Last night my daughter listed the various quantities of sugar in different yoghurt products. She was making the point that although we might think our favourite yoghurt is good for us, it’s not. It’s riddled with sugar.
Over the years we’ve heard these things, the perils of sugar and of salt, of fat in butter, so we’re better off on margarine only to discover margarine is made of tar or some other bizarre non edible product, made edible by extraordinary feats of science.
When I was young we welcomed the arrival of margarine not for its low fat properties but because it was cheaper than butter.
When my adolescent sister and I wandered through the aisles of the IGA supermarket off the highway in Mentone we took delight in choosing the cheapest of everything.
No name brands had not yet arrived on the scene but there were alternatives to almost everything.
Alternatives to the expensive and wonderful double decker biscuits that came from the Arnott’s factories. Alternatives to smooth Cadbury’s chocolate. Alternatives to Macleans tooth paste. And though we took pleasure in choosing these brands I also felt a mark of poverty at the check out as the girl ran through our items. And I did not enjoy it.
Still it was the only way to guarantee there’d be enough money left over from the twenty or so dollars our mother gave us once each week for the weekly family shopping.
She had no time to shop herself. She worked every day at the old people’s home down the road and in those days supermarkets closed like other shops at 5.30 pm and only milk bars stayed open for limited times after hours.
And milk bars then, as they are today, were more expensive for all items other than milk.
My sister and I needed to have a few extra dollars left over from our twenty dollars to be able to add a block of cheap compound chocolate to our collection and then with our school bags overloaded with necessities, including Fairy brand margarine, we began the half hour trek home through the back streets of Cheltenham and shared out the entire block of chocolate.
By the time we reached home we were sick from our fill of it. No longer did I hanker for a pile of sandwiches to eat from my seat in front of the television as we watched Kimba the White Lion; whatever Disney cartoons might be showing in the afternoons or family sitcoms early evening, alongside the American cowboy shows of Daniel Boone or Robin Hood and his merry men from England.
On nights we did not shop, I ate three or four rounds of jam filled bread. And when dinnertime came round I was unwilling to eat whatever food my mother served up.
There were times when she tried to make out that the rabbit she had cooked in some sort of casserole was actually chicken. She never fooled me. Or that the potatoes she’d left boiling in the pan too long before the water dried up and the bottom of the pan and potatoes resting there were black; that these potatoes once drained and the black sections omitted when mashed together with margarine and milk were still not burned.
A taste I can still conjure up. The taste of charcoal, without its texture. Not one to cherish.
I preferred my rounds of sandwiches or chocolate blocks to the daily fare my mother cooked unwillingly at the stove every night of my childhood.
I do not blame her now, although then I resented these things.
Now I recognise what a tedious job it is to come up with something fresh and tasty every night, especially when you’re heart is not in the cooking. Especially when money is so tight you have no options in terms of nourishment.
My mother went for the salt, sugar and carbohydrate to keep us full, with a few vegetables, eggs and meat for good measure. She’d lived through a war and was not one bit squeamish about sugar or salt, once so had to come by, and necessary in almost everything she cooked to enhance the taste.