Florentines and…’You Don’t Play with Knives’

During my childhood, a favourite outing for my sisters and me (but not for my mother) was shopping day.  My mother would pile all five of us into the car where we roamed about as we weren’t strapped into car seats and we didn’t wear seat belts.  In fact at some stage a law came in stating it was now compulsory for the driver of the car to wear a seat belt (but not the passengers) and everyone was up in arms thinking they were now living in a police state.


The first stop was the petrol station.  That wasn’t a bother though because mum would just pull up and a young man would come running over to the car door and mum would wind down the window and say, ‘Could you fill it up please?’ and the man would fill up the car while someone else checked the oil, water and tyres.  Then mum didn’t have to get out of the car to pay, she just signed a piece of paper and the amount would go on her account and that would be sent out at the end of the month.  And the petrol station wasn’t a convenience store, it was a grotty, dirty and smelly ‘station’ that was full of stacked tyres and bottles of engine oil and the only edible thing they sold was chewing gum.

Next we went to the supermarket and parking was always available and you could often park right outside the entrance because these spots weren’t reserved for the disabled.  The supermarket seemed enormous yet it didn’t sell fresh produce like fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood or deli items.  It also didn’t sell newsagency or pharmacy or gardening or hardware or kitchenware items.  And you didn’t buy your milk there either because that was delivered to your home early in the morning in glass bottles with silver caps.  You left your bottles out the night before and put your four cents in the bottom of the bottle because that was all it cost for 600mls of milk.  The ‘milko’ also delivered cream, grapefruit and orange juice.

At the supermarket every item was priced so you knew how much you were paying and then the items were individually rung up on the cash register.  You paid for your groceries with cash as that was the only currency.  Two people worked behind the cash register, one was the cashier, the other was the packer.  There were no plastic bags, everything was packed into brown paper bags.

Then it was off to the green grocer.  You didn’t touch anything.  You stood behind the counter and told the Chinese man what you wanted.  He then went and found it and packed it neatly into a box.  Choice, variety and foreign influences didn’t exist.  If you wanted a lettuce you got an iceberg.  If you wanted an apple you got a granny smith.  If you wanted an onion it wasn’t red or white, it was brown.  If you wanted a potato it was mammoth, covered in dirt and looked like it had just been dug from the ground, not like today’s potatoes that look like they’ve grown on trees.  And we didn’t think we were missing out.

A treat to have with coffee

The next stop was the deli where we were allowed to stand on the bag shelf and the ‘deli-man’ would give us all a slice of devon and we were excited.  There was one type of ham and one type of bacon and one type of salami and nothing was ‘shaved’ and certainly there was no cheese section.  The deli sold nougat and that was considered very exotic.  It was also beyond anyone’s budget so we were left wondering how it tasted.

Then we went to the butcher and my sister and I couldn’t wait to enter his shop because we wanted the butcher to give us his usual friendly wave.  We were dying to once again stare at his gruesome stumps.  We never tired of the story of how in his line of trade, he had severed his thumb and fingers (all on separate occasions) in the slicing equipment.  And he wasn’t alone.  He had others working for him who’d also sliced off a finger or two.  We were fascinated.  There was no mention of compensation back then, it was just a case of bad luck.  And even if you did find your missing bit of finger or thumb there was no one skilled enough to sew it back on so you just went back to work and got on with life.

And in the car on the way home we’d ask mum, ‘Tell us again how he chopped off his fingers?’ and mum would tell us the story again and then say, ‘And that’s why you don’t play with knives’.

Have you had an incident with a knife?

Here’s a recipe from my childhood.  My mother would make these for her dinner parties.  These are wonderful and deserve to be re-visited.



Makes:  12

Degree of Difficulty:  3/5

Cost:  I was able to make these using ingredients I had in the fridge and pantry but I had to buy the chocolate and that cost me $4.00.  I think these are a great treat to serve with coffee and very inexpensive compared with purchasing a box of chocolates.

  • 90gm (3 0z) butter
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 185gm (60z) flaked almonds
  • 125gm (4oz) dark chocolate

Cover a baking tray with baking paper and mark out 5cm circles using a cookie cutter.  Place almonds on a separate tray, place into moderate oven for 5 minutes or until golden brown.  Place sugar, water and butter into pan, stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved and butter has melted.  Bring to boil, boil uncovered for 8 minutes or so until mixture is dark golden brown.

