Recreating family mealtimes

Picture of Melanie Dooner

Melanie Dooner

Melanie is a writer and mother of two boys

  The traditional Sunday family roast may be a thing of the past but there was a time when families sat down at the table and conversed over a meal. That largely bygone era was recreated for one Catholic family of five when they appeared on a television series depicting Australian family life in different decades. 

The Ferrone family of Sydney had to dress appropriately for each decade and only eat foods from each era starting with the 1950s.

For Carol Ferrone, her husband Peter and their children, Julian, Sienna and Olivia, the show Back in Time For Dinner was to become a whirlwind educational journey through Australia’s social history, culinary development, and changes to family culture and dynamics over the past seven decades.

Julian, 17, is an academic who engaged strongly with the historical aspect of the show, particularly to the 1950s; Sienna, 14, connected with the fashion and clothes through the ages; and Olivia, 10, was the “pocket rocket up for any adventure.”

Back in Time For Dinner was for the Ferrone’s primarily an educational experience and family adventure. As a family of Italian origin, it was obvious they found the changes to food on Australian tables fascinating.

Carol believes family today is the last wholesome thing we still have. One social media criticism, however, involved family dinnertime and the unrealistic notion that families could wait for each other to arrive home and eat together. For many families today, due to work and other commitments, mealtimes no longer draw them together to spend time talking about their day and sharing life.

Involvement in the TV show gave the Ferrone’s an insight into the impact technology has had on family dynamics over the decades. “I really feel like we’ve lost that sense of family and togetherness a bit,” Carol said.

“In the 1950s and 60s we were in the home, but then over the years … as good as technology has been, I think we are more isolated on devices or phones or TV. It’s good but not good. It’s difficult when you walk into someone’s house to visit and the kids are on their phones and they don’t say hello. That’s a big no-no in this house.”

Carol was pleased that her children enjoyed the experience. In responding positively to the opportunity, she knew her children well enough to know they would love it but was adamant that she “would never put them in a position where it would be to their detriment.”

During filming of the ABC series Carol learnt much about her family. “I won’t give you false pretenses … the kids fight, they’re different ages and personalities, but when it counts we’re a tight unit. Whether it was the tripe or the hours of housework or even the fun, like going to the drive-in, I realised how close we really are,” Carol added.

“We didn’t come out of this experience thinking we’ve got to work on our communication. We’re doing an alright job.”

Editors’ comment: The experience of the Ferrone’s is a reminder what many families have lost from the past: the connectedness, the togetherness and the necessity of communication between a parent/s and their child/children at mealtimes. Catching up with your loved ones over a meal is the perfect time to connect.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in The Majellan in Summer 2019.

Feature image: Sienna, Julian, Peter, Olivia and Carol Ferrone with presenter Annabel Crabb in the middle. Photo courtesy ABC.

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