Making Toffee

This post was originally written as part of the assignments in Writing 101: Building A Better Blogging Habit. On Day Ten the subject was Happy, asking us to write about a favourite meal.

MAKING TOFFEE

My memory is not about a meal but about making toffee. This is memorable to me because it was something really special during a particular time of deprivation during my life.

A time when a highlight during the school holidays was the Salvation Army coming around with food and clothing boxes. We six kids would scramble wildly through the boxes looking for clothes that fit us. Eventually, one S. A. Officer said to mum “I don’t know how long we can keep this up!” At the time dad was in jail, I think it was for non-payment of driving fines.

Four of my five siblings.

Dad operated on the principal that if you were not licensed then it couldn’t be taken away from you. Dad timed his arrest outside of the shearing season. He’d hide in the wardrobe or behind the couch if coppers turned up to get him before he was ready. Or if he didn’t want to shoe their horses, one couldn’t be too sure when one turned up: very embarrassing for mum when he would come out after she had just sworn he was away in Broken Hill working.

He had no understanding of what it was like for us when he was in jail. He would write of the wonderful food he was eating in prison. He would put SWALK on the back of the envelope. Sealed with a loving kiss. We imagined it meant Save Wiggy A Little Kake. Wiggy was the nickname given to the baby of the family.

Mum swallowed her pride and continued to beg on our behalf. Mum lived on sweet tea, some days I swear she did not eat at all. Once, all we had to eat were mulberries from the orchard and mum made pastry and bran biscuits from the horse’s feed. Dad had the cheek to complain when he found out.

I got a pair of thongs that Xmas (not that sort of thong you drongo – flip-flops) and was grateful, and happy to go along with the present charade for the benefit of my younger siblings. I felt like I was mum’s supporter, though my sister recalls it was her that had to go with mum on the begging missions to St Vincent de Paul’s and the Salvation Army.

Since I was the eldest I was in charge of staying home and looking after my four brothers when a shopping trip came around.

Mum considered the monthly endowment money the government paid for us kids as her treat. She would buy us something or give us money out of it, more likely both, if she didn’t have to spend it on food. Several times a year she would have her hair permed. This seems  the only nice thing to ever happen to her. And afterwards she would go sit in a café and have a cup of tea and pretend for a moment she didn’t have a ragged dress on under her coat.

How I underestimated the life my mother must have had! It makes me feel bad.

Anyway, back to that toffee.

As soon as mum went off to go shopping (the old bloke down the road used to take her and I suppose this was when there was money though I think mum had food vouchers at times)  I got the sugar out of the cupboard. I could use whatever sugar there was because mum would buy lots more.  I would carefully lay out a teatowel  on the sink – mum’s voice in my ears warning how hot toffee on a cold sink top would crack the precious Pyrex dish. I would stoke the wood stove, butter the dish, sip the vinegar.

I would try to shoo the boys out of the kitchen. They all wanted to be around when test time came, the dropping of hot toffee into a cup of cold water . My mouth is drooling now, imagining slurping those soft sweet globules. Eventually it passed the crack test and I would pour the bubbling gorgeous wonderful liquid into the dish.

We would wait impatiently for the toffee to cool. The first suck on the hard toffee was bliss. We loved it, and mindful of keeping some for our sister who we imagined was getting treats of her own like ice-cream or lollies.

Eventually I did crack the dish, and that was the end of the toffee until paper patty pans appeared.

PHOTOS: Taken a year or two after this lean time, with a Box Brownie given to me by my dad. I would love to show you a photo of my mum and dad, the only one I have of them together, but if mum ever found out she would never speak to me again. So I’ve blocked her and my brother out, not exactly in an expert fashion.

