The Lost Recipe

There comes a time when we all actually get serious about cleaning out our “stuff”, items we no longer need, but still retain for various obscure reasons.

We recently helped my daughter and partner move house and I was amazed at the amount of “stuff” they had accumulated after only eight years together. This prompted me to get serious about getting my own house in order, sorting out my historical detritus.

It’s a complex, difficult process, more emotional than physical. Particularly with sorting through old items of one’s parents. It’s as though your childhood is finally slipping away into the darkness, it’s a type of guilt about disposing of items which once meant something to them. But there is little stuff that I would personally use, and I know my children would not be interested in these superfluous snapshots of family history.

With Dad, I have many memories and reminders. The piles of his writing, the boxes of slides, and a few treasured old tools. With mum, it’s not so easy, she was mainly involved in the garden club. But thinking about her life, if there was one particular remnant I would choose to mentally retain it would be her cooking. It was her role in the family. The Sunday roasts, the apple pies, but particularly her famous tasty Christmas pudding.

From a young age I looked forward to Christmas day on my aunt’s farm on the Mornington Peninsular.  For lunch, the huge dining table seated a horde of assorted uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, friends and other hangers on, to consume a massive meal.  After the main Christmas course, all would keenly await the highlight of the day – the grand entrance of the pudding.  This icon would be carried into the room by my mum, the maker, and would be flaming with lashings of brandy, (in itself a fire danger in the old timber cottage.)

We would devour the pudding, hoping to get a thruppence or sixpence, which sadly we had to return for next year’s pudding.  There were second helpings, laughter and compliments to mum that this was her best pudding yet.  Then onto the second highlight of the day, giving out presents.

This ritual lasted for decades.   Faces changed, older family died, cousins brought new partners, grandchildren arrived, but mum always made the pudding.  In October, the annual process would begin.  Mum would spread the ingredients on the old timber kitchen table, and clamp on the heavy cast iron hand mincer. I played a critical role as the suet mincer, laboriously but proudly mincing up a huge pile of suet, at that young age not knowing what this tough sinewy stuff was.  Mum would start up the big Sunbeam mixmaster; we would all give the mix a stir with the old wooden spoon, throw in the money and make a wish.

Dad’s role was to maintain a steady fire to steam the pudding for eight hours. Our old house in Clifton Hill had an outside laundry with a huge copper boiler..  He would rig up a device to support the pudding by its cloth loop at the right height, and every hour would stoke the fire and top up the water.  Finally the pudding would be hung in its cloth ball in the laundry until Christmas day.

The huge family gatherings finally ended, but mum still made a smaller pudding for the immediate family.  After she died, dad continued the tradition until he died.  All this time, I never actually knew what the pudding contained, as mum refused to give away her recipe, and dad continued this secrecy.  We were simply happy to enjoy the rich sticky tasty treat.  When he died I found the recipe, scribbled on a piece of tattered paper in an old diary.

By that time I had forgotten about the suet, and was horrified to see what we had been eating all those years —  slabs of saturated fat, plantations of sugar, chocolate, gallons of alcohol, all bound together by healthier mixed fruits, but topped by a sugary creamy custard sauce.  Great for me as a diabetic.  My wife was horrified at what her mother in law had fed her. I thought it best to keep quiet about the huge tub of lard in mum’s fridge, used to baste the rich Sunday roasts, which all enjoyed.

In honour of my dear old mum, I made her pudding, only once, the first Christmas after dad died when the recipe came to light.  It was not as tasty as mum’s, as I left out the suet, and went easy on the sugar, but my family enjoyed it and I had fun telling the kids tales about their gran and pop and aunt May’s farm.  It brought back happy memories of our big family, now dispersed, and about our times on the farm a long time ago.

The recipe?  Long since gone.  I recently spent hours searching through old recipe boxes, through my parents’ papers, and I couldn’t find it.  I would not have thrown it out, and it must be somewhere in the house, and may turn up one day, maybe my kids will find it when I go. But in the process I had a beautifully poignant time, trawling through mum’s old recipes, dad’s old stories, ancient photos and the memories of my early life.

