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Elbe’s Ice Cream: The Plot Thickens

In A&P Shows, Birds Eye Frozen Foods, Birds Eye NZ Ltd, Bodgies and Widgies, Denne Brothers, Dennis Knight Turner, Desserts, Elbe's Ice Cream, Elbe’s Milk Bar, Fonzies, Fred Elbe, Frozen Foods, Frozen Vegetables, Griffin’s, Happy Days, Heavenly Creatures, Hokey Pokey, Hokey Pokey ice cream, Ice Cream, Ice cream sundaes, John Waters' Cry-Baby, Juvenile delinquency, Laverne and Shirley, Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe, Mazengarb Report, Milk Bar Cowboys, Milkshakes, Moral Panic, Peter Pan Frozen Foods Ltd, Peter Pan ice cream, Rebels with a cause, Rockers and Greasers, soft drink, T.C. Denne, teenage decadence, The Petone Incident, Thomas Clement Denne, Tip-Top, Warren Elbe on January 12, 2015 at 10.46

Elbe's icecream logo 1950s copy

Recreation of an Elbe’s Ice Cream sign, imagined as late 1950s, inspired by their A&P stand logo (photo further down), and the colours of the milk bar interior.

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Now, as we know from my previous article here, a lot of people like to mark their territory in hokey pokey history – and quite often that involves claiming they invented it.

Having read my story on New Zealand’s favourite ice cream flavour, an Elbe descendant contacted me. After trading quite a few emails (as well as a bit of cursory snooping by me) it was a done deal that there was more than plenty for a story here – contenders to the hokey pokey crown, scandalous behaviour, and juvenile delinquency!

Elbe’s first opened as just a milk bar at 98 High Street, Lower Hutt, Wellington, “next to Woolworths”. The earliest mention I was able to locate was in a humorous article “On Trial”, in the Hutt News, early July 1936 – in which a mock court case is conducted at the milk bar of Frederick Elbe Esq., as part of a stag party celebration. At that time, apart from milkshakes and sundaes concocted for customers on the spot – the Elbes made their own ice cream on the premises and sold pints, quarts, and ice cream party cakes commercially.

The story begins with Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe – who hailed from Uralla, New South Wales, Australia, born 1887 to Louis (Ludovick Gottfried Elbe, 1858-1936) and Mary Phillipa (nee Goddard, 1864-1953). By the time Louis was on the scene he was already a second generation Aussie; the family had arrived from Erbach, Nassau, Germany in 1855. In 1906 Louis married Ada M. Marshall in Newtown, Sydney. After marriage they resided at 91 Evans Street, in Rozelle.

Elbe's Milk Bar 1950s courtesy of Sherry Elbe

The interior of Elbe’s Milk Bar in its 1950s heyday. The colour scheme was a very modern cream, lime green and black. Image courtesy of the Elbe family.

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Apparently quite mismatched – things went south with the union very quickly; in less than two years Ada had been abandoned. She quickly arranged for a court warrant issued in nearby Glebe, for Louis’s arrest – citing desertion. However it seems he had truly flown the coop. In not much more than a year, he reappeared in New Zealand, in 1909, now named Frederick Louis. A few short months had seemingly allowed him enough time to settle, meet, and marry Ann Elizabeth Lowry. Hopefully he was divorced from his initial wife first – but it doesn’t look hopeful right now.

Thus far my researches have been unable to locate any record of Fred arriving to Aotearoa. Running off, he likely switched countries under an assumed name.There’s no evidence that the Elbes ever divorced in Australian records, or that Frederick Elbe ever returned to Australia to sort this situation out before remarrying. The New Zealand Immigration Passenger Lists show no Elbes that even vaguely qualify. At least – not up until the 1930s when several records clearly indicate a Mr. F. Elbe, of the correct age and occupation, returning from Australia to Wellington on a number of occasions, from then on through to the 1950s. Not the kind of thing families really want to discover but that’s how it is – and not that uncommon either.

Why New Zealand? Perhaps he thought it best to get out of the country completely, but in tandem wanted to remain as close as possible to his family. So it was probably the most logical option. The speed with which he remarried indicates he may have already met his future second wife, perhaps in Australia, hence his absconding with no explanation. Either that or he was a very fast mover. It was more likely the latter – but we will probably never know exactly how it played out.

Anyway, now a Kiwi tailor named Fred (records show a registration for Elbe Tailoring Company Ltd in Wellington), his transformation was almost complete. Between at least 1919-1922 Fred Elbe was advertising suit making from 276 Lambton Quay; “fit and style perfection…above H.B.” (which stood for Hallenstein Brothers), and later 262 on the same street where H.B. now stood for “Hannah’s Building”. Grandchildren recall a one-time career as a traveller and a manufactory for belts and men’s suspenders later on.

Frederick Louis (Fred) Elbe- ( government name Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe) courtesy of Sherry Elbe

 Frederick Louis aka Fred Sr. (government name Louis Gottfried Christian Elbe), a tailor, was the first to come to New Zealand; it was his son that founded the ice cream business. Image courtesy of the Elbe family.

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The couple eventually had three sons; Rowland Carl (1913-1987), Roy Sheldon (1920-2007) and Louis Frederick Elbe (1910-1982). Their parents both passed away in Hutt in 1966 respectively. However as an interesting aside, the couple seem to have been living separately from at least 1946. Around this time Fred’s mother had arrived from New South Wales and was residing with him. Given how some wives feel about their mothers-in-law, it may be why she moved out!

It was Louis Frederick (who like his father also called himself Fred – we’ll call him Fred Jr. from here on to differentiate), who actually established the Elbe’s brand. How exactly he gained knowledge and training of the  art of ice cream production remains unanswered. It was likely the business was started in the mid 1930s, although it’s now not known exactly what year. One source says “just prior to the war” which almost tallies with the earliest newspaper date. Fred Jr.’s two sons with wife Rewa Ellen, nee August, were Warren William and Maxwell Richard Elbe. However it’s Warren that people mostly seem to associate memories of the Elbe’s Milk bar heyday with. In the mid-late 1940s the Elbe’s takeaway product roster expanded to add “Homepacks’, and ice cream Christmas cakes “frozen extra hard”.

