I would like to wish that Australian icon, Vegemite, a very happy 100th birthday.
You’ve been there all my life, and I feel that for me, at least, your importance has actually increased. But more of my weekend breakfasts/brunches later. A bit of background is called for first.
My earliest memories are probably based on the New Zealand equivalent, Marmite, but I cannot be sure when my loyalty switched to the Australian contender. Apparently, in some circles, there can be fierce debate about which is better but I’m quite happy that I live outside those circles.
Just for the record, though, the latest New Zealand poll I could find [from 2017] had 53.1 per cent favouring Marmite. So we can safely say it’s a very close contest. Perhaps Vegemite is worthy of a few bonus percentage points for having gained international notoriety through popular culture.
Men at Work’s song “Down Under” is the only song I know of, the lyrics of which contain the phrase “Vegemite sandwich”. [The same goes for the word “chunder”.]
Having spent a considerable chunk of my life living in Australia, I also remember Vegemite’s advertising jingle: We’re happy little Vegemites.
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
I don’t know whether I should attribute that to good memory or just the power of advertising, but both of those have failed with the rest of the song, which I’m happy to say I can’t remember. We can safely assume that the remaining lyrics would be just as cheesy, if not cheesier.
One of my strongest memories of yeast extract – I use that general term because it could have been Vegemite or Marmite, or even Promite – comes from 1968, my first year at university. I was in a hostel and went to my first communal breakfast where, of course, toast was offered with the usual suspects as potential toppings.
There were students there who had just arrived from other cultures/countries where it was clear yeast extract did not feature in the cuisine. I watched one from a country I regard as a culinary Mecca suspiciously eye the jar of melted bitumen then, seeing that others were spreading it on toast and actually eating it, he did the same.
Unfortunately, he spread it way too lavishly, resulting in toast almost hidden under a thick layer of tar. He bit into it and grimaced in much the way a cartoon character might, the mouth becoming a wavy line rather than a simple, pleasing arc.
The rest I will leave to your imagination except to say it never reached his digestive tract. If he learned one thing from his New Zealand university education, it was to steer clear of anything called yeast extract.
But let’s come hurtling back to the present. As soon as I have finished typing this, I will be preparing a favourite food of mine, buttered toast with Vegemite, a food I only ever enjoy on weekends or holidays.
As we all know, everyone is different and there is no one formula which fits all. But here is mine and I’m very particular about it.
First, the bread is toasted to a golden brown. Then – and this is the first important step – the toast is cooled, not so that it gets cold, only so that butter will not melt on making contact. I do not want my butter soaking into my toast.
Then comes a reasonably lavish layer of Vegemite, and the creation is ready for eating. It’s one of my simple pleasures but I rank it as a gourmet delight.
So, birthday greetings again, Vegemite. I recommend that you celebrate with … a Vegemite sandwich.
- Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.