brought a fresh footwarmer and enquired if I was comfortable. hair up, long skirts, luncheon basket, the Strand Magazine, on my way to my first house party – I was beginning life. In the basket was a wing of chicken, roll, butter biscuits, cheese, and, I think, celery and possibly cake or a jam tart and an apple, and I have an idea that it cost 2s. 6d. (two shillings and six pence, about 12½p in money now)

Today we are going on a train journey; we will probably have a coffee on the train, but no footwarmer, no need in modern heated trains! If there is not a buffet car, the trolley will come round offering sandwiches, sausage rolls, snacks and crisps, chocolate and cakes, but we will have our own packed sandwiches and snacks!

(ii)

I mentioned our train journey the other day, we have another one today! We won’t be having a picnic lunch anything like Constance Spry describes in her Cookery Book!

Here is what she says about train food, (and its interesting to read about the difficulties picnic makers had in the past without our modern wrapping sheets, plastic bags, snap-lock boxes etc):

The primary qualification about such food is that it shall taste fresh and be really appetising. it should never bear the faintest trace of paper flavouring, something not so easy to avoid as one might think. Sandwiches or bread and butter, and chicken, may each be wrapped in  lettuce leaves to keep them away from napkins or wrapping paper, and whenever possible special food cartons should be employed.. and. for keeping salad fresh. Porosan bags. I should like to give you the details of a delicious meal made by one of the family for a small party going up to the far north.
Each of us was handed when we got into our sleepers a small, neat cardboard box containing two little screw-top cartons and other small packages. In one carton was a freshly made lobster salad in a delicious dressing, the second carton contained fresh fruit salad of peaches, strawberries and orange. Crisp poppy-seed rolls were quartered and buttered, and a Porosan bag held the crisp heart of cos lettuce. There were small cream cheese rolls made by taking two short pieces of celery, filling the hollow made when they are put together with cream cheese and rolling the whole in brown bread and butter…
… Thermos flasks, a commonplace to all of you, have brought about the possibilities that would have seemed miracles to us: consommé, coffee, and even toddy, all kept warm for many hours.

Lobster salad! Good grief!

I guessed that Porosan might be some sort of pre-plastic food covering and after a lot of trailing through different sites, found this:

Porosan was a thick plastic skin (the book calls it a ‘synthetic skin’) that was ‘shrink-wrapped’ using a hot water bath method and which produced excellent and safe results. A real shame it’s no longer available, it’s easier and cheaper than replacing rubber rings on Kilner jars.

I see that it is available as waxed discs for making jam on Amazon – if you should want some. it”s not to be confused with Indonesian porosan ‘a dried betel preparation’!

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