My eight-year-old grandson has recently expressed a preference for snow peas over avocado when required to eat something green. His young brother has stuck with avocado. Another grandson enjoys lashings of parmesan cheese on his spaghetti bolognaise while his cousin is very keen on kalamata olives. All these foods were unknown to me when I was young.
Australian eating habits have changed dramatically in the last 50 years, and, although more affluent households may have had more interesting diets, ours was pretty typical of working-class fare.
Here are some of the fruits and vegetables I didn’t encounter until I was an adult: snow peas and avocado as above, zucchini, capsicum, aubergine, rocket, sweet potato, kiwi fruit.
Salad in our house consisted of iceberg lettuce and slices of tomato, cucumber and tinned beetroot with Skipping Girl white vinegar dressing. Balsamic vinegar was unknown.
Sauces such as tartare and hollandaise did not feature. Tomato and Worcestershire sauces were on the table in their bottles or in small jugs if polite company was present. And olive oil was used very sparingly as a suspect ‘woggy’ additive.
Frying was done in dripping, the residue from roasting meat, or butter, both cholesterol-laden, with deadly effect on my father and no doubt many others in early middle-age.
Jean and I are not ‘foodies’, but we have a cupboard with an extensive range of herbs – cumin, coriander, dill, basil, tarragon, etc. I never saw such things growing up. Nor garlic (then even more suspect than olive oil). Then the corresponding shelf held just salt and pepper, mustard, vanilla essence and cochineal, whatever that was.
Curry was made with Keen’s curry powder and the food turned a yellowish-green. No one would have known what to do with a pappadum. Spaghetti came out of a tin.
I would not have been able to identify a lentil and would have been likely to think it a mouse dropping. Ours was a teetotal household, with no wine used in cooking except sweet sherry in trifle. A bottle of ‘hospital’ brandy for pouring over Christmas pudding gathered dust in a cupboard through the years.
Conversely, there were certain foods commonly eaten then that I never eat now and my impression is that they are less acceptable these days, like cabbage, swede, turnip, parsnip and tripe, most of which I detested. Likewise rhubarb, which tasted as bad as the word itself sounds.
Tea was made in a pot and I fancy it tasted richer than it does now made with a teabag. Coffee, on the other hand, was made with milk and a mixture of heavily sweetened Bushell’s coffee and chicory essence. It neither smelt nor tasted like coffee today, and even instant coffee, arriving later, was an advance on it.
I am nostalgic for various things – the dropkick and stab pass in Australian football, public ownership of certain institutions, grass-court tennis and the FJ Holden, but never for the food and cooking of the Anglo-Celtic working class in the 1940s and 50s.