I hated school. At my right wing, white, Anglo Saxon, protestant school I found that there wasn't a lot to look forward to. One of the reasons was because I was the 'noticably ethnic' - being Eurasian.
Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I arrived two thirds of the way through the course of primary school with an English accent and barely a clue about Australia, even though I was born here. But I may as well have come from the other side of the galaxy. It was the seventies and Australia felt small minded and isolated compared to London, at least to a small, precocious and well traveled child, used to the company of adults, not other children.
I was a square peg who didn't fit the prerequisite hole - in any shape or form - and the daughters of the prominent politicians and matriarchal social mavens of philanthropy, eyed me with suspicion. In particular, my lunches were deemed "too bizarre" to them: cha sui sandwiches one day, chicken liver pâté with lettuce the next, and Liptauer on rye bread when I was living with my Hungarian foster family. It was odd that opinions could be so quickly formed based on the examination of the contents of one's lunch box. No cordial, no white bread with Vegemite, no Twisties and no lunch orders from the tuckshop - no good.
At lunch time I was relegated to the corner of the courtyard outside my classroom with the girl whose mum gave her hard boiled eggs. Although I did not enjoy the odour of the eggs, they were exquisitely wrapped in rainbow coloured wax paper and came packed with miniature salt and pepper shakers. Her Mum kept venison in the freezer and I had eaten some of it with their family. That was the first foodie secret we shared: weird food tastes good. Years later I heard that her Mum had spitefully been tricked into eating Snappy Tom 'Seafood in Aspic' cat food by one of the other mums, who found her more refined taste in food "just too eccentric".
Three times a year at school we had a mid term holiday. Half term was actually a half day. This was the one thing about school I looked forward to. If my mum was well enough she would swing by school in the yellow sports car and collect me. We would ride home in the low slung beast, singing along to the radio.
On the way home, we would make a stop at a Milk Bar. I quietly watched as she paced a lap of the small general store, then went to the pie warmer to get me a pastie. Back in the car, I would cradle the pastry in my lap, its warmth spreading through the white paper bag onto my thighs. The curious smell of parsnip, turnip and carrot wafted into the dark, leathery interior of the car.
At home in the kitchen, the pastie felt heavy in my hands. Carefully removing the treat from its bag, I would pick at the twisted seam of pastry that bound the parcel of mixed vegetable and minced meat. But as much as I loved eating the pastry, it was the accompanying tomato relish that I really longed for.
The relish was made by my nasty, bulimic, Nana. She bottled it in skinny old Nescafe jars with yellow plastic lids. It was dark brown, chunky, and contained both tomatoes and sultanas, heavily spiced and sweet. I loved it. The smell made me purr. I could have eaten it on everything, but for some peculiar reason, it was reserved only for pastie eating. Mum however also got to eat it with cheese and crackers. Starved of decent meals by my mean spirited, image obsessed Nana, Grandpa lived on the stuff.
The last time I tried to make relish, I had a mediocre result. I unsuccessfully tried to recreate Nana's and I blogged the result. Silly to try to cook up something when you have a cold and have lost your palate really. This time I turned to Mr Sticki's Nana's recipe - he figures it must be at least one hundred years old - and it worked a treat. Hailing from Shepparton she was apparently the antithesis of my Wimmera raised Nana and Mr S has warm memories of her.
This recipe was transmitted down the phone line from Mr Sticki's Mum, Bunny, and transcribed by my beloved. I have written it here for you verbatim. It's so simple.
Following the recipe, I chose to drain the tomatoes overnight in a muslin bag suspended over a mixing bowl. Instead of discarding the juices, I made absolutely the best tomato soup with them. It was pretty much the same as Shannon Bennett's tomato consomme, a fresh, light and pretty, ideal for an entree or amuse bouche.
I did find myself adding more sugar to the relish than specified, as the requisite 'covering the tomato mix with vinegar', did make it face wrinkling in its sourness. My choice was a combination of Demerara and low GI sugar - for health and flavour - plus cooking the mix for longer than the recipe specified, which darkened the finish. Use white sugar if you want it to stay bright red and in that case ensure you stick to the specified cooking time. Other changes I made were to add less flour and a bit more curry powder.
And the result? Although Bunny's mother's relish doesn't have as much spice as my Nana's and lacked sultanas, I would happily slather it on anything. I haven't had it with a pastie yet, but it stood impressively alongside my frittata (pictured) made with freshly laid eggs, Boks bacon, home grown herbs and vegetables. And tomorrow it will travel to work in my lunch box, which my colleagues will examine as usual with enthusiasm and excitement. How times have changed!
Nana Burgess's Tomato Relish
1 1/2 lbs Sugar
1 1/2 tbs Curry powder
Cut up onions and tomatoes, sprinkle with a handful of salt. Stand them overnight.
In the morning drain the tomatoes and onions and place them in a pot. Cover the mix with vinegar. Boil for five minutes.
Add the other ingredients mixed with a little vinegar. Boil for one hour. Bottle in sterilised jars.