Eating in the Fifties
Pasta had not been invented. It was macaroni or spaghetti. Curry was a surname. A take-away was a mathematical problem. Pizza? Sounds like a leaning tower somewhere. Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time. All chips were plain. Oil was for lubricating; fat was for cooking. Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.
Cubed sugar was regarded as posh. Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days. None of us had ever heard of yogurt. Healthy food consisted of anything edible. Cooking outside was called camping. Seaweed was not a recognised food.
‘Kebab’ was not even a word, never mind a food. Sugar enjoyed a food press in those days and was regarded as being white gold. Prunes were medicinal. Surprisingly muesli was readily available. It was called cattle feed. Pineapples came in chunks in a tin; we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.
Water came out of the tap. If someone had suggested bottling it and charging more that gasoline for it, they would have become a laughingstock.
The one thing that we never ever had on/at our table in the fifties…was elbows, hats and cell phones.
(Sent from a friend’s Facebook post. Resonated with me! Ed.)
The simple things in life
After trying the best foodie recipes, and cooking and running my own café in Tinonee, I am trying to go back to cooking simple fresh food, back to the way I grew up.
I started pulling carrots, cutting spinach from the family veggie patch at a tender age of six. I was second eldest of a family of 8 children, and the eldest girl so that meant I was my mum’s second set of necessary hands.
We lived on a dairy farm at Middle Pocket, a little piece of heaven (I know that now, not so much as a kid, it was simply home) tucked behind Mount Chincogan near Mullumbimby.
Sunday lunch would be a simple fresh roast chicken. This would be after a chicken was selected from the coop, that part I could never come to terms with, and was served with fresh simply cooked veggies from the patch, a milk dessert always followed; creamed rice or baked custard, sometimes a junket.
But!! The very best for me was after clearing up after lunch, my older brother and I were in charge, and so we spread a blanket under our enormous bush lemon tree, with a bowl of salt, lemons selected and peeled, and we’d indulge to our hearts content.
I still love lemons, maybe without the salt, (no tequila then).
When I was around 8 we left the farm and moved to Lennox Head a tiny village of 300 people set right beside the beach.
Sunday lunch at our grandparents at Byron Bay, (a mere backwater at that time) became more frequent as we had time to spare with no cows to rush home to milk.
On arrival in Byron we had a tour of my nana’s flower garden and my grandfather’s abundant veggie patch where we would be educated on the goodness that nature provided. Lunch would be the big bake up, either chicken – yes the same routine of choosing from the pen, but the best thing, it was always done and in the oven before we got there. Sometimes it would be delicious pork with the very best crackling, always with veggies from Grandfathers garden. Along the length of the table would be bottles of “fizzy” drinks; cherry cheer, sarsaparilla, lemon squash, a true treat for us.
My nana made the most amazing green tomato pickle, and bottles were always packed for us to take home along with a large box filled to overflowing with fruit and veggies from the garden.
Dessert was always fresh stewed fruit and a “brick” of vanilla ice cream – no freezers then. And after the roast was eaten, my grandfather who worked for Norco, would ride his two wheeler bike a mile or so up the road to the Norco shop to buy the brick and rush it back to be devoured.
One Sunday that has always remained in my memory, it was decided we would have a picnic on Tallow Beach, a great fishing spot. So dad and grandfather would fish from the beach while we swam and played. Our picnic would be roast chicken, as back then chicken was a treat, especially if you had to buy your chook! We also had other cold cuts, big red juicy tomatoes that we ate like an apple, fresh damper and big yummy fresh sponge lammingtons covered in chocolate icing and lots of coconut made by my mum. Not forgetting the massive watermelon from grandfathers garden. He always let us choose this watermelon, devoured with juice running down our chins.
Often we were joined by our “Big” Byron cousins, with dad and grandfather leading us all in single file along a sand track through scrub to the beach where we found “our” spot, spread the rugs and headed straight into the water. We had our picnic, fishing lines were thrown in, and we settled in for the afternoon.
Sometimes our big cousins, with us trailing behind, dug for Pippies on the turn of the tide. The best time they instructed us, and, with a bucket full, under instruction, we found a spot with dry sand and gathered wood from the scrub, dug a hole dug, and our oven was ready. Pippies were placed with fire over the top of the bucket.
My mother tells of watching in horror as we ate the pippies, seasoned with sand, flavoured with the ocean. Perhaps that is where my love of seafood began.
Back at home my job was to mince the fresh fish, caught by my father and brothers, using the old mincer set up in our laundry. Some became bubble and squeak, as no food was ever wasted.
Other favorite foods I remember are fried scones hot with golden syrup, Anzac biscuits, jam drops, lammingtons, baked custards, creamed rice, sponge cake (made by hand, no mixers) filled with fresh cream from our cow.
By the time we then moved to Ballina, we had a family cow in a paddock on the outskirts of town so mum wound ride a bike morning and night, bucket on handle bars, and if lucky it would be full of fresh milk when she came back.
After buying necessities, if milk was left over mum would make a delicious milk ice block with lots of passionfruit from our vine, and that was a true delight.
Other sweet treats may consist of coconut ice, chocolate crackles, toffees, fluffy marshmallows, all depending on available ingredients and all homemade.
Like the veggie patch, the simple things in life are what I remember most fondly.
Sydney. (Formerly Tinonee)
In 1983 whilst working for the National Council of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia, my boss and perhaps the best, and one of the most influential Sports Administrators at the time in Australia, Gus Staunton MBE, popped in to my office, and said:
“What are you doing for lunch? Warren (the Honorary National Chief Superintendent) and I, are going to pick up a sponsorship cheque from Total and have some lunch with them, do you want to come along?
