Friday, April 24, 2015

This Week's Compost

A friend found and lent me the Wellbeing Food edition of 2009, edited by the erstwhile John Newton. In his editorial, John writes, as others have similarly in other instances:


‘We’re so distant from instinctively understanding what to eat and when to eat it that , for many, food is a problem to be solved, not a pleasure to be enjoyed.’


This set me wondering, has anyone done historical work on when, why and for whom this disjuncture can be said to have first occurred and tracked the forces through which it became increasingly true for more and more sectors of society? I am probably not phrasing the question well, but for example, did you average feudal lord instinctively know what to eat and when to eat it, or did he depend on what his peasants grew? Did alienation of land lead to alienation of knowledge? Did all those rural workers who moved into the cities as industrialisation proceeded undergo some kind of memory malfunction that they passed on to their progeny?


I’d be interested in your thoughts or directions to where I might turn to get some insight on this.


Cooking with sea water – is it the best way to season food?

‘The secret, says, Joaquín Baeza, who won Spain’s “Chef of the Year” contest in 2014, is that there’s no table salt added at all. Instead, he cooked the rice in a diluted seawater solution. It’s a tradition that has been practised in coastal villages for centuries, and espoused, particularly for seafood, by big-name Spanish chefs such as Ferran Adrià and Quique Dacosta.’


Anyone spotted an Oz restaurant trending on this? I must admit that oysters fresh shucked and slurped with that salt water and slightly metallic tang are vastly preferable to oysters any other way.  And the salt water cheese I once made was excellent. Haven’t knowingly eaten anything else cooked in seawater, but I am certainly up for a taste test, and on more than a potato.



TEDxSydney – Rebellious Food Program

Food rules can be subtle, strict, considered or unconscious – and we’ve all got them. We acquire food preferences in childhood, add limits as we grapple with our nutrition, make financial decisions about what we can afford to eat, and adjust our approach to food to reflect our political and ethical beliefs.... Well, it means that things might get a little uncomfortable for anyone not accustomed to entomophagy (i.e. the practice of eating bugs). Also included under the umbrella of 'forgotten' or 'rebellious' foods are lesser-known parts of animals, things generally considered to be pests, and party foods that we all loved as kids (but have since eliminated from our diets along with other kinds of sugary carbs).’


I can’t make it  well, I couldn’t afford the TEDx fee anyway – but I would love to hear how it goes.



Heshani and family cook Sri Lankan

This lovely family emailed me and asked me if they could use my grandmother’s recipes for some of their home cookery videos. I said it would be fine if they said where the recipes came from and linked to my online version of Ada’s recipe book. I love their videos. :) This is the first from Ada’s cookbook.



The quiet revolution: sustainable food movement flourishes in suburban backyards

In one of those ooogy booogy coincidences on the same day this story was in the Sydney Morning Herald mentioning a couple who have made  ‘a stored heat cooker’ ie. a modern version of a hay cooker that I have been fascinated by for some time, using recycled polystyrene, a mate of mine posted on Facebook that he had 8 sheets of polystyrene insulation to offload for free – I was too late to take up the offer L But I did find a site which details how to make one and will be scouring the streets for cast offs during the next Council clean up.


Grocery Store Wars

Don’t know how you will go with opening this link – but it’s worth trying J


Robot Chef

New Scientist 18 April 2015 reports:

‘A robot chef can rustle up a crab bisque, seemingly on its own. The system, created by London-based Moley Robotics, tracked a former MasterChef-winner’s hands in 3D as he prepared a dish. Two robotic hands then recreated every move in a specially designed kitchen. The firm hopes to have a commercial version in two years’.


But then, I thought all those contestants on MasterChef were emotobots anyway?


And then by chance Colin Sheringham sent me this which again I hope you can open (I am technically dumbo on how to get a vid url from someone’s FB page if it isn’t clearly youtubed or such).


Food thinking

‘Bikes, phones, clothes all get old, but food leaves enough room for constant reinterpretation. This doesn’t come from scratch, but is nurtured through media transforming cooks into celebrities and food into cult. Food is the new status symbol and it's replacing the old ones and is changing the consumers' mindset.’ 


Thanks also to Colin for linking me to this site. The ideas won’t be particularly fresh to anyone immersed in foodways, but the images are not predictable nor are the snippets from people interviewed, and the approach to food writing on the net is exciting, breaking away from the blog or essay.



Paul van Reyk

253 Trafalgar St.

Petersham 2049

PO Box 221

Petersham 2049

Ph: 0419 435 418



‘"You must never lose your beautiful sense of outraged injustice. alright? Keep it informed and challenge it, but never lose it."


First Dog on the Moon


Sunday, April 12, 2015

This Week's Compost

This week's header pic is of my mates Tanya and Saul at the first firing up of Saul's new barbecue structure. It had been raining and Tanya and Saul thought that it would  be good to have some kind of cover over the fire for the night so people could sit around it. Saul headed back to his house and three hours later returned with what I immediately christened the Little House on the Barbie. Saul's a blacksmith who has done fit outs for places like the Bourke Street Bakery premise in Marrickville. He does things like the Barbie House off the top of his head. What you can't see is that under the roof is square metal frame that holds it up; the minute I saw it I thought - smoking, as did Saul, So I put a grill over the frame and we whacked some sausages on and six hours later we had excellent quick smoked sausages. There are also chains which you can just see dangling down in the middle that we will use next time for hanging a sop or stew pot. Our next project will be an earth oven dug into the side of the hill around to the right of the big rock you can see.

Queered by quinces
That got you in, didn’t it. Well, nothing salacious to follow. Just a question: why no matter what I do do my quinces NEVER go red when I poach them?

More on Cornish Pasties in Oz
Barbara Santich writes: The Australian version of pasties includes pumpkin - or trombone; that’s the distinguishing feature. At McLaren Vale a bakery advertises ‘Butternut pasties’.

