Mine was a childhood smothered in fishpaste. And now the memory has been harpooned as a major food conglomerate — with a click of a mouse on a profit-hungry spreadsheet — has decided to discontinue both Pecks and Redro anchovy spread.
I feel like a panicky sardine caught in a tight net off the South Coast. Like Nemo staring down Bruce, the vegetarian shark.
Long before Johannesburg’s busy Rosebank shopping precinct became a mishmash of overpriced restaurants and coffee shops, one might, to settle oneself, have gone to a department store for a restorative cup of Ceylon tea. Or in the case of a whining child, a Coke float, which would dangerously top up sugar levels to finish the afternoon excursion, as my late mother called it.
One such store was Anstey’s where, on the second floor, decorated in soothing creams and greens, was a thick-carpeted tearoom. The key beverage was served in sensible electroplated nickel silver pots and jugs accompanied by equally sensible sturdy white cups. If one was lucky, there might also be a slice of Battenburg cake, coated in yellow icing; a scone with jam and lashings of cream; or for the more savoury inclined — me — a slice of anchovy toast.
On two solid slices of hot white toasted bread and cut into four diagonally shaped pieces, the paste would be thickly spread. And if served timeously from the kitchen, would have begun the delicate intermingling process with a generous portion of smeared butter. On one side of the plate would be two thin slices of freshly sliced tomato, atop of which would be a sprig of parsley — the classic suburban garnishing of the late sixties.
The first bite, in which a little fish butter would dribble down the chin, woke up the taste buds as the combination of concentrated fish and salt spread with the speed of a tidal wave. One’s micro-atmosphere was then engulfed with the odour of an ozone-rich sea, and there were still many more bites to come.
Accompanied by regular gulps of strong tea to keep the mouth lubricated, it was an experience to savour, and one emerged from the experience with a Bunter-like shiny face and breath like the bilges of a trawler.
PepsiCo, which makes both Pecks Anchovette and Redro Fish Spread, blames changing consumer tastes and says it is looking to offload the brands to a third party. May that happen sooner rather than later. If I had the cash, I would make an offer myself.
My relationship with fishpaste continued into my high school years. On a cold winter’s afternoon, when I had floundered around a rugby field making a fool of myself, I took much solace in the expectation that, waiting at home on the old yellow Formica breakfast nook, would be a pot of tea and either cinnamon or anchovy toast. Just to keep you going before dinner, my mother would say, as I masticated my way through half-a-dozen slices of bread.
Sunday nights, when no one feels like cooking, has always been the perfect time to uncap the famously ridged Pecks bottle with its distinctive red and green badging, proudly proclaiming a heritage dating back to 1891, and telling us it’s “very high” in Omega 3.
As I mourn what must be the inevitable death of this brand, I have failed to deal with one perennial problem. Unless the bottle is finished within days, there is a tendency, however tightly the lid is screwed on, for mould to grow quickly. All the more reason, of course, to have more of it, more often.
RIP Pecks and your less famous cousin, Redro. I will miss you, although I sense I will be easier to kiss and be around. DM