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Can Mrs Lance Rawson fix my Heston Blumenthal problem?

8 Dec

Yesterday, my copy of Heston Blumenthal at Home arrived in the mail. Study be damned! Deborah Jean Kasnitz’s Work, Gender and Health Among Southern Italian Immigrants in Melbourne wasn’t going anywhere, so, tempted by Heston’s dear face peeking into his fridge on the cover, I decided I could have a quick flick through.

Heston Blumenthal at Home book cover

Study or Heston? What would you choose?

Three hours later, after delighting in the Salted butter caramels wrapped in edible cellophane, wondering aloud if the Scallop tartare with white chocolate really worked as a flavour combination, marvelling at the regal purple colour of the Red cabbage gazpacho and wishing I could try a big scoop of that famous Bacon and egg ice cream, I had a problem.

I needed a sous vide machine, a vacuum packer, a cream whipper and a pressure cooker. And a digital probe. And maybe a refractometer too. And I needed them now. You wouldn’t send an astronaut into space without the right equipment, so how could I be expected to go boldly into the new world of scientific kitchen exploration without them? Answer: I couldn’t.

Ok, so it’s a very first world problem, but what’s a true Heston fan to do? Especially when that Heston fan is a poor PhD student? I tell you despair nearly drove me back to Work, Gender and Health Among Southern Italian Immigrants in Melbourne but, just in time, I remembered the rather prolific Mrs Lance Rawson, who wrote the 1895 classic, The Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion. Mrs Rawson has advice for when you’re a woman and you just need something new, like a bonnet, for example:

The husband is a creature of appetite, believe me, and not to be approached upon any important matter, such as a new bonnet or a silk dress, on an empty stomach.

This is good news. Against all the odds, I actually have a husband! So if I want a water bath, all I have to do is feed him well?

Yes, says Mrs Rawson:

Man must be cooked for. He’ll do without shirt-buttons, and he’ll do without his slippers, but he will not do without his dinner, nor is he inclined to accept excuses as regards under- or over-done meals after the first week or so of the honeymoon. If there be any young girls reading these pages who are contemplating marriage in the near future, take an old wife’s advice and learn to cook, for only by feeding him well will you succeed in gaining your husband’s respect and keeping his affection.

Well, I can cook, but oh no! It might be too late:

Let me suggest to prospective brides that they should stipulate for a stove if marrying a Bushman. A man will promise anything before marriage, very little after.

Damn it, have I missed the boat? Should I have vowed “I promise to love and obey but only if you get me everything listed under Specialist kit on pages 389 to 393 of Heston Blumenthal at Home.“? I can’t believe I went with traditional vows! So stupid of me…

Or, here’s a novel idea, maybe I could work and earn my own money to buy a sous vide machine?

Nah, Mrs Rawson wouldn’t approve, and I just couldn’t let her down.

Bibliography:

  • Blumenthal, Heston. Heston Blumenthal at Home. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.
  • Rawson, Mrs Lance. The Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion. Melbourne: George Robertson &​ Co., 1895.
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An Australian food history fantasy

23 Nov

In 1770, Captain Cook claimed the east coast of Australia for England. In 1788, the First Fleet came with everything they planned to eat and grow. After an initial period of near starvation, where the white settlers ignored Aboriginal methods of gathering food, the colony eventually got off the ground. The diet of these people, for the next 170 years or so, was pretty much a meat-rich version of what they ate in England. One of the chief concerns of their diet was not taste but “softness or ease of chewing”. I guess that explains all those overcooked vegetables then.

Painting of Aborigines eating and cooking

Joseph Lycett’s 19th century painting Aborigines cooking and eating beached whales, Newcastle, New South Wales. National Library of Australia – http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an2962715-s11

Now, imagine if, the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch, who are all thought to at least have sighted Australia in the 17th century, had decided to drop anchor and establish colonies. Say the Spanish had claimed the area near Adelaide, the Dutch taken far north Queensland and the Portuguese south-east Western Australia. Imagine too, that these European settlers hadn’t written off Aborigines as people who “barely existed”, and learnt a trick or two from their traditional foodways. While we’re imagining, let’s pretend the Aborigines had used their crops to trade with these new settlers for things like cooking implements, chocolate, vanilla and other spices.

Would all of this have resulted in the development of distinct regional cuisines, a mash-up of  colonial and indigenous ingredients and cooking methods? Would we now have a canon of dishes that included paella studded with kangaroo paws and witchetty grubs, poffertjes flavoured with lemon myrtle and quandong custard tarts? Would our national dish be wombat cooked in an underground oven, covered in a chocolate sauce?

In We are what we eat: ethnic food and the making of Americans, Donna Gabaccia explains that the arrival of various colonial powers settling in different areas of the States, combining  their own foodways with those of local indigenous populations, resulted in creole cuisines. Trade and curiosity, amongst other factors, helped these creole cuisines to form and, over time, they became distinct regional cuisines. It’s a fascinating read and prompts one to imagine how food in Australia could’ve been really quite different.

But the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese didn’t claim any part of Australia and  while the Aborigines did have an agricultural tradition, as Bruce Pascoe taught us, there was no significant trade. As a result, we don’t have any regional cuisines – with the possible exception of the German-influenced food of the Barossa Valley – which means, according to anthropologist Sidney Mintz, we don’t have a cuisine at all.

What we do have, however, is a way of eating that combines great product (tomatoes largely excepted), a food-interested population and the influences of cuisines and people from all over the world. It might’ve taken more than 170 years to get to that point, but thank god we did get there. Which is probably just as well, because chocolate-covered wombat doesn’t sound like anything I would want to eat…

Bibliography:

  • Bacon, Jenny. “A brief history of immigration to Australia,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 98-102.
  • Cahn, Audrey. “Australians in the early Twentieth Century,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 53-63.
  • Davey, Lois . Margaret MacPherson and F. W. Clements, “The Hungry Years: 1788-1792,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 24-46.
  • Gabaccia, Donna R. We are what we eat: ethnic food and the making of Americans. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Mintz, Sidney W. Tasting food, tasting freedom: excursions into eating, culture, and the past. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.
  • Shelley, Cheryl. “The original Australians – Aboriginals in the Northern Territory,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 19-23.