Me and our pacer, Joh

Me and our pacer, Joh

dad 1969

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28 thoughts on “Making Toffee

  1. Pingback: Writing 101, Day Ten: Happy Making Toffee | Christine R

  2. Sue says:

    We were very lucky mum being a trained nurse was able to do night shift when we were little and we had a fridge not like the neighbours that still had an icebox, we loved it when the iceman came around we’d get the chips of ice, a real treat in summer

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    • Mum couldn’t work because she had us kids to look after, dad was away working a lot, and he wouldn’t have let her work anyway. When mum and dad split up, she did nanny work and then worked as cook/housekeeper on remote stations in South Australia – anywhere dad couldn’t find her. Her last job before she stopped working was ladies companion for a rich old lady at Glenelg. I can’t remember having an icebox … though I seem to recall great oblongs of ice, so I must … kero fridges I do remember. Still can smell the smoke and see those curly flue cleaner things. Thanks for reading Sue. 🙂

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  3. Put It Together 4 U says:

    Hi, Christine!
    Thank you for your transparency. I can relate to those ‘lean times’ quite well – especially after my parents divorced. One of my fondest memories of that time was making peanut butter and syrup sandwiches because we didn’t have enough money to purchase jelly. While someone might question, “FOND memory?”, it truly was because my brothers and I knew that whenever that grape jelly returned to the cupboard, we might still opt for the syrup! 😀
    Anyway, I enjoyed this writing in its entirety. I am REALLY cracking up at how you blocked out your mom and brother from the photo! LOL! Great job, lady – from the beginning to the end.

    ~ Angela

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Angela, I’m so pleased you dropped by. I understand why your peanut butter and syrup would be fond memory … kids have a completely different perspective on whats good and bad. We call jelly ‘jam’ in Australia and it took me ages to work out what Bert and Ernie were eating on Sesame Street. Jelly to us is your jello. I couldn’t figure out how it could taste any good with soggy bread and bits dripping out! Yeah, I could have done a far better job on the block out. Oh, you probably mean the fact I took them out of it. Mum would hate to have her picture anywhere, nevermind the internet! I probably should have censored that horse as well. Love your post for the Happy meal. 🙂

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      • Put It Together 4 U says:

        You made me laugh, Christine! Imagining a sandwich sopped in jello is quite a vision! The same type of issue rises where I live now. I am from the northern U.S. and we use the word ‘hoagie’, whereas the southerners use the word ‘sub’. I’ve been residing in the south for eight years now, and I am STILL a ‘hoagie’ girl. LOL!

        Your editing job did what it was supposed to do. Your mum would be proud! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

          • Put It Together 4 U says:

            Oh my! My apologies! I should have explained what they were. (Thanks for doing the extra work.) 🙂 What do you call a sandwich of that caliber in your part of the world?

            Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t think I knew any word at all for them until the Subway chain opened up … no, wrong … a dagwood springs to mind. Here is is on Wikipedia. Don’t you just love search engines.
            “A Dagwood (sandwich) is a tall, multi-layered sandwich made with a variety of meats, cheeses and condiments. It was named after Dagwood Bumstead, a central character in the comic strip Blondie, who is frequently illustrated making enormous sandwiches.”
            🙂

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  4. Carol Ann says:

    Kid’s memories are always so interesting to read because they are uncensored remembrances of special..and sadly, sometimes unpleasant, moments. i loved reading about you and your life because it made you who you are and I like that someone. How do you bloggers find the time to read all this stuff? I am in a transition time and will catch up with a lot when I am moved and more settled.

    My favorite childhood meal that comes to mind immediately is blood sausage, which is a Norwegian treat…probably all of Scandinavia. Our family bought it at a Norwegian store in south Minneapolis (Minnesota) USA, but when my mother was on the farm in North Dakota as a child, my grandmother, Sophie, made it from pig blood at butchering time. It is almost black with bits of whiter suet throughout. I think the Italians have something similar, too. I have seen very dark sausages hanging in markets in Rome and other places.

    We sliced the two and a half inch roll into half inch or so rounds and fried them in butter, then poured cream on them to simmer until it was thick and served it with maple syrup poured over it like a pancake. I thought it was scrumptious…probably because of the syrup, but it has a unique nutty flavor that I can still recall with very fond memories. There is nothing quite like it that I could name for your reference. There is nothing of the metallic flavor of the taste of blood like when you lick a cut…not that I do that as a rule, but we all have at one time or another sucked a pin prick to get the blood to flow and clean itself. The universal experience of learning to embroider as a child.

