A pensieve dive

swedish kitchen 1955
It’s not pretty, but this Swedish kitchen from 1955 reminds me of my childhood kitchen. It gives me a pleasantly sentimental feeling.
Photo:Gun Westholm

Some things change from one generation to the next, while others stay the same. In terms of cooking I am somewhere in between. My father was completely helpless and would probably have eaten nothing but bread if mama hadn’t served him warm meals. I’m not very advanced myself, but I can manage to make a few simple dishes that taste pretty good, and that are also healthy. My wife enjoys cooking, so that’s one of the chores she wants to do, but sometimes she is unable to, either because she is ill or because she’s out. On those occasions I eat better than I did as a child when my father fixed dinner.

When I think back on my own childhood, I’m surprised I was as healthy as I was. My mother worked in a factory while my father was disabled. He thus had primary responsibility for cooking. That was doomed to fail.

Dinner usually consisted of either “rat sausage” or various types of sweet pastries from the bakery. The first were thick sausages from a local butcher. This was back when there were still small, independent butchers with their own shop. These small, independent shops were disappearing quickly, but even as late as in my 70’s childhood there were two grocery shops, two convenient shops, a flower shop, a butcher, a gift shop and a sea food shop on my block, and this was not downtown. This was before there were any shopping centres in my hometown, and most of the shopping was confined to downtown. The shops closed early, except for on Thursdays when they closed at 19. That was the big shopping day for people that did their shopping after work, and my mother was one of them. Thursday was also the day mama sent me and my sister to this butcher to buy thick sausages. I can’t remember whether it was 5 or 10 kg per customer, but my mom always sent at least two of us, so that we could bring back double quota. After a childhood of ridiculous amounts of “rat dogs” I should hate them, but it’s still a favourite of mine.

I remember one time we grilled sausages over a bonfire by the sea outside our country house. The dogs were dripping a lot, and if it had been water the fire would have died. That tells you how much fat the sausages contained. I think it was during one of these merry rat dog-feasts we came up with the story that we had seen rats in the butcher’s backyard. These rodents disappeared into the sausages, hence its name. It’s a bit like green soylent.

Returning to my father, there was one thing he was good at, so he called it the special dinner. It consisted of ground beef, homemade tomato sauce and macaroni. The infamous Gordon Ramsey would have picked my dad apart, but one thing is certain. When the special dinner was served in the small kitchen in the Ytreland household in the 70’s, there was a party.

It also gives me great joy thinking of another classic 70’s dinner, fish balls in white sauce with curry. This was served in some sort of sea shell shaped biscuit. I haven’t had that since I was a child. This is not an “everything was better in the past type of post”, but it’s fun thinking about the change. One thing was still better, I think. We probably didn’t get as much sugar as kids today. In my family there wasn’t much candy. I am sure we got some candy too, but what I remember most vividly is ice cream from cartons. I think they came in the same type of paper milk cartons are made of. This was served on Saturday evenings together with marsh water, or Peko as the local soda was called.

In the 80s the outside world came to Norway in earnest, and the small town of Haugesund got its first pizza restaurant. I think it was called Vivaldi, and had not surprisingly an Italian musical theme. I was a frequent customer there and haven’t looked back since. Sadly few of us still believe that life is at its absolute best when we eat special dinner or fish balls together with our family on a Saturday night.

Life today can be quite a struggle, and many people dream back to a time when life was uncomplicated, which is usually ones childhood. I do that too.

It was an innocent time, but it is unfortunately lost. It is for the provincial town Haugesund too.

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