Upon returning from the war it was Roy who became “chief ice cream maker” at the milk bar. As the business and brand became successful, premises were purchased just across the road – and a factory started production under his management. A picture which has been taken of a stand around 1959 at a Bartons Bush A&P specifies some novelties such as vanilla slices and “Rockets” (the full name of the item is partially obscured; it’s either frozen, space or chocolate).

An image of the interior of the shop, taken in the 1950s shows that Elbe’s had expanded into a line of fountain syrups for drinks. Other items they served were soft drinks and fancy concoctions like peach melba, chocolate peanut and date snowball sundaes, the Snowman, the Rainbow Special – as well as individual Dixie-style tubs, vanilla slices, chocolate coated novelties (probably similar to Boms). There was also a full candy counter in the corner and a jukebox for the latest in pop music. Of course (the not-so-ubiquitous) milkshakes, about which Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich recounts in “Keeping a Low Profile: An Oral History of German Immigration to New Zealand”: “I vividly remember in my teenage years Elbe’s. The art of making milkshakes was developed to a very fine pitch.”

Ice Cream Cake box Elbe's Milk Bar 1950s RECREATION copy

Recreation of the Elbe’s ice cream cake box, seen on the top shelf  behind the bar in the 1950s photo of the milk bar interior (above). Gavin Elbe recalls “…these were about ten inches diameter and about three deep, with a glittery paper band around them – sometimes decorated on the top for special occasions. I never got one.” Harsh!

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During the first half of this decade Fred Jr. registered a design he cooked up in collaboration with a Roy Butterworth (1904-1978) with the Intellectual Property office. I was unable to find out what exactly that was, but I speculated it was most likely a piece of manufacturing machinery or packaging rather than a recipe. Since Butterworth worked through the 1930s-1950s as an upholsterer, essentially pattern-making, I’d make an educated guess it was the latter.
The family story goes that another invention of Great-Grandpa Fred Jr.’s may have been the Hokey Pokey ice cream recipe which he then sold to Tip-Top, who have of course themselves claimed (falsely, it’s now fairly clear) that they actually invented it during the Forties. Further to this cuckooing of Elbe’s – Fred Jr.’s motorised ice cream cart now sits in MOTAT with a Tip-Top signage emblazoned on it instead of the Elbe’s logo (how it went from the Hutt to Auckland – I’m not sure).

Gavin Elbe, one of Fred Jr.’s nephews, recalls: “I was born in 1947, and I cannot remember a time when we did not make Hokey Pokey ice cream. In my school days I did odd jobs there at the factory during the holidays and weekends. As soon as I was old enough, I had the job of breaking up the slabs to put in the mixture.” He was unsure where the confectionery came from, but thinks that it, along with chocolate for novelty products, may likely have been supplied by Griffin’s – which makes sense since they were based in the local area. Then he tacked on – ” This was years before we were bought out by T.C. Denne…”
Wait, hold up a minute. Did he just say Denne? The same T.C. Denne who founded Peter Pan Ice Cream, that I’ve previously written about on a number of occasions?

Interesting, to say the least, that in all my research on the Dennes and their businesses, and the various interviews I conducted, they never once mentioned they purchased the Elbe’s business! I wonder if that got left out (deliberately) or perhaps just forgot to get a mention (unlikely). It makes one wonder that if Elbe’s were making Hokey Pokey first, then Peter Pan may have acquired the recipe with their purchase – and thus have to forfeit their claim to be front runner – or even one of them at all.

When I pushed Gavin for a little more of a fix on the date he states “the Hokey Pokey smashing definitely began (in my) pre-teens”, putting a definite date before 1960. In comparison to other confirmed dates from Peter Pan and Newjoy Ice Cream Co. this isn’t the earliest, so actually brings me no closer to solving the mystery of who made it first.

Elbe's Ice Cream ads 1943-1945 copy

Various Elbe’s product adverts from the Hutt News, from clockwise top left: April 1944, October 1944, November 1943, and November 1944. Images courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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“After Denne’s purchase of Elbe’s, we continued to make a range of lines in Lower Hutt for distribution. Until one day my father got a phone call from the Dennes to say he was to lay off all staff, and arrange the strip out of our factory. No visit – just a phone call. I still remember that day because I had biked down to the factory after school to do some jobs, as I frequently did, and found all of the staff in a sombre mood.”

Gavin vaguely recalls some kind of connection with ” Levin and Company, (and) with the Birds Eye brand as well – but I am short on detail.” I’ve tried looking into Levin a bit, who made a great deal of their money in Amber Tips tea from the 1890s onwards, and I am not sure where they are at these days – if it even still exists, or in what form. It’s a very old company, founded by some Jewish fellows, and going as far back as the 1850s. Seemingly during the war years one of the things they were handling was sugar – a very precious commodity for confectionery and ice cream makers, obviously. That said, ice cream makers were off the hook a bit more than chocolate companies because there was no rationing restriction on dairy – so sugar was their only problem. Birds Eye was not launched by Unilever in New Zealand until 1947, and Wattie’s as far as I know did all their frozen fruit and vegetables for them, and probably still do.

Levin and Company had both freezing and import-export enterprises so if it wasn’t to do with sugar, then it’s (more) likely the connection was distribution. Many of these companies were connected through distribution deals because they needed to pair up with others, for transport reasons, to make their enterprise profitable. It’s why so many companies that started off with ice cream branched out into frozen vegetables otherwise it wasn’t viable financially to distribute their product. This means many reciprocal deals were done to move product around the country efficiently.

One acquaintance remembers her father being friendly enough with Fred Jr. to “visit…shortly after the opening of the milk bar. We were given a tour of the business, including out the back, where ice cream was made. In a large freezer room were shown a box of peas, still in their shells. He opened one pod to show that the contents were in mint condition. He predicted correctly that this would be a major method of preserving food in the future.”

Although the mention of frozen peas is interesting, there’s no memory of any frozen vegetables ever being produced by the Elbe’s factory. So it is not really relevant to the fact that Peter Pan bought out quite a number of freezing businesses, including ice cream operations, up and down the North Island in a methodical campaign to advance their distribution over the years. However there may have been more of a motive at play here for the acquisition. Is it possible that Peter Pan got it’s Hokey Pokey recipe from its acquisition of the Elbe’s factory?