    Later…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carol Ann, my dad died when he was 49, in 1980, drank himself to death. Despite his faults I had no trouble loving him, and yes, my mum is alive, and fairly well, which is why I cut her out of the photo though I think she would complain I left in her old shoes.

      I’ve only been blogging seriously for a few months or so now, and it is very time consuming – time I’ve stolen from my family history obsession. I did look for your blog, but then realised that you must be the third email follower of mine, as I know the other two. 🙂

      My husband LOVES black pudding, as blood sausage is known by us. I like it too. The normal commercial variety here changed character some years ago due to new government regulations about blood products or offal, not exactly sure why or how. We usually just fry it and your version sounded wonderful with the thought of it simmering in cream, but then you set my teeth on edge with the maple syrup! I just couldn’t get my head around it being a sweet dish! Anyway, I must get a black pudding this week and refresh our taste buds but I expect it is only a shadow of a Norwegian sausage. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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  5. Dear Christine, I’m so pleased to have read your moving account of your childhood. If ever you travel in our direction, I’d love to meet you. Your childhood must give you much to draw from with your writing. Do you remain in contact with your siblings? so many questions I’d like to ask….

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    • Barbara, I am touched by your kind invitation to meet if I’m ever in your area. Bound to be one day, but years from now.

      Our family is not a close one. That said, we all know where each other is if needed. Sometimes, one or the other will reach out to the other, just to make sure we are okay but then lose contact again. I’m the worse person at that. I’m always ‘gunna’ but never quite get around to it. I am forever grateful for my daughter-in-law for bringing me to facebook, where I discovered my sister had a page. It wasn’t long after I made contact with her that she found she had pancreatic cancer. I kept in touch with her and we ‘cleared the air’ between us before she died. I had a blog then too, I was doing a photo a day and she enjoyed that. I deleted it after she died, three years ago now.

      Other family members have pages too. I feel like I haven’t missed out on the grandchildren as I see them grow into fine young people. I am fortunate they all have wonderful, nurturing parents, every one.
      🙂

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  6. Christine, thank you for filling me in. I’m so pleased that you were able to clear the air with your sister before she died. It is wonderful that you have your grand children. How many do you have? We are both lucky in that respect. My siblings are quite separate now, after our mother died. Keeping up with our five children is hard enough!! Love them all, but am lazy… From time to time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One son of Rob’s has 7 children, the other a son and a step-son. My son has two girls and my daughter has three girls and a boy. And, since my husband is also my 6th cousin they are still my blood relatives too! A couple of Xmas’s ago we had the two biggest families here, ten grandchildren in total. It was the first time the kids had met each other and they got on well. Not a grizzle the whole day, which is really saying something.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Christine, Lovely lots of grand children!, A woman was doing some work on my family genealogy and at the end said, ‘ And you know that you are related to Wills the explorer?’ When I told Chris, he was really put out as that was/is his claim to fame!! So we’re vaguely related too! That was why I didn’t marry a Tasmanian first time round. This year my three children are coming for X’mas with their 4 children and partners to stay. I’m not sure where they will all sleep, yet…. Chris’ boys live in Melbourne so they just come for the day. … Enough for now! Lovely to chat to you Christine. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Carol Ann says:

    Lovely piece, but why did you delete the blog? You may one day wish you had it when memories begin to fade…we never have too much information when it comes to our history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had all the photos printed, and I thought I would scrapbook them, but I ended up only doing a few pages. It was really only the photos and certainly doesn’t compare to what i have now!

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  9. Hi Christine; thanks for following ZimmerBitch. I found your post about toffee particuarly moving. Quite a lot of what you said really resonates with me and it got me thinking about how Scottish tablet was the special sweet of my childhood. It’s almost too much to think about, but I’m glad you’ve opened that door. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome Su. I had to look up Scottish tablet and I see how it is more fudge than toffee, but making it is much the same. Sometimes I would put something (bicarb soda?) in ours and make honeycomb toffee. It’s best to peek behind the doors now and then. Take care. 🙂

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