Food goes through waves of popularity as much as clothing does. Over a lunch last week of ciabatta, proscuitto, pickled artichokes and tapenade, my friends and I got to musing over what we ate as children.
For me, my childhood was all of the 1970s. Growing up as one of three children in a country town, my parents made do on one high school teacher's salary, one grocery store and the occasional free recipe card from the Women's Weekly.
My mother would be the first to admit that cooking was not on her list of priorities or pleasures. She found it a chore, a bore and something that had to be done for us to live. End of story. For her the job was made easier if all the meals could be made via the sunbeam frying pan.
Most weeknights the hardy device was used to fry up lamb chops. They were the cheapest meat available in those days, and the fat that oozed from them was carefully poured into an empty Big Sister pudding tin to be used for the next meal. My brothers eagerly sucked out the marrow from the chop bones and used to love eating the rapidly solidifying fat around the edges - I was more than happy to give mine to them to make faintly obscene sucking noises over. Invariably, these blackened, hard chops were accompanied by fried potatoes (devilishly delicious) and boiled pumpkin, peas and broad beans (which weren't). I regarded the trio of vegetables with about as much anticipation as our cat had for worming day. Several times I managed to surreptitiously scatter some of them under the table, hoping that my parents would regard it as natural spillage from the family meal.
On Sundays the sunbeam was put to work on the lamb roast. The vegetables were placed all around it, and to this day, there is no finer memory of Seventies food than picking at the fried up bits of meat, potatoes and onion left in the pan before we washed the dishes.
Lamb was our staple meal, but there were a few other regulars. Before cooking the Bubble'n'squeak - which was a nice way to use up the left over veges - Mum would dollop in a few tablespoons of lamb dripping and fry up some bread. It was truly divine in that era of cholesterol ignorance. Us kids would bite down on the crispy bread fingers, wipe our oily fingers on our pants and eagerly look at the Bubble'n'squeak cooking. It looked very appetising as the globules of lamb fat slowly made their way to the surface of potato, pumpkin, cabbage and bacon and lacquered it all in shiny, glossy layer of grease.
Mum also tried her hand at spaghetti bolognese. Or at least, her version of it, which consisted of fried lamb mince with a tin of creme of tomato soup stirred through and plopped on top of some boiled macaroni. We loved it and had no idea of the existence of tinned tomatoes, garlic, basil or oregano. However one day we were cruelly tricked - Mum decided to cut up a kidney and 'slip it in' to the bolognese as a kind of filler, hoping we wouldn't notice. Boy was she wrong, and my youngest brother is still getting over the culinary betrayal.
'Mornay' was also something that featured often, especially if we had guests for dinner. The tinned tuna, tinned sweetcorn and white sauce concoction was not dissimilar to our car sickness results, but was made all the more special with crushed chips sprinkled over the top. 'Stew' was my most hated meal: a horrible mixture of god-knows-what sort of cheap lamb arse off-cuts, shoved in a pot with watered-down gravox, potatoes, carrot and celery. It would have deterred Oliver Twist from even considering asking for seconds.
Saturday nights were Mum's night off from kitchen duties, which was good for all us. (I love you Mum, really). We'd all be bathed and in our PJs in front of the 'Sonny and Cher Show' with an egg-in-an-egg cup and toast fingers, or a bowl of chicken noodle soup straight from the packet. Mum would then peel us some apples and oranges, which were eagerly devoured as the Davy Crockett show came on. Peeled fruit was the only way she'd be able to get us to eat any as we were all too lazy to deal with removing any external coverings and were very proud of her ability to peel a piece of fruit in one long continuous strip.
Desserts were always good. There was the constancy of icecream sprinkled with Aktavite, or fresh bread with jam, honey and cream. Sometimes there was tinned fruit, which I tended to avoid after an unfortunate incident involving David Dutton from across the road. When I was over there for tea one night, I made him laugh too much, and the tinned peaches were sneezed out of his nose. His laughter turned to tears; my laughter got out of control and strangely I was never invited over there again.
On cold, wintery nights, Mum would boil up a Big Sister chocolate pudding, which would serve all five of us easily. The warm cake with molten syrup was heavenly with a couple of scoops of vanilla icecream.
Our meals were completed with a cup of milk and milo and a fluoride tablet. If we were allowed to make the drinks ourselves, we'd ladle in the milo to halfway up the cups, and then pour in the milk to make 'Milo Mud.' Not very thirst quenching, but wickedly wonderful.
Take-aways were extremely rare, and at that stage, our town had only two fish and chip shops. Dad would bring home the newspaper-wrapped, fragrantly-smelling packet of battered fish and fat, salty chips and we'd devour them on the table, straight from the bag. Sometimes he'd also bring home a bottle of coke. Mum used to water it down so that it would serve the entire family. (No wonder I nearly had heart failure when I drank my first full-strength one at Samantha's house in year five).
Meals in a restaurant were unheard of until Dad got a hole-in-one. We proudly trooped off for dinner at the golf club, dressed in our finest church clothes and feeling very sophisticated. I ordered chicken maryland and we had a jug of punch on the table with stripes of red and green cordial and yellow squash. My year three teacher, Miss Roos was there too - with her boyfriend. And she was smoking. I held court in the quadrangle with that story all Monday lunchtime.
After school, we run inside, drop our bags and ask, "What can we eat Mum? We're starving." There'd be SAOs and vegemite waiting for us, accompanied by carrot sticks and orange cordial. Sometimes Mum would have made some little cakes, that she'd always cover with white icing and put a raspberry jelly on the top. It was only in my late teens that I was brave enough to call them 'nipple cakes.'
We'd then rush outside to go for a ride on our bikes, or play chasey with the kids next door. We knew better than to say "I'm bored" to our Mum. If we were foolish enough to tell her so, we'd find ourselves by the tankstand, cracking almond shells from the huge sack that never seemed to be any emptier.