FOOD is a hot topic right now. Increasing prices (has anyone noticed that in some cases the package may look and be the same price but is smaller and lighter)? The shortage of those favorites that were usually shipped from the UK and are now infinitely delayed due to both Brexit and general shipping delays (probably caused by Brexit as well, let’s blame that, why no?)
What were your favorites in childhood? Not that you could afford it very often on your meager pocket money, but what did you expect to find in the kitchen cupboard or the loaded shopping bag your mom was wearily lugging home on the bus?
Thompson’s ice cream muffins? Perhaps a Fuller’s cake as a great gift? But definitely cookies. Do you remember Sphring-sphrongs? (also known as coconut creams), Kimberley, Mikado? That fluffy marshmallow thing kept popping up everywhere. I wonder how it was made there at Jacob’s.
Today they make them covered in chocolate, which doesn’t seem quite right to me. You should be able to see the bouncy layer on top or in the middle.
And Fig Rolls. Remember the big ads that purported to ask, ‘How do you get figs into Fig Rolls?’
For the more budget-minded, not to mention low-income households, Marietta was the budget pack of choice and if you were lucky you could sandwich two of those simple, flat little discs with butter (or even margarine).
Lincoln Creams were almost as plain. Then there was the slightly coarser Goldgrain, also known as Digestive. Did they? Aid digestion, that is?
And of course cracked cookies from the little shop down the street.
Those Jacob’s crackers came in tins with glass lids, but there were inevitably broken pieces, and they put them in a special container of their own, at a low price. The proprietress would put some in a brown paper bag and hand it over the counter, receiving her penny or two in return, and that stock of groceries would last her a full day of adventures through the city streets or the wildest open fields. there.
Tim Cagney, who grew up in Cork in the 1950s and attended Christians, recalls that his daily commutes to and from school (at nine o’clock, home for dinner, back in the evening, and finally home) took him longer. Past the old Thompson’s. bakery, which overlooked MacCurtain Street.
“I lived in Gardiners Hill so I had a choice of two routes, either Wellington Road or the aforementioned MacCurtain Street. Choosing the latter meant walking past a large open factory door, from which wafted the most heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread.
“These, of course, were the days that preceded the widespread availability of that soulless concoction we know today as the sliced frying pan.
“You would buy Thompson’s bread as a soft loaf, with beautiful crisp crusts, and cut it yourself.
“I used to particularly enjoy eating the crunchy bite (we knew it simply as ‘the crust’), generously topped with lovely, yellow, salty butter. Bread was at its best when eaten absolutely fresh, despite parental warnings that “it will stick to your stomach if it’s too soggy.”
“This doctrine was affirmed, in a way, by a man named Michael (‘Micka’) O’Keeffe, who worked as a baker at Thompson’s,” recalls Tim. “’Micka’ was a great friend of my late father and he always told him that bread is best eaten when he is ‘one day old’. Most of the time, of course, I ignored such sage advice and eagerly attacked the loaves as soon as they arrived home, still almost warm, from our local store.”
That will bring fond memories to many readers.
Didn’t we all nibble on the irresistible crust on the corner of the ‘scull’ or ‘duck’ when we brought it from the store? No slice served at mealtime, no matter how well buttered or jammed, tasted as good as those crispy, crunchy corners eaten secretly on the street.
Thompson’s factory, Tim recalls, stretched along MacCurtain Street and rounded the corner of York Street, “which sloped up a heart attack-inducing incline towards Wellington Road. However, I paid little attention to the name plaque at the bottom of the hill and opted to give it the fictitious title of ‘Thompson’s Hill’.”
But, Tim reminds us (as if we needed a reminder) that Thompson didn’t just bake bread, he made cakes too.
“By far my favorite among these was the ‘Chocolate Slice.’ This consisted of two layers of munchy ‘cake’, with a spread of a firm, chocolatey, mousse-like substance sandwiched in between. On the top layer of the ‘cake’ there was a very thin layer of chocolate, all topped, in the center, by a drop of icing (usually pink)”.
Now, attention readers, because there could be a possible mistake of identities here. Thompson made two different slices that could be called ‘chocolate’. One was Tim’s childhood treat, the other a softer cake with dark frosting, all chocolate.