Alison Vincent contributes this:
The biggest Cornish pasty celebration is here in Oz
And there is an interesting paper about the Cornish pasty in Michigan in the proceedings of the Oxford symposium 2000, Food and the memory ( passionate for the pasty, Leslie Cory Shoemaker).
What I don't know is whether Wicken, Pearson et al did have recipes for Cornish pasties.
Perhaps Charmaine or Jacqui knows the answer?

I could find nothing in Wicken via Muskett.

Why Vertical Farming Could Be On The Verge Of A Revolution - And What's Keeping It Down

‘What’s holding many farms back is the struggle to simultaneously increase their yield-per-square-foot and decrease the cost of production -- particularly the cost of powering round-the-clock lights, which is high... Harper also questions whether consumers will embrace produce grown in such an unusual and unfamiliar way. “People are incredibly sceptical of science and technology in food and are scared of it,” Harper said. “How do we talk about that? Will people accept or understand it, and ultimately will they buy it?”

 Show of the Week; Rachel Khoo’s Cosmopolitan Cook and Poh & Co
In the end what these shows offer is escape from death cults and murder and politicians dedicated to the art and craft of deception and blame. Along with handy hints about clarifying butter and keeping fish cakes in the freezer they offer respite.’

Larissa Dubecki in reviewing the new seasons of two tv cookery shows in The Guide, Sydney Morning Herald, March 20, 2015.

It’s a tad overstated, I reckon, and I’m not convinced that this is such a recent phenomenon as she suggests. Nor am I convinced by Delia Smith’s declaration as reported in this review that ‘her TV career was over as the genre has inextricably shifted from education to entertainment’. What was Graham Kerr and Bernard King, and even, let’s be honest, Ian Parminter if not entertainment? I never saw Julia Child’s show so I have no idea how much less hers was about entertainment than education either. There is more I think in Dubecki’s other assertion that ‘ no longer cuts the mustard to offer mere cooking skills. The new wave of food stars must offer their lives’. Though again I wonder from when we can date this happening. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Smell of Democracy Part 2

This came to my attention after I had done the earlier posting.

Then this happened:

‘Last week The (un) Australian published an article which asserted certain facts about The Australian Greens party. At the time we took the decision to publish, we were of the view that the name of the website, the description of the website contained in the “About” section and the tone of the article was such that a  reasonable person would infer that the article was satirical.
Regrettably a large readership took the article at face value and initiated an online campaign against The Greens just days out from the NSW state election.
As a result of this campaign, legal proceedings have been initiated against The (un) Australian alleging deliberate misinformation published by us had an adverse affect on results of the state election.’

The site has now stopped publishing.

I seriously doubt that it had much of an impact on the Green vote. I suspect that anyone who was part of the online campaign would have had it in for the ‘feral Greens’ in the first place. However, I will keep an open mind and watch for and report developments.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Smell of Democracy:The Australian Election Day Sausage Sizzle

My mate Felix posted the following on his Facebook page on the morning of the NSW State Election in March 2015:

Remember, before you vote tomorrow, think first * ....
* oh..and find a good sausage sizzle....’

What a very Australian suggestion, I thought. As you can vote at any polling booth you like, casting an absentee vote if the booth is not in your electorate, it seems entirely reasonable to make the best of what many see as a chore, compulsorily voting, particularly when you don’t want to vote for any of the candidates on offer, by using it as an excuse for indulging in what Barbara Santich rightly points out, is an Australian ‘simple culinary classic’, a sausage sizzle.[i] As one friend put it in response to a Facebook callout from, me intrigued with whether others were similarly minded as Felix:

We, as a family, were Very Disappointed to find that our local high school had not embraced the opportunity to cash in on a dedicated audience for sausos, bacon egg rolls or even biscuits, slices & cup cakes (as they did for the last Fed elections).  Without the anticipation of homemade treats, sausage fat, onions & plastic bottles of tomato, BBQ or sweet mustard sauce, the voting experience was soulless, flat and dull, and the school grounds desolate and characterless. Duty done.’

Sausage Sizzle Darlington Primary School.
Photo courtesy of Fred Oberg
What is this sizzle thing? Here’s is Santich’s description:

‘The sausage sizzle is a uniquely Australia variant of the barbecue and almost by definition a public event – no one would ever invite friends to  sausage sizzle at home, even if the identical foods are cooked and eaten. It can be set up anywhere, from the beach to the supermarket car park, to feed large numbers of people cheaply, free from the annoyance of smoke.  The ingredients and equipment are absolutely basic; a large hotplate, typically gas heated, plus a vast supply of sausages, sliced onions, sliced white bread, and unlimited tomato sauce. Offering mustard, barbecue sauce and other nods to gastronomic fashion is considered to lift the status, but only by a notch... And like any simple culinary classic, it lends itself to countless variations – even soy sausages fit the standard formula.[ii]

The particularity of its public persona is that the Aussie sausage sizzle is most often used for fundraising for community or charitable projects. Churches have always been big on it to raise funds but also to welcome new parishioners and inveigle the locals into the churchyard if not the church. Schools have incorporated it into their fetes, P & C mums and dads taking revenge for cuts to education spending as they char the skins of several kilos of fat pale pink blobs donated by the local butcher. And what Saturday shopper has not been assailed by the smell of caramelising onions and the hiss of sausage fat as it hits the briquettes outside Bunnings.

Just when the sizzle became such a fixture of the Australian culinary landscape is unclear. While putting a sausage or other piece of barbecued meat and blackened onions between slices of carelessly buttered bread and dousing it with a sweetened sauce has been a long-standing favourite of the backyard barbecue Santich suggests that the term sausage sizzle, and, I venture by extension the event itself, ‘seems to have come into prominence around 1980.’[iii] Their association with polling days may have come at the same time or perhaps a little later. Another friend posted:  

I've been doing polling booths for the greens for nearly 20 years now and l reckon they've really taken off on election days in the last 10.’

