When I was growing up, convenience foods were OK; they weren't considered as negatively as they are nowadays. I remember when the Pot Noodle was released and the excitement it caused, there was literally nothing like it. Equally, Super Noodles and Cup-a-Soup. Before then, it seemed that the convenience foods on offer for a quick lunch were sandwiches, cheese on toast or a can of soup. These new, freeze-dry options were exciting and quickly became a staple in the Stokes household.
Fast-forward 15 or 20 years and these are not something that are on the menu in polite society in 2013. However, a wander around Poundland the other day (no sense of shame here at all, I love a £1 shop) and I was re-introduced to what I would consider the Rolls Royce of freeze-dry meals : the Vesta range! Paella, beef curry and (especially) beef risotto were favourites so I purchased all three. I've worked from home three days this week so this gave me a chance to try them all.
The quick and obvious answer is 'no', and in many ways this is the right answer. They don't have a lot going for them : these are not quality meals in any sense, and given that even in the microwave they take 19 minutes to prepare they aren't at all convenient. I could make a version of any of these dishes from scratch in less time.
But there is some good. The flavours are fine, if a little exaggerated. The beef risotto is the 'best' and the beef curry is the 'worst', with the paella somewhere in the middle. Adding a generous knob of butter improves these meals dramatically and a perfectly respectable lunch can be enjoyed, ideally with some good bread to dip in and soak up the juices.
But these meals work on another level, what they represent to me is a link with the past, to something I would have enjoyed as a child and teenager. I think if (like me) you have a connection with these products you will enjoy them, if you don't then I suggest you run a mile. An analogy for me are films : 'Revenge of the Nerds' or 'Holiday on the Buses' are not great films in the accepted sense, but they meant a lot to me growing up so I will always love them for that.
Worth a punt if you see them!
I'll return to this theme shortly, with other ranges to try. Plaudits to Poundland for giving these brands a lifeline, that store is a treasure-trove of forgotten and un-loved brands of yesteryear. And also to Vesta for sticking with the product and not messing with the design... the instructions on the back are for a 650W microwave, who has one of those any more?