Elbe's icecream and cola stalls Bartons Bush A&P late 1950s courtesy of Sherry Elbe

aTaken at Hutt Valley A&P show, late 1950s, Bartons Bush. Fred Jr.’s nephew Gavin Elbe remembers: “We had the concession for ice cream and Coca-Cola stalls, also a candy floss machine. My job was refunding the empty bottles, at two pence each – or a packet of chewing gum.”

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As it did in every major city, business exploded during WWII due to the influx of R&R servicemen to Wellington; the Elbe’s business did not solely flourish because of this, but later Elbe’s provided supplies for the ice breakers who were part The IGY team ( The International Geophysical Year  was an international scientific project run from July 1957 – Dec 1958).
Gavin recalls “…they loved it (Elbe’s product) because it was much creamier than American ice cream. In those days it was a legal requirement for ice cream in New Zealand to have a minimum percentage of real butter and milk powder to help protect the dairy industry. Very early on I remember real cream was used, also.”
It should be noted  how the advent of a great number of foreign, in this case particularly American servicemen, had great impact on culture and business in large cities; and this in turn had a lasting effect on trends for foodstuffs, clothes, and entertainment that went on for decades – as it is particularly pertinent to the themes here.

By the 1950s the Elbes were, in the words of one of their punny former neighbours “creaming it…with true entrepreneurial skill the Elbes had in no time made a fortune and moved …to a flash two-story house in an up-market suburb.” With the interior of the milk bar decked out in a snazzy contemporary theme of lime, cream and black – Elbe’s had now become the hottest teen hang out in the Wellington area.

It’s recalled that “Friday and Saturday nights were so busy that a staff member would be stationed at the entrance, ensuring that when full, those wishing to enter matched those leaving. It was normal during peak periods for a queue to form outside – waiting patiently for their turn to enter.” Someone else remembers as they “…queued up round the street, (there would be) fighting to get in the front door.” So no doubt a “bouncer” was in place to prevent the scuffles as well.

It was frequented by local kids “at a (nebulous) loose end” – as well as “Bodgies” and their female counterpart “Widgies” – as they were known in Australasia; the monikers given to the down under equivalent of the American movement of “Rockers” and “Greasers”, or the British version – “Teddies.” “Bikers” per se, came later, in the 1960s; not to be confused with “Milk Bar Cowboys” who were basically Bodgies with motorbikes  – and the variation was lumped into this supposed ragtag bundle of various youth subculture groups. I s’pose the inferral is that there were bound to be wars between factions – but given their definitions (not much different from each other it seems), and objectives, it does not seem that it was as likely as expected.

The movement revolved around newfangled rock ‘n’ roll music, and was also influenced by rebellious teen movies like “Rebel Without a Cause.” Fashion icons were James Dean and Elvis, amongst others.There was an obsession with American style – which was to again resurface later on, in the mid-late 1970s with a feast of nostalgia for the period – exemplified in TV shows like “Happy Days”, “Laverne and Shirley”, and “Sha Na Na” (and also resulted in the cheesy retro snack Fonzies).

Elements of the Bodgie/ Widgie/Milk Bar Cowboy style featured pegged trousers and moccasins, Zoot Suits and luminous socks, exaggerated bright shirts, tight white tee-shirts with leather jackets, flannelettes with Adidas boots, or tight jeans and suede brothel creepers, topped off with a greasy “Rack” hairdo, or Brylcreemed quiffs  finished at the back with D.A. (Duck’s Ass).

As throughout history, with the pinpointing and victimization of many a minority, people took umbrage simply because the so-called “Milk Bar Cowboys” looked and acted differently to the plebeian majority. When fraternizing, add motorcycles into the mix and there’s bound to be public pearl-clutching to relish in. It all sounds very much like John Waters’ movie “Cry Baby”:

The Sydney Morning Herald critiqued “…’bodgies’ growing their hair long and getting around in satin shirts, and ‘weegies (sic)’ cutting their hair short and wearing jeans… confusion seems to be arising about the sex of some adolescents.” Apparently not so confused about sex; because then Elbe’s went from popular to notorious overnight.

Somehow an outrageous story got out that teenagers, some under the age of consent, were using Elbe’s Milk Bar as a meeting place to arrange illicit trysts in nearby Strand Park and down by the Hutt river. Their milkshakes were literally bringing boys to the yard. Young patrons were engaging in “sex acts”, and not only that – but somehow were obtaining contraceptives to boot. It quickly came to be known as the “Petone Incident.”

Moral panic was the headline of the day, exacerbated by the untimely incidents of two separate milk bar murders in Auckland (the fact that they could have happened anywhere seemingly irrelevant) and the horrific Parker–Hulme case (later made by Peter Jackson into Heavenly Creatures with its themes of teen perversion, angst, rebellion and tragedy). Sensationalist media reports of course did not help, but sold papers and made coin.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister of the time, Sir Sidney George Holland, attempted to use this simmering unrest to his advantage and called for a thorough investigation into this wanton depravity; a special committee was set up, chaired by a local lawyer, Dr. Oswald Mazengarb, to examine the supposed social factors that was causing “delinquency” and subsequent juvenile immorality. The hearings and investigations took place over a period of eight weeks.

The text of the Mazengarb Report, in full, the “Report of the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents”, was released in late September 1954. It cites the appearance of witnesses Mr L. F. Elbe, of Elbe’s Milk Bar, Lower Hutt, along with employees Mr. W.L. Ellingham, and Mr. A.L. Lummis, who appeared in the hearing line-up and were examined under oath as numbers fifteen to seventeen respectively.

John, aka “Oldrider”, writes on a forum that he was one of those “Milk Bar Cowboys” in the 1950s Hutt. Dubbed so “because we rode bikes, cavorted with the ‘sexually active’ girls from Hutt Valley High school and Petone Tech, and hung around the milk bars in the weekend. I was definitely a member of that group of guys and gals so named…a great bunch of people to associate with. So, yes, I used to frequent Elbe’s Milk Bar among others (it wasn’t only milk bars that were frequented, either) – but I was not responsible for the saga. The girl in question lived just down the road from me.  (In retrospect) it was pretty pathetic press run by the “Truth” newspaper about the behaviour of the so-called ‘juvenile delinquents’ of the day. They made it very big news, (but it was) pretty tame stuff really!”

the Bodgie A E Manning Wellington Reed 1958 Dennis Knight Turner design copy

“The Bodgie” by A. E. Manning , design by Dennis Knight Turner, published by Reed, 1958.  Formula: If you added a motorbike to a Bodgie, Rocker, Teddy or Greaser  – rather like making a shake – you had instant “Milk Bar Cowboy.”