Santich suggested that the connection is an extension of the practice of running cake stalls at polling booths.

       Cake Stall at Darlington Primary School.
Photo courtesy of Fred Oberg
‘Once upon a time, before we were born, and before we were old enough to observe, women had time (and will) to make cakes, biscuits, jams, etc for worthy causes. Today the worthy causes start by buying the cheapest sausages, sliced white [bread] and tomato sauce from the nearest supermarket.’[iv]

Whatever its beginnings the sizzle has become an integral part of election day, so much so that
Queenslander Grant Castner set up the Election Sausage Sizzle Site in 2010.[v] Some 323 were registered with his site by 8am on polling day stretching along the East coast from Ballina, near the Queensland border in the north, to Pambula, just shy of the Victorian border to the south, and as far West as Goolgowi, around 650 kilometres west of Sydney.

The function of the election sizzle remains raising money for charities, not for political parties as perhaps might be expected.

‘Hoxton Park High School, a sausage Sizzle and coffee bar run by the students, to raise money to "trendy up" the school’s student run cafe, where they love to "extract money from the teachers”.[vi]

 I did postal vote in Bellingen before I came to Sydney. I'm staying in Pyrmont and my hostess just went to vote up the road. She said the sausage sizzle was to raise funds for the local Men's Shed.’[vii]

Not every polling booth has a sizzle.

' I vote at the Masonic Hall. There is no sausage, no food of any kind and no water.'[viii]

At Marrickville Town Hall where I vote, electors are similarly maltreated. This year, for the first time in my 25 years of voting here, the church around the corner took advantage of this and held a sausage sizzle on a grander scale, throwing in a cake/coffee/tea stall, a DJ, and a jumping castle. Directions to it helpfully were chalked on the footpath from the Town Hall to the churchyard.

But where there is a sizzle, its popularity is attested to by the disappointed late voters.

‘Nothing left by the time I went to vote!’[ix]

‘Well, no sign of the sizzle at Belmore South PS at 3:30, though they'd left their sign up, which drew me in. Not good.’[x]

‘As to the sausage sizzle - you obviously need to get there early. At 2pm all you could get was the last three bits of sausage, two bacon and egg rolls and one bacon only roll AND you had to pay $4 each for them! And this is in an electorate that voted for the Greens - middle class aspiration in spades!!’[xi]

That last comment points to the growing sophistication of Santich’s ‘simple culinary classic’. The humble cake stalls remain - though none of my correspondents commented on whether here too the offerings are increasingly sophisticated.

‘Great site to find a sausage sizzle on Election Day next weekend. If you are in The Shire, come on down to Sylvania Heights Public School. Cast a vote, enjoy a sausage sanga or bacon and egg roll, wash it down with a cappuccino, then head off home with a plant and a homemade cake.’[xii]
‘We always vote at Erko Public. Their menu changes through the day, they had pancakes and brekkie rolls, then the classic sangas etc through lunch, cake and lemonade stalls, even Erko Love t-shirts.’[xiii]

Perhaps the clearest indication of the cementing of the place of the election sausage sizzle in the Australian culinary landscape, however, is captured by this respondent to my call out:

‘MKR hero Colin Fassnidge manned the BBQ at Malabar Public. It'd be interesting to know how the voters ranked the sausage sangers /10. ‘[xiv]

Fassnidge Instagrammed a picture of himself tonging said sausages.

Equally, the enshrining of the sausage sizzle as part of the Australian political landscape is captured by Australia Street Infants School in Newtown promoting its sizzle with a sign that declared:

‘The Smell of Democracy. Eat a sausage on State Election Day and support your local school’

Australia Street Infants School.
 Photo by Paul van Reyk

[i]Santich, Barbara Bold Palates. Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage. Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia, 2012 p146 - 149
[ii] Santich 2012
[iii] Santich 2012
[iv] Barbara Santich in a personal communication with Paul van Reyk 30th May 2015
[vi] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[vii] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[viii] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[ix] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[x] Andrew Brownlee posting in snagvotes on Faceboook, an adjunct to the Election Sausage Sizzle site
[xi] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[xii] Todd Brunton posting in snagvotes on Faceboook
[xiii] Respondent to the author’s Facebook call out for experiences on the day
[xiv] MKR – My Kitchen Rules, a highly popular cooking competition program on Australian television. Dublin born Australian celebrity chef Fassnidge was in his third year as one of the judges in 2015.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

This Week's Compost

The Election Day Sausage Sizzle
Having been alerted to this phenomenon by two Facebook friends of mine, I wondered what the experience of you foodways aficionados is of these events. I vote at the Town Hall and there is no sausage sizzle on the pavement outside, but the church just around the corner was putting one on, jumping castle, DJ and all, with chalked signs on the footpath directing people to it – tho I suspect most custom was from the congregation and not voters fanging for a sanger. [See pic above] It’s becoming bigger than Ben Hur it would seem. The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article about the event at Erskineville Primary That article mentions the Election Sausage Sizzle site, established by ‘Queensland IT expert Grant Castner  in 2010. Some 323 were registered with his site by 8am Saturday 27h March. And it isn’t just your P & C mums and dads who are into it. Helen Campbell reports that this year Colin Fassnidge was doing his bit at Malabar Primary School. My son Raj even discovered this site

All contributions to the discussion, hopefully to be turned into a blog post/article are welcome. When did you first notice them? Who runs the one’s you know of or indeed have just eaten at (it being voting day in NSW as I write this). Barbara Santich has a nifty write up of charity sausage sizzles in Bold Palates, which the election day ones clearly derive from. Pics also welcome J

Cornish Pasties
Jacqui Newling contributed the following:
Charmaine O’Brien's 'plain food' paper  cited this week by USA's food history doyenne (vale Karen Hess) Rachel Laudan - on 'traditional' Cornish Pasties, nice to see Australia included in the discussion). Maybe worth extending the Cornish Pastie issue locally - my memory of them, fostered from Adelaide upbringing means has to be shortcrust pastry, submarine style with pastry joined in a ruffle along the top (none of this folded half moon or triangle business) and feature characteristic white pepper flavour, dominating the minced meat, alarmingly uniformly diced turnip, potatoes and carrot, (and maybe peas, added gratuitously for colour ??) needless to say, few have lived up to expectations in past decades.

