Week 13’s topic is Sweets. What was your favorite childhood candy or dessert? Have your tastes changed since then?
This week’s topic intersects both my genealogy and my own personal history. As I grew up I was told that my maternal great-grandfather owned a chocolate factory. You can imagine how much my mouth watered at that! Although the sceptical side of me assumed this was an extension of the truth, I’ve subsequently managed to prove it was correct….he was a skilled confectioner and pastry cook. So I suppose it almost goes without saying that I have a “sweet tooth”. One of the benchmarks of a true dessert aficionado is the need to check what’s on the end of a restaurant menu before deciding on the main course, and whether there’s room for an entrée. Having said that, the power of the desserts is slowly losing its hold on me….perhaps because there are so few that truly live up to expectation?
Do you associate sweets/biscuits etc with your relatives? I remember my maternal grandmother (who died when I was young) by the round, jam-spliced shortbread biscuits she would bring when she came for a visit –it was her father who was the pastry chef/confectioner so I guess she had a sweet tooth too. My paternal grandmother is Orange Cream biscuits and my paternal grandfather the Ginger snaps he’d dunk in his tea. My maternal grandfather is associated with the rich, complex Hungarian cakes that neighbours would give him in exchange for home handyman work he’d do for them in those post-War migration years. My mother goes with sponge cakes and my father sums it up with “custard, cream or ice cream” to which he’d reply “yes please”. He never did bother with the “or” in that query! My grandson associates his aunt with chocolate crackles that they make together and me with making smoothies together or the tiny ice cream that they have after their afternoon nap…I wonder what their memories will be of this as they grow older.
When I was a child my birthday request would often include home-made custard tart –delicious but temperamental to cook, especially to ensure the pastry remained firm but melt-in-the-mouth. Mum would make lamingtons with her home-made sponge cake, and these were another favourite as my mother’s sponge cakes were “to die for”. For special events she’d sometimes even make the lamingtons with pink icing rather than chocolate…girly heaven.
But I don’t want to focus on desserts but rather on the confectionery side of this topic – lollies, sweets, candy or whatever confectionery is called where you come from.
My stand-out memory of lollies is the year I won the Easter raffle at my primary school. I need to tell you that despite my strong Irish ancestry, the luck of the Irish for me involves black shrivelled shamrocks, not buckets of money at the end of the rainbow. This explains why a win of a metal tin of home-made lollies has stayed so strongly in my memory over such a long period. I’m a sucker for pretty “containers” and an even bigger one for delicious lollies so it was a double whammy. The tin still lives with me and holds some of my childhood memorabilia. The lollies inside the tin were all hand-made and included marshmellows, coconut ice, toffees, and chocolate fudge. Delicious!
In those days it was not uncommon for women to make their own lollies –or perhaps it was and I was just lucky to know so many who were skilled at cooking confectionery. My mother would sometimes make marshmellows, usually in winter I think, as it’s an item which can be very temperamental to make in a sub-tropical and humid environment and needed the “right” sort of day before it could be made.
Coconut ice is another confectionery item that I used to love but these days it’s remarkably difficult to find one with the right texture and taste, even among the home-made varieties. A few years back I found a commercial one at a deli in New Farm in Brisbane, and I would stock up when I went down there for a visit….not that it would last long. J Mum’s coconut ice was pretty good too but some could be too creamy, others too sugary, some just too sweet and ikky.Wholesome Cook’s picture of coconut ice looks perfect. And just in case you were wondering about whether I really liked coconut, we’d also have home-made pink coconut ice blocks during the summer ;-)
Mum would regularly made toffees for school fetes or the birthday morning teas that were a part of our school-day celebrations. These toffees would be made in patty cake papers and usually the top was sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.
The best chocolate fudge that I remember was made by the man who lived across the road and whose daughters were childhood friends of mine. He was ahead of his time and very comfortable in the kitchen –a change of pace, and possibly stress-release, from his real job as a train driver. Jim’s fudge was smooth as silk, rich and dark and melt-in-the-mouth. Nothing since has quite matched his standards.
In the 1950s school and church fetes were huge and most of the things on sale were hand-made. Confectionery was among the many appealing things available to buy and you got to know which ones you liked best. Toffee apples were a feature and so appealing with their bright red toffee coating and crisp healthy inside: do you think the healthiness of the apple offsets the sugar factor?
Even the lollies on sale at the corner store had some ceremony rather than being packaged up as they are today: they were stored in large glass bottles with silver lids, and our shop probably had about 10 jars. For most kids a treat involved being allowed to buy a small paper bay of lollies from the corner store and the ones I remember best are the hard heart-shaped ones which had messages written on them or the bright pink musk lolly twists. There was also a stick-jaw type mint stick with chocolate coating. What were they called?? These are the ones that have stuck in my mind along with the round gold-foil-wrapped Coconut Rough chocolates- now I can only taste the copha fat in them.
In another post I’ve talked about the Ekka and its role in the life of Brisbane children. It is inextricably linked with the show bags which were so fantastic in the 50s with all sorts of miniature and real-sized lollies and treats. Not to mention those strawberry and ice cream cones. It’s difficult to convey the sheer excitement and anticipation of this wonderful event and the treats associated with it.
It’s not surprising that hand-crafted items, be they clothing, houseware, or food are regarded as luxury items now. Once they were “normal” but we’ve become so accustomed to the mass-produced goods that the old-style things are now luxurious because they’re less common.
Having said that, one of the quite surprising things about Darwin is that we have a fabulous pastry chef here at Kurt’s Cakes who works behind a glass wall of the Bar Espresso at the interestingly-named Ducks Nuts. Kurt makes wonderful, amazingly decorated cakes that add impact to a special event. We bought my daughter’s wedding cake from him and “special” birthdays also merit his special cakes. It’s also one of the comparatively few places in Darwin where a coffee shop offers a range of delicious sweet treats to go with coffee….thanks Kurt! Its location next to the city cinema is very clever!
We recently had a week in Provence and found the most heavenly cake-shop in Aix en Provence, L’instant thé Riederer …talk about lush. Heaven and decadence rolled into one. We sampled some but if we’d been there longer we’d have made it our mission to sample more.
Whatever my age or where I live, a delicious cake or a tasty sweet-treat will always make my day!
BTW I’m now on the rampage for some good coconut ice and today’s wonderful Portugese custard tarts, or the ones from Chinatown in Sydney…but they’re all so far away ;-(