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Monday, September 05, 2005

Childhood Food Memories

I was recently tagged by Adam, the other AG (he's the Amateur Gourmet) who had been tagged by Clotilde for this latest meme which seems to be making its way around the blogosphere.

I say recently when in fact I mean fourteen days ago. Which may not appear all that long ago, but, in Amateur Gourmet time, that actually means 28 posts ago. And that includes a movie and a podcast in there as well. Eek. For shame for shame.

So (finally) here it is. Come with me as we traverse back through the passages of time. I was shorter then. And thinner too. And oh my god, did I really get around in polyester slacks as daggy as that?

AG's childhood food memories

1. Finish It

There was only ever one rule at dinner.
Finish It.
No ifs, buts or maybes.

Mother had no patience for any excuses. Children in Africa were starving. Food was expensive. And do you know how grateful you should be to have food on the table?

Occasionally there would be a dinner-time lecture on how villagers in China would pick up individual rice grains spilled by harvest farmers on the side of the road. "Do you know how many rice grains it takes to fill a rice bowl?" she'd rant. "You should be grateful you don't have to pick up your own rice grains. Now eat!"

And it wasn't even as though we were blackmailed with dessert like the spoiled kids of today. No dessert was ever forthcoming. But that one raised eyebrow was threatening enough to reach for the chopsticks with an indignant huff.

2. School Camp

I loved school camp. Junk food. Bunk beds. Giggling in the dark.

It was also a gastronomic turning point.

I discovered Bad Food. Grey peas. Soggy mash. Mealy sausages. Good god. They call this food?

As I sawed my way into my sausage dinner with increasing despair, I wondered how on earth I was going to finish this torturous meal--until I heard the teacher's voice booming through the mess hall.

"Make sure you put all food scraps in the slops bucket. And Cabin 4 report for kitchen~"

I snapped to attention. Slops bucket?

And indeed a plastic tub was slowly making its way down the table. I looked at my room-mates in amazement. Yes, there they were--emptying half-eaten plates, flicking peas, scraping out dollops of congealed gravy half-heartedly into the growing mound of swill.

I looked around in amazement. Didn't this directly contravene Rule Number One? Isn't this a Waste of Food? Would we not all be struck by lightning?

Apparently not. The din continued. The teachers made their supervisory rounds. The bucket got closer.

I still remember that moment as I watched those one-and-a-half sausages disappear into the bucket of rejection. I was eleven years old. It was empowering. It was liberating. It felt good.

3. Sugar

Sugar was the crack cocaine of our entire existence. Every minute was spent thinking about it, dreaming about it, and during those fleeting moments when it finally invaded our bloodstream, getting high on it.

We hunted down the back of the lounge for stray coppers, we pounced on five cent pieces on the pavement with a whoop, we scrimped and scrounged every cent we could find with an addict's unabated ferocity.

With our sweaty fistful of coppers, we'd make our way up the street to the milkbar where the shop owner would patiently wait whilst we hemmed and hawed over our deliberated purchases.

Back in "the good old days" lollies were still available by the piece. Strawberries 'n' cream, pineapples and bananas were one cent each. Peppermint teeth and chocolate coated hard caramel Cobblers were two cents. If you really wanted to flaunt your sweets at school, you bought candy necklaces or bracelets, biting them off one by one until you were left with a limp circle of string.

Sometimes you needed an acid trip. Citric acid. Sherbet gave us the tingles and we varied from using those tiny shovels inside Wizz Fizz to get our fix, or the smooth flavourless swizzle stick inside Double Dip. Sometimes, though, we just sat back and upended an entire giant Sherbert Straw into our open mouths, eyed closed both in bliss and citric twitching.

There were sticks of wrapped spearmint chews, milkos and redskins. Redskins were often soft and broke off as soon as your teeth made contact. The best ones were hard, which you could easily suck on for at least two hours, twisting the hard strawberry toffee into a corkscrew, offering true value-for-money as well as doubling as a useful poking weapon.

4. Salt

To balance sugar, you must have salt. Preferably sprinkled liberally over potato which has been fried to a golden-brown crunch. Wet and shivering after emerging from the local council swimming pool, we'd lie down on the hot concrete in an effort to warm ourselves up again. When the sound of our stomachs rumbling could be ignored no longer, we'd line up at the swimming pool tuckshop, returning to our towels as we dug with glee into a bag of hot chips. The chips would be crunchy, hot, covered in salt and drenched in tomato sauce.

During those endless stretches of summer holidays, potato scallops--discs of battered deep-fried potato dusted with salt--would keep us satiated in between frenzied bouts of Double Dragon, Wonderboy and WWF at the local takeaway.

Our potato crisps of choice were French Fries. Yes they were crunchy and golden-brown, but best of all, these tiny straw potato chips were only about 3mm wide. This meant a handful could be slowly nibbled on one by one, enabling the bag to last for at least an hour or two with mouse-like consumption.

