One of my best friends endured me through our school years for constantly swiping the soft apple bits off her daily wedge of apple tea cake. She loved that cake. So did I. That cake, among other lunches and snacks purchased (and often traded) from someone's mum on tuckshop duty, are our shared cultural and edible history.
Those whispered trades and tastes that occurred across our lunchbreaks were not simply "three burger men for half a wagon wheel" or the sensory joy of burning your mouth from a pie, eaten with the lid off via a spoon.
No, those foods, along with the Sunnyboys and Polly Waffles, are a collective experience. Our experience. They are an unplanned collage of a good life, or our attempt at one, measured out in illicit amounts of sugar, salt, fat and friendship; consumed on the hot concrete of the schoolyard.
In these uncertain times, when our world has shrunk to its essentials, and we have been robbed of many of the joys we take for granted, it is those foods served in a crinkly brown paper bag that become even more dear to our nostalgic hearts.
Here are 10 of the very best (open to debate of course), some given a home-cooked spin.
Slightly crush this three-chip sandwich for maximum crunch. Photo: Katrina Meynink
The chip sandwich. But make it a triple threat
The hot buttered roll crammed with chips is a thing of salty, fatty, tasty glory. Whether it was Samboy tomato chips, Twisties or the plain old salties, it was a favourite of many.
Here it's a triple threat using not one, but all three chip flavours sandwiched in soft white bread spread with alternating layers of (real) butter and a heft of kewpie mayo for added luxe. This may be swaying too far from the original for some but if you wanted to continue its path of innovation, try it between warm wedges of brioche. You just might need to go for a long walk afterwards.
Remember the key to any good chip sandwich is the softness of the bread and the overstuffed ratio of chips. The crackle and crunch is the ultimate ambient noise of the schoolyard.
Double dip sherbet bags
The wasabi of our youth. Tasting/accidentally snorting this to the back of your throat was a feeling of painful joy. The hardcore among us would knock back the cherry and orange in one hit, while some preferred to enjoy each flavour to its fullest.
To make your own sherbet, whisk together 60 grams of pure icing sugar with 1 teaspoon citric acid, ½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda and 2½ tablespoons of the freeze-dried fruit of your choice. (You can get cherries and orange segments freeze-dried – just blitz them to a powder first – although freeze-dried raspberries may take you a little close to that faux cherry flavour.)
The original Betty Crocker version had frosting, the later versions had a hazelnut pot of dipping goodness. I've combined the two loves into one almighty dipper. My other suggestion, if you don't want to just swipe Arnott's Tiny Teddies through this goodness, is to buy some sweet shortcrust pastry sheets (I used Careme) and cut them into whatever biscuit shapes take your fancy. Pop on a tray and cook for 10 or so minutes at 160C fan-forced (180C conventional) until lightly golden, and use those to take this old-school favourite up a gustatory notch or two.
For the hazelfrost™ you'll need:
- 250g hazelnuts
- 100g white chocolate, melted
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
- pinch of salt
- Roast the hazelnuts at 200C for 10-12 minutes. Let them cool. Throw the hazelnuts in a teatowel and rub them onto each other until most of their skin comes off.
- Blitz the hazelnuts and a pinch of salt in a food processor until they turn into a liquid butter. Drizzle in the white chocolate and vanilla and process until combined. Pour into a jar and enjoy.
Cherry Ripe milkshake
Ahhh remember when cow's milk was your only option? Addled with faux strawberry topping, chocolate and desiccated coconut, this was unbridled joy through a straw.
For a pimped-out homemade version add per serve 2 tablespoons each of desiccated coconut and strawberry topping with ⅓ cup each chopped cherry ripe bar and glace cherries to a blender and blitz to a pulpy consistency. Add roughly 1 cup milk per serve and a few ice cubes and blitz until incorporated.
Melt some dark chocolate and, using a spoon dipped in the chocolate, swipe the inside of a drinking glass with the back of the spoon. Pour in the milkshake mixture. For a school-age-appropriate swizzle stick, feed some glace cherries and cherry ripe squares over a straw. Serve the drink with the straw and drink at a frightening pace.
Nestle went ahead and replaced the original with an "energy bar"; a travesty in my culinary books because the "new and improved" was far from the glory of the original. What was key, other than its chocolatey goodness, was its simplicity – it really felt like all you were eating was chocolate, malt, Milo and very little else.
