Throwback Thursday: Salt bags in crisps, and raza too!

After discussing foods we hated in last week’s article, JO KERRIGAN concentrates on some of the foods we used to love back in the day
Throwback Thursday: Salt bags in crisps, and raza too!

Smiths Stores were at 99-100, Patrick Street, and also at Camden Quay. A reader has an old catering catalogue for it which included some luxury items such as Dublin Bay prawns and lobster bisque.

LAST week in Throwback Thursday, we wrote about readers’ favourite — and most hated — foods when they were growing up in the 1950s and ’60s.

Tony Daly wrote in to say he found the piece very nostalgic. 

“Keep on writing them! It really took me back.”

Recently, Tony says, he got tired of the boiled egg, toast, etc for breakfast, and began eating porridge again in the morning.

“But now I cheat. There is a packet with a measured amount, pour it into a little plastic container, fill with milk to a marked line. Two minutes in the microwave, add honey, stir, leave for one minute, then eat.

“That’s a lot easier than Mum stirring the big pot over the stove and making sure it didn’t boil over! I suppose that is progress after all.”

Several people wrote in about the subject of plain crisps, and reminded me that at first the salt was held in a little twist of blue paper, which had always got to the bottom of the pack and had to be somehow extracted without spilling the contents.

“There would be between one and three per bag — always near the bottom,” recalls Jerome Kerrigan (no relation), “and you had to fish around for them, open them up, sprinkle the salt in, and shake them up to mix them — all the while not tearing the bag or spilling them onto the floor. Quite a task for 7-8 year old boys!”

Cabbage, that most plentiful of Irish vegetables, seems to have been cordially hated by all — most probably because of the way it was cooked to a pulp over a lengthy period.

“I couldn’t even stand the smell of it, and always refused to eat it,” says Donal Murray. 

“Most of the time it was for Sunday’s dinner.”

He also remembers at one stage being given cod liver oil, which he thinks the City Hall used to supply. 

“I suppose we were suspected of being poor. I didn’t like it but I had to take it daily.

“We never had minerals throughout the year, but at Christmas we would get raspberry that was mixed with water. It was known as Raza, and that was our treat.”

Donal’s grandmother used to make rice and mix currants or sultanas with it, and he is clear that Friday was always mackerel day as it was a day of abstinence.

“We had porridge for breakfast, which was made the night before. There were no cornflakes, or if there were, I certainly didn’t know of them.”

When exactly did Kellogg’s take over the Irish breakfast food market, does anybody know?

Katie O’Brien remembers back in the early 1950s a man going door to door, giving a free tiny sample packet of cornflakes to each one.

“My brother grabbed it, but I so wanted one for myself!” recalls Katie. 

“Even now, when I see those individual packs in hotels, I remember that long-ago day when the man dropped the little box at our door. We had never seen anything like it before!”

Reader Fintan Bloss sent in some great pictures from an old Smiths Stores catering catalogue of his father’s, which was used for civil defence camps at Camden, as well as newspaper cuttings.

Chef Bloss, who was in charge of the catering at Camden Crosshaven for the Civil Defence training camps, pictured in the early 1960s with a group of welfare officers who looked after the catering.
Chef Bloss, who was in charge of the catering at Camden Crosshaven for the Civil Defence training camps, pictured in the early 1960s with a group of welfare officers who looked after the catering.

Smiths Stores were at 99-100, Patrick Street, and also at Camden Quay.

“Dad (Chef Bloss) was in charge of the catering at Camden Crosshaven for the Civil Defence training camps, usually held on the Whitsun weekend in the 1960s,” explains Fintan. 

“Crowds of men and women went down, the women spending most of their time in the underground kitchens, preparing huge meals for those practising the essential exercises in case of nuclear attack.”

The Smiths catalogue, he found, included Maggi soups, and some luxuries Fintan would not have believed, only that they were listed.

“Dublin Bay prawns, lobster bisque, real turtle soup, birds nest soup, kangaroo tail soup, and shark fin soup! Biscuits included thin arrowroot, Lincoln cream, Bourbon and boudoir.”

Presumably Fintan’s father avoided those extravagances, and concentrated on plenty of the basics — bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, etc.

“You could eat stones,” one of the fire fighters on the course is quoted as saying, “you’d be so hungry after it all.”

