I was just thinking…………

………………as I wonder what I’ll conjure up for dinner tonight, that of all the fancy recipe books available on the market today, my very favourite is the good old C.W.A. What an entertaining gem of a read that is! A quaintly worded mine of information. Where else would you learn that 10 medium eggs weigh 1 lb, and that 1cup holds 2 gills of liquid, or that 2 ‘scant’ tablespoons of water equals 1 oz. Or even that you can cater for 50 people at an afternoon tea or fete, with 6 long sandwich loaves, 4 lbs butter, a bottle of mock chicken spread and 2 lbs cooked meat. Throw in 12 oz cheese and 2 white onions and it’s a veritable banquet. I must admit that if I had to cater for 50 people, I’d be staggering around the supermarket juggling several overloaded shopping trolleys and an overdraft. What about a wedding feast for 100 guests then? I’d be hiring nothing less than a semi-trailer for that shopping trip. But for the stoic countrywoman, no fuss. Here’s the shopping list for the butcher: 4 gobblers (one gobbler equals 4 fowls) 12 lbs ham, 2 tongues (yick L) and 12 lbs pork. Done. Simple as that.

There are recipes in that book for the curing of warts, for the removal of mildew from lace, the letters from flour bags and red wine from tablecloths, for getting out blood stains, perspiration stains, axle grease, and PAINT! There you go, Page 364 in my edition. There are even instructions on how to make a radiator from a plough disc.

Jasmine and I have spent many ‘cuppa-teas’ pouring over these pages of women’s business. My much-used copy of the ‘Cee Dub Yay’ (as Jaz has nicknamed it) has had a tough life. Its spine has been taped up numerous times and its pages are dog-eared and stained but I’ll never part with it. I bought a new copy last December for Jasmine’s Christmas stocking and I have no doubt that in years to come, hers will be just as tired and worn and well loved as mine.

I think it’s really important to hand down as much knowledge as you can, to do with the running of a household. As a young person starting out and breaking away from home, learning to cope with all manner of domestic mysteries can really do your head in. You just about need a BA in cleaning to cope with the avalanche of commercial products out there, let alone anything else. Take cuts of meat for instance. Where once we’d choose between chops, steaks, sausages or a roast, now there are a zillion other fancy cuts to confuse us (but the cows still look the same!)

Speaking of things meaty reminds me of my naïve younger days and the confusion I’d get into from simply not knowing basic stuff that all young girls should know.

Once upon a time, in the 70’s, I was sharing a flat in the Melbourne suburbs with several other friends. Saturday was allocated to shopping adventures so we’d all pool our money for the weekly forage at the markets. Six of us all putting in an equal share meant we had about $12.00 to spend. Well, come on! Times were lean and our modest wages were better spent on clothes, shoes and the South Yarra Arms on a Saturday night.

Anyway, this particular day we all boarded the tram and timed it nicely to arrive in Toorak Road at noon when all the butchers were frantically trying to sell off the remainder of their wares before closing time at 1 pm. There they’d be, all the rival butchers out the front of their shops, in their blue striped, red-stained aprons, their hairy arms flailing as they belted hell out of the steel telegraph poles with a short metal rod, making as much racket as they could and yelling their ‘give-aways’ at the tops of their lungs. And give away they did!

Hearing one of the apoplectic vendors bawling out a really good bargain for $6.50, and finding a bargain irresistible even back then, I shouldered my way into the fray and disappeared among the jostling crowd, to emerge a few minutes later, tattered but triumphant, and humping a heavy duty garden bag bursting at the seams with all manner of victuals. We hauled our prize onto the tram and then, amid much laughter and hilarity, we huffed and puffed and half carried, half dragged our desperately heavy booty up the 4 flights of stairs, to fall at last, gasping and giggling in through the door of our flat. Then began the business of separating the different meats. We pulled out and stacked lamb chops, pork cutlets, stewing steak, ribs and, little by little, several kilos of mince. We did well, recognized everything and pretty much knew what to do with it all, until I reached in and gripped something… else. As I pulled on what-ever-it-was, it broke free from its surrounding mince with a sucking noise, and just kept coming…and coming…and coming. As the last of it trailed out of the bag our gabbling ceased and we all stood there in dumb amazement, giving each other wary sideways glances.

What was it? Six pairs of puzzled eyes stared at it in bewilderment. About 4 ft long, it hung from my hand like some obscene skinned….thing. It was rounded, and fatter at one end. The other end trailed off into a pointy, floppy…..point. Not wanting to show our ignorance, we each waited for the other to speak. No-one spoke.

‘It couldn’t be a tongue…could it”? Someone eventually offered.
‘What?….. Pointy?’ came a sceptical response.
Just then the boys came in. We tried not to make comparisons but imaginations have a mind of their own and ours were becoming rampant by this time.
The boys looked, leered, raised a collective eyebrow, and cast derisive aspersions at ‘it’. Well, at least their minds were on the same track as ours.

But hang on now, us girls had had a bit of Sex Ed’. We weren’t that naïve, were we? It couldn’t be one, could it? That…um…long? And pointy like that? And anyway, they didn’t have bones in them did they? No, of course not. But if they did, then what possible animal had it come from? Suggestions raged as we warmed to the subject, but, although a giraffe’s anatomy was discussed, we could come up with nothing that really sounded feasible.

In the end, having at least the sensitivities of a stoic countrywoman, if not the knowledge of one, my suggestion was, “Well, let’s eat it then.” So we did.
Into a great pot it went, (in one piece, of course – I wasn’t that stoic!) with potatoes and carrots and onions and a liberal amount of seasoning (just in case).
Friends were duly invited to share our meal, (if we were going to eat it, we weren’t doing it alone!) and with a modicum of silence as to the menu (just in case) the steaming concoction was served up, with mounds of bread and butter (just in case) and plenty of red wine (just a case).
And the verdict was……it was the best stew our guests had ever had!
‘Makes a great stew, doesn’t it, that ox tail!” they said.

(Now, see? If I’d have had a good old Cee Dub Yay education in the first place, that whole affair could have been handled with the quiet dignity and aplomb of a well-advised country gal.)


Lori Spencer