tea of life

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Confession time. This is my office tea mug. office tea mugA post workday wine o’clock conversation with the G.O. segued from wonderful old newspaper advertisements now accessible via Trove to an anecdote which brought the mug and its precedent to mind.

The G.O.’s story was about an old mate he knew in the country near Uralla who using old lathes & machinery imported from England, crafted bespoke parts for earthmoving machinery, in this case the dozer the G.O. was working on. Due to unfortunate circumstances the old bloke lived on his own, so even when not needing work done, the G.O. would purchase smoko from the bakery in town and call out for a visit. The old bloke’s contribution was mugs of tea. The kettle was dipped into a 44 gallon drum of water, and the wild brew sipped from blackened mugs. The G.O. laughs and says a lot of people wouldn’t have dared but he figured it wouldn’t kill him.

As I listen to the G.O.’s story my mind travels to the past and my Dad’s automotive mechanical workshop in Murrurundi, with its makeshift corner kitchen: brass cold water tap running from the weathered corrugated iron rainwater tank over a grimy sink next to a bench on which sat a mismatched collection of stained mugs, kettle, box of tea bags, jar of instant coffee, small carton of milk purchased daily, sugar in a jam jar to keep ants out, and crusty teaspoons.

For comfort there were half a dozen odd chairs, and during the cold mountain range winter an aged woodstove was lit. After whosever turn it was returned from collecting the bakery order, we’d congregate for smoko and consume pies, sausage rolls, or devon salad rolls if the weather was warm, followed by an assortment of cornets, matchsticks, apple turnovers and vanilla slices, accompanied by mugs of tea or coffee.

Cleaning up entailed sweeping the crumbs onto the floor for the dog, chucking paper bags into the bin or fire, rinsing the mugs under the cold water tap and resetting them on the bench.

All of a sudden my office tea mug made sense. I’m fanatical about using fresh water to make tea but I can’t remember the last time the mug had a wash. I drink straight black tea, as does the G.O. although he has a sugar. The mug might absorb layers of tannin for months before I spruce it up for a cup of soup, and only then because experience taught me soup dissolves tannin.

The G.O.’s work thermos lid is worse, and although I never give it more than an occasional wipe if it strays into the kitchen, he takes this opportunity to remind me it is sacrosanct and would be unacceptable to upset the long accumulated residue.

Just in case I might ever be tempted, the G.O. follows my recollection with another anecdote: his uncle throwing their billy to billy-o (possibly another explanation for the phrase?) after some well meaning but obviously female family member not being au fait with such things, gave it a scrub and ruined it.

Ah yes, so true… “The past is never where you think you left it.” Katherine Anne Porter

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42 thoughts on “tea of life

    Kourtney Heintz said:
    May 23, 2013 at 6:44 am

    It’s funny what we are most concerned about cleaning. Or what is clean enough at different times in life. My cast iron skillet is the best item to cook with and a good washing would destroy it.

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 23, 2013 at 7:01 am

      Oh, yes… a cast iron skillet needs proper care and not much cleaning. All the meals and the years just make these things better. I’ve been in need of new saucepans, frying and baking-roasting tray for quite some time. The thought of getting new ones and breaking them in is quite traumatic.

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        Kourtney Heintz said:
        May 31, 2013 at 10:38 am

        Exactly. Yet it is good enough to keep cooking in. I hear you. It’s like the pan has a memory of every pleasant meal made and imparts it to the next one. Highly traumatic indeed. 🙂

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    Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial said:
    May 23, 2013 at 7:18 am

    I remember Pete’s cousin’s wife telling me she used to drink her tea with milk and sugar until she married Andrew. Then after a few visits to the shack on the farm (which was not the house they lived in, mind you), where the milk was always off and the sugar riddled with ants, that she soon learned to drink her tea black and strong. 🙂

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 23, 2013 at 7:37 am

      “As it comes” is the best way with tea, as Pete’s cousin’s wife learned 🙂 I can drink it with milk and or sugar as well but black tea just became the norm, although I’m pretty fussy about fresh water in the kettle. I slip in to the MIL’s kitchen to empty and boil the kettle before she can re-boil it for the 100th time.

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    lorddavidprosserDavid said:
    May 23, 2013 at 9:05 am

    In the office where I worked most of the mugs and cups were like this. It seemed acceptable for most people which always surprised me because most were women. The one thing that used to irritate me however was someone putting sugar in their cuppa and then placing the spoon straight back in the sugar so it became hard and lumpy. No fun for anyone wanting sugar on some cereal.
    Leave the mugs laced with tannin but for heavens sake wash and dry the spoon.

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 23, 2013 at 9:54 am

      I agree about the sugar spoon – it doesn’t take much thought to have a designated sugar spoon or to use a clean spoon each time. If I took sugar the manky spoon & bits in the jar would annoy me…

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    metan said:
    May 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Oh yes! Our billy hangs in the shed and is NOT to be scrubbed under any circumstances. A good rinse will do just fine. Those layers of black on the outside are years and years of campfires, if it was cleaned it will be as if those times never happened!

