Acquired distastes

ONE of the joys of secondhand markets is coming across a reminder of Australian days long past, usually a little thing that transports us back to decades we see now in sepia.

I’ve noticed that much younger people than me find that thrill in what I see as junky plastic toys of the 1980s, and I suppose that’s because I saw them as junky plastic toys then and they saw them as the props of adventure. In the same way men and women of the generation above mine have been as puzzled as to why my wife and I would find any value in a radio or a kitchen appliance of the 1950s. Why, they ask in surprise, would you want that!

Recently I came across one of those reminders, a small book that had probably been sitting in a great grandmother’s bookcase for more than 50 years.

It is the Golden Circle Tropical Recipe Book, and while it does not have a publishing date, perhaps because Golden Circle hoped it would be forever relevant, the book appears to have been put together in the mid to late 1960s. The purpose of the book is to promote Golden Circle’s tins of pineapple, be the contents rings, pieces or crushed, and in her foreword home economist Ruby Borrowdale tells us that pineapple blends with all meat, fish and poultry dishes and, furthermore, that ‘‘many oriental dishes, curries and tropic isle recipes are better for the inclusion of pineapple’’.

And so I was taken back to the time when a pineapple ring with a fresh or glazed cherry in the hole was close to the crest of culinary elegance. Hams were dressed in these cherry-plugged rings, a plate salad was never a salad without a pineapple ring and a fancy plate salad had a round red radish in the hole, and a jelly with suspended pineapple pieces was the stuff of a wonderful cook. Does anyone make jelly these days?

We had upside down pineapple cakes, in their day as much the rage as carrot cake a couple of decades later, and we had right-side-up pineapple cakes. The addition of pineapple pieces and capsicum strips to anything made it an oriental sweet-and-sour dish, and everything from cream cheese to rice to minced meat was improved by the addition of crushed pineapple.

The influence of our 1960s pineapple passion can be seen still in the pineapple option on hamburger boards, in ham and pineapple pizza, in the almost mandatory presence of crushed pineapple in a good fruit cake, and, of course, pavlova. And it works for me, still, in the fruit cake and the pavlova, but that’s all.

As a people, our tastes change decade by decade. I expect that in the 1960s people enjoyed eating tinned pineapple in most everything, but today so many of us would be sickened by it.

It is not, I suspect, that our tastebuds have been so rearranged that we no longer find tinned pineapple as thrilling; rather, I think the change is due to the fact that we eat very different foods now, and that our taste preferences have been conditioned to the new food. I suppose we’ve acquired tastes.

When I was a child in the 1950s and early 1960s main meals were either steak, chops, sausages or rissoles with two or three vegies from among potato, pumpkin, carrots, beans, shelled peas, spinach (as in silver beet), cauliflower, cabbage and chokos, and the meat was usually charred and the vegetables boiled to collapse.

Bread and butter (not marge) accompanied every meal, and in most households so did a pot of tea.

The range of flavours we encountered in a meal, and the differences in flavours from meal to meal, were a fraction of those we take for granted today, and even though sugar is a major problem for so many Australians I believe the range of flavours we favour has moved from the sweet to the savoury.

Today garlic, chilli, soy, olives, salami, mature cheese, wine, coriander, cummin and a host of other spicy and savoury contributors to our meals are just part of the way we eat, even if we don’t realise that, and tinned pineapple doesn’t sit well in their company. But I think it was good at the time.

What foods have you left behind over the years? Would you return to the diet of those decades?

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