Thursday, May 02, 2013
SOME NEED PROPS; OTHERS DON’T – THEY JUST PEG ALONG…
When I was a little girl sporting plaits and a sprinkling of freckles across my nose, the family washing was always, reliably done on a Monday. Never on a Sunday; Saturday was never considered because Saturday, religiously, was movie matinee day. Tuesday morning was devoted to the ironing, and Tuesday afternoon was set aside to go “down town” to do the weekly shopping. Wednesday was for completing the ironing that didn’t get done on Tuesday, along with other household chores that needed attending to. Thursday had its designated activities – housework never goes away, not even back then; so Thursday's activities were a bit of the same, I imagine; but quite often on Thursday nights we went off to the “pictures” again, because it was Family Night at Gympie’s Olympia Picture Theatre; and Family Night was not to be missed, not if we could help it. Friday was spent tidying up loose ends in preparation of the weekend ahead - so, Monday, without argument, was set aside for the washing.
If we ever lost track of time and days, we’d always know when it was Monday because the family washing day would be underway! No doubt Monday was chosen because it was thought ideal to start any given week off with not only a clean slate, but clean sheets, pillowcases, towels and clothes, as well!
This natural phenomenon wasn’t just confined to our household; the activity went on in 99% of the households throughout the country and in other parts of the Western world, as well – and probably, even further afield!
Our mother, whose name was Elma, was the main income-earner in our little family unit; a unit that consisted of Elma, her mother Ivy, our grandmother, whom we called “Nana”; my older brother, Graham and me. Graham beat me into this world by two and a half years. A fact he was keen to often remind me about!
Nana maintained our humble home, attending to all the relevant chores pertaining thereto; other than gardening. Gardening was our mother’s domain. Mum enjoyed getting soil under her manicured, polished nails. For her, gardening, along with fishing and mud crabbing, was a relaxing pastime during her time off from work. My brother Graham also took an interest in gardening. I took an interest in the garden; but my enthusiasm was mild. My keenness was more directed to the picking of flowers; and to the eating of fresh, juicy tomatoes off their gangly bushes; and the enjoyment of munching on succulent, crisp, green peas straight from the vine.
Our backyard didn’t resemble a bowling green by any stretch of one’s imagination. The ground was uneven; grass grew, but a smooth, lush lawn was non-existent; its length was mostly controlled by our family of guinea pigs; those that didn’t escape, that is! Every other day there was a lot of scurrying going on as my brother and I went in hunt like hunters in an African safari to recapture the escapees before the neighbourhood dogs and cats (or ours) laid claim to them. Sometimes the hand-mower was run over the wayward grass, but it wasn’t the main chore uppermost in our minds. Graham and I had more important things to do.
Important occupations such as climbing the two healthy camphor laurel trees growing along the fence line in our backyard. The roots of the trees were set firmly in the ground. Both sheltered sturdy tree-houses amongst their strong branches. Each tree-house was built by the skilful, industrious hands of my brother. My girlfriends and I were allowed in the tree-house in the smaller tree of the two. The grander house (or palace) in the larger camphor laurel was designated “Boys Only”. Woe betide any girl who dared venture forth into that sanctified realm!
Beneath and between the two trees was a fowl house that accommodated mainly bantams, with the odd chicken if it dared to cross the road to our yard! Joseph, the cocky, titian-feathered bantam rooster ruled the court, the roost and all who roamed and perched within. Up the sides and over the roof of the bantams’ resting and laying house grew an obligatory choko vine.
On the other side of the yard, and to the rear of the property stood an open-fronted laundry shed,which consisted of three walls; a concrete floor; a sturdy, leak-proof roof and three concrete laundry tubs with cold-water taps feeding into each. Out front and to the right of the laundry shed where a lot of the action took place, stood an almighty copper/boiler!
The laundry shed also doubled as a theatre; a stage upon which my girlfriends and I re-enacted the Saturday matinee movies (or pictures as we called them during those days of the Fifties). So many times Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson or Audie Murphy, amongst other heartthrobs came to my rescue like gallant knights in sparkling white suits of armour.
Every Monday morning, Nana stoked up the fire beneath the copper’s belly. Sheets and pillowcases were the first victims to be boiled, followed by towels and tea towels. In turn, the washing loads, after draining for a few minutes in a laundry basket, were transferred to the water-filled wash tubs that patiently waited in line for their turn. The washing was then rinsed, with the whites going into a final blue rinse using Reckitt’s blue bags to keep the whites white.
All our bed linen was white in those days; coloured bed linen was still a thing of the future; or something seen in a Hollywood movie only. And all our laundry was done by hand. Much heavy lifting was incurred. No doubt, our mothers and grandmothers of the Fifties, Forties and earlier decades were strong of wrists, arms and shoulders.
