Casseroles, Curries and Cakes


Family Food Fare and Favourites

Join me as I dig through my memories, and recipes, to rediscover my family’s food “back in the day” and how those food habits have changed over the decades to today’s diverse and multi-cultural cuisines.

Dredging my memories has made me realise how blissfully unaware I was to the family’s “hunting and gathering”. Where did mum get the groceries? How did she get them home given we had no car or were they delivered? Did we get out meat from a neighbourhood butcher or from one down near Herston Rd and Enoggera Rd? Why didn’t we grow any vegetables? I’m ashamed of my selfish ignorance and now there’s no way to know.

THEN

Free image/jpeg, Did you family cook casseroles in pyrex dishes like this one?

As autumn kicks in here, casseroles come to mind as one of our family staples. Lamb or beef cubed, floured, and browned, then into the casserole with mixed herbs, carrots, onions, pumpkin and/or potato. It was always served with mashed potato to sop up the juices, and usually with bread and butter on the side.

Fridays came with the Catholic imperative to eat fish, which included South African smoked cod. How I loathed its yellow look and taste. I’ve never been tempted to eat it since I left home, even though I see that both Coles and Woolworths have it on sale currently.

Curried prawns were also a regular feature of Friday dinners. Small prawns cooked up in a white sauce with Keen’s curry powder.

Chicken meals were far and few between and usually reserved for “events” like Christmas because at the time chicken was expensive to buy. Certainly no specialised chicken “butchers” as there are today. I have a dim memory of dad killing a chook once in the backyard and it running around headless. When I look back I think my dad hated killing creatures…we were both hypocritical meat eaters.

Yesterday I mentioned that Saturday was baking day at our house and a cake was always part of that. Mum made excellent sponges – a skill I never acquired. She would cook two in heart-shaped cake tins and later join the layers with fresh whipped creamed and decorated with strawberries when in season. (Remember how we only got ingredients that were in season locally?).

While I really didn’t enjoy ordinary custard, I did like egg custard and baked custards. My birthday request would often be for a custard tart with crisp shortbread pastry. Strangely I can’t find a recipe for it in mum’s cookbook.

It wasn’t just dessert that involved custard, as being a North Queenslander, mum loved eating the tropical fruit custard apple. I rather like it also, but rarely bother to buy or eat it.

NOW

Our two favourite curry cookbooks, along with any of the Spirit House Thai cookbooks.

In our house, casseroles have been replaced by real-deal curries, usually made with freshly ground spices. This addiction to curries was partly fostered by Mr Cassmob’s mum who was ahead of her time, making complex curries for dinners in Papua New Guinea. In an advantageous deal, we would airfreight Mr Cassmob’s parents fresh diverse vegetables from Goroka in exchange for crayfish tails from Kavieng. You can imagine how popular we were with our friends when they knew crayfish curry was on the dinner menu! Even better when it could be combined with an evening of Mah Jong.

Doris Ady cookbook “Sultan’s Kitchen” page 38

We would be quite exasperated in the 1970s when we would return on leave from PNG and be unable to find the frozen coconut cream we needed for our favourite curries. Nowadays, of course, tinned coconut cream and coconut milk can be found in supermarkets anywhere. Coconut milk has been a popular drink as well, where when I was a child it was something you got when you pierced a freshly fallen coconut.

These days, too, our prawns are delectable and juicy, bought from the local fish coop which stays open for 24hrs prior to Christmas. There’s nothing quite like them, except perhaps lobster or crayfish or Moreton Bay Bugs.

Curries remain our favourite meal whether Indian, Sri Lankan or Thai, as a peek at our cookbooks will show.

Cakes have always been part of my cooking repertoire though I’ve backed off a lot in recent years, thinking of our never-diminishing figures. Back in the day, I would take home-made treats to birthday gatherings for my work colleagues, and my chocolate rum cake defused many volatile Board meetings at work, until I “spat the dummy” in protest.

Classes: As a child I went to the gas company with mum and when I returned from PNG I did a Cordon Bleu Cookery Class. When we lived in Darwin there were some classes at Hanuman restaurant where we learned about the Nonya ingredients, how to cook them, then had a lunch meal of the food with accompanying wine…perfect!

New Food Fare: Cauliflower was around when I was younger but I don’t recall us having it often (at all?). When we lived in Goroka, PNG, we would head out to the Seventh Day Adventist Mission Farm to buy our weekly vegetables fresh from paddock to plate. The caulis there were small, much the size of a broccoli which we could also buy there, along with capsicum. These fresh vegetables are what we’d trade for the crayfish….good deal, wasn’t it?!

Did your family make casseroles in the colder weather and do you enjoy curries? Are your cookbooks splattered with marks on your favourite recipes or are you a tidy cook? Have you attended cooking classes as a young person or as an adult?


19 thoughts on “Casseroles, Curries and Cakes

  1. So many memories here Pauleen. I remember piercing the hole in a cocunut.It was quite rare that we would have one. There were lots of casseroles at our house. I can’t remember if I like them as a child, but in our house you definitely ate what was put in front of you. I still love a custard, but don’t like curry at all. Weird I know. I loved baking cakes, desserts and bikkies, but like you we don’t have them much any more. But I am going to try your chocolate cake. In a few weeks. Not just yet as we have too many Easter eggs here

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    1. I’m glad you don’t remember the details of the casseroles either Jennifer…I thought it was just me. I could make the chocolate cake as we have no easter chocolate here.

