52 Weeks of Personal History & Genealogy-Week 5 -Favourite Foods

Favourite Food

Thinking about this topic I’ve realised how strong has been the influence of my mother’s grandparents –my great-grandfather was a confectioner and pastry cook and the family owned tea rooms in Charters Towers in the late 19th century and prior to that a confectionery business in Ipswich, Queensland. Judging on a few newspaper reports found through the Trove website (www.trove.nla.gov.au) he was a very good pastry cook and confectioner at that! He should have stuck to that as his excursion into property and mining brought him financially unstuck.

The Ipswich Show “John Marstellar took first prize for the best 61b. of fresh butter, Mr. F. Whitehouse for the best bread, Mr. S. G. Melvin for confectionery, and an excellent display it was” The Queenslander, 16 December 1882.

From The Brisbane-Courier of 25 December 1882 talking about the Christmas display in Ipswich: “Mr. Melvin had a very enticing display of confectionery- about the best ever seen here-and there was no lack of purchasers of his toothsome compounds.”

My memories of favourite foods seem to focus almost entirely on cakes, biscuits and desserts.

Probably my favourite memory is around a ginger shortbread slice for which I recall my mother won a prize in one of the magazines or newspapers. The contrast between the sweetness of the gingery-golden syrup topping and the crunchiness of the shortbread base was delicious. (Recipe at the end of this story)

Another of her slices which I loved was rather tricky to make & could only be baked when the weather wasn’t too humid (sometimes a challenge in sub-tropical Brisbane). It also had a very short, cakey-shortbread base with a layered topping of marshmellow. Again, delicious! At my all-girls high school it was traditional to bring cakes and treats for lunch time celebrations and both these slices were very welcome additions to the “treats”.

It was traditional in our house for Saturday to be baking day and my mother always made a variety of biscuits and slices or cakes. Her sponges were high and feather-light with cream and when possible, fresh strawberries.

One of my birthday treats was to request a home-made custard tart for dessert. It was really delectable but again could be temperamental when the weather was hot and humid.

In those traditional days of Catholicism, we ate fish on Friday as a matter of strict religious observance. How I loathed the smoked cod we’d have fairly often! The “curried” prawns, made as they were in those days with Keen’s brand curry, were much more enjoyable. And for school lunches I’d sometimes have a treat of sandwiches made with tinned sardines and potato crisps from a packet at the tuck shop. Sounds quite revolting now but I used to really enjoy it then.

Other special foods included my mother’s wonderfully moist Christmas cake & pudding and also my Scottish grandmother’s shortbread which was only ever made at Christmas time.

As you can see, it’s “sweets” all the way for my favourites list as a child and teenager.

As I got older, we’d sometimes go to one of the good-quality Chinese restaurants where the food was both exotic and delicious. Then in high school one of my best friends was of Italian descent and through her I learned about olives, garlic and Italian food. Progressing into University, my weekend job was with a Greek-owned fruit shop and again my food knowledge expanded as I learned about mushrooms, capsicums, eggplant and a variety of vegetables which were unusual in Australia at the time and certainly not used in most homes. Not to mention having octopus sandwiches with the Greek owners!

As an adult my tastes have become vastly diverse and I love all sorts of ethnic foods but my favourites are proper Indian or Thai curries, reflecting my husband’s family’s influence and the changing times. But I still check the dessert menu first in a restaurant, then work back from there!

Ginger or Cinnamon Slice

Biscuit base:  Topping: 
4 oz butter or margarine  4 tablespoons icing sugar
2 oz sugar  1 teaspoon ginger/cinnamon
1 cup self raising flour  3 teaspoons Golden Syrup
1 rounded teaspoon ginger/cinnamon  1.5 oz butter


Biscuit base: cream butter & sugar. Sift flour and ginger/cinnamon & add to creamed mixture. Press into a greased lamington tin –flour your fingers or use a flour measuring cup to help level it out. Bake at 175C until lightly browned (approx 15 minutes). Let it cool a little before adding topping.

Topping: put all ingredients except icing sugar into a saucepan. Stir over a low heat only until melted and mixed, then take off stove and add icing sugar. Pour over biscuit base and spread evenly. Cut while still warmish as it will crumble less.

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