This coincided with an article in Petit Propos Culinaire 102 from Peter Bears ‘The Pasties of Cornwall and the Cornish Pasty’ which was a critique of the EEC ruling that only Cornwall could sell said object of pastry crimped and folded over meat and veg as authentically named, where in Bears debunks the notion that this kind of pasty is at all indigenous to Cornwall – part of a general critique on this rush to get commercial gain from having a food item declared thus. Bears presents a strong argument that the Cornish pasty had bugger all meat in it to begin with until other regions in the UK whacked meat in, and that the pasty anyway is of considerable provenance centuries back from outside Cornwall.

But, to Jacqui’s observation – I’m interested in what others of you reckon a Cornish pasty looks like and features. Is there a typically Australian variation on it?

Pointless Convenience Foods Contd.
From Barbara Santich: Kraft ready-made pancakes – square! They didn’t last long (flash in the pan, one might say ...).

Not just for stews: re-inventing the slow cooker
‘All these authors love slow cookers for their obvious pros: cheap to buy and run, fast prep, and hardly any washing up. Plus, practicality needn’t come at the expense of flavour if you follow basic rules.’

How cheap can a slow cooker be to run compared to doing a casserole or baking a cake the usual way?

Nourish Talks
St Canice’s Rooftop Kitchen Garden is starting a series of talks from 16 April 6.30pm. The Rooftop Kitchen Garden was begun by  Rob Caslick, who runs a weekly organic soup kitchen as part of the parish’s outreach for local people in need. The kitchen is situated below the offices of Jesuit Refugee Service in Rushcutters Bay. I have been following the development of the project and am excited to go and see how it is going. You can read about the Garden at

Sunday, March 22, 2015

This Week's Compost


Hope you can open this link. Wow factor major at around the 59 sec mark.


Harriet Wicken

Jacqui Newling drew my attention to a recipe for Devilled Meat in Phillip E Muskett’s The Art of Living in Australia. All of Part II of the book – Australian Cookery Recipes and Accessory Kitchen Information, is given as authored by Mrs H. Wicken, Diplomee of the National Training School for Cookery, London; Lecturer on Cookery to the Technical College Sydney. There are six other cook books authored by her listed in Trove at


Does anyone have any biographical information on her?


The Foods of England Project

Thanks heaps to Jacqui Newling for putting me on to this site. I am looking forward to exploring curries tho navigating it is something of a challenge and the red check wall paper is a tad...overwhelming.


Are ready-to-eat boiled eggs the most pointless convenience food ever?

‘Yowk, an egg which simply needs hot water poured over it before it’s ready to eat with your toast, has arrived. How on earth did it make it to market – and are there any convenience supermarket foods that are really worth the money?’


In PNG, hard boiled eggs in their shell are sold everywhere and make a great snack as they always have. But this...Frankenegg! Still, I am prepared to take nominations for even more pointless convenience foods.


Food-related deaths and illnesses to no longer be reported to the ACCC

'Food-related deaths and disease outbreaks will no longer have to be reported to the consumer watchdog by product makers and sellers under new federal laws, "appalling" public health experts.

In line with the Abbott government's war on red tape, Small Business Minister Bruce Billson pushed a bill on Wednesday to remove the need for food businesses to alert the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission when they become aware of safety problems.'


This is NOT a war on red tape. It is a war against accountability from Big Food.


Planet to Plate. The Earth Hour Cookbook

‘This beautiful book celebrates Australia’s wonderful fresh produce and the people who work so hard to produce it. It also highlights the need to solve climate change so future generations can enjoy the healthy food we have been lucky to grow up with’.


The egreious grammatical clanger in that statement notwithstanding, this book put out by WWF, Earth Hour and the Bendigo Bank pretty much doeswat it says it wants to do. There are short first person narratives from farmers talking about the impact of climate change, or their fear of its impact, on their particular crop – canola, pistachios, beef, oysters for example – with little sippets of what the impact of global warming is likely to be on other crops not covered by the farmers –like beetroot, honey, potatoes ,kale (tho the risk with that one is more like ‘bring it on!!!’ -  and a slew of recipes from the usual and not so usual suspects. The photography is excellent, moving away from the high gloss over produced food pics to blokes with tractors, sheilas with forklifts, working clobber hanging, fields, forests, pigs, salmon tiddlers and such. And there are cute illustratoins too. What’s not to like?


Farm to Table Cycle

‘Farm to Table Cycle: A Journey for Change is a 16-day, 400-mile solo bicycle and photography journey launched by national non-profit Wholesome Wave to raise awareness about local food systems.’


Thanks to Colin Sheringham for directing to me to this site. Love the pun on ‘cycle’. Got all mushy watching the video


One of the things in the latter that struck me was the community markets where the majority of buyers are on some form of government assistance. Anyone know of any recent research on who goes to farmers’ markets in Aus – I’m betting the picture would be quite different, but then I only go to the inner city markets and have no idea who goes to those at say Warwick Farm or in Byron.


Food can’t fix everything as someone asserts at the start of the video, but not a lot can be fixed is we don’t fix feeding us sustainably.



