Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


The 1950s, Tripe and the Iceman Cometh …

In the first of the ABC’s “Back in Time for Dinner”, the opening 1950s meal was tripe. And earned universal revulsion from a family hailing from the future. The revolting prospect of eating cow’s stomach could only be imagined by the ABC’s researchers as a inevitable aspect of war-time shortage. They were gravely wrong.

The present generation cannot imagine the appeal of animal offal and yet for an earlier generation tripe, liver, kidneys, tongue, sweet meats, heart – or brains fried in breadcrumbs – were to-die-for dishes.

“Tripe” was once a universal expression to describe anything cheap or worthless though it is far from that now. The last purchase of tripe I ventured cost $15/Kg from a new specialty butcher.

Offal was certainly the food of the working family but it was relished, not seen as demeaning. Other meat was “poverty food” like lamb’s shanks. My grandmother would send me to buy shanks with the strict instruction to tell the butcher they were “for the dog”. We didn’t have one but she did not want anyone thinking we were so poor we would actually eat shanks ourselves.

Offal had always been part of a culture that never wasted anything. Samuel Pepys writing in his 17th century diary described eating a lip-smacking bowl of cow’s udders. He did not have his first steak until his more affluent mid 20s. Steak was aristocratic hence the tale about King James I knighting the delicious “sir loin”. The story is apocryphal arising from a pun on the Norman French “sur longe”, the “over loin” but it emphasised that such meat was reserved for a better class.

The speed with which values alter generationally is remarkable. The ABC’s Future Family in the 50s was delighted when the new European cuisine of spaghetti entered the repertoire but there was little appreciation of the suspicion Australians expressed at the time for the new “dago” food. The most enduring reward of post war immigration, however, was to rid the palate of English cooking.

Though the ABC program does not venture into beverages, the tea drinking 50s saw coffee as a novelty and Repins coffee shops in Sydney and the espresso equivalent in Melbourne sold the new sensation, a vast improvement on the hot water with a squirt of chicory essence which war time passed off as coffee.

For older Australians the past and present seem seamless and are surprised when the young see as novel what they regard as prosaic. Yet the changes have been frighteningly transformative. What do you say to a grandchild who asks what computer games you played as a child when a world without computers is unimaginable?

It is hard now, for instance, to imagine a childhood of horse-drawn ice and baker’s carts. The ice carts disappeared with the advent of fridges but the horse drawn bread cart lingered till the late 50s. The story was told of the bread delivery bloke who got totally confused on his first day with the new motorised van – he dealt with deliveries and customers but only the horse knew the route of the bread run.

These experiences fuelled family sagas particularly the day cousin Colin was caught on the stampeding ice cart. Neighbourhood kids vied for a chance to ride on the box seat behind the horse – while the iceman made his deliveries – and from that elevated position imagine reining the horse. The horse took absolutely no notice.

The iceman would chip a slither of ice for each kid and wrap it in brown Kraft paper to suck on. The taste was metallic, the flavour of the industrial ice works.

Colin was alone on the box seat that day when the horse bolted. Neighbouring blokes rushed to steady the nag and calm the scene while mothers rushed to smother the bawling Colin. Only later was the puzzle solved.

Colin sat alone on the box seat sucking his slither of ice when the horse lifted its tail to defecate. Curious, the lad tentatively touched the horses rear with the ice chip and the tail slammed down in reaction, driving the ice up its arse and the horse into locomotion.

Those were days without OH&S or ‘helicopter’ parents. Who’s to say if it was better or worse.

*Dr Michael Powell is Conjoint Senior Lecturer, Humanities, University of Newcastle; Adjunct Researcher, Humanities, University of Tasmania

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  1. Robin Charles Halton

    June 18, 2018 at 2:51 am

    There’s nothing wrong with tripe in white sauce. It was a regular treat growing up in the 1950s and 1960s as was Steak and kidney pie, but I couldn’t handle sheep’s brains or liver.

    Favourite sweets were Rolly Polly pudding, made with rolled suet pastry with raspberry jam, boiled in a cloth and served with egg custard. Others would be Bread and Butter pudding, Queen pudding topped with meringue, and the burnt Caramel Custard was the best of all. Corned tongue, bacon and black pudding were other favourites, and remain as regular fare today!

    When my wife arrived at this end of the world in 1986 I was surprised by one of her Moravian grandmother’s recipes, Drtskova, a tripe soup and an absolute luxury from times past which has that lovely rich brownish look about it, and is highly recommended. Some recipes exist on the Internet which are excellent for tripe enthusiasts! Ziggy’s butcher at Moonah sells cooked tripe.

  2. John Biggs

    June 17, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    This conversation brings back more memories of eating in the 40s and 50s.