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  2. Your crayfish curry sounds delicious. The only curry I remember from childhood was curried sausages, yes made with Keen’s curry and a handful of sultanas added. Most of our food was home grown including the chooks, definitely not chickens, we learnt to pluck and clean them. Poultry roast every Sunday. Sometimes on Sundays the Catholic proprietors of the store in the local town would open to catch the after Mass farmer’s wives trade. Those purchases would be multiple loaves of bread or sometimes the 50 lb bags of flour and sugar. My cookbooks are well splattered too, some favourites fall open easily. After a year of living in Kashmir back forever ago, we learnt to love a good curry too.

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    1. A very different experience growing up on a farm. Clever shop wonders too but a service to the community as well. One day you’ll have to tell me all about Kashmir.

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    1. The chef did dictate what we ate, and that was usually our mothers…unless our fathers expressed a strong view for something else. I don’t think mum likes a true curry whereas Mr Cassmob’s mum was a dedicated curry fan.

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  3. I liked cooking casseroles – easy to prepare ahead, one dish meal,always appealed and very versatile – chicken, beef, pork (with apricots), sausages, and my mother’s favourite dish – Lancashire Hotpot – lamb casserole topped with sliced potatoes. I am not a fan of curries, but love cakes, especially chocolate cake -but best not to be too indulgent!

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    1. Mum used to occasionally put mashed potato on top of a casserole, but rarely. I suspect the need to constrain ourselves is why we bake less these days 😉

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  4. Oh you are a treasure for sharing your chocolate cake recipe with us. Definitely loved curries but I think they came along later in my life e.g. the teen years. Our go to book was Charmaine Solomon’s and Mum and Dad enjoyed making the Xmas cake out of it every year. Quite a wet cake from memory. Finding the preserves was always a challenge. Mum always made a fuss of putting out the sambal in a special dish and I was tasked with preparing them – sliced banana, sliced apple (squeeze of lemon on top to stop it going brown), sultanas, chutney, dessicated coconut (which I loved), pappadums. I probably liked the sambal better than the curry. And yes Carmel, curried sausages is still a favourite in this house – real comfort food. All my recipe books are covered in splatters Pauleen. We didn’t eat much seafood living in Canberra. A prawn cocktail at Bateman’s Bay during school holidays was a highlight. Living in Sydney encouraged a love of oysters, When I moved to Brisbane I was in a state of shock at the quantities my housemates cheerfully ordered and consumed on a Friday night. I’m still weirdly conservative about ordering seafood as if it is a luxury and only splash out at Christmas, lining up with everyone else at the market and oohing and aahing at all that is on offer.

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    1. A treasure? But of course….LOL 🙂 Charmaine Solomon was definitely on the agenda so why don’t I have her book? Yes, sambals were an essential part of the curry meal. Seafood was more tied to fish on Friday when I was growing up, and rarely, take-away with chips in newspaper or white paper. How intriguing that you still feel that way about the extravagance of seafood – we tend to take it for granted even though fish and chips is not a cheap take away any more.

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  5. Your mother was such an adventurous cook for her day. My Mum was very limited in her culinary repertoire – perhaps this was because Dad was a Type 1 diabetic so we just had very plain food. She did buy me the occasional cup cake or meringue from the local cake shop and sometimes I was allowed to order a finger bun from the school tuck shop.

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    1. I smiled at mum being an adventurous cook as I don’t think she was in terms of main meals, just sweet things. An occasional cake or meringue would have had me desperate! Ah finger buns, with pink icing and fresh butter…yum.

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  6. Stephen was astonished when I spent $25 on a Corning Ware dish for casseroles. He now agrees that it was a worthwhile buy as he still uses it most weeks in preparation for his lunchtime soup. Not a bad buy with the cost at about 55 cents a year, by now. As for curries, my Mum had a permanent order for family events with her beef curry. The secret was in the good quality beef, not touch stewing stuff and extra spices and not just “English” curry powder from the local grocer.

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    1. Didn’t we all have Corning Ware back in the day? Some of mine has broken in the many moves. We also bought Copco in Moresby and of course they’re still going strong because they’re unbreakable but they are heavy! I reckon you’ve surely had your money’s worth now 😉 Do you have your mum’s curry recipe? It is indeed the spices that can make a difference and the quality of the beef.

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  7. What a wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading about your families food history. I inherited my grans Pyrex dish, though hers was blue on the bottom. And I love pouring over my mums favourite recipe book (she has Dorset apple cake, devil’s food cake and prawn curry in hers) My dad was the savoury chef, and reading your history took me back to my childhood and memories of his wartime/rations style of cooking. I’m definitely my father’s daughter where food is concerned!

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      1. Indeed I have. All of her cakes are much loved. Her Dorset apple cake and lemon drizzle are my favourites though. 😍

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