Those were the days
I recently scoured our kitchen cupboards for a bag of Purity hard bread. I eventually found a partial bag, with three loaves inside. Just enough for a meal of fish ‘n brewis.
Ever since my doctor told me I’m a diabetic, I’m supposed to go easy on certain food choices, including this well-known dish. Still, from time-totime, I prepare this meal which, I tell all and sundry, is “ fit for a king.” The packaging tells me the hard bread is low fat and cholesterol free. Can’t say the same for the salt fish, though.
Speaking of salt fish, I need to visit my local bank later this week, to see if I can arrange for a mortgage to buy a bit for the meal I’m planning. While thinking about fish ‘n brewis, I was reminded of a document I have in my keepsakes folder. It’s a wholesale price list for Purity products from April 1951. I pulled it out for this column.
Purity Factories, Ltd. was located at the corner of Hamilton and Brine Streets in St. John’s. There was a warehouse at Mundy Pond, as well as a Canada Dry plant.
“Purity products please particular people,” we are told. “ They are skilfully made from the highest quality ingredients and sell quickly with good profit to the retailer.” The company had as its motto “quality first,” and its aim “satisfactory services.” Purity products are listed under several headings.
Confectionary products, which head the list, include climax peppermint nobs and kisses (molasses, butterscotch, rum and butter, peanut butter, banana and caramels). There are bottled sweets, including “drops” (acid, black currant, cough, cherry, cocoanut, lemon, orange, pineapple and raspberry). There are candies, including butterscotch crunch, licorice stick, raisin chew, cable sticks, union squares, cremola bars, spitfires, bolly wops, twin rabbits, wonder rolls and robin eggs. There are even imported candy ( jordan jellies, spiced strings, pearled peanuts, fudge peaks, canasta mixed, harmony jells, sitting hens, bantam eggs and chocolate flapper eggs). There are chocolate bars ( buttermilk, cocoanut and eat- m-up). There are candy in packages (assorted caramels, french creams and jelly drops) …
… I’m back. Had to stop typing for a moment and wipe the drool from my keyboard.
There are jams ( partridgeberry, apple, orange marmalade, apricot, damson, gooseberry, plum, raspberry and strawberry). There are ice cream cones. There are Purity biscuits, subdivided into sweet biscuits (dad’s cookies and grandma’s cookies) and plain biscuits (baby cream crackers, cream crisp and regal sodas). There is both hard bread and sweet bread. There are butter flakes, milk lunch, and fancy biscuits in cellophane packages (marshmallow dainties, jelly wafers, nutritious fruit and maple leaf creams).
There are Canada Dry beverages, in seven ounce, pint and quart quantities. Some of the soda flavours are lemon, grape, lime, cream, orange, cherry and spur. There is a Tom Collins mixer and hi-spot. There are syrups and lime juice. There is even vinegar (“celebrated for its flavour and aroma”).
Finally, there is cod liver oil with malt extract. I personally am well acquainted with this gawdawful product. According to company advertising, it was “ popular with young and old.” Now that’s a boldfaced lie! My siblings and me were force-fed this concoction five days per week when we were kids, and a worst taste could hardly be imagined, especially when the vile taste returned as burps throughout the school day.
My late father worked at Purity Factories. According to a ledger, found among his personal papers after his death, he started working there on Sept. 29, 1939, making boxes and covers in the bakery.
He received his first pay on Oct. 6, a grand total of $9.89 which, I suppose, was not too bad at the time. By the end of November, he was working 54 hours per week. On Dec. 22, he received a Christmas gift from the company, $ 4.50. By March 1940 his rate of pay per hour was 20 cents. He got a five-cent and two-cent raise on July 5, 1940 and May 9, 1941 respectively. On Oct. 3, his rate per hour increased to 30 cents.
By Aug. 26, 1944, when he received his final pay, before going to Toronto to attend college, he was making 44 cents per hour. The company also gave him a going-away gift, $8.80. Living high on the hog!
I once said to Dad, “ It must have been nice to live in the good old days.” I expected him to agree with me but, instead, he responded, “My son, the good old days weren’t all that good.” After writing this column, I’m inclined to agree. Still, though, I would like to taste a few of the candy on the Purity price list.