Good old milk puddings a daily junket
Dad’s lifelong devotion to puddings began when he was very young. His widowed mother, Clara, was a renowned cook in Pentland, the little corner of north-west Queensland where Dad and his five siblings grew up.
These were Depression years and with six children to feed on a shoestring budget, Grandmother’s steamed puddings, jam tarts, syrup dumplings and custards were a staple part of the family diet.
A few years at boarding school entrenched Dad’s pudding habit. Boarding school also fostered a lifelong love of cricket which, to Grandmother’s irritation, Dad greatly preferred to academic pursuits.
“I’m not paying good money for you to play cricket,” she famously said when she abruptly terminated his education at the age of 14.
Now remarried to her late husband’s cousin, Walter, and with another child on her hip, Grandmother was determined that her good-time Charlie of a son would start earning his keep.
Dad was sent to work as a “ringer” on his stepfather’s station property, about 60 miles from Pentland.
Warm damper with lashings of butter and treacle, eaten around a camp fire, was a delicious replacement for the milk puddings of boarding school.
It was a hard life, but a good life. Mustering cattle and breaking horses is not easy work but Dad much preferred station and camp life to books.
The cricket-playing teenager became a strong, capable and self-reliant man, whose practical skills would stand him in good stead in years to come.
Sitting around the wireless on September 3, 1939, Dad and his brother, Pat, heard Prime Minister Robert Menzies announce:
“Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of the persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.”
Motivated by duty, a desire for high adventure and romanticised views of Australia’s involvement in the World War I, Dad and his brother rushed to enlist. They were strong, fit and, importantly, single men in their 20s, so they were exactly the sort of blokes the army needed.
Both ended up as prisoners of war – Pat in Germany and Dad in Changi. Both survived, thank goodness, in no small measure due to their physical fitness, mental toughness and a solid dose of good luck.
Dad and Mum were married in 1947, by which time Dad had returned to his fighting weight of 11 and a half stone. Old pudding habits die hard.
With the help of the house cow, the new bride quickly served up pudding every night without fail.
There was boiled custard, baked custard, baked rice, creamed rice, bread and butter pudding, blanc mange (particularly nasty stuff), tapioca (“frogs’ eyes”), sago, and my personal favourite Spanish Cream – all served with stewed or tinned fruit and, if not required for making butter, some cream skimmed from the top of the milk.
In 1960, Mum and Dad bought a dairy farm. With their small herd of jersey cows, they produced the most beautiful cream, which found its way every night into Dad’s pudding plate.
Looking back now I don’t know how Mum did it. They were both up before dawn for the first round of milking and back at it again in the afternoon.
With daylight fading, Mum would rush up from the dairy, stoke the combustion stove, get us kids bathed, prepare dinner (or tea as we called it), supervise homework, fold up the washing, clean our school shoes for the next day (honest!), and produce yet another milky pudding for Dad from her vast repertoire of old-fashioned good stuff.
Until recently, I was a working girl too. But unlike Mum and Dad, my job didn’t require me to leg rope cranky jersey cows, bend low and wash udders, separate milk and cream, feed calves and pigs and so on.
I sat behind a computer for the most part of the day and talked to clients for the rest. But I came home exhausted, far too exhausted to stoke a fire and make a milky pudding for a hungry husband. If he wanted something sweet to finish his meal, he had to make his own arrangements.
Sorry, Dad, but desserts, which we no longer call puddings, were banned from my kitchen long ago. Aside from the occasional pavlova and lemon meringue pie, it’s a cheese board or nothing for me.