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Another member recounts the bounties of the hilariously nicknamed private school “Sacred Tarts”: “I remember well, afternoons in the early Fifties ,when I rode my bike from Naenae College into the Hutt. There, we’d meet up with girls from Sacred Heart College, and do a bit of ‘experimenting’ in the back booths at Elbe’s. But not until I’d scoffed a chocolate peanut sundae first! Their gym frocks always smelled, well, inviting.”

So there was definitely some kinky stuff involved, it’s true. That particular individual who is recalled as being in the middle of it all apparently refers to the fifteen year old girl who decided to blab to the authorities about the sexcapades of what she called the “Milk Bar Gang”, and numerous young people in the area allegedly confessed to police their instances of “sexual misconduct” (probably defined as hickies at that time) – however it’s said some were actually charged with carnal knowledge of minors. It’s all a bit vague, really. Too hazy for my liking – and deliberately, I suspect.

However Elbe’s was hardly the “notorious den of teenage lust” it was made out to be, except maybe lust for sweet treats. Merv Griffith says that rather than rumpy, the goal was to “pick up a bird”, and subsequently “the main aim was to go like hell; the louder the screams from the pillion seat, the more successful the mission. Apart from that it was to sit round and comb your hair and try and look beautiful on your bikes. Then you would go in and have a milkshake.” So more toffee than totty. Not exactly titillating stuff.

Even local member of parliament of the time Michael Moohan called them on it and opined it was the report itself that was internationally stigmatizing, dubbing it sensationalist. “I think it is a terrible thing…to give the impression that there is such a grave problem….when such is really not the case.”

However governments usually aren’t very interested in the facts unless they happen to marry with some kind of desired outcome. One way they use situations like this is basically for crowd control, often by scapegoating. Recurrently Instigating “moral panic ” is the perfect way to regulate a society. If the truth of what was involved in “The Petone Incident” was known  – there probably wouldn’t have been that much fuss, or subsequently a reaction. However, once people start actually looking for reasons to break up the party – they can usually find one if they really want to.
Thus a post-war movement for independence essentially came to be considered a “problem” simply by issuing pamphlets to hundreds of thousands of households regarding this revolting rebellion of unbridled teenage decadence.

cry-baby-clan copy

“The Cry Baby Clan”: Still from pope of trash  John Waters’  hilarious 1990 musical satire on juvenile delinquency and moral panic. Recommended watching.

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 The report ultimately laid the blame on a breakdown of dreary urban Nuclear family life; the culprits were teen temptresses, comic books, working mothers, rock ‘n’ roll, and modern cities. Oh, also peace time (because that’s really a bad thing, right?) and generally having too much money (also a terrible burden to anyone). Maybe they should have called it the “Moot Report” since the only astoundingly new thing there was a style of music. Mazengarb, a notorious right wing killjoy and puritanical prude, disapproved wholeheartedly of just about everything as most fundamentalists do – and the list was long. As most fundamentalists also do – I am sure he was hiding something. I like to call it the J. Edgar Hoover Principle, and it’s a pretty reliable rule.

The report resulted in the drafting of new Acts increasing censorship of “obscene and indecent content” in publications, The Child Welfare Amendment Act which made sexual behaviour officially “delinquency”, and the banning of contraceptive sales to minors, because the one thing every parent wants is an underage pregnant daughter to deal with, right? The lack of logic is mind-boggling, and that’s something that hasn’t changed.

The impact had its desired effect, though. Alison Gray discusses in her review of “Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand” by Jarrod Gilbert, that “I was in primary school in Lower Hutt. I can still remember my parents discussing the report behind closed doors and banning us kids from going anywhere near the notorious Elbe’s. We had no idea what they were on about, but we knew it had something to do with people not much older than us, behaving very, very badly. Our minds fairly boggled. It was my first experience of a moral panic and it was a little bit scary. I realise now that it was probably even scarier for my parents. The “juvenile delinquents” looked like us, walking down our streets, and sitting in the very booths where we ate our ice cream sundaes. No wonder my parents were afraid!”

Silver-Tex condoms The Killian MRG Company 1950s Te Papa GH010168 copy

Silver-Tex, by Killian MRG Co., 1950s. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa collection, ref GH010168. Something I never thought I’d ever be writing a caption for on this blog; condoms. The only other example I’ve seen thus far is Durex from the early 1960s. It wasn’t even made common knowledge that they were available, if at all (some businesses like the strictly Catholic Galliens, flatly refused to sell contraceptives) so they weren’t exactly advertised – and the object obviously wasn’t to keep them if you could help it – so few examples survive.

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Nevertheless there wasn’t much to worry about because by the beginning of the next decade, the “Milk Bar Cowboys” would be finished – replaced by the British Mersey sound, and all that new movement entailed. It was farewell Jailhouse Rock, and welcome to Carnaby Street. Following that, the Hippie movement. Inevitably ensued by an older generation’s shock and disgust. And so it goes on, generation to generation. Here’s a long overdue idea – maybe it’s easier just to get used to it.
As for Prime Minister Sidney Holland who rehashed this often used “moral panic” tactic to bolster his polls – could he have been less disingenuous? It was, in the end, hardly a boon for him – as he won another term that year anyway. Those in the know say that ultimately it had little effect on that outcome, and it was wasted energy beating up the situation; however the damage it all caused was done and it was deep, destructive and lasting.

According to a 1996 article on Roy and Nola Elbe and the milk bar history, entitled “Elbe Romance Blossomed Over Counter’ by Lee-Anne Edwards for the The Hutt News, it’s said the the ice cream factory ceased manufacturing around 1960 and had at least one ownership change before the Dennes of Peter Pan Frozen Foods came into the picture; but details are now unknown.  I’m not sure when the milk bar its self closed – I know the Elbes still had it in the very late 1950s as Andrea Elbe, Fred Jr.’s granddaughter, recalls an amusing anecdote in which “…the power went off one night, and my dad Warren had to race down there. He reckoned that Mum deliberately caused it because, pregnant with me, she had terrible middle-of-the-night cravings for ice cream. She got her wish!”

