October means the Caulfield Cup, extremely annoying hay fever-causing wind and having to mow the lawn every five minutes. This year it means record temperatures. Yesterday was the hottest October day for something like a hundred years.
But when I was a child October meant the annual school fete. Held over a Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday, our school fete was famous for having exactly the same stalls manned by exactly the same people every year for, I don't know, ten, twenty, fifty years?
There was always the same old dear on the pot plant stall selling donated pot plants. After about ten years every family in the school must have owned each pot plant at least once. It was like having them on loan. You bought them one year and donated them back the next. On the groceries stall, another old dear sold packets of Cottees jelly, cans of Biddies peas, tins of IXL marmalade, jars of Pecks anchovy paste and tins of Bear Brand milk. The grumpy old man on the second hand goods stall warned us away, every year, from the old crockery, teapots and framed pictures of guardian angels in midair behind kneeling children: 'If you break that, you'll have to pay for it!' There were always stalls groaning with Readers Digest Condensed Books which nobody ever read but thought other people would want to read. Why would anyone want to read books in which bits had been left out? Beats me. Then there was bric-a-brac, art and craft, cakes, and toffees.
Ah, the toffees. There were literally thousands of them. There were entire stalls selling nothing but toffees; and all the same, all in their dear little corrugated paper cups and all decorated with green sprinkles. Sometimes yellow.
I have my theories. One is that when post-war sugar rationing finished, people just went silly making things out of the stuff. Another theory is that toffees keep children quiet. Have you seen a child eating a toffee? They take about a day to eat. Some kids actually bit into them too hard and had their jaws clamped shut for hours on end.
Then again, maybe the were just the easiest thing for harried 1950s mothers of baby boomers to make. They're just sugar and water.
Toffees for your next fete. Or to keep several children quiet for days.
Cook three cups of sugar in one cup of water in a saucepan over low heat until it dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook uncovered for about fifteen minutes. Do not stir.
When it becomes syrupy (which you can tell by the larger plopping bubbles and the golden colour) remove from the heat. When the bubbles subside, pour into patty pans. Cool and decorate with sprinkles. Makes about a dozen.
Personal toffee note: my mother never, ever made toffees and she practically forbade us to eat them along with lollies of any kind. She was very strict about sugar and teeth decay. Maybe that's why I like plenty of sugar in my coffee and tea.