Out of curiosity, I googled “old fashioned plum pudding” and hundreds of hits came up, all with the same type of ingredients, including the suet.  This was slightly surprising as I thought mum’s recipe was unique, but clearly many mums in that era were busily boiling up puddings pre Christmas, and their little kids were busily mincing suet. But I guess the eating environment gives each pudding its own unique flavour.

In mum’s memory here is an old imperial recipe which from my early memories seems to most resemble her one. For the fun of it, I may make it one Christmas, and we would greedily and guiltily consume the sinful product, but I reluctantly think not. Maybe a synthetic suet pudding will suffice.

 

The could have been mum’s Christmas suet pudding.”

4 oz plain flour

2 oz dark chocolate grated

1 teaspoon mixed spice

6 oz fresh white breadcrumbs

10 oz suet ground

8 oz brown sugar

2 oz dried apples and apricots

2 lbs raisins, currants and chopped dates

2 oz hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds chopped

zest of one lemon and orange

2 teaspoons of vanilla essence

1 teaspoon almond essence

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon honey

qtr pint dark rum or brandy

Ya Gotta Get In

Progression                                                                    Bruce McCorkill November 2017

Conceived, formed, born

Mystical gateway gently opening

A turmoil of forms, spilling

Onto the carpet, answering the call

Seeking the distant door

 

The lucky ones run

Fleet of foot, fast and sure

Dancing, bouncing, playing on the pile

Deft scampering from door to door

Positive pleasurable progression

 

The hopeless hapless try, intend

But get mired in the mud

The carpet can be treacherous

Sticky tentacles reaching up

To suck the unfortunate

Down into the morass

A miserable angry sodden trudge

To a mean shabby sunken exit

 

The middlings – a great messy mass

Strive to do their best

A confusion of aimless ants

This way, that way, diversions, tangents

Crawling and scrambling, sometimes dancing

Striving to avoid the suction of the bog

A journey to some meaning somewhere

 

Is there a purpose, any rhyme or reason?

Who cares, all end at the final portal

None can escape, like it or not

The snuff man is nigh, gently beckoning

Patiently waiting, waiting, waiting

So start the race, begin the journey

It’s the only one that counts

Life’s a bitch and don’t we know it

Way too short and way too hard

The bad is bad, but the good is good

You gotta get in to get out

Where do I belong?

Where do I belong? For me this is a fraught question, as it is for many migrants.

When the migrant ship Australis slowly manoeuvred out of Cape Town’s docks in December 1974 and set off for the open sea I stood on the deck and watched as the majestic Table Mountain, under the shadow of which I had been born, receded into the distance. I felt an enormous sense of relief and I vowed never to return. Then the mountain disappeared over the horizon and I felt as if I had escaped from a prison. I couldn’t stand the place, with its racist, authoritarian government and its ultra-conservative, pious Afrikaners, who had as much compassion for people of colour as a predator has for its prey.

I have now lived in Australia for more than sixty percent of my entire life, so this is clearly where I belong, right? The places of my youth have changed beyond recognition, so surely I now no longer belong there. And yet, I am not always sure where I really belong. The place where one has lived as a child and as a young person is indelibly engraved into one’s psyche, regardless of the passage of time. Its tendrils retain a firm hold over the years. And so it is with me.

What is it that binds us forever to the places of our youth? It is the landscapes, the shape of the trees, the native flowers and birds and animals, the smells. It is the accents and the unique local sense of humour of the people. Even after forty years away my heart still soars when I hear Cape Coloured people speak their distinctive Kaapse Afrikaans, or when I hear the clicking sounds of a black person speaking Xhosa or Zulu.

A few years ago I borrowed my brother’s car and drove along the road between Gordon’s Bay and Hangklip, near my home town of Somerset West. The road winds its way between the ocean on one side and steep mountains on the other. As a young man I went there nearly every weekend, having barbecues with friends or girlfriends, snorkelling and sunbaking.

I spotted some wild proteas on the slope of the mountain, near the road. When I stopped and walked up the slope I suddenly smelled the aroma of the fynbos, the local vegetation, and was overpowered by the familiarity of the smells. I can’t even remember having ever registered these smells when I was young. I was so excited that I kept sniffing at the plants. Then I realised if anyone spotted me they would probably think I had escaped from a mental institution.