It’s not known how much the so-called “scandal” marred the business interests of the Elbes who were unwittingly caught up in it. However the fact that the milk bar apparently changed hands before the decade was out may be telling – except that the new owners must have been trading on the Elbes’ good business name – because that didn’t change. Bill and Betty Lummis acquired the milk bar and ran it through the 1960s. Their son Lox served with his brothers Brian and Kevin, who says that in their day “…bad behaviour never happened inside, my dad would not stand any nonsense like that.” So Elbe’s heyday as a denizen of vice, corruption and commotion was put paid to.

THE MAN IN THE STREET Upper Hutt Leader Number 22 20 June 1946 - Copy 1 copy

I don’t know what they or it says.  Since the riddles hint at matters equestrian, one can assume that as Fred Elbe Jr. accumulated some wealth, he dabbled in the business of racehorses. Upper Hutt Leader Number 22, 20 June, 1946. Image courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand.

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Today Amalgamated Video occupies the original site on the southern end of High Street. However to add a little bit to its iconic status, it has been announced just recently that Artist Tim Barlow is recreating Elbe’s Milk Bar with the three Lummis brothers – as an installation this year – one of 11 artworks that will form “Common Ground’, Hutt City’s inaugural public art programme as part of the Fringe festival.
In that case, I guess that Elbe’s won’t be forgotten any time soon; and the family can in retrospect be pleased that they played a star role in a very interesting and significant piece of New Zealand’s history.

Thanks to the Elbe family -Sherry, Andy and Gavin , and Vicky Ireland for their assistance with information, material and images for this story. Also thanks to several sources for permission to quote their work: Both Andrea O’Neil  and Alex Fensome at Dominion Post as well as Papers Past all on behalf of Fairfax Media; Oldrider and others at Kiwi Biker forum, social historian Alison Gray, and Merv Griffith’s recollections from Ben Schrader’s “City children and youth – Bad behaviour”, published by Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, © Crown copyright 2005–2015 Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which were originally quoted with permission of historian Redmer Yska from his book “All shook up: the flash bodgie and the rise of the New Zealand teenager in the fifties Auckland”: Penguin, 1993, p. 66.

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Addendum late Oct 2015: I’ve been meaning to add these for months – pictures of some of the family members mentioned in this article, which were kindly passed to me by Fred Elbe Sr.’s granddaughter Andy Elbe, after the article was published in New Zealand Legacy magazine. 

Elbe family From L Fred Jr Fred Sr Rowland Elizabeth Ann nee Lowry Roy late 1920s edit sml

The Elbe family: From L, Fred Jr., Fred Sr., Rowland, Elizabeth Ann nee Lowry, and Roy, taken in the late 1920s.

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Fred Elbe jr and Rewa Ellen marriage edit

Fred Elbe Jr.’s marriage to Rewa Ellen August, 1933.

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Marriage of Ernest John August and Mary Adam 1905 Rewa Ellen's parents Ann Elizabeth Lowry knew them edit

The marriage of Ernest John August and Mary nee Adam in 1905. These are the parents of Rewa Ellen August, who became the wife of Fred Elbe Jr. However Ann Elizabeth Lowry, who became Fred Elbe Sr.’s New Zealand wife, knew them as she was part of the wedding party and is third from the right. It’s curious, because did the family forget that they were associated with the Augusts before Fred Elbe was ever in the picture? Or just a weird coincidence? 

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Louis Frederick (Fred Jr) Elbe (b1910) and Rowland Carl (b1913) c 1915-1916 edit - Copy - Copy

Louis Frederick (Fred Jr.) Elbe, with Rowland Carl Elbe, circa 1915.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2015. All rights reserved.

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How It All Pans Out

In Blue Moon Ice Cream, cordial, Crystal Springs Aerated Water Factory, Dairy Products, Denne Brothers, Desserts, Fonterra, Frozen Foods, Frozen Vegetables, Hellaby's, Ice Cream, Pastry, Peter Pan Frozen Foods Ltd, Peter Pan ice cream, Rush Munro, soft drink, Tip-Top, Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum on April 9, 2012 at 10.46

This point-of-sale poster probably dates from the mid-late 1960s and was no doubt created for dairy (milkbar) promotion.

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Working on this project it constantly reminds me, as well as amazes me, that something that was so popular for so long – can seemingly disappear, almost without a trace. I also find it surprising that something that has been such a part of people’s lives – in this case a district’s main employer too – can fade from the memory so quickly and be forgotten within just a few years.

When you ask people about Peter Pan ice cream most of them remember it well. Yet it has taken me about a year to scratch together information for the story on the once renowned brand that shut up shop as late as the early 1980s; and although famous for their ice creams and novelty ice confections – it actually goes back much further than their two Waipukurau-based factories which were landmarks for many years. In fact the brand was started by T.C. (Thomas Clement) Denne who had quite a history in manufacture prior to that era. Actually, Denne Brothers started as a soft drink concern that went right back to at least the 1910s.

This painted tin sign probably dates from the 1950s.

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The Denne family originally hailed from Canterbury, Kent in the U.K., with T.C.’s second cousin William Henry Denne arriving to New Zealand in 1851; and T.C.’s father Clement Denne following with his wife Alice and one month old daughter Lucy aboard the “Wild Deer” – apparently in 1875. However sales records of 1873 clearly show they bought land so we can presume that William helped; he probably scouted and bought property for them at their request – or it was purchased on spec. The family settled in Mataura in the lower South Island, where we find Clement selling his land as well as a blacksmith’s business (his trade) by 1890. Several years later a smithy business in the same town is being advertised as ex a certain John Denne – perhaps Clement’s older brother (born 1829) who may have joined them and set up shop too – or just another error of details in reportage we so often encounter in newspapers of those times.

T.C was born in 1882 and apart from school notices where an Alice, Emily and Lottie Denne are also name-checked (likely sisters) the first mention of him in the media comes in 1897 when as a fifteen year old he was injured on the job in a rather nasty accident. Mataura was chiefly famous for their paper mill and still is – and it was here, presumably on his first foray into the workforce from school that T.C had his hand crushed and de-gloved between some rollers, involving skin grafts from other parts of his body to repair the serious damage.
By 1904 T.C. was located in Milton, not far from Mataura, as first secretary then later deputy bandmaster of the town’s brass band, performing with both Baritone and Euphonium Tubas. Music – particularly brass bands – was to remain a life-long love, and regardless of what lingering effects of his paper mill accident had – he did not let it hold him back in his endeavours.

