Once again I’m participating in the A to Z challenge – I think this is my sixth time. This year I’m having a retrospective look of family foods and favourites in my childhood and comparing it to today’s family food fare.
Like many Aussie families, dinner meals would often include some form of beef, often cheaper cuts to match the family budget. Luckily for me, my mother didn’t like the really cheap cuts of meat, so brains, kidneys, and offal generally were never on our meal agenda.
Typically, we might have blade steak cooked with onions, simple stews with carrots, onions, celery, dried herbs, and sometimes pumpkin. Turnips and parsnips were vegetables that didn’t get included because the cook just didn’t like them. A roast (lamb or beef) was common for a weekend meal, but when the timing of the meal would depend on dad’s work shifts so it could be at midday or in the evening.
In retrospect, mum must have cooked multiple meals at times so dad could go on his 2pm to 10pm shift on a full stomach, while we would eat at night-time after I was home from school. When dad was on 6am to 2pm to 10pm to 6am shifts, he would be able to join us for a dinner meal and unlike many others that wasn’t always an early meal. Railway families’ lives hinged entirely on the men’s shifts both in terms of meals and quiet when men needed sleep. None of today’s overhead fans or air-conditioning to make it easier for them to sleep in advance of a shift during a hot summer’s day. Being well fed and well slept was critical to safety when working in the hazardous railway shunting yards.
Breakfast was often a simple meal and I’m ashamed how much I’ve taken for granted as a child. Bacon and eggs wasn’t common as I recall because both were expensive and the budget was important. Sometimes lamb chops might appear though. Cereal was common and during winter it would be slow cooked porridge. Cleaned the gluggy cooking pot was my job when I was home and I still recall the feel of the slimy sludge when I cleaned it – often making me feel like vomiting.
Baking was a weekly event every Saturday – unless there was a birthday or other celebration to bake for between times. While mum wasn’t an adventurous cook of main meals, she excelled at sweet things including baking. After all, her grandfather was a pastry chef and confectioner – a sweet gene that’s passed down the generations. The fragrance of baking would fill the house and make your mouth water in anticipation of the treats. It was also the thing I was most involved with and learned to do ahead of cooking a meal. Similarly, I was guilty of the same approach with our children, teaching them to bake rather than making meals. We’ll explore some of these tasty treats across the A2Z.
Bread was different then and one of my treats was to cycle over to Herston Rd with Dad to visit the bakery to collect fresh bread. Like every child who’s had this chance, I always had to sneak some of the fluffy white centre before I got home.
When we first married, I loved experimenting with new recipes and the influences of other culinary traditions were making themselves felt. I was so proud of myself when I made Beef Wellington for the first time or tried gourmet meals like Caraway Pork with Strawberries. I remember making that one for friends when I came back to Brisbane to have our first child. Little did they know I thought they were gourmet guests <wink> but they may have been hungry enough not to care since my timings were slow.
When we lived in the highlands of PNG I experimented with making bread, growing the yeast mix overnight and then making a variety of breads. Only problem – like cake or biscuit baking, fresh bread has a habit of disappearing. Even though I hadn’t made bread in years, not even during covid, I couldn’t bring myself to throw that book away when we relocated from Darwin.
Cookbooks were received as wedding presents, and recipes were snipped from magazines. Mum also typed up her favourite recipes onto index cards and sent them to me in PNG. The proliferation of cookbooks for all sorts of cuisines has made such an impact as they become less expensive and more available. Having a wide variety of meals in restaurants also whets our appetite to eat, and cook, different meals using different ingredients.
Breakfast has always been “catch as catch can” in the manic rush to get us all out of the house for work or school. We’re all more owls than larks so sparkling conversation was never on the early morning agenda. Ironically porridge has been on my breakfast menu for 10 years thanks to that FODMAP diet, but the quick cook version (in the microwave), supplemented with berries, makes it more appealing.
Baking is something I still enjoy and would do with my grandchildren in Darwin during holidays. Sadly, our increasing girths have meant that baking doesn’t happen often because we know it will get demolished in short order. Mr Cassmob has taken up the challenge and learned to make some desserts for which he’s well known among the beneficiaries. But more of that anon.
Old family fare: Beetroot has long been one of my mother’s favourite ingredients and it accompanied salads or in sandwiches for lunch.
What are your families’ traditions around main meals, breakfast and baking?