This life made of ‘Buttermilk’.

Gerard looking bewildered already.

Apart from the daily spoonful of cod-liver oil, the main reason of having pulled through this far has been my keen relationship with buttermilk. During the war, we had none of those luxuries and were grateful for potato peelings and scraps of cabbages boiled up in huge steaming troughs, ladled out to the hollow-cheeked hungry from grimy white tiled soup kitchens. War ravaged we were.

An incident I have spoken of before, I’ll retell now again, even if just to sooth a recurring need to ponder over what has passed over a life lived so far. It would have been towards the end of that war when hunger was keenest, especially in Rotterdam which was bombed right at the beginning of 1940, the year I was born. I went with my mother to the soup kitchen. She carried a green enamelled bucket that held a porcelain grip around the steel handle. Those kind of buckets are lost but used to be well regarded and held (in good times) the creamy milk delivered and scooped in by the milkman on horse and cart. Now buckets are plastic and crack and are seen neglected in car parks and half submerged on creek beds or on neglected grassy nature strips.

After mother and I arrived at the soup kitchen we waited for our turn. I was holding a hand. After a while when I looked up I realised it wasn’t my mother’s hand anymore but that of a stranger. I have never lost that feeling of utter fright and abandonment, even though at my first cry my mum regained possession of my hand. It is strange how that feeling still remains so vivid.

That enamelled bucket lasted for many years. Finally it developed a hole which was fixed by a man who specialised in doing the rounds fixing metal buckets and sauce pans. A round metal patch would be fastened over the hole and hammered in a way that would patch the hole tightly, leak proof again for years. That’s how we had an era of no waste and people had jobs. We also had a man sharpening scissors and knives.

After our arrival in Australia we got enveloped with plastic, including the cheese, also of plastic.

The era of ‘Tupperware’ had arrived.

PS I don’t hold it against anyone not keen on drinking buttermilk, but…have you tried it? Don’t give up. In pancakes it is what couscous is to Rhubarb crumble. Ask the grandkids.

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25 Responses to “This life made of ‘Buttermilk’.”

  1. Yvonne Says:

    Oh, now you have reminded me of how our parents (from Flanders) mended the enamel pots when a hole appeared.

    Buttermilk, hmm. Mom went back to visit Belgium in 1949, and took 12 year old me with her. We visited one of her cousins who was a monk in a monastery somewhere in that tiny country. For our evening meal, we had kerapup (probably the wrong spelling). That was stale bread simmered in buttermilk. I went to bed quite hungry!

    But, buttermilk pancakes, yes!!!


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I think the spelling might have been ‘karnemelkpap’, a typical monasterial fare keeping monks chaste if not intestinally hale as well.

      Yes, in pancakes…now you are talking. ( with golden syrup)


  2. Patti Kuche Says:

    Childhood memories in ordinary times are intense enough let alone extraordinary times such as yours, poor baby . . .

    On another level, we have a knife sharpening van which visits the neighbourhood here in NYC!


  3. Carrie Rubin Says:

    Such a touching post. You painted a vivid picture of standing in that soup kitchen. Your words also remind me to always be grateful for what I have. As for the buttermilk, I still think I’ll pass. 😉


  4. Silver in the Barn Says:

    How your words remind me of my own mother’s stories of hunger during the war. Real hunger, not the garden variety type we all feel nowadays if we miss a snack. And of course one would mend the bucket, the perfectly good bucket. Are you the little boy with the hair standing on end? I must know. And buttermilk is something quite valued here in the South for biscuits.


  5. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Now I can’t get that song out of my head….you know the one! I shan’t mention it, I’d hate to pass the ear worm on to you, dear Liza 😉
    p.s I’m not sure I’ve ever knowingly tasted buttermilk but it sounds good 🙂


  6. roughseasinthemed Says:

    I’ve not had buttermilk either. Or had buckets mended. There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.

    We did get the knife/scissor sharpener come round when we first moved to Spain. He stopped. We have a steel.


  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    We had one of the metal buckets, I don’t remember if it ever got a hole in it, but it probably did, and probably the knife-sharpening man fixed it.

    But the fear of abandonment is something we can all identify with. I remember being “lost” in a store, probably not for long.

    I have been known to like buttermilk strange as it seems, and an entire litany of food demands its inclusion.

    I’m so happy you refer to your childhood Gerard. We should never forget our roots no matter how difficult They re what make us what we are.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, those buckets can tell many a story. I would not be surprised that in many Polish or Bratislavan families with outside toilets and during very cold winters they were used close to the beds for urgent needs..


  8. berlioz1935 Says:

    Buttermilk is something to savour. We always liked and drank it. We had it today with our lunch. The best buttermilk I ever had was in Nemingha (near Tamworth) it came straight after the butter was churned from the fresh milk. Naturally it was from a real, life cow. The farmer’s wife wanted it to throw away. We, two Berliners, protested.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It is beyond me that we have compulsory voting (by punishment) and yet no compulsory buttermilk drinking. Where is justice in this?
      Yes, one can only hope the Aldi buttermilk is real and not made from some horrible concoction like concentrated deceased LNP politicians essence.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist Says:

    Gerard your comment above just explained why the milk no longer froths in the coffee milk frothing machine. With the essence of those departed political LNP (not necessarily deceased) it is no wonder it is all bubble with no creamy frothy texture. Perhaps I need to try buttermilk. Your memoir had me riveted. A hard and frightening time anchored by the recollection of buttermilk, collection vessels and how to repair these whilst in the background we could hear the war happening.
    Australia must have seemed like a haven after that. At least I hope it did. I remember the plastic cheese. You can still buy it and I still say it is horrendous. The age of tupperware may have come at that time but I missed out for another thirty odd years.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Welcome Irene.
      We used to get the milk delivered in Holland and for a while here in Australia each morning. The cream would float to the top. In an effort to put on weight, and to be seen as the ‘ Mr iron man’ of our suburb,I used to scoop up and eat the cream.
      It did not do much, but at a pinch I can iron my shirt now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist Says:

        Is that what butter milk is the cream floating on the top of the milk. When I was a kid we used to get bottled milk delivered and it had about a 1 inch layer of cream. We had this pump affair (red rubber hand squeezing pump with a clear though yellowing tube with measurements on it) which we used to remove the cream which we then ate on our dessert that night.


      • gerard oosterman Says:

        I think traditional butter milk is the liquid left over after the butter has been churned from the milk’s cream.
        Another variety is letting the milk go sour, especially popular in warmer climates.


  10. stuartbramhall Says:

    Buttermilk also happens to be rich in restoring and maintaining the helpful gut bacteria responsible for immunity, weight maintenance, vitamin absorption, health neuropsychological function and a host of other biological processes.


  11. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Some memories are burned in! When we came to live in this village in 1978, we still had a man who visited every few months to sharpen our knives and secateurs.


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