This backlit perspex sign probably dates from the 1960s, likely for the interior of a milkbar or cafe.

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I believe his family probably remained in the Mataura-Milton area but we can conject that T.C. somehow moved into the cordial and soft drink industry gaining experience, possibly moving to another area on his way to the lower North Island. By 1915 he had appeared in Masterton where he had opened a factory with a depot at 169 Queen Street for both retail and wholesales; Denne’s Aerated Waterworks was producing aerated water, soda, hop ale, ginger beer, ginger ale, as well as sarsaparilla and raspberry cordials, and not long after he acquired modern technology and introduced his Fruity Lemonade sealed in a new-fangled crown seal bottle.
At the same time he was producing Denne’s Golden Malt Pure Table Vinegar from an Eketahuna set-up – and a later mention in a newspaper of 1919 states that T.C. Denne “was for some years in business at Eketahuna, and has been established in Masterton four years”.  So, likely that business existed for some time before the Masterton factory; and was perhaps dispensed with sometime after 1916 since there is no mention of it again that I can find.

Denne sells up in Masterton and moves on; Wairarapa Daily Times, 2 December 1919.

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Between 1916-1919 advertisements for Denne’s Delicious Drinks, as they were now being touted, make mention of Wairarapa as a “dry district” and he was marketing in both bottles and gallon jars the following refreshments- hop beer, dandy shandy, ginger beer, lime juice and soda, squash, and others. The Wairarapa electorate voted to ban production and sale of alcoholic drinks in their district in 1908, and this remained the status quo until it was overturned in 1946 so no doubt the hops ale, beer, and shandy although fermented – were non-alcoholic drink, and his move to the Wairarapa district may have tied in with this prohibition period since his strong ties to the Seventh-day Adventist movement would prescribe no alcohol and caffeine (note he also never seemed to offer cola drinks).
During this time he kept up his musical endeavours, having progressed to the role of conductor for both the Masterton Municipal Silver Band and the Masterton Central Brass Band by 1917.
In 1919 he quit the bands “for business reasons”, and then sold his Masterton factory to a Neil Wotton who renamed the brand Crystal Springs. A newspaper ad also shows him selling a motorbike from 270 Queen Street Masterton, perhaps an new or additional depot to keep up with demand, or- perhaps this was a domestic address.

Denne’s drink varieties for dry districts ; Wairarapa Daily Times , 23 December, 1916.

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By March of 1920 he had departed Masterton for good – being publicly presented with a silver engraved conductor’s baton as a goodbye gift – but where he went and what he was doing for the next decade is at present unknown. That is until he crops up in the paper as having started up a new company to manufacture cordials – T.C. Denne and Co, Ltd, in 1930 in Waipukurau – and the original factory (later known as the Peter Pan No. 1 Factory, unfortunately no images I know of exist) was established in Ruataniwha Street.


Tony Smith, Napier historian and collector says that there is information on Denne drinks that goes from 1938 back to 1926 that he knows of, and these one gallon stone crocks were issued in 1928 as well as 1930, but if that was in another location besides Waipukurau is unknown at present, and still leaves at least six years of the 1920s unaccounted for.

Soft drink and cordial business continued as usual until Denne started making ice cream for sale around 1938, not long after the tragic death of his first son John Clinton Denne in an accident at 22 years old, when his motorcycle hit a truck head on on a highway outside of the town the year previously. I think it’s an interesting point to consider that T.C. embarked on a major diversion from his successful tried and true formula at this time. It must have been a roaring success for by 1940 it had far usurped the drink business – so he let that go, selling that arm of the business first to a Stan Nickle, then Bert Anderson, and later D.H. Newbiggins of Hastings – according to Tony Smith, a Napier-based historian and collector who has been compiling a book on Hawkes Bay cordials, brewery and chemist bottles. I was able to find a Waipukurau based Bert Anderson who sung bass and baritone in bands so that would be the connection; but as for the other two names – no clues (Smith likely means E.J.D. Newbigin who was a well-known Hastings brewer and cordial maker from 1881). From the records it looks like Denne didn’t officially register the Peter Pan ice cream brand until 1946, however they likely started using the name much earlier than that.

The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum have in their collection a 1937 William Sisson & Co. Ltd. (of Gloucester) model, bought from Denne Brothers, “acquired around 1967. It was going to be used as a standby generator if there was a power cut. I presume (they divested it) when the factory no longer had a need for a steam engine. As far as we know the Dennes never used it” says Esma Stevenson, curator. It must have been bought around 1940 when there was a decisive direction to go into the ice confection business permanently.
T.C. passed away in 1950 and it seems that his two remaining sons Tom Jr. (Thomas Vernon Denne 1917-1983) and Haydn ( an unusual spelling he adopted of his birth name Maxwell Hayden Denne, 1921- 2008) inherited the business. From then on it was known unofficially as Denne Brothers, and then later on as Peter Pan Frozen Foods. They well and truly took control and redirected the branding, and were beginning to expand and market the name with fervour.

This galvanized metal and wood, hand-painted  sandwich-board sign probably dates from the 1960s, for the side walk outside of a dairy, milkbar or cafe.

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There were two factories in the town that came to be known as numbers 1 and 2. Peter Pan No .1 factory was at 177-183 Ruawahine Street andthe corner of Cook Street,Waipukurau (now 2 Takapu Road). It was the original T.C. Denne & Co’s drinks building and was an expansive premises. This was where ice cream tubs and packs, waffle cones for the Trumpets and also for retail sale, and later in the early 1970s doughnuts were all made, as well as serving as “head office”. The offices and waffle-making room were on the second floor. The waffle cones were made for the Drumstick ice creams,  the slices, and they were also packed into boxes as their own individual product which were then sold throughout different shops says Pam Blackberry, who worked on that line for a couple of years in the late 1960s. This rambling establishment probably had many additions over time – records show a dispute that went to court with the local council over redevelopment in 1966. Haydn Denne lived in Cook Street opposite where No. 1 factory was until he passed away in 2008. You can see a photo of the factory in my previous post here:

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/neverbland/

A reconstructed wrapper of the popular  Treasure Tip  – an ice block with a jelly baby in it. This dates from the mid to late 1960s and obviously the same artist that designed all the posters I’ve featured so far over the last year or so.

