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Dago tucker

21 Feb
Pasta

Aussie diggers wanted mutton over this...

In 1941, here’s how The Mail in South Australia saw Italian food and, as an extension of that, Italians themselves:

Dago Tucker

Australian troops in Libya have been solving the mysteries of Italian cuisine, and making queer dishes of Parmesan cheese, spaghetti, tomato extract, and olive oil from captured enemy stores. Because of water shortage, a soldier was seen bathing in Italian mineral water. —Cable.

In Libya da Aussies still pusha ahead,
Dey play a so well in da ruck,
Dey racea da transport like fasta da ped’
So turn to da Itala tuck’.
Spa water dey usea to hava da wash,
Da soap mixa up wid da fizz,
But somea dem maka da faces, by gosh,
When come to da catering biz.
Dey try on da tummy such queera da dish,
For mum’s kinda cooking dey certainly wish.

Dey gobble up yardsa da finest spaghett’,
When food in da dixie dey boil,
But people afraida dat some of dem get
Too mucha da oliva oil.
It might make ’em slippy, like Itala chaps,
If plenta da loota dey seize,
And breatha da digger it smella, perhaps,
Too mucha of Parmesan cheese,
Dey chew up da menus of Naples or Rome,
Bat rather have grub from da kitchen at home.
ANTONIO DI SEEBEE

In 2009, The Age reported the results of the BIS Shrapnel report Fast Food in Australia:

Italian was the most preferred cuisine in Victoria and South Australia. Thai food was No. 1 in NSW. For all other states and territories, Chinese was either top or equal top. Australian, English or traditional food came in fifth at 13 per cent, after Indian, Sri Lankan or Pakistani food at 17 per cent.

It did take 68 years, a World War and an immigration boom, but Australians these days, in the words of  eloquent poet Antonio di Seebee, no longer “rather have grub from da kitchen at home”.

“Dago Tucker.” The Mail, 8 February, 1941, 7.
Cauchi,
Stephen, “Italian fare to the fore in time of fiscal crisis.” The Age,  April 26, 2009, 13.

Retro recipe: Spaghetti patties, 19 August, 1933

15 Feb

Today we go back, way back, to 1933, to sample a prize-winning recipe that its author, Mrs Reichenbach of Quirindi, NSW says is “most suitable to serve at a bridge party or as a dinner savory.”

I have my doubts.

However, in the spirit of culinary adventure, I decide to give the intriguingly named Spaghetti patties a try…

Into a saucepan of boiling salted water throw a handful of spaghetti. Boil until very tender, strain, add a lump of butter, pepper, salt, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and 2 tablespoonful grated cheese.

My first issue is with the “boil until very tender”. I boiled the Barilla Spaghettoni number 7 for at least 20 minutes. I felt so wrong doing it and they’re still not that soft. I’m tipping the spaghetti in 1933 was not made with durum wheat so would’ve been much softer than this. Ugh. Soft pasta reminds me of men with weak handshakes – all limp and insipid.

saucepan with boiling water

Al dente? Not this pasta.

Next, trouble with “a lump of butter”. How much is a lump? Is it like a lump of sugar? That seems a reasonable deduction to me, so in it goes:

Lump of butter

Is that the size of a "lump"?

And now for the greatest crime against my race ever. Tomato sauce mixed into pasta. My parents always told me this is how Australians ate spaghetti, and I didn’t really believe them. Until now.

I feel sick shaking the dead horse into the pasta and, as I stir it through, I imagine my nonna, who lives in Melbourne, watching over me. She is crying. And saying the rosary. And asking God if it was a mistake to bring her family to the new country, if this is what it meant for her blood-line. Sorry, nonna…

tomato sauce

Forgive me family.

After the deed is done, it occurs to me that perhaps Mrs Reichenbach didn’t mean commercially-prepared tomato sauce. Did they even have that in 1933? I must find out. Alas, for the soggy little strings of spaghetti drowning in a red sea, it is too late.

Update:  Michael Symons in One Continuous Picnic: A History of Eating in Australia, says tomato sauce was being bottled at least by 1868. So it’s possible I did use the sauce Mrs R intended. 

Pasta sauce

Just wrong.

My filling is done.

Now it’s time for the pasty:

Sift two cups flour, pinch of salt, pinch of cayenne. Rub evenly into this 1 cup butter or clarified dripping, two tablespoonsful grated cheese, and mix into a firm dough with a beaten egg and a little lemon juice.

