|in my super fashionable USA tshirt no doubt getting ready to chow down on some KFC circ 1972|
So, our July challenge for The Canadian Food Experience Project is to share a memory of some sort of regional specialty. I haven't really spent much time in my hometown over the last 30 years so I chose to go back in time and write about something from my childhood. How hard could that be?
I grew up in London, Ontario eating things like Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup with extra spaghetti and a squirt of ketchup in it, Hamburger Helper and Minute Rice. It was NOT a good food era. There was no poutine or pate chinois on the table , no cod cheeks and scrunchins, no bannock or wild salmon for this kid, unfortunately. In my dream childhood, I would be sharing stories about picking local fruit as a family and then going back home to make bit batches of jam together, but that was not my reality at all.
I grew up in an era of convenience foods and was 4 years old when the first McDonald's to opened in London. Friday nights were a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (back when it was still chicken and made fresh at each store) with a giant side of macaroni salad and a case of pop from the Pop Shoppe.
During the summer, every kid on every street LIVED for the jingle bells of the guy riding the Dickie Dee bike up and down the streets, selling Creamsicles and these crazy bars that had a dracula character on the package that were blackish purple on the outside and filled with a screaming red creamy interior that stained your face for days. I am sure that whatever they used to colour those bars was completely toxic and currently illegal in all but 3 countries worldwide but we loved them and we are still alive to tell the tale.
Who knew that Dickie Dee was another Canadian company, founded in 1959 in Winnipeg? I never thought of it as being particularly Canadian at all, it was just the Dickie Dee guy on his Dickie Dee bike bringing me heaven on a stick every night after supper.
Because London has always been a test market, we got all sorts of snack foods before anyone else did and often, we ate things that nobody else ever had to endure, like the original McRib that was pressed shredded pork made to look like an actual little rack of ribs or Hostess grape chips. We happily tasted these horrors so the rest of the country wouldn't have to.
Club House Foods was a London institution and almost everyone had a family member who worked there at some point. You couldn't go into a kitchen and open a cupboard without being faced with a shelf that look like this:
Those little orange cans of sage, savoury, thyme, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger were on in every London pantry although the sage, savoury, and thyme was only used once a year for the stuffing in our Christmas turkey and I do believe that when my mother died a few years ago, they were the exact same tins that were in her cupboard when I was 10.
George A. Cohon opened the very first McDonald's (the first was in BC a year earlier) in eastern Canada in London in 1968. In 1983 McDonald's introduced Londoners to chicken mc'nuggets and because Londoners loved them like a mother loves her babies, the rest of the country got to enjoy those little balls of salt and fat a year later. Again, you can thank me when you see me.
Sure, living in London also meant magical peaches and cream corn every summer and London is right outside the Tobacco belt but I was too young to smoke and totally took that beautiful, abundant corn on the cob for granted like any other child would do. When I was a kid I was all about that lime rickey clinking away in the back of the station wagon every Saturday and dreaming of that one piece of cold Kentucky Fried Chicken that I had hidden way at the back of the fridge.