Sunday, 4 May 2008

Retro Food May 4

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned panic about the price of food. The spectre of having to pay more for basics like bread and cheese can cause one to come over all retro and make like we are still in the middle of both World Wars and the Depression. Saving the roast fat for lard to use on bread instead of butter, plugging holes in shoes with newspaper, or taking a leaf out of Muriel Newman’s book of a few years ago which suggested making raincoats out of plastic bags.
Well maybe things aren’t quite that bad yet, but it’s an easy button to push. The announcement by the NZ Herald that we are paying 28% more for food would have sent a chill down most family hallways until we realised their exhaustive investigative team paid $5 for a bunch of broccoli. Shop around, Herald, shop around.
The only shortage I’ve ever faced was car less days in the 70s; and once I couldn’t find any kibbled wheat for my home made bread for months. So adjusting to not being able to get what I want when I want it, or having to pay more for it will be a toughie.
Which is when I rediscovered the Aunt Daisy Cookbook, given to us by friends and the edition my mother cooked from all my life.
“This,” I said holding it up for my family to witness, “will see us through the toughest of times.”
“Mmm,” they mumbled in unison. Which is what they do when I say things like: “Spiders are nature’s fly killers, we should learn to live with their cobwebs” as I gaze lovingly at the ceiling or “If we get three laying hens they’ll lay one egg each a day, that’s a total of 21 a week!” as I gaze adoringly at the back garden.
I eagerly read through the pages of Aunt Daisy putting Post It notes on all the recipes I remembered from my childhood, and that night in a rarely seen fit of penny pinching, decided that the few scraps of left over roast lamb were going into Aunt Daisy’s curry sauce. The one my dad used to make.
As he sipped his pinot gris (we’re not quite at cask wine yet) my husband tried to hide his astonishment at what I was throwing in the pot. This is a woman who prides herself on making her own curry powder by enthusiastically pounding various spices and seeds in her mortar and pestle, throws in curry leaves from her curry leaf tree and wouldn’t dream of making anything without her home-made chicken stock. Instead I was throwing in store bought curry powder, chutney, vinegar, cornflour, sultanas, sugar and plain old water.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I muttered. “Not even a can of coconut cream,” I twittered as I chopped up bananas and rolled them in desiccated coconut for the accompaniment. And then we sat down. We tasted. We looked at each other long and hard.
“Delicious, just like my Mum used to make,” he glowed.
“It’s very good isn’t it?”
And so the retro food revival took off. Chicken Hawaiian anyone? Hokey Pokey biscuits? Or how about a nice Salmon (tinned) loaf with Cheese Sauce?
Slowly but surely, the cooking of my parents started to come back to me, as did the strict budgeting my mother used to do, inherited from her own parents. Now I visit the supermarket every morning, when the meat is on special. My freezer is chock full of gravy beef, corned beef and something called a lamb flap which I plan to thaw and investigate at a later date, when the world food shortage has really kicked in. There’s also a particularly attractive pig knuckle which I wrestled off another woman, simply because I spotted it first.
And if the freezer wasn’t so full already I’d be investigating a frozen side of mutton and bagging it up like my Mum used to do.
Next I’m planning to camp outside Foodtown and collect signatures for a petition supporting the removal of GST on fresh food items, like they do in Australia. And when Don Brash mutters to me about compliance costs I’ll answer: “I’ve got two words for you Don ‘computers’ and ‘coding.’”
I’m not sure if we’ve actually saved any money by going retro, but I do know that living like they used to in the old days isn’t a bad way to be. Bring on the car less days.