Our intended Murrurundi Argus photo-essay this month, on Belltrees Public School, has been upended by the dreaded Second Sydney lockdown swiftly halting our regional travel plans. And so, in order to keep the presses rolling I bring to you my recollected ramblings and culinary tips from my mother Pat's Narrandera Kitchen.
Bear with me on this one, there is a nice synergy here. I grew up in a small town in the 1970s reading the Narrandera Argus. Beneath a heavy Gothic Masthead, twice a week, our 1881 finger-staining independent paper was delivered with a thwack at our front fence, at the gate, near the door, towards a tree or at the cat.
My dad, Gordon, as a farm machinery dealer advertised locally and my mum, Pat, as Deputy Shire President appeared in the paper every now and then, standing in front of a burst water pipe or amidst a locust plague. Always with a refreshed hairdo.
When I grew up, in a world of three television channels and home milk deliveries, local news was an important adjunct to what little news there was.
Strangely enough, in an increasingly global and coldly transactional world, I believe once again local news and knowledge will be as important to communities today, as it undoubtably was when cigarettes were advertised on the small screen and hair shampoo smelled of a Norwegian pine forest.
Pat, being Head of Home Economics at Narrandera High School, had many fingers in many Narrandera pies. From Children's Medical Research, through to the Shire Council and onto Soroptimist International (which despite the term International, is not a Stalinist front).
And so as I conjure up for you 1970s regional Australia, I hope these two family feeding favourites of days gone by will feel as at home in the newly minted Murrurundi Argus.
Pat's Caramel Pie
Ever since my sister Jane and I were teenagers growing up in Narrandera, our mother has always been Pat. It started one evening when mum came home from visiting her very good friend Mrs. Lee. Mum complained and yes it was a complaint, that the four Lee boys always called their mother "Gwen". Mum did not think that this was right. It made her feel uncomfortable. It was the '70s. Well, on hearing this Jane and I both looked at each other and Pat it has forever been.
Anyway, Pat's Caramel Pie is a firm family birthdays and Christmas favorite. It's embarrassingly simple to make. You must however, remember never to let the can of Condensed Milk boil dry AND there can be absolutely no off-the-shelf buying of caramel, from the supermarket substitute. It's the boiling can-to-caramel method or it's nothing at all.
Watch the pot.
I say this because one morning, Mum (pre-Pat when she was still just Mum), wanted to make a telephone call on our ever-so-smart molded plastic wall-mounted mustard-coloured Telecom phone. You know the one with a kilometer of curled phone-cord. Well, I had literally just swung through the Saloon-style half doors and was standing amidst the glory of our Burnt Orange and Mission Brown family breakfast spot. Whilst I was, shall we say marinating in this vision of a colour-saturated linoleum, the near-bye pot had indeed boiled dry. The can of condensed milk, dancing to a crescendo, exploded, caramel across the kitchen. Thousands of brown splotches circumscribed the room - splatter patterns reminiscent of a Hitchcock bathroom. At the Bang!, Mum really screamed, and she screamed from the Good Room.
"What have you done!" ...other than nearly dying from flying serrated tin shards whipping past my young neck, I had done nothing. I stood there in silence, Pat's Pie filling sliding down the abstract red and black wallpaper and into the 1970s colour chart of my mind. It never leaves you.
So, people...watch the boiling pot.
Death has its rewards
Sometime in the early 1970s, my parents attended the Narrandera funeral of the good Catholic Monsignor, Patrick Galvin.
Even as a child this had me somewhat perplexed, as the family has never identified - to use contemporary parlance - as either Catholic or religious.
My parents who had united in wedlock in the late '50s were by the standards of the day, "a mixed marriage".
Dad was Catholic and mum was Anglican.
In the day, the Catholic authorities refused to marry Gordon and Pat in the local church. I think the Anglicans did allow the marriage, but not at the front bit of their church.
They were I believe, married in one of the side bits of the Anglican Church. I think. I wasn't there.
So Jesus's Dad is not that big of a deal in my family.
But anyone who has lived through a small country town will tell you; attending funerals has nothing whatsoever to do with God - they are a high visibility communal recreation.
And a good feed.
Spreads were judged.
Pat went to Monsignor's funeral and at the Wake, the good ladies of the Narrandera Children's Medical Research Foundation served up a well-received repast.
I can just picture it; everything checkers with tinned pineapple.
There may have been a Margaret Fulton, Balinese theme. One can only dream.
To the delight of all, Pat returned triumphantly from the Wake with the recipe for a family chicken dish that is still to this day refereed as Monsignor Galvin's Chicken Dish.
It can be made in a Crock Pot and if you put some bamboo boats next to, I am sure Margaret would have embraced it as Balinese. Bless.
Old Fashioned Caramel Pie
23cm short crust pastry shell cooked.
A flan tin with removable base works well.
2 tins condensed milk (Nestle)
3 egg whites
180g castor sugar
Place cans of condensed milk into large saucepan - cover with cold water Bring to a gentle boil, lid on. Cook 2 hours. Check to see water continues to cover tins. Top up with hot water if necessary Remove from water after 2 hours. Allow to cool before opening the tins. Place caramel into prepared pastry shell, spread evenly.
Whip egg whites to a soft peak in a clean dry bowl. Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well. Meringue should be thick and shiny.
Pile on top of caramel.
Place into oven at 180 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden.
Allow to cool before serving.
Note: you can purchase tins of caramel ready to use. The family can pick the difference in the first mouthful!!
SHORT CRUST PASTRY
3 cups plain flour (450g)
225g cold butter, chopped
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold water (approx)
Pre heat oven to 180 degrees
2) Sift flour into bowl
3) Rub in butter with finger tips until it resembles bread crumbs
4) Mix egg yolk and lemon juice, add to flour - mix with knife 5) Add water gradually - you may not need all the water. Make a dry dough
6) Turn onto floured board - thread lightly into flat disc. Wrap in cling wrap and put into fridge for 30 minutes
7) Roll out and use as required
Note: Fingertips and rubbing in were before the days of the food processor.
Chicken a la Monsignor Galvin
Prepared by Children's Medical Research Foundation Narrandera branch. Served at the wake of Monsignor Jeremiah Galvin. Died Narrandera 25/4/76.
1) Take 1 fowl, simmer in seasoned stock until tender - cool - keep stock.
2) Remove meat from bones and cut into bite sized pieces.
3) Fry in oil or butter: 1 cup of chopped onion, 1 cup of chopped celery, 1 cup of chopped carrot, until tender.
4) Take 1 packet of cream of chicken soup. Add 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of milk. Bring to simmer.
5) Thicken with a little cornflour mixed in cold water. Bring to the boil stirring all the time.
6) Add chicken to re-heat.
Serve with boiled rice. Dressed with chopped parsley.
This article first appeared in the Murrurundi Argus, published by Michael Reid. The Argus evolved out of a desire to share the expansive tales and fables of those living regionally in the Upper Hunter of New South Wales and beyond. www.michaelreidmurrurundi.com.au