During the forty plus years that I have lived in Australia I have naturally grown to love the smell and the shape of the gum trees and I adore the sounds of the warbling magpies and currawongs. They have also become a part of my psyche.

When I was working at the Glen Waverley Library five years after I had arrived in Australia, I came across a book called Wild Australia: a view of birds and men, with paintings and drawings by the Australian artist John Olsen. His illustrations struck a strong chord within me and I realised for the first time the extent to which Australia had become “my place”.

At the time I was a complete ignoramus as far as art was concerned and I had never heard of Olsen. I wrote to him that same day and explained how I had struggled to come to terms with Australia’s animal and plant life and landscapes, which differed so much from that which I had grown up with. I told him his art work had captured the essence of Australia’s places and it had made me realise that I really felt at home in my new country.

Olsen responded:

John Olsen letter 11.2.80

Ironically, when I am traveling in South Africa these days and I see a eucalypt or a callistemon with its red bottlebrush flowers, I immediately long for “home”. Such is the ambivalence of my belonging.

A couple of years ago I caught up with Johan, a university friend, in South Africa. It was the first time I had seen him since I had left my homeland all those decades ago. We had lost touch with each other when I departed, but now we were overjoyed to meet again.

“It’s so good to see you again after all these years, Tiens. I had heard somewhere that you had gone to Australia and I’ve often wondered how you were going there and what you were doing.” Then he added, “So when are you coming home?”

And for a little while there I felt I was ‘home’.

The writer Gillian Slovo, daughter of a South African political refugee, described this ambivalence perfectly in an article in The Bookseller of 31 January 1997:

North London is where I’ve lived most of my life. But there are things about South Africa that feel more like home to me … I have to deal with the fact that, like most exiles, I am at home in two places, and a stranger in both.

My children do not suffer from the same ambivalence as their father. When my son Neil was six years old I took him and a couple of his little mates to the local swimming pool one day. They were all sitting in the back of the car. I overheard one friend asking Neil, “Why does your dad speak so funny?”

“How do you mean?’ asked Neil.

“He doesn’t speak the same as us Aussies.”

“Oh,” Neil replied. “That’s because me dad’s an Afro. And me mum’s a Pom, but me – I’m an Aussie!”

The marvels of modern medicine

In 1983, while working in Port Moresby at the National Library Service of Papua New Guinea, I contracted a terrible ear infection. In time the pain almost drove me insane. Blood, pus and black goo leaked from my ear all day and night. I had to sleep with my head on an old towel and I lost my hearing completely in the infected ear.

Over the next two months I tried two types of ear drops, went to see the doctor five times, underwent an ear syringing, completed five full courses of four different antibiotics and had three injections, with absolutely no effect.

An acquaintance at the University of Papua New Guinea, who had heard about my ongoing problem with the ear infection, rang me and told me that a certain Dr Ghosh, an Indian ear, nose and throat specialist, was in town on a temporary training attachment at the Port Moresby General Hospital. I promptly went to see my doctor and asked him for a referral to see this Dr Ghosh.

On a steaming hot day in March, nearing the end of the wet season, I walked into Dr Ghosh’s office, introduced myself, and told him, “I’m getting really depressed about this ear infection, Doctor. The damn thing appears to be incurable and the pain is driving me around the bend.”

Dr Ghosh raised both his hands as if to fend off my words. “Depressed? Depressed? My dear fellow, there is no need to get depressed. This is the Twentieth Century, after all. We can now cure almost any infection!” I nodded and kept my disbelief to myself.

The doctor proceeded to peer into my ear. “Ha!” he exclaimed triumphantly, after a minute, “no wonder the antibiotics have had no effect. What we have here is a fungal infection, not a bacterial one. Oh, no, no, there are no bacteria in that ear. Only fungus.” He then proceeded to tell me with great merriment how he had recently cured a young fellow’s nose problem by advising him to get married! It was with difficulty that I managed to hide my lagging confidence in the good doctor.