Both were, if we have the facts correct, priced at 4 pence, back then, when things stayed the same price forever, or so it seemed.
On what subject…does anyone remember little kids darting into a shop and yelling, ‘Hey, lady, how much are sixpence bars?’ before running off again, overwhelmed with delight at their own wickedness?
Tim remembers eating this sweet in an almost ritualistic way, making as much of the pleasurable experience as possible.
“First I would cut the entire cake in half crosswise and eat half of it. I would then separate the top and bottom ‘covers’ of what was left, and eat the center mousse on its own, before finishing the proceedings by eating the remaining portions individually.”
You’re not alone in this, Tim, we can tell you.
A surprising number of children remember their own way of consuming a special snack, and none of them involved popping everything into their mouths and chewing spasmodically before swallowing it all. Treats were harder to come by back then, and we made the most of them.
Mr. Cagney remembers very well seeing his father consume one of these slices in what might be called a ‘normal’ way, biting it off, end to end.
“I used to wonder why he didn’t choose a more creative way to eat it.”
Ah, age forgets the joys of youth.
Another kid from the 1950s, Tom used to buy one of 3d Thompson’s chocolate cakes whenever he could afford it. Do you remember those? A small round shortcrust pastry base, layered with a bit of white mallow and topped with a thick layer of chocolate paste.
“I would get a teaspoon and eat the chocolate and mallow first, scraping them up carefully and without damaging the bottom of the dough,” recalls Tom.
“Then I’d get some jam out of the cupboard (my mom made all her jams and we always had plenty on the shelves) and refill the cake before I ate it. So I got two cakes from one, if you will!
Katie O’Brien applied the ritualistic mode to Fry’s custard bars (4p back then, and thus more expensive than the 3d custard bar, or even Cadbury’s tiny, narrow three-cent chocolate).
“First, you would bite into the side edges of the chocolate that were thicker, and then try to carefully lift the top layer from the center of the fondant. Finally, he ate the delicious fondant, along with the chocolate base.”
Do you have any memories of how you used to make the most of special gifts and try to make them last as long as possible? Tell us about them here on Throwback Thursday.
“However, aside from the feeding methodology,” continues Tim,
“I used to look forward to every time chocolate slices showed up at our house.
“This used to happen on a Friday, as a kind of special treat, to compensate, perhaps, for the penitential fish dinner, which is usually served on that day.
“For me the Chocolate Slice was an icon of Cork confectionery as I never found the unique design of the creation anywhere else.
“When I left Cork in 1973 I had to adjust my taste buds to the competitive temptations of Bewleys in Dublin, but none of their creations matched the look or delicious taste of a slice of chocolate.”
However, this Thompson expat fan was in for a pleasant surprise when he visited the city where he was born in 2018.
“Of course, I took a walk in the English Market. Imagine my joy when, in a display case at one of the points of sale, my gaze fell on a series of chocolate slices!
“Of course, I knew Thompson’s had closed in 1984 and had assumed the days of such delicacies were long gone.”
Yes, Thompson’s went out of business, Tim, but an enterprising local bakery, well aware of the legendary reputation of those treats, bought the recipes and the right to reproduce them, and still does. Good boys!
Mr. Cagney eagerly bought one of the cakes, and later, in the comfort of his hotel room, happily chewed on his childhood memories.
“However, I had to be content with washing the delight down with a cup of coffee, as there was no sign of Barry’s tea amongst the catering facilities in the room. Shame on the hotel, which will remain nameless!
“I was delighted to note that the passage of time had done absolutely nothing to detract from the quality, or indeed the taste, of the confection, so hats off to whoever is baking the chocolate slices in these days”.
And, in case you were wondering, yes, Tim ate his cake in segments, just like in the days of old. Old habits die hard.
Now, before we close, here is a question that we would very much like to have answered. Rubber dolls. Do you remember those?
No, they were not toys, as one would expect from children today. They were those cheap, lightweight white tennis shoes that everyone wore in the summer.
They may have been made by Dunlops but we would like to know more about them as they were seen universally throughout Cork.
And where the heck did they get the nickname ‘rubber dolls’? Is it a purely Cork term or do you find it elsewhere in Ireland?
If you know, tell us! Email email@example.com or leave a comment on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork.