Archive | Cooking doyenne RSS feed for this section

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.
Advertisements

What Elizabeth David told us Aussies…

14 Sep

In 1953, the great Elizabeth David – she who introduced the wonders of Italian food to the heavily fish and chip-dependent Brits  –  had some advice for Australians.

In a fabulously named article  – “A new ‘Mrs Beeton,’ but she likes garlic” – David sings the praises of snails smothered in butter made with, well, garlic,  talks about the upcoming publication of her book Italian Food and shares some Australia-specific thoughts with the Courier-Mail correspondent, who, diligently, went looking for the local angle, no doubt to please his editor back in Brisbane. Anyway, here’s what she had to say about us:

  1.  She is flattered by the volume of fan mail from Australians but is “stumped” by the questions that come with it, often about substitutions for different ingredients. I can imagine those  letters …“Dear Mrs David, Can I substitute witchetty grubs for snails…”
  2. “She thinks Australians are on the right track in adopting minestrone from Italian migrants as almost an Australian national dish.” News to me that we almost did this, and had I been the Courier-Mail correspondent I would’ve asked where she got her national dish information from. A Gallup poll perhaps? Roy Morgan?
  3. “Mrs. David hopes the Australian housewife is using plenty of wine in her cooking. In a major wine producing country it would be a sin to exclude it from the kitchen, she says.” We might have been a wine producing country but in 1953 we were still serious wowsers, with 6 o’clock closing enforced in most pubs around the country and wine drinkers looked on with suspicion.
  4. “She says the French learned cooking from the Italians and that everybody else should do likewise.” And that, dear readers, is something I can’t argue with at all…

Bibliography

  • “A new “Mrs Beeton,” but she likes garlic,” The Courier-Mail,  26 October 1953, 8.

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.