My Daily Dinner

It bothered me that they didn’t have eyes. There they were, a man and a woman sitting at a tiny table smiling at each other with no eyes. Their smiles were so big they reached almost to the temples. And their legs had no feet. They ended in sharp points, like stakes to be driven into the ground.

They sat on the cover of Mum’s slim yellow cookery book, My Daily Dinner, acquired around the time of her marriage in 1961. I read it, on and off, over the years. How to deal with an old fowl. – A quite old fowl is very nice boiled. And I’d move on to the recipes for brain rolls or stewed tripe. I read and reread it the way I read the other books that lay about the house. These included a rude one called Laughter Between the Sheets which was kept under other things in the sliding-door cabinet in the lounge room. (We found all hidden things in the house, without exception.) And there was Strange Stories, Amazing Facts from the Reader’s Digest in which the image of a dead person kept appearing in the lino on the floor, no matter how hard the cleaner tried to scrub it off.

For me, My Daily Dinner was reading material for mooching, listless afternoons. I wasn’t thinking about the act of cooking. I was thinking about the old fowl or the brains.

Leafing through it now – not Mum’s original one but an old copy I found myself – I see that its purpose was not connected to idleness but to industry and thrift. It was a how-to manual for getting something on the dining table day after day after day. And now I see the connection with the things that actually appeared on our table. There’s the bread and butter pudding. There is the hot chocolate sauce we poured over vanilla ice cream. There is all that offal: the tripe, the brains, the liver (lamb’s fry), the kidneys, the tongue (yes, I remember a large tongue with its own thick pitted skin), the lumps of corned beef boiled forever and served with a white sauce.

My Daily Dinner is big on white sauce. It’s big on flour in general. Mum was forever dredging things in seasoned flour and frying them. Everything was thickened with flour, dotted with butter. Puddings were endless variations on flour and sugar.

The apple roly poly, the star dessert of my childhood, is not in My Daily Dinner. There is a jam roly poly, but that’s not what we used to have. Our roly poly had slices of apple rolled up in a scone-like dough with water and sugar poured over it and baked to create a caramelised self-saucing sensation. Eaten out of the mustard-coloured Bessemer bowls I still remember arriving new in the box.

I don’t think Mum ever attempted to follow a complete suggested menu; she took inspiration here and there. The complete menus, building day by day, were about eking out food, making it go further; about using animals from snout to tail because that’s how you could feed a family on very little money. The menu for the Friday of the third week of the winter is this: Sheep’s head broth (made with stock from the sheep’s head you boiled for dinner yesterday) followed by scalloped fish (a small amount of fresh fish stretched out with white sauce and baked) served with potatoes (an all-white main course) finished up with half pay pudding. The half pay pudding is a concoction of flour and currants steamed in a pudding cloth for three hours. Very good results are obtained by mixing the pudding with one cup of cold tea. This makes it more economical.

My Daily Dinner was published by the magazine New Idea, which in those days was all about knitting patterns and household hints. Now New Idea is a mess of celebrity gossip in a world of criminal excess, in which, it’s estimated, Australians throw out eight billion dollars worth of food every year. But women have it better than they did then. They’re not spending the afternoon fiddling with sheep’s heads: Get two sheep’s heads or lambs’ heads, soak them well in salt and water, and rinse thoroughly. Cut the sides apart, separating the tongues, and take out the brains. Then again, some people are rediscovering such activities, as a way of combatting food waste. But tripe. Is anyone going to go back to tripe?

If you’d like to give it a try (I swear I ate this exact dish, as a child) here’s the recipe:

Stewed tripe: – Get one and a half lbs. thick, seamy tripe, wash, and cut in neat pieces, not too small. Cover with water, and add one dessertspoon salt; boil gently for two hours. After one hour place six peeled onions on top of the tripe. When cooked, pour off most of the liquor, and add one cup of milk. Bring to the boil and thicken with one tablespoon flour mixed to a paste with a little cold milk. Add a small piece of butter just before serving on a hot dish.

8 thoughts on “My Daily Dinner

  1. Ross

    Oh God, this is so familiar. Sorry, Mum, in whatever corner of heaven you ended up, but it wasn’t as a reward for your dinners.

    To be fair they were very different days (1940s through 1960s) and she did grow up in a tiny tin mining town at the top of NSW. ‘Last town in NSW to get electricity’ was the proud boast there.

    It was originally named ‘Vegetable Creek’ for the Chinese ex miners who fed the district when the tin market died, but it appears that that large section of the population didn’t have much luck teaching the Anglo/Irish much about cooking.

    But, the brains, the tripe, the lambs’ fry (with bacon on expansive days)!

  2. Sandra Laight

    I hated offal and after vomiting all over the kitchen table after being forced to eat liver, I was thankfully allowed to forego it.
    I do remember taking the turkey carcass home from Thanksgiving dinner and boiling it 3 times to make soup in my student days in Montreal! My depression – era Granny was one of 11 children who eventually ran a cafeteria and a result I learnt the art of not wasting food at her side. Best lesson was that everything can be made into soup. I always roast the bones from the store-bought BBQ chooks and make soup from them. Yummy and very economical.

  3. Martha Gelin

    I have a cookbook from the far North of North America. There’s a recipe for moose nose jelly. And another one begins, “….take an ax and split the moose head…” Also beaver tail (evidently it needs to be skinned first). Wild and wonderful. And one from Old Virginia (a reprint) with many ideas on being practical and not wasting anything. Great to read through. Have not tried moose nose jelly.

  4. Tracy Post author

    Ha ha, thanks for your offal stories Ross and Sandra. Ross, we had “Chinaman’s Pool” in Carnarvon which is said to be where veggies were grown for the town (but there are other stories about how it was named). I feel the need to add that I was more than happy with Mum’s cooking, including the tripe, although I couldn’t say it was my favourite. I always scoffed the lot.

  5. Nancy

    I often think about how each generation seems to eat less of an animal- I hated offal as a kid but we often had lambs fry and kidneys and yes the occasional tripe and brains ? I will never buy it to cook with or eat now but feel sad it’s only the muscle that we use of the animal. Great story! Also feel sad that recipe books don’t even get used these days so no old treasures for the future ?

  6. Ian Lett

    Mum made us eat lamb’s fry once a week. I hated it. But she enjoyed grilled lamb’s brain on her own. She knew her four kids would rebel if she forced more offal on them.
    I am now vegetarian. Although I have fond memories of mum’s beef and potato stew.

  7. Helen Bergen

    My mother boiled everything to death in my earlier childhood. Thank goodness that changed. Boiled brussell sprouts and sloppy choko were particularly traumatic for us kids.

    It was only recently she revealed she hated the boiled choko too.

  8. Barry

    My parents were Depression era as well, so all this tripe is a rich memory for me.

    Not only that. We were Catholics, too. When my parents couldn’t afford fish on Friday, which was most of the time, we ate what mum called “mock fish” – potato pancakes.

    Regularly mum had to trawl through the cushions in our old lounge furniture to get pennies so dad could catch the bus to work.

    Mum used to buy old prams from the auctions in Brisbane. She would wheel them home, forcing me to walk the whole way – I think I was about 3 years old or younger. I hated it.

    She’d derust the prams, paint them and iron the lining. Then she’d reassemble them and take them back to the auction house and make a tidy profit.

    It paid enough for the tripe and lambs brains!

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