Sep 062016


The first Piggly Wiggly opened on this date in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee, and is notable for having been the first true self-service grocery store, and the originator of various familiar supermarket features such as checkout stands, individual item price marking, and shopping carts. Happy centenary Piggly Wiggly. The first Piggly Wiggly was located at 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, founded by Clarence Saunders. A replica of the original store has been constructed in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium, a mansion that Saunders built as his private residence, which was later sold to the city.


The idea of the supermarket is so commonplace that it takes a moment to recall that someone had to invent the idea. It amuses me that sites such as Wikipedia have to explain how shopping was before supermarkets came into being. When I lived in Gawler, South Australia in the 1950s there were no supermarkets in the town. You drove to a grocery story where you waited for a clerk to wait on you. You either recited what you wanted or gave him a list. He then went around the shelves behind the counter, fetched everything you asked for, bagged or boxed them, and then added up the bill on a scrap of paper. My mother had a little notebook that she kept her shopping list in. In the morning, once a week, we dropped off the book at the grocery store on the way to work, and then picked up the boxed items on the way home. All that changed in the early 1960s when Woolworths opened up a supermarket on the main street in town (which I note is still there).

We all went to the grand opening. The general store, called Coles, had been around for a long time, so the idea of shopping for what you wanted and then paying at the counter was not new. But doing this for groceries was. I was completely baffled by the whole idea of being your own grocery clerk. I also couldn’t get the hang of navigating around a supermarket. At first I thought it ought to be like an orderly one way street where everyone walked in order, single file, up and down each aisle to the end. The idea of turning back to get something you missed seemed all wrong to me. Putting things back was a crime. You should see me now in supermarkets.


The supermarket was a superb idea from a business standpoint. Old grocery stores needed a lot of (costly) clerks, and shopping was time consuming at busy times when you could wait a long time to be served. Cutting the number of employees meant cutting costs, and maybe only a few store clerks cared that this move meant putting people out of work. The general public tends to value lower prices over social benefits. Lower prices were an immediate success. The supermarket also, perhaps unexpectedly, created the impulse purchase – increasing sales. When you went to an old-fashioned store, serviced by clerks, with a shopping list, you got what you came for and went home. When you are let loose in Aladdin’s cave there’s no telling what you will go home with, even if you have a list.

Having established the self-service format, Piggly Wiggly Corporation issued franchises to hundreds of grocery retailers for the operation of its stores. Saunders patented the concept of the “self-serving store” in 1917. In the original Piggly Wiggly, customers entered the store through a turnstile and walked through four aisles to view the store’s 605 items sold in packages and organized into departments. The customers selected merchandise as they continued through the maze to the cashier. Instantly, packaging and brand recognition became important to companies and consumers.


Piggly Wiggly was the first to:

provide checkout stands.

price mark every item in the store.

provide shopping carts for customers, starting in the year 1937 in Oklahoma.


The success of Piggly Wiggly was phenomenal, so much so that other independent and chain grocery stores changed to self-service in the 1920s and 1930s. At its peak in 1932, the company operated 2,660 stores and posted annual sales in excess of $180 million. In November 1922, Saunders attempted a squeeze on the substantial short interest in the stock, running the share price up from $40 to $120 and profiting by millions on paper. The Stock Exchange Governors responded by deciding that a corner had been established in Piggly Wiggly and removed the stock from the Board, eventually forcing Saunders to turn over his assets to the banks that had financed his leveraged position. Saunders reputedly lost nine million dollars in the attempted corner.

According to the Piggly Wiggly website, Saunders was “reluctant” to explain the origin of the company’s name. The actual origin of the name “Piggly Wiggly” is unknown. When asked why he had chosen it, Saunders said “So people will ask that very question.” Other speculations include Saunders seeing some pigs struggling to get over a fence, or a reference to the “This Little Piggy” nursery rhyme.

For a recipe this is a good time for me to mention a post from this date in 2013 about Zen and cooking:  I mentioned there that I have a daily habit of going to the market in the morning and figuring out there what I want to cook for the evening. I still do that. The thing is that I have to be in the supermarket to decide what it is I want. That’s the joy of supermarkets. You get to browse on your own all you want.

Yesterday I landed on this idea whilst trolling the Carrefour. It’s a cop out if you like cooking from scratch, but it’s good. I’ll give the recipe in pictures. I can call it Wild Berry Upside Down Cake. You can call it Supermarket Cake if you like.











Dec 302015


Today is the birthday (1865) of Joseph Rudyard Kipling, Nobel laureate and Anglo-Indian short-story writer, poet, and novelist. Kipling’s works of fiction include The Jungle Book (1894), Kim (1901), and many short stories, including “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888). His famous poems include “Mandalay” (1890), “Gunga Din” (1890), “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (1919), “The White Man’s Burden” (1899), and “If—” (1910). He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story and his children’s books are classics of children’s literature.


