As Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs through the forest, we left a trail of lollies through the memories of our childhood. Lips smeared with fluorescent orange icy-pole, fingers caked in vinegary chip salt after primary school, teeth stuck together with nuts and nougat at school camp, tongues sizzling with sour dust at a sleepover.
Back when screen time was limited to an hour before the six o’clock news, snacks were common ground. At the time it probably gave our dentists cause for concern. But the upside is, a strong dose of nostalgia is now only a trip to the milk bar away.
To help lead us back there, we turned to the professionals. Clinton and Karina Serex are the sweet tooths behind Caulfield’s retro-chic Tuck Shop Take Away and the newly minted Karton Milk Bar. We asked them to look back all these memories out of their own childlike reverie and put them up on the shelves.
10. Frosty Fruit
Countless parents have been driven mad by small sticky hands coating everything in melted sugar and ice. The Frosty Fruit, a long-running citrus tradition for Australian summers, was a major instigator. They left such an imprint on young Karina she created her own take on them for Karton.
“I was so fond of it,” says Karina. “We came up with three icy-pole flavours for the milk bar and that’s one of them. We called it Fruity Frost and it’s my favourite.” Their early experiments didn’t quite turn out the way they wanted, until they landed on a pineapple, orange and passionfruit recipe to rival the original.
9. Chocolate Milk
Clinton will cop to once liking a range of flavoured milk. “I grew up in Canberra,” he says. “Rugby League was the main sport and my brother and I were big Canberra Raiders fans. Canberra Milk sponsored the Raiders and when it was the finals time they’d always do a special line of flavoured milk. That was pretty sensational.”
But nothing could unseat chocolate as the favourite. “I would walk down to the corner shop on weekends with my brother and we’d get a chocolate milk each,” he says.
Karton pays homage to the most sacred of flavoured milks with Karina’s homemade stuff. Clinton approves. “In our research and looking back at those classic brands, they’ve only got .09% cocoa in them. Ours have got 15% chocolate. It’s life-changing chocolate milk.”
8. Ice-Cream Sandwiches
From the Monaco Bar to the Maxibon, Australians have always approved of plucking a slab of frozen ice-cream sandwiched between two chunks of biscuit from the deep freeze. The Serex’s take their version just as seriously. One day it’s maple, bacon and banana ice-cream sprinkled with a little smoked salt. The next it’s blueberry and vanilla ice-cream in a corn cookie sandwich, rolled through a cornflake coating. Savoury and sweet.
If you’ve already got fresh biscuits at home, you might go for Karton’s changing roster of ice-cream tubs, which have included an Anzac Day flavour (rosemary, honey, and sea salt), Apple Pie (stewed apples in vanilla ice-cream with cinnamon and layers of pie crumb) and Easter’s Hot Cross Bun flavour.
7. Samboy Chips
These crinkle-cut favourites could always be found crushed into someone’s beach towel in ’90s Australia, so it’s no surprise Clinton’s mind wanders back to spending summers poolside. “I remember going to the canteen at the local swimming pool and laying in the sun on the towel eating Barbecue or Atomic Tomato flavours,” says Clinton. The latter spent some time off shelves in the 2000s only to be brought back at the end of the decade and now, along with the rest of the Samboy family, they’re on display at Karton as well.
6. Sherbet Fountain
Remember this one? A yellow, papery package with a liquorice stick poking out the top. You’d bite the tip off the stick and suck the sherbet through it like a straw. “When my brother and I were really young and going to my nanna’s house, that was always the one I grabbed off the shelf,” says Karina. In 2009 the humble Sherbet Fountain caused a stir among purists when the packaging changed from paper to plastic, and the licorice stick became a solid “dipping stick”. Meaning no more sherbet straw. It hasn’t spoiled Karina’s memories of the original, however – you might even catch sherbet soft serve on Tuck Shop’s revolving ice-cream menu.
5. Dollar Mix Lollies
When you’re a kid any part of life holds the potential for grand mysteries. But few paid off as immediately as the crumpled white paper bags on the milk bar counter. “Everyone has different memories about how much the lolly mixes actually were in their childhood,” says Clinton. “From 5c lolly bags to 20c to 50c to a dollar. Now most places are $2 or $2.50.” Karton splits the difference with $1 mixes, reviving the sense of the lucky dip. If you prefer to put your money on a sure thing, they have 16 lolly jars against the back wall so you can choose your own mix.
4. Froot Loops
Few cereals were as divisive as Froot Loops, but the kids who got them were the envy of anyone with sugar-averse parents. “Everyone shamefully loves them, even though as adults we know they’re probably not ideal,” says Karina. “My children certainly don’t have them because I know how much sugar is in them. I cringe when I think about the things my parents let us have.”
But everyone knows the best part of adulthood is eating junk food whenever you want. For Karina, it wasn’t just the cereal. “For me Froot Loops was about drinking the milk afterwards. That sugary, fruity flavour.” They honour this at Karton with two ingenious menu items. The first involves steeping Froot Loops in milk overnight and turning the result into Froot Loops-flavoured milkshakes. They then turn the remaining cereal into Froot Loops-flavoured ice-cream tubs to take home.
“My dad had a social group that used to always meet in the back of a supermarket every Friday night,” says Clinton. “The owners would let my brother and I go and choose whatever we wanted from the shop, and they had a slushie machine there with varying flavours.”
Clinton vividly remembered pouring syrup on top of the coarse ice pouring out of the machine. But when he and Karina started looking at machines for their new shop, the ice wasn’t as good as he remembered. “Karina tried it and said, ‘Why’s the ice so crunchy?’” he says. They opted for a smoother slushie mixture instead.
Social attitudes towards smoking are a world away from what they were in the early ’90s. Back then hanging out with your friends pretending to smoke was considered harmless fun. “We’d pretend to puff on them like cigarettes and nibble a bit each time,” says Karina. Karton stocks Fads as nostalgic homage, as well as Big Boss – another lolly that used to play off smoking, marketing themselves as lolly cigars, but now sold as lolly sticks of dynamite.
1. Sour Warheads
Before starting Tuck Shop and Karton, Clinton had already demonstrated a taste for entrepreneurship, selling Sour Warheads on the playground. “I used to buy heaps of them and turn a profit selling them to other kids,” he says. “There’s so many stories of [other people doing] that.”
For Clinton, it’s the layers of the Sour Warhead he appreciates: Five to ten seconds of extreme sourness, followed by the sweetness of the boiled lolly and the sour powder inside. It was also the Sour Warhead challenges – seeing who could get the most Warheads in their mouth at once without cracking – that Clinton remembers. Karton stocks these long-time favourites. If you catch Clinton on a good day, maybe you could challenge him yourself.