When the 1960s started I was five years old, a brave new world, as a country we were finally starting to throw off the shackles of the war, rationing had finished a few years earlier and slowly but surely there was a confidence in the population again that said “Its OK to enjoy yourself, its OK to spend a bit of money on yourself” the years of “make do and mend” were over and consumerism started to take a grip
.Part of that consumerism appeared on the High Street (or in our case, Kirkstall Road) as “The Supermarket” although in todays terms the Fine Fare on Kirkstall Road would be classed as a “mini-mart”, to our mothers it was a revolution in shopping, the very idea that you would browse shelves of produce, fill a basket and take it to a till to be checked out was simply incredible and far removed from the alternative of visited six or seven individual small specialised retailers where you would queue for ever until the shopkeeper could serve you.
And with the supermarket came the rise of processed food, no longer would you buy raw meat from a butcher and cook it yourself, no longer would your meat come directly from an animals carcass and be recognisable as bits of that carcass, no, now you could buy all manner of processed meats, pre-cooked and served to you as slices from a grocery counter, no cooking required, why even the most inept of cooking mothers (step forward my mother) could serve up a plateful of sliced pre-cooked processed meat, and some chips, for their little darlings evening meals.
And so we came to know Palony.
I still don’t know what paloney was, it was presented as some sort of meat, or at least of having some sort of meat content, it may have been pork but had the consistency of putty, was sold in grocers and the sort of butcher who had given up proper butchery, presented in huge red plastic wrapped sausages on grocers counters where your mother bought as many thin slices as she thought you’d eat before realising that she was conning you in an attempt to hold back a little of the housekeeping money for gin, or a night out.
The huge red plastic wrapped sausages would be sliced thinly on the bacon slicer a dn laid out on scales onto greaseproof paper, later you mother would take the thin slivers of paloney and present them to you on a plate as your tea, still complete with a red plastic edge.
“Do we eat the red bits ?” we’d ask in curiosity
“Yes of course” she’d say, not sure but erring on the side of waste-no-want-not
“Are you sure” we’d check
“Yes” she’d say, “Its rice plastic”
As kids we’d heard of rice paper, we knew that you could safely eat rice paper wrappers, but red rice plastic, it wasn’t anything I’d ever seen on the likes of “Tomorrows World”, rice plastic, edible plastic wrapping, no, never heard of it then or since, but we ate it anyway because our mother said it was ok, I probably have hundreds of narrow rings of red plastic still undigested in my stomach to this very day.
The palony itself was bland and simply underwhelming, it tasted of nothing, it had the consistency of something that had been mushed beyond recognition and then compressed into a sausage shape which is of course precisely what it was, random possibly meat substances reconstituted into something else.
You could only eat it comfortably with lashings of tomato sauce, I could easily go through half a bottle of Heinz Tomato Sauce on just a few slices of paloney , indeed during those weeks when the mortgage was due and our mother had already borrowed from the mortgage tin our mother would just serve up a plateful of tomato sauce and tell Ned and I that there was paloney underneath somewhere and we were never disappointed when there wasn’t.