He wrote out a prescription for anti-fungal drops, which he handed to me. He noticed that I was looking a tad sceptical. “Oh,” he said, brimful of confidence, “you use those drops and within three weeks’ time you will say to yourself, ‘My goodness, Dr Ghosh has cured me!’”

Having no alternative but to hope desperately for a miracle cure, I thanked him and set off to the chemist to get the anti-fungal drops. As I was leaving his office he shouted after me, “Depressed? Oh, no, my dear fellow, no need to get depressed! This is the Twentieth Century, after all!”

The prescription I collected from the chemist was for Tinaderm drops. I carefully read the instructions on the label, which stated that Tinaderm would cure things like tinea, foot rot and crotch itch. There was no mention of using them in one’s ear.

I had little choice but to trust Dr Ghosh, so I gritted my teeth and put a few drops into my ear, repeating the process the next morning and the next evening. After two days I woke up in the morning and discovered to my amazement that my ear infection had vanished completely.

“Oh, the marvels of modern medicine,” I mused to myself. “No, no, there was no need to get depressed.”

 

The Eye In The Sky Bruce McCorkill

eye in sky

 

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

Possessing an insatiable need to know

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Do we ever wonder why?

Or do we just leave it so

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

How many times do we try?

Resisting his relentless undertow

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Our private selves are just a lie

We secrete our lives in a steady flow

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

His watchers, all so cunning and sly

Data banks stretching row after row

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

When we all finally die

Where will our secrets go?

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

He requires us all to meekly comply

The Dog On The Tucker Box

The Dog On The Tucker Box.                   (As told by the dog)

 

I’ve been sitting on this box for years and years

Now I’m finally realizing my worst fears

My master’s gone away, he ain’t coming back

Looks like the bastard’s given me the sack

I’ve been guarding his tucker for such a long time

By now the steak is surely past its prime

 

The big buses come along every single day

A bloke stands up and has his say

Gundagai, clear blue sky, a sheila named Mabel

To me this sounds like a silly old fable

The tourists throw coins in the box at my feet

Why don’t they know I much prefer meat?

 

So I forlornly sit in the hot summer sun

Itching fur, drying throat, not having much fun

The cold winter nights raise my ire

I should be inside in front of the fire

Contentedly curled at my master’s feet

Now that would indeed be a canine treat

 

Drovers stop by with kelpies who scorn

Their withering looks make me forlorn

You should be out earning your keep

Come and help us round up some sheep

Sorry boys, I can’t go for a run

There’s a bloody great bolt screwed up my bum

 

My Trusted Travelling Companion

The response was not entirely unexpected.

‘You want what? Dad, have you heard of the 21st century? Nobody uses those old things any more.  They’re a waste of resources. Just download the Google Maps app to your phone.’

I gently reminded my daughter that for some arcane reason, neither I nor her mother owned a smart phone. Our portable communication devices are ancient 2G Nokia pieces, attractive in a retro way, but only capable of basic calls and texts, and only used to make a few calls while away from home, to reply to rarely received texts, to ring the RACV if broken down, and to find each other when separated at the footy, tennis , supermarket etc..

The occasion of this lively conversation was last December, when I idly mentioned to my daughter that the item I would like for Christmas was a hard copy 2017 Melways street directory, approximate cost $60, available from all good newsagents.

‘But if you don’t want to buy me that, and if you want me to reside in the current century, how about you shout me a new I Phone 7, approximate cost $990, available from all good Apple stores.’

‘Hmm, OK you’ve convinced me, I’ll buy you the Melways.’

Accordingly, two days before Christmas, a neatly wrapped parcel arrived at the front door, containing my eagerly anticipated present. Bought on line of course.

Why a Melways? I can’t really explain. Some items simply appeal to some people. All I know is that ever since my first car in 1968, I have always had a Melways in the seat pocket to navigate around Melbourne. I find the fine detail fascinating, I like the way different types of streets are marked in contrasting colours and line widths. Rather than staring at a small screen, I prefer scanning a double page spread, plotting out my journey in my own way. The touring maps are handy for day trips, and the freeway interchanges are clear. Best of all, Melways have always been the most accurate in setting out bike trails around the metropolitan area. You can buy expensive books showing Melbourne bike trails, but they are not nearly up to date as the ever reliable Melways, nor do they show fine detail. My first lookup when I buy a new one is to check for any new trails that the cycling group can try, and to check the progress of trails under construction. This is why my Melways is my favourite travelling companion.

