Beef, Breakfast and Baking


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.

THEN

Beef

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.

Mum’s cookbook is falling to pieces but the index is completed carefully in her beautiful handwriting.

NOW

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?

We whittle away our cookbooks each time we move – but then we get more 🙂

24 thoughts on “Beef, Breakfast and Baking

  1. My mother always did a cooked breakfast. I remember crumbed brains, lambs fry and bacon and all sorts of eggs. I ate it all happily except for poached eggs. My father cooked steak for breakfast. It wasn’t good for his health. My mother did not bake sweet things except to make fruit cake now and again. Maybe that was a good thing?

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  2. Cooked breakfasts were not part of my tradition growing up but baking cakes with my grandma was. I remember cooking beef Wellington. A long time since I made it but rather good flavours. I am enjoying the memories you evoke.

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    1. I’m sorry Anne, I missed replying to your comment. Beef Wellington seemed quite indulgent didn’t it? I seem to recall feeling pretty pleased with myself for making it 🙂
      Sadly I think my grandmother had given up baking pretty much by the time I was old enough to participate. I hope my grandchildren remember our fun in the kitchen.

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  3. Beef was never on our menu as Dad killed a sheep each fortnight to feed the family, more mutton than lamb I must add. I guess it depended where you lived as a child, more beef in QLD than SA. Eggs and milk were plentiful on our mixed farm so we usually had a cooked breakfast. Baking was one day each week, for the men in the paddocks and school lunches. Yes we learnt to cook cakes and biscuits rather than main meals, I recognise many of those lemon recipes. Luckily I had a dear mother in law who was quite a gourmet cook so after our marriage I learnt a lot from her. Have gradually whittled down our cookbooks too, but have sentimental attachment to some.

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    1. We’ve passed some of our cookbooks on to the daughters, especially the memory ones. It’s so interesting to learn of your different experiences on the farm (maybe an idea for 2022 A to Z?). I can’t imagine the scale of cooking for all the workers.

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  4. Loved the memories this post invoked. Mam was also more a baker than a chef, yum! Didn’t follow in her footsteps though, I’m more a needs-must cook, and preferably in 20 mins max. Orherwise, I don’t have the attention span for it.

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  5. Pauleen your post brought back so many memories for me. My mother wasn’t much of a cook but we have plenty of food, mainly meat and three veg. I loved porridge as a child and still do, especially sprinkled with raspberries

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    1. I think most of us were fortunate to be well fed even if not in gourmet style. I like porridge now, with berries…it was scrubbing the slimy base of the pot that I hated.

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  6. Another beautiful post Pauleen. I just love her perfect your mother’s index is. Wow! Oh cookbooks. I try to weed them but it is very difficult. My mother slaved over a hot breakfast every morning. I look back now and wonder how she did it. I complained at the time. It was too much for me. Cereal, bacon and eggs and toast every morning. No wonder I have a generous girth. And often presented on a tray for my father with freshly squeezed orange juice. Goodness. She did love us. Baking was done mostly with my grandmother while my father mowed her lawn on the weekend. Scones and pikelets mostly. And yes I agree with Carmel. It depends where you grew up. I really miss lamb since I’ve moved to Queensland. We had it a lot more when I was a child and we find it too expensive now to buy. Such a shame.

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  7. An evocative, nostalgic post. Breakfast was on the fly when I grew up, because we each had different work/school schedules. But the family always ate dinner together in the evening. My mom as a basic meat-and-potatoes cook, but my grandmother was a baker and always brought along a fantastic selection of fudge and cookies at the holidays. My cooking was revolutionized by the invention of the Crock Pot slow cooker. I have not been without one since 1974 — if one breaks, I buy a new one the next day. Indispensable for making soups, stews and softening tough cuts of meat. https://mollyscanopy.com/

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    1. Fudge is one of my favourite sweets…the man across the road used to make an amazing version. Drool-worthy! While I have a crock pot I’ve only had it a few years and haven’t used it a lot. We use our electric wok more.

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  8. From about 1944, my parents had a holiday cabin at 11 Arthur St, Kings Beach Caloundra. It became a house, and though altered greatly, it still stands today. In the 1950’s Arthur Street was a dead end at Upper Gay Terrace. Beyond to Canberra Terrace was a huge wall of rocks. My brother and I would be allowed to climb these and head down to McNelly’s Bakery [where the government offices are today] near the old Post Office. We were sent to purchase a white loaf with a twist along the top. Many times we got into trouble with Mum, because we ate the soft warm centre on the way home, returning with only the outer walls of the loaf and twist on top. No sandwiches to take to Kings Beach those days….

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  9. We had a lot of lambs fry and kidneys as kids and I still like them. My father cooks me a lambs fry, bacon and gravy brunch whenever I visit! It has become a bit of a tradition.

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    1. It’s nice to have that tradition with your dad. I guess it’s what you get used to. Who knows I may have liked it if I’d had lambs fry or kidneys as a child. I’m quite happy eating pate after all.

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  10. There was never ever offal at our house. Mum used buy decent cuts of meat but didn’t cook casseroles just grills and roasts with fish and chips on Friday. I remember Nanna sued to send me to buy a fresh white tank loaf of bread that we ate with a liberal dose of butter and a good sprinkle of white sugar. Breakfast was always cereal and or toast.
    Nowadays I have a healthy cereal and a coffee most days, sometimes it’s supplemented by a yoghurt (we’d never heard of that in the olden days) or replaced by raisin toast or a muffin. Hot breakfasts are for visitors and holidays.

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    1. Nothing like fresh hot bread with butter…but sugar as well?! Interesting that your mum didn’t cook casseroles though. I know what you mean about hot breakfasts – they’re a rare thing indeed.

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  11. What a fun blog! I love to read how others ate and eat today. It’s like living cultural anthropology! This is a LOT of meat. We ate 10x veggies than meat because meat has always been expensive. My own kids are basically pescatarians because they don’t like almost ANY meat. Occasionally they’ll eat some fish. Funny how different people are just based on their environment. Have you thought of capturing more of this in book form?

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    1. Thanks for visiting John. Yes, it is a type of cultural anthropology I suppose. Interesting that you found that a lot of meat, I’d say it was fairly typical in Australia, and not being well off we may even have eaten less than others. Quite a few of my friends are pescatarians or vegan or vegetarian. Yes, I download the year’s posts into a book every year and will leave them for my children with a promised they’ll be haunted if they throw them out. Your fantasy sci-fi would work for that.

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