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Approximately a kilometre further away on Takapu Road, Waipukurau was No. 2 – which was focussed on the ice confections, and frozen foodstuffs arms of the business.

As well as ice cream produced in cones, slices, Drumsticks, and a variety of pint and quart boxes in flavours like Bonanza, Cherry Chequer, Vanilla Supreme and Golden Whip – Former employees of the early 1960s onwards remember in particular the highly popular novelties Nutty Cha Chas (ice cream dipped in chocolate with nuts), Pink Elephants (pink ice cream rolled in chocolate flakes), Tutti Fruttis, Jelly Tips (ice cream coated in chocolate with a tip made of jelly ) and the popular Jolli-Lollis “which was an iceblock mix in a sachet”, says Tony Dean. “The Jolli-Lollis were like cordial mixed up in big vats then pumped through a machine into the plastic sachets and sealed, then packed into boxes and frozen, and that is how the shops got them – this was the machine I worked at, The only time I ventured into the freezer was to put the boxes of ice blocks away once they got packed, and then it was in and out fast”, recounts Pam Blackberry. “(There was a) fear of being locked in those freezers!” remembers Hazel Hori.
The ice confections were produced specifically out of the No.2 Factory and some were the Lime Ice Delite, Fruit Salad, Peter-Cream, Red Rocket, Blueberry (blackberry and lemonade flavour), Scramble, Orange Sparkle, and the Dazzle which I posted on here:

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/petering-out/

Margaret Gee was employed from 1964-1968. “I worked at Peter Pan for four years as a churn operator filling the moulds that were then placed into the brine tanks”. Tony Dean worked from the mid to late 1960s for several years and “from what I can remember the moulds in which the ice block shapes were made held about 20 items, and a stick holder was put in the top of the mould. The moulds were put in a tank of brine for about twenty minutes and when taken out were inserted in a tank of hot water for a few seconds to release the product; and were then put through the wrapping machine. The refrigerant used was ammonia”.
A Peter Pan specialty were novelty ice blocks with confectionery imbedded in them. Tony Dean recalls “the Treasure Tip, with a jelly baby in the tip – the jelly babies were inserted manually in each mould” – others were the Red Knight with a “Honey Bunny” and the Hello Dolly of the late 1960s had a “Dolly Lolly”.

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/sugary-strategies-and-delicious-devices/

There were probably many more variations perhaps capitalising on popular culture of the time.

A reconstructed wrapper of the Jolli-Lolli  – an ice block sealed in a plastic sachet and frozen.

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By 1966 at the latest Peter Pan were producing frozen foods from the No. 1 factory , and Tony Dean remembers Peter Pan had a fleet of trucks to handle a contract to distribute frozen foods around the North Island for Hellaby’s (probably most well-known to Kiwis for canned corned beef), in particular – chickens, and frozen vegetables including peas. Posters advertising products of the mid-late 1960s show frozen flaky puff pastry on offer, and a range of ready-to-cook fast foods that were probably wholesaled to takeaway businesses such as spring rolls, curry rice rolls, steak cobs, fish cobs, chicken croquettes, and hamburger rolls (not bread buns – probably a deep fried meat filled pastry not unlike the Australian Chiko Roll, given the nature of the rest of the range they had at the time) . There was also a line of syrups for milkshakes, thickshakes and sundaes, probably also coming out of the No. 1 premises given the related products.

A reconstructed wrapper of the popular Pink Elephant  – a pink ice cream rolled in chocolate flakes. This dates from the mid to late 1960s.

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Tony Dean says “The Dennes were excellent bosses to work for. On Friday nights every staff member used to get 1 litre of ice cream and a pack of frozen peas, and at Christmas time a frozen chook as well”. Augustine Dunbar , who worked 1972-1974 also recalls “they used to give us 3 quart boxes on Friday (I’m not sure if she means three separate quart boxes, or the three pint box).
“I used to love eating the ice cream straight out of the churn before it went into the containers and freezers. Also the jelly babies, the chocolate, strawberries and peanuts before they went into the production line. It is probably one of the best jobs I had”, says Tony Dean. “Finger-dipping into the ice-cream straight out of the churn I remember (well), the foul smell of the chocolate melting”, adds Hazel Hori.
The company even had their own “Peter Pan Bus” that travelled to and from Waipawa and Waipukurau to pick up staff of a morning and drop them off in the evening. The Dennes were known as fair and generous employers; and so many people from the surrounding area were employed it was worthwhile. Hazel Hori who worked there between 1963-1965 remembers: “Many “Ypuk” (Waipukurau) people spent part of their working lives at Peter Pan factory. My dad Henry Munday worked at Peter Pan for many years, my mother joined the staff in the 1970s, my brother Eric worked there too for a time , along with me – during the school holidays packing ice blocks and ice creams” – it was almost a rite of passage to do at least a short stint there first before leaving the security of the locale heading out into the wide world.

Trucks outside the No.1 Factory in Takapu Road. The part of the building that is still standing today on a mostly vacant lot – can be seen behind far left.

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Trademark records of the early 1970s show product names Country Gold, Fudgsicle, Softee, and Captain Hook products were being manufactured as well as doughnuts being produced in the No. 1 Factory, as briefly mentioned earlier.
Although their father had passed away some time before and their mother Agnes in 1957 – the traditional family faith remained strong. By 1962 the Seventh Day Adventist movement, well-known for their involvement in food product (see my article https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/healthy-curiosity/ on Sanitarium) had made the move across the Tasman to the Hawkes Bay area and assumed control of two churches to establish themselves in the local vicinity. In 1965 the devout and by now, no doubt quite prosperous, Denne family donated land for a church and a two-teacher church school. T.C.’s grandson John Denne continues that religious inheritance and is a pastor in Australia.

This point-of-sale poster probably dates from the mid-late 1960s and was no doubt created for takeaway shop promotion.

