70s high tech household
Technology played an increasingly important part in people's lives in the 70s. Colour television was first broadcast in the latter years of the 60s. By the 70s, the must-have accessory was a colour TV, later in the 70s, the first video recorders became available.
Electronic goods, promising a future dominated by technology, first appeared in the early years of the 70s. The first pocket calculators and digital watches were marketed then. In the early 70s they were expensive and out of most peoples' reach. By the end of the 70s, the first home computers were being manufactured and primitive electronic games, such as the tennis game Pong, were available. Digital watches and pocket calculators became more affordable and lost some of their earlier kudos.
In the kitchen, freezers made life more convenient and the 60s blender became the 70s food processor. At the end of the decade, microwave ovens started to appear, but for most people they were a phenomenon of the 80s.
In the 70s, freezer ownership increased dramatically. Freezers and frozen food were available in the 60s, but sales of freezers took off in the 70s. In 1970 around 100,000 were sold, which was three times as many as in 1967. By 1974, one in ten households had a freezer.
In the 70s, most people bought a freezer to save money by bulk buying food. In the inflation racked 70s, manufacturers even claimed you could freeze food prices in your freezer. In reality, it needed careful planning and shopping around to save money, and taking into account the cost of running the freezer.
However, most people found that once they had bought a freezer, the most important benefit was convenience. You could shop less often, buy different foods, freeze food from your own garden and eat foods that were out of season; although the most popular items people bought for their freezers in the mid 70s were peas, chips, raspberries and fish fingers. It was also common to buy large joints of meat to store in the freezer.
The new freezer culture allowed people to eat ice cream, previously a rare treat, in large quantities. Manufacturers introduced a host of new, colourful ice cream dishes.
Most types of freezer were available in the 70s: uprights, fridge freezers and chest freezers. It was common to keep large chest freezers in the garage rather than in the kitchen.
By the mid seventies, a number of specialist freezer shops sprang up selling only frozen food, for example Bejam (now Iceland) and supermarkets also sold frozen food. There were also freezer cookbooks and even a monthly magazine, 'Home and Freezer Digest', first published in 1973. Editor, Jill Churchill's vision for the new magazine was Its not just what the freezer can do for you, but what the freezer frees you to do". As with most new things there was plenty of advice about what to freeze, how to blanch food for freezing, how long to keep food and how to buy it.
In an episode of the popular TV show 'Bless this House', starring Sid James (Sid Abbot) and Diana Coupland (Jean Abbot), broadcast in 1976, Sid gives in to Jean's request to buy a new freezer. [Series 6 Episode 1 - The Frozen Limit]
Some of the popular cookery books of the 70s also now included desserts that could only be made with a freezer. Robert Carrier's 'Cooking for you', published in 1973 included:
- Home made vanilla ice cream;
- Blender strawberry sorbet, which needed frozen strawberries and freezing before serving;
- and the 70s classic, orange water ice, which needed freezing for 4 hours.
More on freezers and frozen food
See Iceland's History of frozen food
A food processor added a choice of blades and attachments to a standard blender. The Magimix from the 70s was the first UK example.
The microwave oven was invented by Percy Spencer in the late 40s. Initially, microwave ovens were only used by catering establishments. Oxford University physicist, Professor Nicholas Kurti gave a dramatic demonstration of microwave cooking with his reverse baked Alaska, or frozen Florida, which had ice cream on the outside and hot filling on the inside. He first demonstrated this dessert in 1969, showing how microwaves easily passed through ice, causing little heat, but the filling made from brandy and marmalade absorbed them and heated up more quickly.
Microwave ovens were not available in Britain until the end of the 70s, even then they did not catch on that quickly. The first 'Which' report on microwave ovens was written in 1979. There were concerns about what would happen if the microwaves escaped and confusion over whether the ovens were radioactive. For most people though, they were simply too expensive.
By 1979, there were a variety of microwaves on the market, priced between 150 and 400. [500 to 1400 in today's money]. Models with a separate convection heating element were even more expensive. Both traditional oven makers, Creda and Belling and electronics giants Philips, Hitachi, Sanyo, Sharp and Toshiba, made microwave ovens in the 70s.
For most people in the UK the microwave revolution did not begin until well into the 80s. Jimmy Tarbuck's advertisements for Sharp microwaves helped promote microwave cooking in the UK in the early 80s.
More on life in the 70s
Your guide to vintage and retro