    Having bought a fridge in the late 40s, my father calculated that the power the fridge used would be offset by the power saved by using a pressure cooker, and that the cost of the fridge itself would quickly be defrayed by buying food in bulk – as indeed it was, very quickly.

    Laird’s Butchers in North Hobart used to offer a regular Friday Special: a side of lamb for ten shillings. So it was lamb chops Saturday, roast lamb for Sunday dinner after Matins at Holy Trinity, cold lamb and salad for tea on Monday, lamb’s fry and bacon on Tuesday, Irish stew on Wednesday, and minced lamb leftovers in patties or shepherd’s pie on Thursday – but for good Anglo-Catholics it was fish on Friday, and hang the expense.

  3. phill Parsons

    June 17, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    In the 1950s I could peek through a double door garage to see the traces of the Baker’s Cart. Next door was a small paddock sans the horse. This was one of the mysteries for a small boy who was held in Addison Ave.

    In later years my older brother solved that mystery by informing me this was the vehicle that came out of retirement to deliver the daily loaf on the Eastern Shore, and perhaps more widely, of Manly.

    Only 45 years ago I heard the clip-clop of the milko’s horse with the rubber tyred wagon as the beast moved around the route, and the human ran with the bottle milk tinkling in the crate. Swan Hill, I think.

    Nearby we talked with a guy who had lost his driver’s license. The horse knew the way home whether the driver was drunk or sober.

    Brawn was also on the menu but I don’t believe it is offal.

    As a member of a single income household, we ate liver and bacon for dinner, but whether this was a choice or forced by the domestic budget tempered by the outcome at the races, I cannot say.

    We also ate fish freshly caught in the Harbour, and steak, sometimes with a number of kidneys.

    I had to live on a farm in Tasmania before other items of offal [fresh from the beast] were available.

    TGC’s offal stories are somewhat limited. Offal remains part of our diet too, but not so often now.

    Methinks I will seek out a tongue, if the dog food companies haven’t got the lot.

  4. William Boeder

    June 16, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    In my younger years at age 15, I was the dough-maker and baker for a small district bakery in Wandin, North Victoria.

    Then look out if (at the conclusion of Clarry’s helping with the moulding and the tinning) the doughs I had prepared did not fulfil the quota of loaves required because the offer of corporal punishment would be delivered by the bakery owner with a harsh growl and a hard whack to the left side of my head, my penalty for scrimping on the volume of the doughs I had prepared, maybe 2-3-4 or so.

    The measuring method for the volume of flour in the main dough was a guesstimation of the volume remaining in the second required bag of flour. Each bag contained 150 lb, and there was no weighing apparatus available to aid my situation.

    The baker/owner and his wife, after their arrival back from the Lilydale pub reeking of alcohol, would later assist with the hand moulding and tinning of the scale-weighted dough portions. Old Clarry always had a large bottle of beer (later known as a king brown) on the run.

    When the tinned and yeast-risen ready-to-be-baked loaves had risen, with half of them having been placed upside down* on the long-handled wooden Peel, they were set into the oven in a military-like formation.

    The bakery oven at that time, with its old wood furnace and its heat brick-lined interior, was known as a scotch oven. The loaves would be placed in the oven with its minimum required heat temperature of 480-500 degrees Fahrenheit. While filling it, heat would belch out of the small oven door.

    Old Clarry would disappear inside the almost attached residence, and then into bed with old Thelma. Clarry would be up early next morning to load his van, and off he would go to do his home delivery rounds.

    In those days it was a five nights per week occupation for my weekly wage of of £6. My weekly board money requested and paid to my parents was a harsh £5 per week.

    I came and went up and down the steep hills between work and home on my trusty old push-bike through all the frosty mornings and dark rainy nights.

    If I was lucky, a meal would have been prepared by old Thelma, which to my horror, I would discover to be black pudding portions, or crumbed lamb-brains, or some other beastly offal, or mashed potatoes and peas and no gravy. If not these, it was cold fish and chips.

    This was the introductory phase of my entry into adulthood and the array of beast offals common to that particular era. I felt that, had I not to eaten this beastly offal, I would have starved to death.

    I cannot admit to having any fond nostalgia of that 1963 era long ago. I can assure everyone that I have no desire to return to those days.

    [i]*White sandwich loaves.[/i]

  5. Leonard Colquhoun

    June 15, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    It was my job to get the Friday fish ‘n’ chips, under strict instructions to NOT rip open the end of the rolled-up newspaper wrapping, and snaffle any chips on the way back.

    But the chippie (not that I knew that word then) used to tuck a few chips into a fold at one end for we kids to sample the goodies on the walk back home.

    Also my job when living up near the Puffing Billy line to make sure that the rag-covered twigs were firmly plugging the holes in the water tank; also, to empty the dunnycan into the next hole in the back paddock!

