52 weeks of personal genealogy & history: Week 32: Dinner Time


The topic for Week 32 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Dinner Time. On a typical childhood evening, who was around the dinner table? Was the meal served by one person, or was it a free-for-all? What is dinner time like in your family today?

Of course there’s a hidden question in this topic…what was dinner? Was it the evening meal, the hot meal, the main meal event of the day? In our family, dinner was usually taken to mean the main (hot) meal of the day, usually eaten in the evening. Did your family call it dinner or was it supper or tea or did it go by another name?

Dinner time in my childhood was typical in some respects but not in others. As my father worked shiftwork he would not be home for the evening meal two weeks in three (well he’d be home for one of those, but asleep for night shift). Mum would make him his own hot meal at lunchtime (midday-ish) to suit his shifts. It would be rare for us to have anyone other than the family around the table.

We always sat at the round kitchen table, with a tablecloth and the places properly set. Dinner was served up on the plates by my mother. It was most definitely not a free-for-all. The meal was always preceded by saying grace for the meal, and usually also after the meal.

Meals were typical Aussie fare of the day: meat and three veg with fish/seafood on Friday which was then compulsory for Catholics.  We would have a variety of: sausages, braised steak and onion, lamb chops, lamb roast, casseroles in winter, salmon patties, curried prawns (with Keens curried powder which is how everyone made them), and my pet hate: smoked cod…yuk! Mercifully my mother loathed offal of any sort so we never had lambs’ brains, liver, kidney, tripe, sweetmeats etc.

Vegetables certainly didn’t have the variety then that we have in Australia today, largely thanks to our multi-cultural community. Vegies were potatoes usually with pumpkin or carrots and beans or peas. Nothing was frozen or pre-prepared. The beans were topped and tailed for the meal and the peas shelled from the pods, sometimes one of my chores if study didn’t claim my time. I’d never seen broccoli before I was a teenager and certainly not mushrooms either.  Around my late teens many Australian households started experimenting with different cuisines, something that’s taken for granted today.

Unlike many Australian families we didn’t drink tea with our evening meal and water was the usual fare. Bread and butter were usually provided with the main meal.

Most nights there’d be a dessert of some sort: fruit and custard or junket, jelly, lemon delicious or a steamed pudding. My mother was an excellent dessert cook so this was a special part of the meal.

What do we do today? Well it depends…when it’s just the empty-nesters we tend to serve up the plates and eat casually…despite good intentions to the contrary. If it’s a family BBQ it’s all very casual too. When we’re all together as a family for a more special meal, or with a group of friends, the separate elements of the meal are served up in dishes on the table and everyone helps themselves according to their tastes and needs….but it’s still not a free-for-all! And there’s not always dessert either….but there’s always wine (and coffee afterwards)  :-)

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6 thoughts on “52 weeks of personal genealogy & history: Week 32: Dinner Time

  1. Oh this brings memories back! Keen’s curry powder was a staple in the pantry. Meat and veg although we did do Australian Chinese once a week which we had to eat with chopsticks. Amazing how fast you learnt when you were hungry!

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    • Thanks Helen…it’s funny how the common memories come out of these posts isn’t it? We never did Chinese at home in those days -it was for special outings, and we never used chopsticks. As you say, being hungry was a learning incentive. My daughter had a Chinese-Australian boyfriend who said they were taught to use them by picking up round ice in a glass of water. Sounded a bit tough to me!

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  2. Ok, my California-ness is showing. I meant “dinner” as the evening meal because that’s how the word is used where I am from. I didn’t even take into consideration “supper” and others. But like all other prompts in this series, interpret it any way you want. That’s the spirit of the series.

    Thanks for participating. I really enjoy reading everyone’s responses all over the globe. Especially the food ones. :)

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    • Like you, I use “dinner” but others I know use supper or tea…I’m sure we all knew what you meant. There have been interesting posts on this topic. I really enjoy the series and can’t believe how far through the year we are.

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