Paul van Reyk

253 Trafalgar St.

Petersham 2049

PO Box 221

Petersham 2049

Ph: 0419 435 418



‘"You must never lose your beautiful sense of outraged injustice. alright? Keep it informed and challenge it, but never lose it."


First Dog on the Moon


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Bland or the Bountiful?
Notes on Australian dining between World Wars 1 & 2

A group of us have been meeting monthly to talk about food and food writing. At our last meeting the question was raised as to whether Australian food cooked in home until some time in the late 60s early 70s really was as plain as those of us old enough to remember recall it as being or mythologising has made it. The first formulation of this was actually that the food was ‘bland’ but this was howled down as a slur on the quality of Aussie meat if nothing else, and so we settled on ‘plain’ as the descriptor.

We didn’t define plain, but let me suggest what we all had in mind. Plain means a number of things. The first is simplicity of preparation as opposed to difficulty or elaborateness. Adding flour and water to pan juices post roasting to make gravy is plain, making béchamel sauce is not. Putting a leg of lamb in a pan and roasting it is plain, inserting slivers of garlic into pockets in the flesh, marinating in red wine/garlic/herbs is elaborate. Minimal flavouring is another meaning. Serving up undressed boiled potatoes is plain; serving up roasted potato wedges with chilli garlic mayonnaise is not. Plain in this context also means stereotypically British working class food of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Stew is plain; cassoulet is not.

We decided to bring to our next discussion our thoughts on this following our own research into the subject, limiting ourselves to what Australian’s ate between the First and Second World Wars. What follows are some notes on the subject. I have focused on dinner only as it was the main meal for most households during the period. I don’t discuss cakes, biscuits, sweet tarts or desserts in general on the grounds that it would be a lay down misere for non-plain food.

Keeping it simple?
. This is the period that Michael Symonds, writing in 1982, has said displayed ‘what we regard as Australia’s most typical eating and drinking’, a time in which ‘the dominant model of male behaviour was aggressively uncultivated’ and made of Australians ‘lazy eaters and sudden drinkers’. (Symonds p138).

So what kind of meals did these ‘lazy eaters’ consume?

‘Breakfast was a hearty meal, with oatmeal porridge or the latest American breakfast cereals doused with milk and white sugar. This was followed by a hot course of bacon and eggs or grilled or fried chops, steak, sausages or liver and bacon of a combination of these with eggs...dinner was of three courses, commencing with pea soup or broth. Next came a meat dish of beef or mutton or possibly Yorkshire pudding. Boiled mutton appeared with carrots, turnips and caper, onion or parsley sauce. ...The Woman’s Mirror book noted a tendency “to eliminate the characteristic flavours of rabbits, hares, and game by soaking them in salt water for hours’. The Commonsense (Cookery Book) had sections on Green Vegetables, Root Vegetables and Dressed Vegetables.  The greens made quite a list: asparagus, broad beans, French beans, celery, cabbage, cauliflower, chokoes, globe artichokes, green peas, spinach or silver beet, vegetable squash and pumpkin – and all of them boiled. The alternative was “baked vegetables”...The routine was neatly interrupted by the weekend, which might in good weather have brought a picnic of lamb chops...Saturday afternoon was dominated by sports...and a light evening meal of beans on toast, sausages and mashed potatoes. Sunday lunch was a big day for roast, ideally chicken. The evening meal was perhaps a real “high tea”, using up cold meat...The left over joint would probably survive until Monday evening when it was made into patties or shepherd’s pie...And so through the week again until Friday, when many families replaces butcher’s meat with fish’. (Symonds pp142-144)

So far so plain it would appear preparation-wise and ingredient wise. This is perhaps not surprising. Certainly the large amount of meat consumed should not be; there was a lot of it and it was cheap.

‘Clearly, anyone who had a taste for mutton could eat as much as he or she liked in Australia. It might not have been the world’s best mutton but it was cheap and abundant. Beef, too, was plentiful, and although slightly more expensive than mutton for most of the 19th century, was consumed in even greater quantities. In 1903 it was estimated that the average Australian ate 61 kilograms of beef and 41 kilograms of mutton.’ (Santich p167).

Then by 1910, a shift occurred toward production of lamb such that by that year ‘lamb carcasses comprised around 60 per cent of all mutton and lamb exported from Victoria’ and in ‘New South Wales, the increase in lamb production occurred from the mid-1920s, by which time Australia was exporting more lamb than mutton to the British market’. (Santich 172) Lamb production increased from an 51,700 tons annually in the second half of the 1920s to 138,600 tons in the second half of the 1930s’ which ‘ensured that plenty was left over for Australian tables, and even more during the war years when shipping was restricted’ (Santich p177). ‘In the late 1930’s Australians were eating, on average, 654 grams of mutton and lamb each week’. (Santich -118).

Symond’s lays some of the blame for the apparent plainness with the cookery ‘textbooks’ of this period which ‘tended to reinforce plain English style cooking’. (Symonds p140). That word ‘tended’ is important here because they did also present the cook with recipes on the paths less travelled than boiling, baking and grilling.  Miss Gibbs, Principal of the State Cookery School in Sydney in her Cookery Guide included recipes for Fricassee of Fowl, Veal au Gratin, Indian Cutlets, Timbale of Lamb, Beef Olives and Rabbit Casserole. (The book is undated, but likely was published sometime in the 1920s from the Marcel wave favoured by the women in illustrations accompanying advertisements in the book). The Cookery Book of the Presbyterian Church of NSW Women's Missionary Association (192?)[1] was less adventurous but did include Carpet Bag steak, Croquettes of Cold Meat, four kinds of curry, Gateau of Meat and Jugged Hare. The Goulburn Cookery Book (first published in 1989 and running to 36 editions by 1936) included recipes or Spiced Beef, Rolled Steak au Pomme de Terre, Brazilian Stew, Chicken Quenelles, and Bobotjes. In Something Different (1936), the society hostesses of Sydney included recipes for Pilaff and Paella (Mrs Julian Simpson),  Veal of Chicken Paprika (Lady Smith), Breslau of Beef (Mrs W.D. Meredith), and Dodine de Canard (Lady McKelvey).

