#43 - Fads and Foods from the 50s (mp3)


Smelt


Here are some memories from the 50s. Dishwater detergent was new. We thought it was wonderful stuff. It made so many bubbles. We would put it in the bathtub while the water was running and let it bubble up. Then, we'd sit there in a tub of detergent bubbles, little considering that it was sucking all the oil and moisture out of our skins and turning it into parchment paper, or something like that.

There was a kind of candy, black on the outside that, lasted just about forever. After you'd sucked on it for a length of time the outer shell would dissolve and you'd get a different colour. There was a rainbow in there, so you'd suck it for a while then pull it out and look at it, see what colour it was. You'd then put it back in until you got to the very end, which was a disappointing white.

We used to get a sort of liquid plastic stuff that came in a tube at Christmas. It came with a holder which you dipped in the stuff then you could blow into it and make a semi-permanent plastic bubble to play with. We discovered that you could chew this stuff. God knows, chemically, what was in it. The slogan popular in the 50s was Dupont's “Better Living Through Chemistry”. I don't know if we lived better but we chewed that stuff instead of gum. It didn't taste so great but it had an interesting tactile interface.

In the shoe department of the downtown Eatons Department Store in Chatham there was a machine that looked like a weighing machine with a place where you could slip your feet inside. You pushed a button and got a living x-ray of your feet. You could wiggle your toes and see the bones move around when you looked in the viewing port. We used it just about every time we went into Eatons, which was often, because my dad worked there. I may pay the price for that some day. I understand those machines reliably leaked radiation.

There wasn't much entertainment in Chatham, so wrestling was kind of big. My sister used to go to the matches with a Catholic girl who was really keen on wrestling. This girl got really excited at these matches and she'd jump up and down, pound the shoulders of the person in front of her and just go right off the meter. When she came back to herself she'd regret her excessive enthusiasm and confess later to the Priest that she'd become over excited at wrestling. He's give her a penance where she had to say some prayers and skip wrestling next week, so she only got to go every other week.

This same girl had a favourite snack which was boiled potatoes, cold and sliced, with lard on bread. I understand she was a fairly hefty girl.

Speaking of things to eat, well, my dad ate it but I didn't, there were things called winkles. These were snails, basically. You cooked them up in a salted broth and then you picked them out with a pin and ate them.

Then there was finnan haddie. This was a kind of North Sea fish called a haddock which was viewed with some awe in our family since we had heard the folk tale that the thumb print or finger print on its back ( a dark spot) was there because this was the very fish that had been divided up for the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Thus every fish of this kind bore the Lord's fingerprint on its back. . That's a little out of sync because it's a North Sea fish that didn't originate in the Holy Land. Still, we were impressed and I still like this smoked fish called Finnan Haddie. It's really good.

Another favourite fish with my dad was smelt. I didn't understand how he could possibly eat them. You cut off the heads and tails of the small fishes and gutted them. Then you dipped them in batter and cooked them up. A 'mess of smelt' it was called. Well named.

Another big deal, my dad was into protein obviously, was the prize-winning cow. This cow had won the top prize at a provincial Fair. From the butcher shop my dad could purchase this thick, juicy steak off the flank of the prize-winning cow. That was a, once a year, very big deal.

Chatham, my home town, is in Southern Ontario which is kind of a bread basket and vegetable basket too in Canada.

They opened up public freezers in Chatham. This was before the advent of the larger home freezers. You could go to the pea shelling place and get, I don't know, maybe a bushel of peas and flash freeze them and have peas all winter. You did the same with corn. There was a lot a preparation and then you went down to this place where they froze the stuff up. Later, you could bring some of it home to put in the little freezer in your fridge. It was all very good because it was really fresh food frozen at its prime.

My mother made banana wine, another big deal and it was a fine, mellow wine. She was the kind of person who would take instructions and study on them and follow them to the letter, so, she turned out a darn near perfect product. My dad, who had a slight fondness for the bottle, discovered this wonderful wine and drank it up . There was a fuss because she didn't make it to be drunk all at once. It was supposed to be savoured over time. That was the end of the banana wine making enterprise.

© Sonia Fricker Brock 2006

I can be reached on the web at    http://www.soniabrock.com

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