50 years ago.
During my childhood, low cost meals and simple dishes were a fact of life. My mother managed our household of five on a minimal budget that didn’t always keep pace with inflation. Even so, we never went without. There was always food in the cupboard, and the pantry, and later, when we could afford one, the freezer.
Because we lived in isolation, on a farm, frequent trips to the shops weren’t possible. My mother bought in bulk. It was common sense to do so. She supplemented shop bought foods with home grown vegetables; home-made preserved fruit from back-yard fruit trees; home-made jams and chutneys, and even home made ginger beer. She became adept at creating meals out of little.
The main meal usually consisted of simple dishes. Nothing gourmet. I don’t think I learned that word until after I’d left home.
In winter, we often had soup with bread, no butter, followed by a simple main meal and dessert or bread and jam. Each serving was ‘enough’. That is, it was a serving, not an overladen plate.
In summer, we frequently had light salad with a single serve of meat. If it was cold, left over roast meat, a couple of slices sufficed. Again, a sweets dish, or bread and jam followed.
On Sundays, soup with pancakes was our meal. No in-between mains. There was sufficient nourishment in the soup.
Iced coffee at lunch time came in a 2 litre yellow jug with a white lid, not a Masters Dairy plasticised cardboard carton. Mum made it from Tooralac Powdered Skim Milk, (later it was other brands), chicory essence and raw sugar. Two thirsty men, later three, coming in from farm, downed the jug full without batting an eye. I couldn’t acquire a taste for it. Milk and I never got along.
Meat dishes for main meals
For main meals, my mother was adept at creating dishes from cheap cuts of meat. Liver or lambs fry was served with lashings of onion and gravy and a helping of mashed potato, carrots and peas or beans. I found lambs fry barely edible, but, I was told it was incredibly rich in iron and therefore good for me.
Another meal was tripe. Colour was added to the plate, with boiled carrots and garden fresh peas or French beans. Once I learned where white meat other than chicken came from, I couldn’t touch the dish served in white sauce made with flour and onion. Utterly ghastly.
A favourite only ever found on a plate in front of our mother was brains on toast. To this day, I can see the squirmy looking ‘meat’ being devoured with a smile.
Steak and kidney pie might sound like a luxury. It was generally a stew of sorts, served with toast or mashed potato. The steak was a cheap cut of gravy beef. This dish was so unusual, the kidney sort of added an exotic flavour. But I knew what it was, and avoided the chunks, or swallowed them whole.
My least favourite dish, apart from tripe and brains, was trotters in jellied aspic. Good heavens! I couldn’t eat it then, and I’d run a mile now.
Later, when my father had a spare lamb or sheep for household food, we ate chops, roasts, and whatever other cuts of meat he managed to cut. It was always difficult for me when I saw bloodied bags hanging from meat hooks on the side verandah. Later, the meat was wrapped in plastic, labelled with a texta, stored in the freezer and consumed over 2-3 months.
In our very early childhood, a tale is told that my brother asked for ‘cow chops’. Of course, he was too young to know the source of each cut of meat.
Mum also bravely served home home-grown chicken. Visions of a headless chooks tied to the clothes line, quite why I’m not sure; the copper of boiling water beside the engine shed (we had 32 volt power) and the smell of scorched feathers as mother dunked and plunked the bird, always had me turn my back and retreat to the other side of the house. I don’t know what else she had to do. But we did eat the meat.
This is the sort of copper my mother used. A fire was lit underneath and water boiled in the copper insert. We had an old one near our engine shed and another one in the laundry for washing clothes.
Years later, when my father began keeping pigs on the farm, we had pork. Huge, fatty pork chops. We were obliged to eat all the meat and the rather large, fatty portion still on the edge. We weren’t terribly well-informed about the health issue of cholesterol back then.
Occasionally, we ate meatless dishes. Mum was adept at making pasties or a pasty slice. She made fillings from whatever vegetables were available. We were allowed to cover our serving with a squirt of tomato sauce. Of course, being a vegetable dish, we needed no side servings. I recall though, mashed potato may have been added to fill growing children and our hard working father.
I recall my mother’s dedication in providing the best she could for her family. To this day, I admire her ability to be creative with dishes. She is the last of her generation, from her family, who was brought up on a pioneering farm in the central wheat belt. She would have learnt her skills in preparing such meats and other inexpensive dishes from her mother and sister.
A ‘mincer’ or grinder, similar to the one used to mince our meat.
A modern approach
When prepared meats became available on trays covered in plastic from supermarkets, it was no doubt much easier. Chops no longer had to be home-cut. Mince no longer had to be put through the hand turned grinder. Today we get chicken breasts, legs or wings by the tray. Or a whole chicken if we wish. We are spoilt for choice.
These days, I am a vegetarian, for various reasons. I don’t get why people fuss over having meat in their diet. I find plenty of nourishment without. But that’s a topic for another day.