    I can still sense the smell of freshly (and illicitly) baked bread on Sunday mornings and the walk back home picking bits off it – still hot!

  6. Simon Warriner

    June 14, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    My Great Aunt used to be a huge offal fan, made Braun, tongue, blood puddings and loved her tripe. We lived with her in her house until we moved, and then she lived with us, the result of a family deal done in the wake of WW2 to support her husband, a WW1 veteran with war wounds.

    The other stuff wasn’t so bad, but the tripe was where my father drew the line. We moved from her farm to the one my parents purchased when I was about 11, and I have an abiding memory of my father taking his boots off on the back porch, walking in the back door, picking up the pot of simmering tripe from the stove and walking onto the front porch and hurling it a very long way out into the paddock. Not a single word was ever said. Tripe was never cooked again.

    Another use for offal, according to a radio program I listened to a year or two ago, is as a substitute for calamari rings. Ten points for the first reader to guess what part of what animal gets used.

  7. Rob Walls

    June 14, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    Leo Schofield’s experience of offal echoes my own, right down to the Tripes a la mode Caen. A lamb’s liver Provencale is a regular (and still cheap) part of the menu in our house. And no, Leo, pedantry is a privilege of age, especially when expressed so politely and the target is an academic …

  8. Lynne Newington

    June 12, 2018 at 12:26 am

    The main thing that seems different to me is that kids aren’t made to eat everything on their plate any more …

    And they eat their meals watching the television … and in many instances eating takeaways …

  9. June Osborne

    June 11, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    We had tripe and white sauce, onions and parsley too when I was a child, but I never knew that it was a cow’s stomach.

    We had lamb’s fry and bacon, too. And we left the billycan at the front door for the milkman to pour in the milk. The bread was hot from the bakery down the road, and the house had a little cupboard next to the kitchen called the “servery” for the baker to leave the bread. When my mother forgot her key I used to crawl through the servery and then open the front door for her.

    Old memories. The main thing that seems different to me is that kids aren’t made to eat everything on their plate any more, and they scream and run around in cafes. Never saw it in Repins or DJs cafeteria.

  10. Leo Schofield

    June 11, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    Brains, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, tripe – love ‘em all but not the way they used to be handled. Classic French and Italian offal dishes such as Les cervelles d’agneau au beurre noisette avec persil, vinaigre et câpres, Rognons d’agneau grilles, Fegato alla Veneziana , Ris de Veau and glorious, glutinous, slow-cooked lip-smacking Tripes á la mode de Caen and a million miles away from the bread-heavy brain patties, devilled kidneys, lamb’s fry, sweetbreads and tripe in white sauce with parsley of my childhood. Once, like fish, the food that poor folk ate, these delicacies, when they do make rare appearances on the metropolitan menus of adventurous chefs, are almost as expensive as Wagyu beef.

    Am I being pedantic in thinking that your correspondent meant a sliver of ice, rather than a slither?

    The only offal I couldn’t come at were ox hearts.

  11. max

    June 10, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    # 3 … [i]”I couldn’t stomach tripe or brains, but anything else in the protein line was acceptable to me.”[/i]

    The Coolgardie safe, [i]then[/i] the kerosene fridge.

  12. TGC

    June 10, 2018 at 7:38 pm

    #2 and #3 …. Much the same still in this household

  13. TV Resident

    June 10, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    I couldn’t stomach tripe or brains, but anything else in the protein line was acceptable to me.

    John Biggs, like you, my father didn’t eat alone either. We all sat down for meals as a family and we stayed seated until the last family member had finished eating their meal and there was no waste. All but my father washed and wiped the dishes in a bowl of hot water because we didn’t have a sink.

    I also remember getting anything that I hadn’t eaten the night before being put in my sandwiches for school. In those days we had to sit in class and eat our sandwiches before we could go outside and play. I remember sitting there for the entire time because of what was in my sandwiches, usually cold string beans that were rather tough.

    I do remember the ice box and then came a kerosene fridge.

  14. John Biggs

    June 10, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    The 50s programme was a splendid source of warm nostalgia. I liked tripe, liver and bacon and brains. It was never seen as cheap stuff for when we couldn’t afford meat.

    The one thing really wrong in the programme, as far as I and all my peers are concerned, is that Dad never ate alone after we kids had been fed. Too sensationalised, that bit.

  15. Lynne Newington

    June 10, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    How bad was it even in the 60s?

    Filling in for top WA sportswoman Kay Nesbitt doing her bread delivery [Corlett Bros.] the deal was no money no bread for those who couldn’t pay their outstanding accounts. The look of expectancy on the faces of numerous children following the van [with their temperamental dogs afoot] left me with no dilemmas reared in my formative years by the Sallies taught bread was the staff of life …..

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