18 September 2023

When it came to devon intervention for school lunch, we had it in the bag

| Sally Hopman
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Did it get any better than this in your school lunch back in the day? A devon and tomato sauce sandwich, with a scraping of marg, on white bread. Photo: Sally Hopman.

There’s been a lot of chatter this week about school canteens, why all Canberra schools deserve to have one – and what they should serve. The latter is spelled out in government policy – no cake unless it’s a birthday sort of thing, no sugary drinks, no “meat” you can’t identify.

It employs a “traffic light” system where eating a “red” item should make you stop and think whereas a “green” one probably means you should go for it, but that it will probably taste like it’s just come out of a vegetative state.

But it brought up/back some delicious memories of what life was like when we didn’t have to worry over being so politically correct all the time – when school lunches were more a liberal dash of a labour of love.

So let’s cut to the sandwich. What we ate then, but are bordering on forbidden to mention now, is what this is really all about. The devon and tomato sauce (D&T) sandwich. Remember them? Hardly something you’d forget too easily if you ate them then and are still alive to tell the tale.

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Clearly they were one of the healthier options back in the day when chip rolls and jam sandwiches ruled. Think about all that protein in devon, it probably didn’t even need to come with that warning back then that it “may contain traces of meat”.

The anticipation built up from the moment first thing in the morning when the lunch monitor person collected all the paper bags from their class, with the coins sticky-taped to them and the lunch requests scrawled on the front of the bag. They’d take them down to the canteen where the volunteer parents would get cracking defrosting sausage rolls and lobbing hunks off an industrial-sized lump of devon.

By lunchtime you were dribbling with anticipation. The D&T sandwich, we reckoned back then, was just part of a perfectly balanced lunch for growing bodies. These days you’d need more than a few G&Ts to get that taste out of your mouth.

The protein, of course, was in the devon, coupled with at least one serve of vegies thanks to the tomato sauce, dairy (the marg) to say nothing of the carbs, or perhaps carb-ettes in the sliced white bread used to wrap everything up.

Wheely good: This lunchbox staple had all the important food groups – fruit, dairy, carbs. Photo Sally Hopman.

For those oh-so-cool-kids, there was only one way to eat a D&T. Quickly. Had nothing to do with the taste, the lack of nutritional value, the look of that flesh-coloured blob, of course, it was more to do with, um, being cool. You had to squash it together so the sauce dripped down on to your school uniform and most everything else in close proximity and, with luck, onto your jam/pineapple donut or wagon wheel (dessert).

But again, no need for drama, you’d just take it in your stride(s) if you found yourself choking from all that good food. Just take a sip or seven from your chocolate milk and you’re laughing. Or perhaps crying/heading for the nearest public convenience.

But that was all just for starters. It wasn’t a proper lunch if you didn’t have the donut or wagon wheel – because they provided the only food group lacking in the lunch – fruit.

Be still my beating arteries.

Afters: No dog or human were injured in the making of this devon and tomato sauce sandwich, mainly because neither of them ate one. It was sent off to this place in the UK with cute cottages, a grumpy doctor and lots of cliffs – a place where it truly belonged – a capital (letter) of a place in Cornwall.

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James-T-Kirk4:54 pm 07 Sep 23

Devon, with warm, soggy tomato was *the best*. Nothing quite like it, and totally acceptable as a lunch – I might go and make myself a couple of devon on white bread sandwiches now….

Oh – bugga – that’s right – it will have to be on mow GI bread because I have diabetes now…. unlikely to be caused by the devon.

Gregg Heldon6:40 am 05 Sep 23

So many wonderful, happy, nostalgic comments on here. Except for one killjoy comment.
In the 70s, in Western Sydney, my sandwich rotation for school, from my Mum was, banana and brown sugar. Milo, cheese and Devon, and Vegemite and cheese sangas. And a couple of not so great ones were tinned spaghetti and baked bean sandwiches. Never held their construction well and in summer, they could honk.
My favourite sandwich, which I still have from time to time, is curried egg.
And when we moved to Canberra in 1975, I discovered the cheese and lettuce sandwich from the North Curtin primary tuckshop.
All on white bread. Accept no substitute.

Ahhhhh Devon. Used to dream about that. In my school days in the late 1960s my Mum used to make me sandwiches with two pieces of cardboard and a handful of road gravel and if lucky all stuck together with Perkins Paste. Sheer luxury!!!!!

Gregg Heldon7:39 am 04 Sep 23

Nothing better than a cheese and Devon sandwich with a bit of dead horse on it. Still have it to this day.

Do not underestimate the nutritional value of Devon. It is made from offcuts and offal and the offal in particular provides many micronutrients that are not in steaks and chops. Generations growing up with Devon and tomato sauce sandwiches were actually getting a health food.

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