Let’s also not overlook that ‘nose-to-tail’ dining was an everyday thing in these years. Symonds mentions liver, but kidneys, sweetbreads, tongues, calf’s heads, pig’s heads, ox heads, ox tails, ox eyes, brains, and tripe were also regularly served up – well, maybe the ox eyes not so often. And then there was rabbit (Gibbs gives nine recipes), duck, pigeon, quail and turkey. Granted, often these foodstuffs were simply prepared, but we are moving away now from a picture of a meal as just a lump of a standard cut of meat lazily prepared.

Seafood was very much a part of the menu, and not only on Fridays. The cookbooks show a variety of species and methods of preparation. Eels, ling, schnapper (sic), whiting, cod, salmon, sardines, prawns, lobster, crayfish, and oysters, oysters, oysters take up substantial sections in them. The Kookaburra Cookery Book propose a Salmon Mould, Bretonne of Oysters, Crayfish au Gratin, Caviched Fish (ceviche) as well as Baked Fish and several ways with Fillet of Whiting. Carry On has Fish Baked in Paper, Oysters in White Sauce, and two recipes for Soused Fish. The Goulburn Cookery Book has recipes for Fillet de Sole Mornay, Fish Kromeskies, Fish Pie , Kedgeree and Lobster A La Newburg.  Lady Smith contributes a Risotto with Prawns and Mixed Fish in Baked Potatoes to Something Different.

The range of vegetables is also worth noting, and envying.  To Symond’s list above, we can now add Jerusalem artichokes, aubergines, okra (there’s a recipe for Creole Gumbo with Chicken in the Kookaburra Cookery Book and two other recipes for okra); radishes, chestnuts, corn, lentils, mushrooms, parsnips, Brussels sprouts all in the Kookaburra Cookery Book; Haricot beans in most of the cookbooks; beetroot, lettuce, additionally in Something Different. No recipe imagines that these vegetables would be anything but fresh. Their preparation also goes beyond boiling and baking. Croquettes and au gratin get frequent mentions;  the Kookaburra Cookery Book (1915) suggested Eggplant Fritters, Tomato Souffle, and a Macedoine of Vegetables a la Poulette;  Mrs E W Knox suggested a Topinambone of Jerusalem artichokes, and Dorothea McKellar contributed Aubergines a’l’Italienne as Something Different.

No garlic, please, we’re Australian
But what about flavour; will we find plainness there? Barbara Santich writes ‘In mid 20th century Australian kitchens simplicity reigned; apart from parsley and mint, there was a notable lack of herbs and spices and nary a hint of garlic’ (Santich p181).

Well, again, the cookbooks do offer a counter to this. Yes, there is a lot of parsley, but there are also frequent references to using ‘a bunch of herbs’ which was probably the Bouquet Garni of parsley, marjoram, thyme and bay described in the New South Wales Public School Cookery Teachers' Association  Principles of Home Cookery (I am citing the Ninth Edition of 1932). These herbs are also often mentioned separately in various combinations; Gibbs’s recipe for Beef Olives calls for thyme and marjoram; the Goulburn Cookery Book adds parsley, thyme, marjoram or mint to it Chops en Casserole.

Garlic, it’s true, is avoided or given as optional as in Dorothea McKellar/s Aubergines a’l’Italienne, but other spices are often used. Both the Goulburn Cookery Book and Anne J King in her King, Annie Carry On. A Collection of recipes (192?) have recipes for Spiced Beef and while the latter leaves the spices undefined, the former gives them as pepper, cloves, nutmeg and cayenne. The Kookaburra Cookery Book has a recipe for Rissoles that are flavoured with pepper, mace, and cayenne. Mrs W.D. Merewhether’s Breslau of Beef is flavoured with pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Gibb’s Rabbit Stew uses a blade of mace and a few peppercorns and her Casserole of Rabbit uses cloves. Sage and onion made a popular stuffing. Allspice, nutmeg and ginger also get occasional mentions.

Lemon rind or juice and vinegar are used to sharpen a dish as for example in the Boston Moulds in the Kookaburra Cookery Book (lemon rind) and Fricassee of Cold Roast Beef (vinegar) , Jugged Hare in Carry On (lemon rind again), Goulburn’s Stewed Veal (lemon juice), Gibbs’ Gerard Steak (vinegar) and the Exeter Stew of the Presbyterian Women’s  Missionary Association (vinegar).

Flavour could also be added in the cooking through incorporating home-made sauces, including Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, chilli sauce anchovy essence and mushroom ketchup,  each ‘bold, sharp, and powerful’. (Santich 248). The Kookaburra Cookery Book suggests marinading steak in vinegar, Worcester (sic) sauce, tomato sauce, sugar, pepper and salt. The German Collops of the Presbyters use ketchup. Gibbs’ Aberdeen Sausage uses tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

Another popular flavour additive is bacon, turning up in unusual places. It’s there in R LeRay’s Ox Tail Soup and the delightfully named Epigrammes of Lamb With French Beans of Louis Peacock both in the Kookaburra Cookery Book; turns up in the Mulligatawny Soup (No 1) in the Goulburn Cookery Book; Rabbit Curry in Carry On; and Gibbs’ Chicken en Casserole.

Finally, ‘...adding piquancy to the inevitable meals of mutton and beef were tangy, spicy, pickles and chutneys’. (Santich 248) These were very likely to be home made; The Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Association cookbook has five recipes for pickles, seven for chutneys;  The Kookaburra Cookery Book has 13 chutneys and 14 pickles; Carry On has 19 chutneys and 11 pickles.