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      I’m envious… we don’t have a billy, yet, and then we will have to go through the seasoning process before it’s any good.
      Nothing tastes as good as leaf tea out of a billy boiled with good river water stirred with a stick, sipped from an old tin mug that’s been rolling around the ute for a while 😉

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        metan said:
        May 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm

        Hee hee, maybe you should get one and start the seasoning process while you are on your breaks at TA.

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    anneb54 said:
    May 23, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    My Fella uses the same mug all the time. It is double hulled stainless steel, so it holds the heat. It lost its handle many years ago, and has tried to loose itself a few times (left on car bonnets and roofs as we drive away). He washes it everyday, but only occasionally gives it a good clean to get rid of the tannin. Baking soda does a wonderful job to clean out the tannin stains.

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 23, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      Thank you… the G.O. has a similar work thermos mug for coffee which is also verboten as far as cleaning goes. Oh yes, we use baking soda for a lot of cleaning but just not the particular items in question 🙂

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        anneb54 said:
        May 24, 2013 at 11:37 am

        Good stuff that baking soda!

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    acflory said:
    May 23, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    lmao – this was such an aussie post Ella! I can’t contribute to the billy tea anecdotes but I do remember this one time my Dad decided that Mum’s blackened cast iron frying pan needed a man’s touch. He scraped that pan inside and out, right down to the bare metal. And Mum never used it again because everything burned! I have some lovely cast iron pots but my favourite is a cast iron frying pan I bought from a camping and disposal store for peanuts. It has a thick crust of black on the outside and is a cleaner black on the inside. Nothing ever stick to that pan but always cooks to perfection. Teflon eat your heart out. 🙂

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 23, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      Oh yes. You’ve reminded me – I know there is a cast iron frying pan in the G.O.’s shed which I’ll bring into service. I’ve had well meaning people scrub my kitchen pans, and I’ve mourned a few I’ve left behind. We need new pans,- the frypan is wonky and the baking dish leaves a trail of rust whenever we move it but it’s still good 🙂

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        acflory said:
        May 23, 2013 at 8:53 pm

        I recently bought a small cast iron pot and lid. Tempering it was a bit time consuming but well worth the effort – and it only cost $35. Cast iron is the world’s best kept secret!

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          EllaDee responded:
          May 24, 2013 at 5:44 am

          Hmmm, must check out another of the G.O.’s old mates who has a camping store 🙂

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          acflory said:
          May 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm

          Perfect. 🙂

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    mybrightlife said:
    May 24, 2013 at 1:49 am

    I love the G.O.’s attitude – sounds like he has his priorities sorted! Growing up we were clearly instructed to simply rinse out the metal teapot that my mother still uses – never soap and water. While I am a self confessed tea addict I don’t have teapot issues. I am a bag in the mug girl which goes against my mother’s grain – and other tea purists too, I am sure!

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 24, 2013 at 5:53 am

      The G.O. loves a cup of tea and a yarn with old blokes,,, he just about qualifies as one himself these days 🙂
      Of course!, I just rinse my stainless steel teapot in hot water, and the ceramic pot I swish through sudsy water & rinse – day to day though it’s teabags for us too.

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    diannegray said:
    May 24, 2013 at 7:36 am

    I drink my tea black as well and have the odd ‘dark cup’ in the cupboard. I got a little carried away when I was reading about your dad’s automotive mechanical workshop in Murrurundi. It took me on a journey back to my childhood (we never had a mechanical shop – but I did spend a lot of time on a farm near Wauchope). We would wash our hair in the creek, go to the loo in the thunderbox in the yard (and get chased and knocked into stinging nettles by the ram), milk the cows and a million other things. Wow – this post really bought back memories for me. I’ll be thinking about it all day now 😀

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

      My friend wrote this on the Murrurundi Memories FB page “…I spent my ‘growing up’ years with: doors unlocked, cars not locked, roaming the district on horseback with no curfews, feeling safe in my community, having a freedom that I would not have had if we stayed in Sydney. We had an instant connection with the wider… family, spending many good times together… There were struggles at times with living in such a small community, however, I would not have swapped it for the world!”
      Says it all doesn’t it 🙂

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        diannegray said:
        May 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm

        What beautiful days they were – your friend is so right 😀

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    Vicky said:
    May 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Your tales of the GO’s friend and your dad, and their tea making reminds me of ‘Old Harry’ the blacksmith I used to deliver to when I was working for a motor factors.
    He’d always make me a cuppa, popping the blackened kettle on the forge fire to boil the water, we’d then drink tea out of heavy tannin stained mugs as he’d tell me tales of his shoeing days.
    I did a post about him in March last year, if you’re interested 🙂

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 25, 2013 at 6:41 am

      Wonderful post & photos about Harry Green. I would have felt at home at his forge also 🙂 And, scrolling through March I saw MORE photos of the other Harry!

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        Vicky said:
        May 25, 2013 at 7:02 am

        Thank you ED 🙂
        You can understand how your post about the workshops reminded me of Harry’s forge.
        The pics you’ve seen of Harry the dog are only a fraction of the hundreds I’ve got 😉

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    Marla aka Crazy Mom said:
    May 24, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    This makes perfect sense to me … however, I’m a black coffee drinker.