After years of use, the wooden washing stick used to not only stir the items in the copper, but to lift the heavy wet articles out of the boiling, sudsy water, also, gained a “soapy” soft grey appearance. The end that spent most of its time in the hot water grew soft around the edges from years of hard work; however, after a few days rest between washes, it toughened up again before the next Monday arrived.
Clothes that needed boiling were the last cabs off the rank. The copper would be refilled with fresh, clean water. Those items of clothing that needed boiling would simmer away above the heat of the fire while the rest of the washing was attended to in the tubs in the laundry shed. One tub was used for starching. Not everything required starching, but a lot did.
Our clotheslines, unglamorously attached at each end to solid wooden posts buried into the ground, were strung width-wise across the yard. The lines sagged under their burdens of wet clothes, sheets and towels, but once the washing was pegged, the lines were held aloft by wooden props, which, until we “caught up with the times”, were made from trimmed, forked tree branches. Eventually, my brother made new props out of planed timber.
We thought we were very flash and up-to-date when we got those new fancy-dancy props! Forget the Joneses! They were running to keep up with us!
The washing was secured to the lines with wooden dolly pegs that defied the strongest winds.
Once dry and smelling so clean from the sunshine and fresh air, the washing was brought in. Items not requiring ironing were immediately folded or hung, and then put away into their rightful places. That which needed ironing was dampened by water spray…meaning lightly splashed on by hand. Spray bottles came much later.
Washing day was an event; a day-long event.
Monday night dinners were always prepared from Sunday lunch leftovers.
The following feasts were part of our Monday night fare: Corned beef fritters; Shepherd’s Pie made with leftover leg or shoulder of lamb; Beef Curry from the remaining beef roast. Monday night dinners were always eagerly anticipated and highly enjoyed.
Often for breakfast on Monday mornings after we’d enjoyed corned beef or silverside for our Sunday lunch, the leftover vegetables were turned Bubble and Squeak. The humble old B & B was a most delicious breakfast before we headed off to school.
Bubble & Squeak: In a frying pan, heat 2tbs oil; add 1 chopped onion; sauté over med-heat until soft but not brown. In a bowl, mix the onions with leftover potatoes, cabbage, sprouts, swede turnips, and whatever other leftover vegetables; season to taste. Heat 2tbs oil in same frying pan over med-heat; add the vegetables to pan; press mixture evenly into large patty. Cook until bottom is brown, 10-15mins. Holding a large plate over pan, flip the pan and plate over, turning patty onto plate; add a little more oil to pan; when hot, return patty, browned side up. Cook until the bottom is brown, about 10mins. Cut patty into wedges; serve with fried eggs, sausages and/or bacon.
Shepherd’s Pie for Two: Preheat oven, 200C (180C fan). Heat 1tbs oil in large frying pan; when hot, add 1 finely-chopped onion and 2 carrots cut into 1cm thick discs; sauté until onions are soft and carrots softened. Add leftover roast lamb, chopped into bite-size pieces; cook for a few minutes. Add 1tbs plain flour; stir through. Add 200ml stock, 1tsp tomato puree, a handful of frozen peas, a good splash of Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Simmer for 10mins. Add a little more stock if mixture is too dry, or flour if the gravy needs thickening. Adjust seasoning as desired. Transfer to oven-proof dish; spread mashed potatoes on top. Scratch the surface of potato with a fork. Bake until potato is browned, and the gravy is bubbling around the edges – about 30 minutes.
Leftover Roast Beef Curry: Dice 2 onions, 1 or 2 peeled Granny Smith apples; sauté in 2tbs oil. Add 1tbs curry powder (or to taste); OR make your own curry paste - by sautéeing in peanut oil - 3 chopped garlic cloves, 3 chopped green chillies, 2 inches fresh ginger, crushed or grated, 1tsp garam masala, 2tbs medium curry powder, 1tsp ground coriander, 2/3rd tablespoon cumin seeds and a dash or two of turmeric) and ground black pepper. Add 1-1/2tbs plain flour; fry gently 1 minute. Blend 1-1/2 cups beef stock with 1 cup coconut milk or cream; add to onions, apples and spices; add finely-sliced celery and carrots (add chopped kumara, pumpkin or potatoes, too, if you like...it's all up to you): bring to boil. Add 2tbs fruit chutney, 1/3rd cup sultanas or raisins and 2 thinly-sliced bananas. You can add a drained can of tomatoes, if you like. Simmer 30 minutes. Dice cooked beef into bite-size pieces; add to sauce; season; simmer gently, 15-20mins.