The jury is well and truly out as to what the perfect at-home replica recipe may be. Some combine Milo with just the smallest spoonful of milk to bind, then press into a tin and cover in chocolate; others claim melted white chocolate is key, while some remain firmly planted in the condensed milk camp. Regardless, a riff on this slice will be fun to try.
I had a love/hate relationship with these. The joy of an illicit purchase at the tuckshop with coins flogged from mum's wallet was far greater than the rare occurrence of one appearing in my lunchbox. The best flavour was furiously contested – caramel and chocolate constantly pitted against peanut butter.
I'm yet to try this myself but a travel along the deep dark inter-web uncovers a similar formula of 1 cup each of crunchy peanut butter and milk powder, 2 tablespoons powdered gelatine, 1 tablespoon malt powder (or wheat germ), ⅔ cup honey and a pinch of salt. Mix together the dry ingredients. Warm the peanut butter and honey in a saucepan over very low heat until soft then add to dry ingredients and incorporate thoroughly. Shape into "Space sticks" or whatever shape you desire. Store in an airtight container.
Take 5 Bars
This bar was THE tuckshop trading card of the '90s. More expensive than most, in today's terms, it was the love child of a KitKat, plain milk chocolate and Maltesers. I'm not talking the Hershey's American one with peanuts that Google would have you believe, but Cadbury's old Take 5, the one with the blue wrapper containing Malteser-shaped balls in a chocolate slab.
For a homemade version combine 1 cup each of malted milk powder and milk powder in a bowl and set aside. Melt 250 grams of white chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat and stir through the powders. Keep stirring and a soft dough should form. If still too wet, continue to add extra milk powder – it should be a soft cookie crumb consistency. Press firmly into moulds or a lined, small tin and pop in the fridge for 5 minutes to set.
Melt 200 grams of Cadbury milk chocolate (for authenticity) to cover half of your Malteser slab, and return to the fridge to set. Once set, flip over and pour more melted chocolate over the other side. If you are using chocolate moulds for your Malteser component, simply drench in chocolate then place on a biscuit base. Cover again in chocolate for a very close replica.
Most tuckshops had a tray of home-baked goods for sale, the fodder of birthday parties and fetes alike, laden with jam drops, coconut jam slice, coconut ice, faux cream puffs and the good ole honey joy. A simple concoction of cornflakes, honey and, if you were lucky, someone's mum added a "Florentine" touch with a base of chocolate, they were the sweet, crunchy stuff of dreams.
Try this slab version for a different take: Preheat the oven to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional). Add 125 grams melted butter, 1 tablespoon honey and ½ tablespoon vanilla bean paste to a large bowl. Stir to combine then add about 5 cups of cornflakes. Use your hands to coat the cereal in the mixture. Press down into a lined baking tray and pop in the oven for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool then drizzle with melted milk chocolate. Pop in the fridge to set.
Roundas Pizza pockets
No school-aged child has lived to their full potential until they've scorched the roof of their mouth with the cheesy tomato sauce filling of an Ingham's pizza pocket – or more accurately described as an overheated microwaved white roll full of "pizza flavoured" sauce. (Note: you can randomly still secure one of these Ingham numbers.)
Otherwise, stuff a super soft fluffy pita with canned diced tomato, dried oregano, salt and grated mozzarella. Press down the edge to seal and pop in the oven or microwave to heat through (tip: wrap it in foil if using the oven). While simpler, this may be healthier than the ingredient list of the original which cites pork flavouring and an alphabet of stabilisers.
See also: Katrina Meynink's Wagon wheels with rosewater marshmallow (recipe here). Photo: Katrina Meynink
A biscuit base and soft marshmallow adorned with a thin layer of chocolate - Royals were addictive and it was completely impossible to ever just consume one. While a home-cooked version from scratch falls into more laborious (but worthy) territory, here is a slightly quickened version.
Roll out a sheet of sweet shortcrust pastry. Using a cookie cutter, cut out circles in a similar size to your marshmallow (I suggest going large here and purchasing some of those gloriously squishy ones you often see adorning the shelves at delis or gourmet grocers), and place on a lined tray in a 160C fan-forced (180C conventional) oven until golden.
If you'd prefer to make this from scratch, use a trusted shortbread recipe, one that isn't too crumbly.
To assemble, place a generous dab of melted chocolate on the centre of each biscuit (or pastry piece) and top with a marshmallow, pressing down gently to secure. Drizzle over more melted chocolate (milk is probably more authentic in looks and flavour memory) and pop in the fridge for five minutes to set. (And if you want to be fancy, try my rosewater marshmallow recipe.)