Remove from heat immediately, add almonds all at once, stir only to combine.  Do not over-stir or mixture will turn sugary.

Working quickly, place tablespoonfuls of mixture on to circles, pressing out to edge of circle with back of spoon.  If mixture becomes too thick, return to heat for a few seconds.

Place chopped chocolate in top of double saucepan, stir over simmering water until chocolate has melted, allow to cool slightly.  Turn biscuits over on to flat side.  Spoon a teaspoonful of chocolate on to flat side and spread out to edge.  When chocolate is almost set, run a fork through the chocolate to give a wavy effect.

This recipe has been adapted from the Australian Women’s Weekly Cooking Class Cookbook

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  1. I’ve really been enjoying your nostalgic posts; you’ve given us some lovely insights. And the Florentines look wonderful. Chocolate can never go out of fashion 🙂

  2. You are such a good story teller! Many posts can’t capture my eyes to read till the end but yours always have me read on to find out what happened next… I hope the US publisher will find you a gem soon. Days in the past certainly is much simpler than present days and with more human touch. Thanks for sharing a great story with good food.

  3. Charlie, florentines are one of my favourite treats ever, and the cookbook you mention is the first I ever owned! 🙂 Great story, thank you, it does seem so glorious in hindsight. Although I wonder if your mum thought so – Pete’s mum told me once that they never ate a simmer sauce or a packaged meal because they didn’t exist, but once they arrived, she couldn’t wait for the enormous time savings and convenience they brought! Looks like we’ve all come full circle! 🙂

  4. My mum still loves making florentines! She also had a gift of keeping the milk and bread delivery going far longer than anyone else I knew as those services disappeared over the years.

  5. I love florentines!! I definitely remember the times when someone came to fill up our petrol tank when I was small!! I remember the old fashioned milk bottles where the cream floated to the top and whoever got the first mouthful always had the best milk-moustache! Thanks for the lovely nostalgic post!

  6. Don’t know if I’ve ever had a Florentine, but they do look good!

    I appreciate the nostalgic post because you reminded me of a time a remember that (for the most part) has faded away. You may enjoy this list I posted, although some may uniquely US. http://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/on-i-remember-these/

  7. Great way to display the chocolate undersides! Yum!

  8. These look scrumptious. I love almonds and chocolate, so these will be a winner!

  9. I’ve just taken a walk down memory lane with you. While I grew up in the states, my childhood was the same – all the kids crammed into the car with no seatbelts and off to the cottage at the ocean for the weekend. We went outside to play and nobody had to watch us. We learned how to sort out our problems on our own. It’s a much more complicated world we live in now.

    Your florentines look so good!


  11. Ah Mothers and dishing out life lessons:) Gotta love it! Thanks for sharing!

  12. I’m really enjoying reading your stories and the recipes that you share with us 🙂 I like how you describe how life was back in the day…when there wasn’t a Coles or Woolies at every corner, when life was simple 🙂 I’m still quite young and I’ve grown up with the ever growing supermarkets but I sometimes wonder what life was like back then when milk was delivered to your house 😀

    Thankfully, I haven’t had any bad experiences with knives but I’ve always been careful because I’ve heard of some horrific incidents where a friend of my mum’s lost the tip of her finger while cutting some vegetables ~

    Thanks for the recipe! I don’t think i’ve had florentines before hehe gotta try sometime soon ~

  13. You are a great story-teller, Charlie. It is such fun to traipse down memory lane with you because we, your readers, get side-tracked with our own memories. Lovely.

  14. I really enjoy your childhood stories not only because certain things remind me of mine (not all however was similar in Europe), but because you write so well!
    I have just realised I love buying the dirty potatoes. On the markets and in my organic shop there is often a choice. The dirty ones keep for much much longer than the washed potatoes. I didn’t know florentins were also popular outside of France! I adore them!

