Perhaps we all forget boring food, indifferent cooking and bad meals, and only remember the especially delicious or memorable; but it is a fact that memories of Lakeland food are served up with heaps of praise by our visitors, some of whom remember veritable feasts from fifty years ago or more.
Food in hotels, guest houses and farm kitchens probably did taste better to energetic youngsters hungry from a day's hiking; and with younger palates and fresh ingredients straight from the farm and garden, no doubt visitors were catered for extremely well by ladies like the legendary Mrs Pepper at Grange-In Borrowdale:
"There was one particular house at Grange, a Mrs Pepper, and she was known far and wide. They would say, 'Have you been to Mrs Pepper's, you ought to go there!' So I took my wife there, we booked in to go, and Oh! what a meal! Ham and eggs and fruit pie, it was absolutely a super meal, more than you could possibly cope with, you just staggered out and the whole thing would only cost about three shillings and sixpence....it was after two o'clock I think, but I know that when we went to the next hostel in Borrowdale, we were in no fit condition to have the evening meal!"
Then there was the RAC tea:
"It was bread and butter and cakes and all sorts of Westmorland things like rum butter, I could hardly describe it, there was so much. The RAC had a sort of standard, various places you could get an RAC tea where the RAC had a badge. There were standard prices, one shilling and sixpence and two shillings and sixpence. That was what food was like in those days. You could go anywhere and have a terrific meal for very little money."
But while most farms and guest houses knew nothing other than good, wholesome English cooking, the big hotels aspired to a French cuisine, and would go to some lengths to find good cooks. The Prince of Wales at Grasmere had a French cook, and a car was hired in order to travel to Frizington to engage a suitable girl who'd been recommended as a likely assistant to the elderly French lady. It wasn't long before the young girl found herself in the position of head cook herself in a neighbouring hotel:
"He used to do the carving, did the proprietor Mr Scott, and he went to carve a big salmon. In those days the cooks used to get a pint of beer allowance and this old cook got drunk and she'd cooked this salmon with the innards in, and when he cut in to carve it up and there was innards in it, he went and sacked her right away. And so Florrie took her place."
Food played a large part in the great success that one hotel enjoyed very soon after it had been bought for #2,500 in 1946. The old lady who owned it was so undecided about whether to sell, that she kept her buyer waiting a year for her answer - and when she finally agreed, it was a pork pie that clinched the deal:
"She liked pork pies and I always took her a Brennand's pie from Kendal. Well, I reckon it was that that did it in the end."
The hotel was run down and in a very bad state:
"The only water coming into the place was in a bucket under the tap, and that was at full cock, it just dripped in. There were cats and dogs everywhere, I'm afraid it did smell."
But for months and months, night and day, the new owners worked to lay water pipes, put in a septic tank, and a small diesel generator laboured to provide just enough power to dispense with the time-consuming oil lamps. Within weeks the first visitors started to recommend the hotel to their friends, and in a very short time, the inn was in the Good Food Guide. But it wasn't until three years' later that the proprietor found out:
"By that time, we'd taken on another hotel as well, and somebody came in and said, 'Look, that's you', in a copy of the Good Food Guide. It was the first we'd heard of it, and we'd been in the Guide for three years! They always say that common sense and salt are the greatest attributes of good cooking."
Five guineas a week in the 1950s bought dinner, bed, breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea in a hotel; few advertised, preferring to rely on personal recommendation, and among the new customers discovering Lakeland were many teachers, enjoying longer holidays than other workers, and families on day trips, who would go to a hotel for lunch or tea.
The individual eccentricities of hotel or guest house proprietors could set the mood for both staff and guests alike. One lady guest house owner looking for a new property rejected a pleasant large house near the local church:
"I won't have that one, she said. I said, Why? Well, she said, I'll always be pulling blinds when they're fetching funerals!"
The landlord of The Fish at Buttermere, one famous Nicholas Size, generated his own electricity, but objected to guests wasting it:
"We were rather naughty boys, we were chattering away about eleven o'clock at night and he knocked on the door and he said, 'Put your light out, it's very expensive making electricity!'"
Youth hostelling became extremely popular during the 1930s, when the vogue for "hiking" spread to England from Germany, and vast numbers of young people took to the hills for the first time in shorts and nailed boots. Hostels varied enormously in quality from the roughest to the very pleasant, but most cost a shilling a night for a dormitory bed, cold water and earth closet toilet. For just five shillings a night, the hostel provided supper and breakfast as well:
"It was a bob a night! You took your own sheet sleeping bag, so you wouldn't foul the blankets - I think the supper and breakfast would hardly come to more than five shillings and you fed well."
But for that, hostellers had to help clean and tidy up:
"We had to sweep the floors, you might even peel potatoes or you might help with the washing up, just ordinary household jobs. But there were no cars allowed, only walkers and cyclists."
Visitors were welcomed everywhere in small farm houses and hotels where their presence began to bring a new and better standard of living to ordinary country people. But those not earning a little extra cash from tourism found it harder to tolerate strangers whose demands were unreasonable:
"There was a man called Priestman a long time ago, he took the mail from Penrith to Patterdale, and he had a funny little horn that he used to blow to say he was approaching; and they'd give people a lift or anything like that, y'see. And he met this visitor who wanted a lift; so he took him on board and the man screwed about and grumbled about - he hadn't got enough room, and he made such a fuss about his seat. After a bit old Priestman drew up and he said, 'Get down!'. So the man got out. Then he says, 'Now tha'll have plenty of room!' and he whipped the horse and went and left him on the road!"