Not surprisingly I go with the butter. I don’t happen to have any clarified dripping on hand. Does anyone?

Dough

Sweet sweet butter...

Roll out thinly, cut and line patty tins with paste. Bake until golden in medium hot oven.

This goes reasonably well, even though the amount of butter makes my arteries harden at the thought of actually eating it. Actually eating it. I wonder if this is necessary.

pastry cups

Such little cups, so many carbs.

Turn out and fill with spaghetti mixture. Serve hot.

I try to delicately twirl the pasta into the cups. I try to channel Donna Hay. She would know how to make these little bastards look good.

pasta cups

I bet Donna could make these look nice...

A little chopped parsley sprinkled on top is a pretty decoration.

If you say so Mrs Reichenbach. Now they’re ready for their close up.

close up spag patties

Ready to be eaten.

And for a tasting. I take a bite. I can taste butter and tomato sauce. The spaghetti is mushy and the pastry case is crumbly. It’s bland, dry and crying out for some proper sauce. Or some vegetables. Or more cheese. Or something else. Anything else really.

Did Mrs Reichenbach really serve these up at Bridge parties? And did she really win a prize? I don’t know about the former, but the answer to the latter is yes, she did. The Australian Women’s Weekly gave Mrs R a consolation prize and said this little carb-on-carb delight “was simple to make and will be appreciated by housewives.”

Ahh, that’s the problem then, I’m not a housewife!

pasta box

In the archive, where they belong.

Another Orange Contest with £5 Prize. The Australian Women’s Weekly (1932-1982), Saturday 19 August 1933, page 35.

In defence of Mrs Maclurcan

7 Feb

Yesterday, I unleashed my inner Bourdain against Mrs Hannah Maclurcan, the author of one of Australia’s earliest cookbooks. I’m not sure why I decided to be so mean to her. Maybe it was Sydney’s record-breaking heat, the position of the moon or, more likely, the fact that I’m insanely jealous of a woman who got to publish 20 editions of the same book.

After sleeping on it, I realised that perhaps my vitriol was unwarranted. It is easy, after all, to attack a woman who has been dead for 75 years. Now, however, in her defence, I would like the record to show that she did have some good points.

She recognised local produce and her 1898 edition included recipes for kangaroo tail soup and jugged wallaby as well as tropical fruits like granadilla , paw paw and egg fruit (or, as she calls them, bringhalls).

She didn’t fall into the trap of pretending Australia was still England either – of her recipe for granadilla cream, which involves scooping out the fruit’s insides and covering them with boiled custard, she says “Of course cream would be better;  but in North Queensland that is quite out of the question.”

She was also a powerhouse of energy and productivity. Not only did our Hannah outlive two husbands and find a third in her final years, she ran two major hotels, was something of a PR maven, raised four children and, in addition to writing the book we have discussed here, also found time to pen The 20th Century Cookery Book: A Thousand Practical Recipes for Everyday Use.

Strangely though, I still hate her. Envy’s a terrible thing.

The case against Mrs Maclurcan

6 Feb

Mrs Hannah Maclurcan might’ve been one of Australia’s first celebrity food writers, but she was also an ungrateful, money-hungry, lying, possibly plagiarising woman who didn’t mind pulling the wool over the eyes of her fellow countrymen.

How do I know all this? I gleaned it from the second edition of Mrs. Maclurcan’s Cookery Book: A Collection of Practical Recipes Specially Suitable for Australia, written around 1898 and published in the present day gastronomic mecca of North Queensland, Townsville. Speaking of that retina-burning  place, I think I am still digesting a “Chinese” meal I ate there four months ago…

But I digress. Below are the charges I have made against Mrs Mac, with evidence gathered from her own hand to support my claims.

Ungrateful and ungracious

In the preface to her second edition, Mrs Maclurcan writes:

“It seems only the other day that I wrote the preface to my first edition, and it is hard to say anything original in a preface. I hope it will be some time before a third is wanted.”

So your first edition sold out in a matter of weeks, you have the privilege of publishing a second edition and you’re whining about the fact that you might have to do a third? Boo freaking hoo. Pass me the tissues while I contemplate the fact that I have published no books, let alone editions of them. I’m glad you ended up having to write another 18 prefaces Hannah Maclurcan. It serves you right that your book was updated and published a staggering 20 times. You didn’t really succeed in saying anything original in any of them either – the 18th edition, which was published in Sydney and Brisbane in 1922,  is almost the same as the 2nd, although you at least sound a little more gracious. Meaning it took you 24 years to learn some manners. Well done you!

Probably a plagiarist

She might’ve learnt some manners, but it doesn’t look like she learnt how to not copy other people’s work. Again in that preface which Hannah hated writing, she says:

“I would like to say, however, so as to clear up any doubt there might be on the subject, that the great majority of the recipes in the book are my own invention, a few were bought by me, and are, consequently, my own property, and a few have been given me by friends.”

In the preface of the 18th edition, she is still addressing the same problem, unsurprisingly, in almost the same words she used 24 years ago.

 Is it a case of the lady doth protest too much? Certainly Beverley Kingston, who authored Maclurcan’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography,  suspects it might be. She writes Maclurcan  “was perhaps the first Australian celebrity cook writer (and perhaps also the earliest to be accused of passing off others’ recipes as her own)”.  Just accused? Actually did it? The truth is I don’t really know, because, let’s face it, I’m lazy and I haven’t done enough research, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past her. And neither will you once you read the next entry on what a liar she turned out to be.

Lying and deceiving

When is a hare not a hare? When Mrs Maclurcan cooks it. Here, she reveals a sordid little secret in her recipe for Roast Wallaby:

“Most people, even Australians, are prejudiced against the wallaby, after all they are one of Australia’s natural foods, and feed just the same as a hare, in fact I have often served it for hare and no one has been the wiser.”

This means if you had the pleasure of being a guest at Mrs Maclurcan’s table, it’s likely you ate wallaby when you thought you were eating hare. Seeing as Mrs Maclurcan was a hotelier as well as a food writer, she probably served up this neat little trick during her time at the Queen’s Hotel in Townsville and, later on, at the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney. Nice.

But the deceiving doesn’t stop there. The 1922 edition of the book is said to be “New and enlarged”. Strange because the 1898 edition has 891 recipes, whereas in 1922 there are only 552. I’m no Stephen Hawking but that’s a funny way to make a book “enlarged”.

Loves that advertising dollar

I could cut Mrs Mac a little slack here. Yes, it’s true her books are packed with advertisements for everything from local grocers to Lipton’s Tea but, according to Richard Beckett in Convicted Tastes, “almost all early cookery books were packed fore and after with advertisements”.

Perhaps Hannah was just doing what all the other cool food writing kids were doing back then. Still, for my naive editorial-should-be-separate-from-advertorial tastes, she’s gone a step too far in the case of Elliott’s Queensland Baking Powder.

In the front of her 1898 edition, there is as ad which tells us that Queensland Baking Powder is “absolutely pure” and “Food raised by Queensland Baking Powder may be eaten hot with impunity”. This begs the question of what happens when you eat it cold, but let’s leave that alone for now.

An ad is an ad is an ad and having worked in the media I understand it’s not the cover price that pays your wage. In the book itself, however, a large selection of recipes for cakes and biscuits including Orange Rock Cakes and Dundee Cake all call for teaspoonfuls of “Elliott’s Queensland Baking Powder”.

“So what?,” you’re probably asking. That’s ok. Many modern food magazines include editorial mentions in recipes all the time, especially when the company in question has bought an ad in the front of the book.

What’s curious, however, is that in the 1922 edition the recipes for the Orange Rock Cakes and the Dundee Cake are identical in every way except for one. Not only is Queensland Baking Powder no longer included, there is no mention of  baking powder at all. It has been replaced with self-raising flour. I wonder what happened here. I like to imagine that Hannah flew into such a rage when she learnt that Elliott’s had pulled their products from her book that she decided she would never ever even mention baking powder again. Or maybe she re-tested the recipes and found they worked better with self-raising flour. Clearly, I prefer the former scenario.

Summing up

Perhaps I’ve been brutally unfair to Mrs Mac. Certainly there’s more research to be done, another 18 editions of her book to look at, more literature to review. For all I know Mrs Maclurcan could have been a grand, generous dame who fed the homeless and saved stray dogs from becoming meat pie filling. But my gut feeling is that Mrs Maclurcan was a nasty passive aggressive piece of work.  And my gut is always right…usually.