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.
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.
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.
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?