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As for the mysterious Peter Pan parlour that nobody seemed to recall seeing – after writing to twenty or more people I received a reply from the Eketahuna Museum suggesting that the mystery store may be located in an enclave to the south of Waipukurau, named Norsewood, a Scandinavian-settled town established in the 1870s (hence the name). Since the Dennes never had any relation to this town that I know of – It still left the question of who built it, and more to the point – why? Doug Ellison, Caretaker at Norsewood Pioneer Museum says:
” It wasn’t specifically a Peter Pan store but it sold the ice cream which was just about all we could get (at the time) actually. It was originally just the usual country store, that sold the stuff that any grocery would sell. There was another dairy that sold Peter Pan but it didn’t have a big sign like that. The people that lived in the house did it up to look like the old store at the front, so it would resemble when it was a thriving business – which it hasn’t been for a number of years. I don’t know who owned it at the time. The house is now empty and the building is used as storage. I think it must have been someone from Dannevirke who did a bit of painting about the place to bring it back to what it was. The heritage signs were put around a few old buildings for our festival a couple of years back so that people knew what they had once been. I don’t remember any other (local) brand for sale in the area except Rush Munro, who had a place in Hastings, about 1000 Herataunga Street East – it was called Blue Moon (Rush Munro’s is still open at 704 West, and is arguably New Zealand’s oldest ice cream brand – I’ll post on this story later in the year).

The remaining part of the far left side of the Peter Pan No. 1 Factory on  the corner of Takapu Road and Cook Street, Wapukarau -which has now been somewhat remodelled. 

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John Denne, Tom Denne Jr.’s son was managing the business for some time, but left the town for good in 1971. According to records I’ve found Peter Pan was offering redundancy packages to employees at the end of the 1970s so they must have hit a spot of financial troubles, that or behemoth Tip-Top had stepped in and major changes were afoot. Most people seem to remember the factory being open until at least the early eighties when the rights were probably sold to Tip-Top.
Jan Gosling, one of the curators at Waipawa Museum remembers “when we moved to Waipawa in 1990 the old Peter Pan buildings were still there (in Waipukurau), with faded labels of the ice cream factory (on the walls) and it always seemed a little sad. It’s funny how when things disappear or change into something else you forget about what was there before”. Sometime after that they were demolished; “there isn’t much left of that (factory) now” says Pam Blackberry. The only remains I can spot are the far left side of the structure which has been somewhat remodelled and serves as the Hatuma Engineering Supplies premises.
The original Ruawahine Street No. 1 factory’s site closer to town is renumbered and the street renamed; and the allotment now has a new, one story building, the Central Hawkes Bay Health Centre, set back on the corner of it but is a mostly unobstructed tract of vacant land on the corner where the expansive buildings of Peter Pan Frozen Foods used to be a town landmark.

Mystery finally solved – the tribute to Peter Pan Ice Cream in the small town of Norsewood, was created for fun to replicate an old town general store that originally had a sign like this when it was operating.

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Although the brand name has remained in limbo for nearly thirty years with the trademark rights renewed to Tip-Top Investments as part of Fonterra Brands Limited, it finally lapsed and was cancelled at the end of 2010, bringing the saga of the  Peter Pan brand to a close for good. Not for me though – the story still has some gaping holes such as – how did Denne enter the business and learn his trade?, and what he was doing between 1920 in Masterton and 1930 in Wairarapa? I’m hoping that I’ll find out more so stay tuned.

As usual, I have a large rollcall of people to thank for memories, images, leads, information and tip-offs: Jana Uhlirova, curator, Central Hawkes Bay Settler’s Museum, Pam Blackberry (1968-1970) and Tony Dean (1966-1973), ex-employees of Peter Pan Frozen Foods; Andy May and Donna Gwen Hoby, one time acquaintances of the Dennes, Colin and Esma Stevenson, owners and curators at the Tokomaru Steam Museum, Doug Ellison, Caretaker at Norsewood Pioneer Museum, Tony Smith , historian and collector for information on Denne drinks, Brian Turner for image of Denne crock, Jan Gosling, curator at Waipawa Museum.

Bite Size: Hot Chips and Microchips

In Arnotts, Arnotts Biscuits, Aulsebrook's biscuits, Chips, Denne Brothers, French Fries, Frozen Foods, Frozen Vegetables, Iced VoVo, Marmite, Peter Pan Frozen Foods Ltd, Peter Pan ice cream, Sanitarium Health Foods, Snack Foods, Wattie's on March 22, 2012 at 10.46

Far out, even my plans to get ahead have fallen behind. My quickie post on Aulsebrook’s Iced Vovos versus Arnotts  at the end of February caused a storm in a teacup off-site. If you think that deconstruction was irritating, wait until I shatter your illusions on the history of Marmite and the perception of it as a New Zealand brand; you may be surprised to discover that technically – Kiwiana it sure ain’t. This week is really the perfect time to tackle it with the shortage furore going on, and cracked out New Zealanders trying to sell opened jars of it for up to two hundred dollars on Trademe, but I don’t have time to stop and do that too. (I’ll refrain from elaborating on delusion and stupidity of people trying to pass off trash as treasure in the collectables category, I think everyone knows my feelings on the majority of the traders that ply their utter rubbish on there for hiked up prices). Anyway that brief piece was meant to be a mid-week catch up to get me back on track to a post every week, that’s at least 48 posts a year. That’s actually quite a goal as it turns out – especially with my seeming inability to keep things both simple or brief.

As it turns out endless computer problems have kept me offline and out of the loop for the best part of a month. Yes, the house is very clean, and everything is organised, a sale pile has been created. However I am now more behind than ever! You can’t win. I’ve got big stories coming up on the Sunrise Cordials brand and the Gallien Chemist enterprise, and also the next, and most significant instalment of the Peter Pan Frozen Foods story.
Meanwhile, here’s another recreation I have done some time ago of the Wattie’s packaging I featured here in “So Cool, So Fresh” back in December 2011:

https://longwhitekid.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/so-cool-so-fresh/

I actually completely invented the cooking instructions text, because I can’t read it at all in the original photo. I tried to use current products as a guideline for accuracy. I’m trying to avoid posting too much more on Wattie’s, but it is one of the country’s all time biggest and most successful brands, so I guess that’s just how it plays out. I’ll be back in a few days with the Denne Brothers again, so until then.