Kipling was one of the most popular writers in the United Kingdom, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henry James said: “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.” In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize, and its youngest recipient to date. He was also sounded out for the British Poet Laureateship and on several occasions for a knighthood, both of which he declined.

Kipling’s subsequent reputation has changed according to the political and social climate of the age and the resulting contrasting views about him continued for much of the 20th century. Douglas Kerr sums it up “[Kipling] is still an author who can inspire passionate disagreement and his place in literary and cultural history is far from settled. But as the age of the European empires recedes, he is recognized as an incomparable, if controversial, interpreter of how empire was experienced. That, and an increasing recognition of his extraordinary narrative gifts, make him a force to be reckoned with.” I think you have it right there. If you want to know about the British empire in all of its complexity at the height of its power, read Kipling.

My views are deeply mixed. I was raised on Kipling in Australia in the dying years of the British empire, when England was still called the “mother country,” and the likes of “If—” and “Gunga Din” were standard fare in school poetry books. I was supremely happy as a Wolf Cub, modeled on The Jungle Book’s tales and characters, and played Kim’s game in the Boy Scouts. Then the ‘60s happened and the “white man’s burden” was seen for what it was – ethnocentric exploitation and brutality masking as the civilizing of the world. There’s no way to hide Kipling’s conservative, imperialistic views, even though his depictions of Asia are nuanced and often sympathetic. But his most general view of human character at its best is inspiring. That’s why “If—” is still popular (though parodied in the 1968 film of the same name).

Rudyard Kipling and wife

Rudyard Kipling and wife

I’d like to take “Mandalay” as a microcosm of his work. Here is the full version.

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the Temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”

Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat – jes’ the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:

Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud –
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd –
Plucky lot she cared for idols
When I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo and she’d sing “Kulla-lo-lo!”
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis pilin’ teak.

Elephants a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

But that’s all above be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away,
An’ there ain’t no buses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”

No! You won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly Temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but what do they understand?

Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and –
Law! Wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!

Ship me somewhere’s east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the Temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be —
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea;

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
‘crost the Bay!


Any man who prefers Mandalay to London has my vote. The British troops stationed in Burma were taken up (or down) the Irrawaddy River (the “road to Mandalay”) by paddle steamers run by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC). Rangoon to Mandalay was a 700 km trip each way. During the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885 9,000 British and Indian soldiers had been transported by a fleet of paddle steamers (“the old flotilla” of the poem) and other boats from Rangoon to Mandalay. Guerrilla warfare followed the occupation of Mandalay and British regiments remained in Burma for several years.

Kipling wrote “Mandalay” around April 1890, when he was 24 years old. He had arrived in England in October the previous year, after seven years in India. He had taken an eastward route home, traveling by steamship from Calcutta to Japan, then to San Francisco, then across the United States, in company with his friends Alex and “Ted” (Edmonia) Hill. Rangoon had been the first port of call after Calcutta; then there was an unscheduled stop at Moulmein. It is plain that Kipling was struck by the beauty of Burmese girls. He wrote at the time:

I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship, and I will teach her not to defile her pretty mouth with chopped tobacco in a cabbage leaf, but to inhale good cigarettes of Egypt’s best brand.

You see both sides of Kipling in this poem – the condescending colonial master, and the sympathetic ex-pat – full of bravado mingled with longing. It was set to music many times. One of the most famous versions is by Peter Dawson but I much prefer Peter Bellamy’s because it captures the whole poem. It caused me to move to Mandalay 2 years ago where I taught for a while.

The song version is considerably shorter than the original poem, and much of the detail is lost. But the essence is there. It makes me miss my days in Asia terribly.

Do we really want to return to the days Kipling idolizes and laments in their passing? I don’t think so. But “The Man Who Would Be King” is still one of my favorite short stories, as is the movie made of it, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine giving impeccable performances. This scene always makes me laugh:

Classic !!

Apparently Kipling’s favorite food was pineapple upside-down cake, and old fashioned dessert you don’t see much any more. It’s very easy to make.


Pineapple Upside-Down Cake



50g softened butter
50g light soft brown sugar
7 pineapple rings in syrup, drained (with syrup reserved)
glacé cherries


100g softened butter
100g golden caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs


Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Grease a 20-21cm (8”) round cake tin.

For the topping, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Spread this mix over the base and a quarter of the way up the sides of the cake tin. Arrange the pineapple rings on top, then place cherries (one or more) in the centers of the rings.

Place the cake ingredients in a bowl along with 2 tablespoons of the pineapple syrup and beat to a soft consistency. Spoon the cake mix into the cake tin on top of the pineapple and smooth it out so it is as level as possible. Bake for 35 mins. Leave the cake to stand on a wire rack for 5 mins, then turn it out on to a plate. Serve warm.