  15. Oh Charlie
    I havent had time to read this yet, but the florentines look fantastic.!

  16. Florentines are so yummy, and gluten free too! Did the magpies poke through the tops of your milk bottles for the cream too?i remember lying down in the back of the station wagon for long trips, now days we’d get arrested as unfit parentsI guess.
    Last year my hubby severed the top joint of his right index finger with the hedge trimmers-very messy! The doctors just stuck it back on with strerry strips and left it for three days to see if it was still ‘viable’. After fiddly surgery its re-attached and nearly back to normal. I play with sharp shiny knives each day with no problem, I must just be more careful than he is 🙂

  17. What a wonderful story and a great candy treat. I love eating florentines though they’re always seemed too challenging to make at home. 🙂

  18. You brought back alot of memories!! It seems like another time in place when you really think about how different many things were. I’m glad food can be easily brought back to life and old recipes shared. This is a sweet little treat! I love the few ingredients and they do look so perfect with tea or coffee!

  19. Eesh, I ripped off half my finger nail on my mandoline blade – that was bad enough for me 🙁

    I love florentines – I haven’t had them in absolutely years … thanks so much for reminding me they even exist… yours look positively delightful… especially the little rippled chocolate on the bottom!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I love my mandolin and use it almost daily but I’m always so worried I’m going to lose half a finger – so easy to do.

  20. Love your stories, Charlie! Those florentines look so professional and beautiful as well as tasty. Would be lovely for Valentine’s Day, or any day. Glad there were no knives involved in the making of them!

  21. No only do the Florentines look absolutely scrumptious, but I read your post with a smile on my face nodding away because that was how I grew up even though it was in a different country !
    Thanks for that – have the best Thursday ever !
    Love, hugs and positive energy.

  22. Absolutely gorgeous! I think I will make these in a couple weeks when I have to bring treats to church. 🙂 I can’t wait!

    And I love your shopping stories. No seatbelts! I remember that.

  23. These Florentines look delicious and I really enjoy the pairing of almonds with chocolate. I bet they “disappear” quickly! We share so many similar memories, this despite the difference in our ages and distance between us. For me, a favorite stop, the last stop, of our Sunday morning shopping trip with Dad was the Italian bakery. While he and his friend chatted, Sis & I sat and ate a chunk of fresh, warm bread slathered in butter. I remember nothing about that man nor his bakery but I’ll never forget that bread!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Yes John, the florentines (named Toffee Crisps in my cookbook but I didn’t use that title as thought it sacrilege), are all but long gone. Carl took most of them to work with him this morning and they were devoured before morning tea and the teenagers took care of the rest. I don’t know why I don’t cook in bulk! Love the sound of that fresh warm bread slathered in butter – I’ll trade you a florentine for a bit of that bread???

  24. Yummy florentines!!
    I love the way you intertwine your life stories into a post 🙂

  25. hehe you know I don’t know how my parents did the supermarket shopping but I don’t recall going to the supermarket that often. Clearly I missed out! 😛 Although I have to say that I wish the petrol station had someone to pump the petrol.

  26. Oh I remember when we used to have milk delivered and shopping was exactly going to those same places to get your food. We didn’t feel like we were missing out either. Knife incidents send chills down my back. Thank heavens all I’ve ever had is the odd knick from a knife when not paying attention and nothing more!

  27. What wonderful childhood memories you are sharing with us! Life was so much simple years ago – sometimes wish they were still that way. Lovely florentines. Shan’t be making those too often, my waistline can’t afford it!
    🙂 Mandy

  28. Delicious! I like that yours have less fruit. I do love fruit but sometimes, you just dont need it haha

  29. I always remember going to the butcher shop with mum when I was little and being given a cheerio. I can taste it thinking about it.

    I wish there was still a bit of your story around now.

    I’ve come pretty close to slicing myself but thank goodness no I haven’t.

  30. What great memories. And those little treats look wonderful!

  31. Such a timely post – I’m just reviewing my Xmas cooking options and working out what to make early that will keep for a week or so. I guess these will keep in theory. Not sure how long they’ll last in my house in practice, though.

  32. Great post Charlie – I’d forgotten about the old petrol station – I can even smell the empty engine oil bottles!
    I’ve taken down this recipe (florentines have long been my favourite cafe treat!) and will I definitely make them for Christmas – in fact, I reckon they will become a Christmas treat tradition for my family. Thanks, and Merry Christmas xx

    • Thanks for your lovely comment Liz. I hope you do make these. I like making them because they can be made in advance and they keep well. I hope you and your family have a lovely Christmas too xx

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