(Total Oil Australia was one of the major sponsors of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships).
I said: Sure, must be a really big cheque!
On our arrival at the CML building, in Pitt St, we were met in the foyer and ushered into a private elevator and taken up straight up to the Board Room, which had spectacular views over Sydney.
We were met by the Managing Director, Phillip De Boos Smith, and after some brief introductions and pleasantries a photographer came in with several other assistants carrying a rather large cheque, which was about a metre long. (To my disappointment it was only for $25,000, though that was still quite a considerable amount in those days.)
After posing for the obligatory photographs, Mr De Boos Smith, said: “Shall we have lunch?”
I turned to walk towards the door (where we had entered, assuming we were going to a restaurant), but my boss, gently tapped me on the shoulder, and as I turned, I saw one of the assistants press a button and the walls at the side of the room opened up and there was a spectacularly set dining table set with the finest appropriate glass and silverware.
Standing in a line, behind what was obviously Mr De Boos Smith’s ‘royal chair’, was a Chef, a Headwaiter dressed in a dark jacket and in gloves, and two other rather attractive female assistants (I was, after all, young and single).
As we sat down to our appointed places, identified with customised place tags, I noticed each of us had a Menu that had our names embossed in gold letters. Pretty impressive I thought, as in my case, they only had about 50 minutes notice that I was coming.
Being 29 years of age, (and not unfamiliar with dining out) by this stage, I was seduced, I didn’t bother reading the menu, I just sat back and enjoyed the show.
The first course was fresh Scottish Salmon (flown in of course). One of the attractive assistants wheeled in a trolley, whilst the other lifted the cover revealing a spectacular full length salmon, then the Head waiter strutted up to the trolley with a knife, which was more like a metre long sword and proceed to delicately slice the thinnest slivers of salmon that I had ever seen or tasted. It was perfect.
The next course was a classic Chateaubriand, and this was where the French Chef really came into his own. The beef tenderloin was flawlessly cooked, accompanied by a stunning sauce which all melted in your mouth. The supporting cast of vegetables were just sublime.
There was delicate white wine with the Salmon, and then a stunning red for the Chateaubriand, all were imported from France (I can’t remember the names now, but I do recall when I went hunting for them in Sydney, they were not available).
The balance of the lunch consisted of four more courses, including flambeed desserts (all prepared at the table), imported cheeses, fine French Cognac, various blends of coffee, and rather large Cuban Cigars about 20cm long (which made my head spin, as I was not a smoker, but I had to try one).
The conversation around the table was just as interesting, spanning geopolitics and Mr De Boos Smith’s recent meeting with French President, François Mitterrand.
For a former athlete, coach, and then a young national level sports administrator, having grown up in the western suburbs of Sydney, this was a taste of seriously big business and a display of the power of the Oil industry.
Much to my regret, this was the first and only lunch, with the executives of Total, as the sponsorship did not continue beyond 1984.
(I assume this was in the heyday of tax deductability? One can only wonder at what serious long lunches sponsors may provide to footy donors and the like these days. Ed.)
My favourite food memory is making date scones with my grandma, she would make it by hand and feel, she never used a recipe. Unfortunately, she took it with her when she passed away. No matter how many times we made them together I have never been able to make them as good as her.
Another favourite food memory is from when I was young and living on our farm at Badgerys Creek. Dad used to slaughter lamb for our meat and give me the offal in a bowl. I would then take the bowl of all the offal; the lambs fry, the kidneys, the tongue and the brains up to the house for mum to cook.
I think that’s where my love of offal came from!
Back in Black
When I was a growing up I had an aversion to black food. I belonged to an adventurous clan of Chinese cooks who had a broad repertoire of ‘western’ and Asian foods.
My mother’s side, 3rd generation Australian-born, cooked at RSL Clubs and my father’s family, WW2 refugees from PNG, ran a popular café serving home-cooked food in Redfern.
I was growing up in a clash of cultures in ‘70s and ‘80s Sydney and I couldn’t discern if brawn, tripe, avocado, salted duck egg or split pea and ham soup were part of the realm of exotic foreign foods or ‘normal’.
Well into my teenage years, I was in constant battle with my father. One of the arenas where we came into (unnecessary) conflict was his insistence that I, his youngest child, try and accept foods that my siblings had already accepted years ago. In particular we came apart over black jellybeans and liquorice. A simple ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘no thank you – you enjoy it’ was never enough to stop the ‘it’s good for you’ and ‘if you’d only try it…you’re missing out!’
His explanation to teenage me was that, when I was a baby, I hated my own black hair. He told me that I would flinch at my reflection in a mirror and try to tear it out. I have a far more vivid memory and plausible reason.
When I was 4 years old, mid-winter on a Sunday evening, I sat perched atop a kitchen stool in my quilted pink dressing gown and bare feet, cradling a cup of cold, bitter tea in my hands, for hours and hours. That acrid brew had been extruded from an assortment of sticks, insect shells and debris poured out of a white packet into the largest pot and set to roiling boil on the stove. The acrid stench wafted through the neighbourhood that Sunday and lingered in the carpets and curtains, clothes, my hair and skin. It made me dry wretch.
The others had gone to bed hours ago, obediently pinching their noses and skolling their portion of potion. I could not do that. The burn in my throat and twang in my mouth as it bounced back up after hitting my stomach – too much!
I was made to sit on that stool until well after midnight, long after everyone had gone to bed. I think about that night, every time I nibble on a piece of liquorice. It’s better if it’s covered in chocolate. I still can’t handle the jellybeans.
Author, Artist & Chiefette of Zulu