Memory lane and the beetroot ring

Voted today. Got to Rosebank Bowling Club at 06h40-ish and they only opened the station at 07h25-ish. I thought that was bad manners. From there it still took 40 minutes to get inside the hall and make my mark. But it’s done now, and others are standing in the queues for much longer.

If I had known that I could, I would just have popped around the corner to Killarney, which is apparently one of the best-run stations in the country, and was not so busy early this morning. Bah. Next time.

I feel very pleased. Also about the fact that I am now in my tracksuit and back in bed. It’s a great situation, with perfect weather for not going out.

Before I get stuck into reworking my assignment, I want to spend some time on the Cooksister! retro food challenge. I have been thinking about it quite a bit: her suggestion to “cast [one’s] tastebuds back to the 1970s and see what they remember” is a devilish one. What I remember from the 70’s is not very much. I remember my mother softening the butter in the sun on my window sill because my father refused to eat margarine (his only smart food choice in his life and now that is history too), and the decorations on the cake we got for my brother’s christening. Later on, after the divorce and the move to Grahamstown, I remember once making those piped biscuits – a rare mother-and-daughter-bake-off scene. This was before the microwave, in the Fitzroy street period. And melkkos… I remember melkkos. I also remember my folks (new dad) having dinner parties, and the dining room and the Noritake dinner set, but not the food. My mother told me later that she did not have much fun cooking those anyway.

I hauled out the copy of Jess Davidtsz’ Cook Book that she gave me last year. It has the most fantastic pictures of various culinary spreads from the 50’s. I am going to write a whole blog soon on what Jess considers to be exercise for women. You will NOT believe it.

But moving on. Do the 50’s qualify as retro? The coloured, layered cakes piled with cream, the vegetable tarts decorated with tinned white asparagus and stuffed eggs sprinkled with paprika… the avocado and crayfish starters… what is retro, and what is not?

I tried “retro dates”, “retro time frame” and “when was retro?” on Google, without much luck. It seems to be a general description for any time more than 20 years ago. The website “RETRO – Super Cool Stuff from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, & 90s” confirmed this, in a way. If one looks at fashion though, I think platform cork heels and micro-minis would generally be a better symbol of the time than power suits with shoulder pads out to Nebraska.

Cooksister! places retro in the 70’s. I grabbed the Kook en Geniet. My copy is the 1979 edition, so it squeezes in on the end of what is apparently the prescribed time frame. But then again, the first edition was printed in 1951, five years before Jess’ absurd claim that typing is mild physical exertion, so maybe it did not fit the bill either. The Food Timeline was also a dead end. It starts with “water and ice” and ends with “what’s hot”. Very funny, I know, but not useful. And who was Lady Bird Johnson anyway? (OK, just looked it up.) Still, I could not bring myself to trust anybody who made food called Hush Puppies. It was all very American anyway, and clearly the beginning of centuries of obesity.

In the end, I went back to S.J.A. de Villiers. I thought that we  should have had our own retro.  In it I found something quite extraordinary. A memory of my stepmother’s (they all remarried, in the end) mayonnaise and banana salad.

Under the section ‘Slaai en Slaaisouse” there is a WHOLE SERIES of salads made with fruit arranged on lettuce leaves with mayonnaise or salad dressing. I was astonished. I had forgotten about this altogether. Was it just a very Afrikaans thing? Do these feature in anybody else’s childhood universe?

The specific recipe was of course not the same as Es’. She just mixed the Cross and Blackwell Mayo (WELL before I ever heard of Hellman’s, or decided that, seeing I cannot stop eating the mayonnaise until the pot is empty, I had better stick to making my own one egg at a time) with sliced banana. Sweet and sour, wonderful.

S.J.A. had a whole other thing. In her Piesangslaai (will translate), you peel and halve (lengthways) three bananas before soaking them in lemon juice to prevent them from discolouring. Then you SANDWICH the halves back together with APRICOT JAM and sprinkle them with chopped walnuts. Arrange the reconstructed fruit on lettuce leaves, drizzle (it’s a 90’s term, I know, and usually associated with balsamic vinegar) with mayo or salad dressing (she means not vinaigrette, I am quite sure, but that mayo lookalike stuff called salad dressing)  and sprinkle more chopped nuts. For a variation, you can omit the apricot jam and decorate the salad with glazed cherries. (I swear this is what is written there.)

It is my favourite, favourite recipe in all the world right now. I want to weep when I think of… it. Especially the cherry version.

It will, however, not be the contribution I make to the retro food challenge. I am much more tempted by the various versions of vegetables-mixed-with-gelatine-and-cast-in-rings  (pages! and pages!) which also, somehow, mysteriously, find themselves in the “salad” section.

Perhaps a beetroot ring filled with peas and served with… mayonnaise. It’s going to be a great photograph.

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One thought on “Memory lane and the beetroot ring

  1. Jeanne 23 April 2009 / 23:39

    Yes! Yes! Please do the beetroot ring with peas! Can we work in some carrots too, for extra colour 😉

    I remember my parents having dinner parties in the 70s – on their Arabia crockery rather than Noritake. More often that not, the starter was chicken liver pate, and the dessert was poached pears in red wine. Good times, good times.

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