The catalogue also featured dozens of cleaning materials with names familiar to us even today: Tide, Quix, Vim, Ajax, Brasso, Silvo, Duraglit, Brillo soap pads…

Tim Morley has been enjoying our Throwback Thursdays from Germany where he now lives. He wrote to tell us of his childhood growing up in Cork.

“Just to give you my dates, I was at school with Melvyn Nolan.” 

Known as The Flying Corkman, Mel, with his home-built motorcycle, obtained dozens of hill-climbing and sprint trophies before setting two world records, and later moving on to race Porsche. Which reminds Tim.

“I presume you are related to Cork’s even more famous motor cyclist Joe Kerrigan (at whose shop we bought our second-hand school books)?” he asks me. Tim adds: “My own father was the first secretary of the Labour Party in Cork, I think, and he was very argumentative, I see the same characteristics in myself, but have not been involved in politics.”

A new Queens Old Castle delivery van outside Cork Opera House in 1934.
A new Queens Old Castle delivery van outside Cork Opera House in 1934.

Tim has particular memories of the Queens Old Castle.

“What fascinated me about the place was the payment system — never, ever saw one again in later life, although my wife said they had one at Basel Hospital. 

"There were no cash registers at the counter. The bill, with the customer‘s payment, were stuffed into a cylinder which was pushed into a tube. 

"This then whooshed off, powered by vacuum, to some far off part of the shop where the cashier sat, and with another whoosh a few minutes later the cylinder popped out again back at the shop counter terminal with the receipt and the change.”

Lipton’s, Tim recalls, had a similar system: a pod hanging from wiring under the ceiling was filled with the customer’s payment and the bill.

“The shop assistant gave the pod a sharp tug and off it went along the wire to the cashier in his office overlooking the shop. Pod emptied, change, receipt, and the pod shot back along the wire to the shop assistant.

“This was real hi-tech in those times, I don’t know how and when it all got installed, and when it no longer became viable?”

This writer seems to recall a similar system in the Munster Arcade back in the late ’50s, but Tim Morley isn’t sure about that.

“I would have thought the Munster Arcade was too spacious for the wire system. Unless it was in their smaller shop on Oliver Plunkett Street? Wasn’t there a separate smaller branch there? Still, I wouldn’t place a big bet on my memory.”

If anyone can remember a small branch of the great old Munster Arcade around the back in Oliver Plunkett Street, then do get in touch!

A good memory for Tim and his friends was essential in those days.

“We had to learn stacks of stuff off by heart then, Irish as well as English. I lived in Glasheen, and went to Glasheen National School, and to Sullivan’s Quay at secondary. If you come across Jim Olney, offer him my greetings, a great friend of my youth.”

Indeed we will, Tim. Jim, if you’re reading this page (as indeed you should be, old Examiner and Echo hand that you are), Tim is asking for you!

In Glasheen, Tim remembers, they had a history teacher who also taught in UCC.

“His views were about 10 miles to the left of the IRA, but nobody complained. I remember when he read out a bit of history to us from Denis Gwynn (also a prolific contributor to the Cork Examiner) concerning the lifting of the Siege of Derry by the Prentice Boys, described as possibly the most significant act of all Irish history. Gwynn praised their bravery, comparing it to Sparta and the Persians. Our teacher felt he had to excuse Gwynn for his weakness in ‘seeing bravery where there was none’.

“He was totally unable to offer a vestige of praise to anything British. For Catholic Ireland, the place was Godless in his view.”

That teacher was a Kerryman, but Tim Morley offers quite a different character in another Kerryman. “We had him at ‘the Quay’. The head, or ‘Boss’ as he was known. He told us he didn’t like soccer. Well, it was a British game, but his real reason reached back into his own childhood when, as a frightened child in his house on the Square at Castlemaine, he watched the British Tommies playing soccer. They broke a pane of glass, seen as a serious act of violence by a child, and he never forgot it. I think we could accept then his somewhat uncharitable tendencies towards Britain.”

At 4.15pm, school was out at Sullivan’s Quay, and the entire class would promptly vanish around the corner. “The Brothers would be gone five minutes later, so when everything was clear, we were back in, playing SOCCER in the school yard!

“One day, some time on into the game, probably making a lot of noise, suddenly the Boss appeared. Deadly silence. He glared at us (or seemed to) and once he had got over the shock, we expected something like the guillotine, but no. ‘Labhair Gaeilge!’ he commanded. ‘Speak Irish!’ And then he went off and let us at it!”

For Tim, those two Kerrymen provided him with classic examples of intolerance and tolerance, which he’s never forgotten.

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