The ubiquity of these flavourings is attested to in the 1920 Royal Commission into the Basic Wage in 1920 where ‘Prof W A Osborne suggested that the average family of 5 required one bottle of tomato sauce and a half of Worcestershire sauce per week, together with half a bottle of pickle, one pint vinegar, one ounce mustard, or even more of curry powder’. (Santich 246)

The flavours of Empire
The chutneys on the table introduce us to the other major step away from the plain in Australian cooking since the earliest days of the British colony here – the influence of the flavours and food of India in particular and South Asia more generally. Chatni (to give it its Hindi spelling) is a relish eaten to add taste to the staples of rich and lentils. Taken up first by the traders of the British East India Company and then popularised via the British Raj it was inevitable that it would accompany British migrants to the furthest outposts of the British Empire, Australia being one of them.
‘The British...adopted (chutney) with enthusiasm, tending perhaps to emphasize the sweet aspect of what is essentially sour or sweet and sour. British chutneys are usually spiced, sweet, fruit pickles, having something of the consistency of jam.’ (Davidson p186).

The recipes in the Kookaburra Cookery Book give an idea of the range of vegetable and fruit that was boiled up in the kitchens of Australia in these years: apple, apricot, choko, date, damson, grape, gramma, green tomato, mango, melon, plum, paw paw, red tomato, rosella, vegetable marrow.
Curries were adopted with equally enthusiasm and every one of the cookbooks reviewed for this article carry at least one recipe for curried something or other; the Presbyterian Women’s Association has eight and the Kookaburra Cookery Book takes the ribbon with 15 including curries of sardines, ox tail, walnuts, mixed vegetables, peaches, chestnuts, oysters and radishes.

The basic flavouring was ‘curry powder’ which goes undefined in all the cookbooks.  Commercial curry powders had been available in England from the late 18th century. Colonel Kenney-Herbert writing in 1985 gave the standard ingredients as turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, chilli, peppercorns, poppy seed and dry ginger. (Davidson p236). The other common ingredient was a cooking/sour apple, and Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and vinegar were also added often either together or separately to mimic the sour flavour given by tamarind and lime in the dishes of India.
The other staple of Indian origin was Mulligatawny Soup which could be made with fish, chicken or meat of any description; onion; usually included root vegetables like carrot or turnips; a green apple, sometimes ham or bacon; and of course curry powder; all of which was a far cry from its origins as Tamilian mullaga thanni – ‘pepper water’.

But not only curry
Running through all of what has been discussed so far is an unspoken assumption as to which Australians are being spoken of. Taking 1933 as something like a mid-point in our discussion, of the 6,629,839 people counted in the Census that year 5,726,566 gave their birthplace as Australia.[2] A further 712, 458 gave their birthplaces as in the British Isles (486,831 England; 132,489 Scotland; 78,652 Ireland; 14,486 Wales). Not unexpectedly It is these ‘white’ Australians who are the focus of most food writing about this period, and it is a cuisine largely influenced by British foodways that is described.

However, there had been migration from across the globe since the earliest days of the British colonies with some notable influxes over the years. Let’s turn to looking at the three most significant of these migrant populations during the early part of the 20th Century.

While German migrants had been the most prominent group in the early years of the colonies, with 38,352 recorded at the start of the 20th century, anti-German feeling, internment and ultimately deportation during the World War One saw many German’s leave Australia and by 1933 their numbers stood at only 16,842. (Statistics Section p42) 

Angela Heuzenroeder has written extensively on the foodways of the Lutheran Germans who settled in the Barossa Valley of South Australia. From the first days of settlement there in 1841 ‘All the elements were there in the Barossa to keep the original culture intact for a good long while’, (Heuzenroeder p8). She lists some of the food from these early communities remember or still made in 1991 – Streuselkuchen (a cake from Silesia), Schlesisches (a dish of smoked pork, dried fruits and dumplings from Silesia) Sauerkraut, Blutwurst, Leberwurst, Mettwurst, Quark, Kochkase and Stinkerkase (all three cheeses). But with increasing English migration, these dishes declined in popularity and ‘the 1914-18 World War and its aftermath sent them underground’. (Heuzenroeder p14). The first edition of the Barossa Cookery Book:400 Tried Recipes reflected this with a recipe for German Sausage ‘the only recipe in the book that dares to show any Teutonic connections’ ((Heuzenroeder p18). It was not until the third edition published in the mid-thirties that recipes appeared for ‘cucumbers pickled in dill and vine leaves and several versions of German cake’. (Heuzenroeder p19)

Did German food find its way into the average Australian kitchen? The evidence from the cookbooks is scant. There are no identifiably German recipes in the Goulburn Cookery Book; Frankfurts with Cheese Sauce gets into Mrs Gibbs’ as does Sauerkraut; The Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Association give a single recipe for German Collops and German Patties and German Biscuits are in the Kookaburra Cookery Book, though in each of these cases it’s hard to see what makes them particularly German. Lady Smith does contribute Red Cabbage (German Recipe) which is a concoction of floured sautéed cabbage, vinegar and sugar.

Chinese domestic servants and labourers began to arrive in Australia in 1827. Then came the major influx of Chinese to the goldfields in the 1850s until by the population of the China-born in Australia had reached 38,258, 3.4 per cent of the total Australian population. (Statistics Section p48). But as the gold ran out many returned to China. Chinese were the specific target of the Immigration and Restriction Act 1901 and the White Australia Policy. By 1921 the China-born population had declined to 15,224, and only 8,579 Chinese born persons were recorded in the 1933 census.