5. Summer

Memories of childhood aren't complete without remembering summer. Dry Sydney summers where you lay panting on the lounge in the unbearable heat, insisting that your brother and sister maintain the enforced rule of non-contact.

"Don't touch me! You're making me hot!" you'd hiss at each other with snappy aggression.

After a couple of minutes, the neighbourhood kids could be heard hollering your name to come out and ride bikes and you'd peel yourself off the settee with an audible squelch.

The days would be so hot you would swear the cars were pulsating in the shimmering heat. The mercury would be so high you would feel your skin prickling in the heat, and you'd wonder whether you really could fry an egg on the footpath.

To keep cool you'd hold your head under the garden tap, plastering wet hair to your cooling scalp. Hydration with ice cream was always first preference since we never had the luxury of a Soda Stream.

The ubiquitous family tub of neopolitan ice cream was hauled from the freezer when Mum wasn't looking, and using an ice cream scoop--which never seemed to release properly--we'd jam a multi-coloured dome of ice confection on top of flimsy cones purchased in a box from the supermarket.

Zoopa Doopa straws of frozen cola or raspberry would be purchased from the corner shop, although you’d always end up with icy white remnants after sucking out all the sugar, and compare your raspberry red or cola brown tongues in the bathroom mirror.

And no summer could be complete with giant wedges of freshly cleaved icy cold watermelon. Holding the rind with both hands, you'd sink your teeth into the juicy pink flesh, powdery sugar crystals dissolving on the tongue, sweet watermelon juice overflowing and running down your chin into a contented sticky mess.

There' be watermelon seed spitting competitions in the backyard of course. I always lost--half the time the seeds ended up on my feet, along with a languidly stretching trail of spit. But it didn't seem to matter. It was good. It was sweet. It was summer.

Who do I choose to take a trip down memory lane?

I pick (on)
1. Saffron from
The Food Palate
2. Kelly from
The Occasional Epicure
3. Moira from
Who Wants Seconds
9 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Anonymous on 9/05/2005 11:15:00 pm


  • At 9/06/2005 7:52 am, Blogger Veruca Salt said…

    Wow, I can totally relate. The Double Dip, frequent trips to corner store for a handful of cheap sweets. They were good times.

    Do you remeber the Shark Icy Poles, that made your tongue blue or the space rocks that exploded in your mouth before turning into chewing gum?

    I used to call the slops bucket, the pumpkin bucket. The old days when veggies were yucky. Good thing I grew out of that phase.

  • At 9/06/2005 8:33 am, Blogger Kelly said…

    Ooh, tagged for my first meme! How exciting! Love your food memories - I can really relate... My brother and I felt like we were on top of the world if we had 20 cents each and were allowed to walk down to the corner shop!

  • At 9/06/2005 12:43 pm, Blogger Cathy said…

    Good ones AG! My mom had the same "finish it" policy. The legendary story in our family is about pea soup (which we all hated). My mom served it one evening when my sister and I had a piano lesson. We balked as usual and my sister had not finished by the time we needed to leave for the lesson. My mom told her she would have to finish it when she got back and said she would not reheat it! My mom's pea soup solidifed as it cooled, so this was truly cruel and unusual punishment.

  • At 9/06/2005 6:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    wow my childhood just flashed before my eyes! cola zooper doopers were the first to get sold out at school and i remember hating the swizzle stick but loving the sherberty goodness

  • At 9/06/2005 11:39 pm, Blogger krangsquared said…

    Ah, yes, "Finish it" was also drilled into my psyche. So much so that now, I get annoyed when my wife leaves bits of rice on her plate (though I haven't made an issue out of it yet).

  • At 9/07/2005 1:49 pm, Blogger Kelly said…

    Hey AG, I happened to have the day off work today, so I've already completed my post! :)

    I asked RJ about whether his mum told him the same "picking up rice off the road in China" story, but she didn't. He said "we only put as much rice in our bowl as we were going to eat".

    My Singaporean friend's mum used to tell him that if you left grains of rice behind you would marry someone whose face looked like the leftovers in your bowl! He used to get worried about my future prospects if I didn't finish my lunch!

  • At 9/09/2005 6:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A great read AG. I especially enjoyed the summer memory.

  • At 12/24/2007 4:45 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    No.1 LOLed me hard hahaha :)
    I had the same lecture! SOo Asian!

  • At 12/24/2007 11:25 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Barbara - Whoops - forgot to thank you for your comment. I just re-read this and had much fun reliving the memories yet again.

    Hi Anon - lol. Glad you empathised. I still struggle to not feel obliged to finish everything on my plate. I think waste not, want not is still a good adage to follow (in moderation of course).


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