Melways was conceived by Merv Godfrey and Iven Mackay in the 1950s, the name a combination of “Mel” of Melbourne and “Way” from find your way. The first edition was released in 1966. The original 106 maps were hand drawn by Godfrey, while Mackay spent four years driving 274,000 kilometres in a second hand Morris Minor around every metropolitan street painstakingly checking street and landmark details. Godfrey’s wife got the books, selling for $2.50 onto the market by visiting a few newsagents each day touting the product, a process taking six months. All a far cry from today’s marketing methods.

The first Melways design was groundbreaking compared to the competitors. The concept was to produce a multi – coloured high quality directory printed on a good quality paper. By the 1980s Melways was the most popular street directory in Melbourne, holding 80 per cent of the market. The term “Melway” began to be used as a generic name for any street directory. Melway is still used today by Police and other Emergency Services as the most up to date mapping system.

Those early Melway users couldn’t have imagined that future generations would be using tiny mobile devices to get around. Nor would they have believed that we’d be trusting enough to let these satellite navigation systems send us on absurd detours or up one-way streets in the wrong direction. Or that we’d let ourselves be talked into driving into forests, creeks and onto train tracks. They also would not have anticipated the emergence of what physiotherapists call “Melways arm”, which according to urban myth is a strain developed by reaching over to the back of the car to get a Melways off the seat.

The Melways has been an ongoing insight into the growth of Melbourne’s suburbs. We read about the suburban population growth, but it is fascinating actually seeing this on a map. It’s possible to look online at Melway maps for various suburbs, comparing today with the layout thirty years ago. Then, in today’s newer suburbs, there were generally main and connecting roads with nothing in between. Now the maps are full of roads and suburban streets and courts. It’s startling to see the populous Eltham of today compared to the rural country area the potters and painters moved to.

Which brings me to my experience last week. Our cycling group sometimes ride along the trail from Williamstown to Altona. It’s a pleasant ride. The track follows the foreshore, with borders of native grasses, and sea views. We generally train to the city, ride through Williamstown and continue to Altona for lunch. The last stage is a ride further around the coast, finally reaching Laverton railway station for the train ride back to the city. It’s a smooth easy ride, all on good gravel and concrete surfaces.

This time was different. Nick had the bright idea of going even further around the coast, via the Point Cook wetlands, and making for the Werribee station. He produced a page from Google Maps showing a faint line which looked like it might be the trail to lead us to our destination. I had my doubts. Being used to detailed Melway maps, this faded A4 page in a large scale, only showing main roads, did not inspire my confidence.

Naturally we got lost. The map was not detailed enough to clearly show the new trail, and instead of cheerfully riding around the foreshore on a gravel track, we finished up dolefully pedalling along smooth bitumen through the densely populated streets of Point Cook and Santuary Lakes. Nick kept checking his map, to no avail; Steve tried to navigate with his phone GPS, but beautifully spoken “UK Carol” could only regularly proclaim that she was “recalculating” every two kilometres. Lou had Google Maps on his phone, but having forgotten his glasses, it was not much use.  Bill and Bruce just kept stoically pedalling, following the herd. I thought of King Richard’s saying of “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” I would have given my bike for a Melways.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Hoppers Crossing Station, hot and tired and appreciating the cool and comfortable train ride home to the suburbs of Eltham, Greensborough and Diamond Creek. We all agreed that these areas are not too bad a place to live. Out here we still have hills, trees and interesting houses, compared to the depressing uniformity of some new suburbs. I now understand the meaning of Pete Seeger’s song “Little Boxes.”

My first action upon arriving home was to eagerly open my Melways. Yes, as expected maps 207 and 208 showed exactly where we should have gone. Later I copied the pages of the area, and carefully aligning the overlapping margins, cleverly crafted a hard copy map of the area to be placed in my bike rack. The next time we decide to visit the West I can confidently take the lead, yelling “follow me boys, I’m the Melways man.”