But what of a Chinese influence in Australian kitchens? Symonds says that this was more by way of the raw materials than the techniques or flavours. While there were Chinese cookshops all over the gold fields they were not frequented by other miners.  But ‘Chinese on the goldfields were supplied by a chain of compatriot merchants, storekeepers, gardeners and fishermen, who dried their catch to send inland.  This trade steadily broadened and by about 1880 they virtually fed every settlement in Australia’. 9Symonds p75) This continued well into the 20th Century. Chinese were also prominent as cooks in other eating places and hotels but they stuck with English fare. Chinese cafes did not become an integral part of the Australian urban and rural landscape until the 1950s. Few ventured into the cafes in the Chinatowns of Haymarket-Dixon Street in Sydney and Little Bourke Street in Melbourne. One of these was the journalist E.M.Clowes who was a regular in the latter where she would ‘sup on savoury ragout of duck, served in a porcelain bowl, flanked by lesser bowls, each filled with some mysterious odoriferous condiment, or venture daringly on eggs of an infinite age and most potent flavour’. (Symonds p79). The cookbooks reviewed for this article show nary a sign of an identifiably Chinese dish. However, there is one significant influence of Chinese cuisine that goes largely unacknowledged – ketchup. ‘Ketchup originally meant “fish sauce” in a dialect of China’s other southern coastal region, mountains Fujian province...” ( Jurafsky p48). It was Fujianese settlers who took ke-tchup to South East Asia from whence it made its way via spice seeking merchants to Britain, becoming ‘as profitable for British merchants as they were for Chinese traders’. (Jurafsky p57). It was here that it was transformed into the mushroom ketchup that is a frequent addition to a meat dish in the Australian kitchen.

While the story of the German and Chinese populations during this time is one of decline, it was the reverse for Italian migrants. At the 1901 Census only 5,678 gave Italy as their birth place. By 1933, this had swelled to 26,756 Italy making them the largest non-United Kingdom born group in Australia. This growth is attributed to two factors; the restrictive immigration policies of the United States during the intervening years, and a depressed economy in Italy post Work War One. (Statistics Section p36) So what of the Italian influence at the Australian table during these years?

Pasta appears to be the majority of it from a look at the cookbooks. The Kookaburra Cookery Book gives us Neapolitan Croquettes built from chicken and macaroni cut small, Macaroni Soup and Roman Pudding again made with macaroni. Carry On gives as a Tomato Spaghetti Soup and a Mock Macaroni for Soups  - which consists of an egg mixed with flour till stiff and thence to be cut into strips and dried, and Spaghetti Mince and with Tomatoes. Gibbs gives us Fish and Macaroni in a pie topped with a fresh tomato sauce. All these call for dried pasta that is to be cooked in boiling water, not tinned pasta in tomato sauce as was popular in the 50s and 60s. The other identifiably Italian ingredient is Parmesan cheese, appearing Mrs Ware’s Potatoes A La Genovese in The Kookaburra Cookery Book but not specified as the cheese in Tilly Parkinson’s Potatoes A L’Italienne.It appears again in Dorothy McKellar’s Aubergines a’l’Italienne in, a kind of eggplant Parmigiana, and Mrs R Broadbent’s Parmesan Puree both in Something Different. Mrs M S Hawker contributes two egg recipes to the Kookaburra Cookery Book – Uova Col Pomodoro and Uova Trippate – but neither comes across as particularly Italian. But there are no signs of those signifiers of Italian food for many Australians today – olive oil and pizza. Symonds includes a fancied description of a night at Fasoli’s in Melbourne in the early part of the century, one of the restaurants favoured by the Bohemian set as they other such were in Kings Cross in Sydney. (Symonds p121; Mackenzie and Pryor).

The great changes to the average Australian in-home meal, however, were yet to come, first with the mass migration from Europe post World War Two and then as Australia turned its gaze north to South East Asia.


Allen, Mary (Compiler) Something Different for Dinner Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney 1936
Census of the Commonwealth of Australia 30th June , 1933. PART X.-BIRTHPLACE. Accessed at$File/1933%20Census%20-%20Volume%20I%20-%20Part%20X%20Birthplace.pdf on 8th February 2015
Davidson, Alan The Oxford Companion to Food Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999
Everything a lady should know George B. Philip and Son, Sydney 190(?)
Gibbs, A Miss Gibb's Cookery Guide, The Central Press, Sydney 19(??)
Heuzenroeder, Angela Barossa food Wakefield Press, Kent Town, 1999
Hook, George England Australian Fruit Preserving. A Practical Treatise Sydney and Melbourne Publishing Co, Sydney 192(?)
Jurafsky, Dan The Language of Food. A linguist reads the menu W.W.Norton & Company, 2014
King, Annie J Carry On. A Collection of recipes Northern Star, Lismore 1918 (my copy is a 5th edition of 1926)
Lady Victoria Buxton Girl’s Club The Kookaburra Cookery Book of Culinary and Household Recipes and Hints W E Cole, Melbourne Vic 1915
Maclurcan, Hannah  Mrs Maclurcan’s Cookery Book T Wilmett, Townsville QLD 1898
Mackenzie, Michael and Pryor, Cathy The truth about meat and three veg accessed 7th February 2015
Presbyterian Church of New South Wales Women’s Missionary Association Cookery Book of Good and Tried Recipes Angus and Robertson Sydney, NSW 1920(?)
Principles of Home Cookery, New South Wales Public School Cookery Teachers' Association, Sydney 1932 6th Edition
Rutledge, Mrs Forster The Goulburn Cookery Book, National Trust of Australia Sydney 1975 40th Edition compiled by Helen Rutledge from 1905 and 1907 editions
Santich, Barbara Bold Palates, Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage Wakefield Press Kent Town SA 2012
Statistics Section, Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Immigration. Federation to Century’s End 1901–2000, Commonwealth of Australia, October 2001.
Symonds, Michael One Continuous Picnic Penguin 1984 Ringwood Vic (first published by Duck Press in 1982)

[1] All publishing dates for the cookbooks discussed are either those given in the books themselves or based on those given by the National Library of Australia.
[2] This figure excludes what the Census terms ‘full-blood Aboriginals’.