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 25, 2013 at 6:43 am

      I’m a black coffee drinker also! We’re easy to please, no milk, no sugar necessary 🙂

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    Marianne said:
    May 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I’m always fascinated by looking at old adverts, so thanks for the link to Trove.

    I have very fond memories of going to my grandad’s allotment when I was a little girl. He had a few chipped, mis-matched cups and chairs in his shed, and we used to sit together and he would make us both a cup of tea using a little old stove. Happy memories 🙂

    What’s smoko?

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 25, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      That’s a lovely special memory 🙂
      Smoko is an Aussie term for a short morning or afternoon break which involved something to drink, eat and at one time commonly accompanied by a cigarette.
      Trove is addictive…

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    George Collingwood said:
    May 28, 2013 at 5:17 am

    I like the sound of a smoko! I don’t wash my work mug, because it regularly comes into contact with water from the kettle.

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 28, 2013 at 5:57 am

      Oh yes, there’s nothing quite like a country town bakery smoko. The problem is what to choose…
      Yep, kettle water is sufficient 🙂

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    The Daily Cure said:
    May 29, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    This is beautiful. On so many levels and layers. (It is about layers, isn’t? Memory, meaning, sense and symbol.) The Katherine Anne Porter quote is stunning. I think I’ll have to steal that…and I’ve had to look up Murrurundi. Have no idea where that is. May the learning never cease…

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 29, 2013 at 6:13 pm

      Thank you. I included a link to the Murrurundi Wiki sites previously but omitted to do so this time. The links don’t accomplish much but here’s one anyway http://www.upperhuntertourism.com.au/murrurundi/ 🙂 Murrurundi is a very small country town in NSW, Australia, so I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it!
      I’m happy you liked the quote 🙂

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    memoirsofahusk said:
    May 30, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    I wash my mug but then I drink my tea white (keeps the milkman in business). Our teapots though… we never, ever, ever wash the inside of ours. I had great difficulty explaining to someone last week in the USA how you made tea in a pot with leaves – loose leaves, not bags – they insisted we would have to put the leaves in an infuser… Sigh.

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      EllaDee responded:
      May 31, 2013 at 5:55 am

      I enjoy an ooccasional cup of tea with milk… it reminds me of times in my aunt’s kitchen, so it has to be from a cup and saucer, as she prefers 🙂
      Oh too funny about the teapot (which I agree should only be rinsed)… we mostly use bags through the week, loose leaves or herbs in a pot on weekends, and an infuser for a single mug of herb tea… but infusers are very trendy now, and I guess teapots are quite quaint if you aren’t familiar with them:)

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    philosophermouseofthehedge said:
    June 1, 2013 at 7:14 am

    We had a small pan just for making tea – loose tea – you could rinse it, but it never got scrubbed. But the tea was then iced down for meals (tea has to be strong because the ice dilutes it) then my mother would dump tons of sugar in it . YECK. I think that’s why I drank milk with meals for so long. Hate that sickeningly sweet tea.
    Now I drink hot teas – maybe ice tea in one or two restaurants who make it right: strong with no sugar.
    I hadn’t thought about that little tea pan for years. I do wish I had grabbed my mom’s old heavy pans – well seasoned.
    Now doctors are saying on reason people have iron deficiencies is that people stopped using cast iron skillets.
    Fun post – have a nice weekend – hot hot here..ugh

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      EllaDee responded:
      June 1, 2013 at 7:30 am

      Thank you 🙂 I think we’ve been simultaneously typing comments to each other!
      Ice tea was never a big thing in Australia… we drink ours hot hot… but can manage the cold dregs when we coem across them later on 🙂
      Only ice tea since Lipton brought the store version to us – yuck, it’s just flavoured sugar water.
      I know the good chilled version you mean, and it’s very refreshing.
      Interesting about the cast iron… We need new cooking pots.
      We’ve just had a very pink sunrise which the G.O. informs me is “shepherds warning” of rain to come, and as that is the forecast, it’s possible.
      Stay cool 🙂

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        philosophermouseofthehedge said:
        June 1, 2013 at 7:34 am

        I know- how funny! Red sky at morning, sailor take warning, Red sky at night, sailors’ delight – pretty true here. Shepherds and farmers are the best weather forecasters. There’s unsettled weather in the gulf – the gulf water is warmer than usual which means storm potential development – but this early in the season, any tropical weather would mean needed rain – maybe some flooding which we are used, to – but rain would be quite welcomed – ground is cracking already. Hope you have a lovely red sunset

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    Leanne Cole said:
    June 4, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    yes, the blackened tea cup, I don’t drink black tea, and you can’t do it when you drink tea with milk, it starts to taste a bit yuck after a while. Well I think it does.
    I do remember as a child, my grandparents had a farm that grew grapes, and when picking season was on, or pruning season, at morning smoko the billy would come out for the morning tea, brilliant memories, thanks for bring them back, I enjoyed your post as I sit here with my tea.

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      EllaDee responded:
      June 5, 2013 at 6:03 am

      Thank you 🙂 Tea seems to generate memories… billy tea on the fire, cup in one hand and smoko in the other 🙂

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