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When books don’t have dates, PhD students get confused. And then they get angry…

18 Jul

Dorothy Daly’s Italian Cooking has been cited as one of the first Italian cookbooks written in English. It doesn’t have a date of publication on it, but no less than the Boston Public Library (BPL) has declared it was published in 1900, at least according to the Open Library and Internet Archive, which would mean, like Janet Ross’ Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen, it was indeed one of the first:

Italian Cooking entry on the Internet ArchiveExcept it wasn’t published in 1900. It couldn’t have been. It’s wrong and it’s making me crazy. So, how do I, a lowly PhD student, dare to doubt establishments such as the BPL? Well, here’s some proof:

  • The book includes a “Table of Equivalent Oven Heats” which features heat settings for different manufacturers’ ovens. Not only does it seem like one oven, the Cannon with Autimo settings, didn’t exist until at least the late 40s, Daly’s chart also bears a striking resemblance to one published in the 1950s by British food writer Ambrose Heath in Kitchen Wisdom:
Oven temp chart in Italian Cooking

The oven temperature chart in Dorothy Daly’s Italian Cooking features some ovens that didn’t exist till after World War II…

Chart from Ambrose Heath's Kitchen Wisdom

Many of the same makes of oven appear in Ambrose Heath’s Kitchen Wisdom (1950).

  • It repeats as fact the myth that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China, a myth which a number of scholars believe came from a 1920s item in the Macaroni Journal, a trade publication for pasta makers in the US.
  • Daly uses the term “pasta” throughout the book, but this word was not in common use in English-language cookbooks until at least the 1950s, with “macaroni” the preferred umbrella term for different pasta shapes up until then.
  • Sun Books published an Australian edition in 1969 under the title Cooking the Italian Way. Except for the title, and some minor editing, there isn’t much difference between this version and the so-called 1900 edition. It seems pretty unlikely that a book would require little editing when so much has changed in the kitchen from 1900 to the late 60s, unless it was marketed as some kind of nostalgia trip, which it wasn’t. Much more likely is that the book was first published in London in the late 1950s, which British historian Panikos Panayi notes in Spicing up Britain: The Multicultural History of British Food.

    Cooking the Italian Way by Dorothy Daly 1969

    The cover of Cooking the Italian Way, published in Melbourne, 1969.

  • The illusive Ms Daly also wrote a bunch of other books on Italy, all of which feature publication dates in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and even 80s. Some of these are reprints, but unless Daly was a prolific genius writing from the age of 2 until her old age, it’s difficult to account for the fact that the rest of the woman’s work was published 50 years after her first book. Incidentally, I have found very little biographical information about the mysterious Dot Daly, like when she was born and when she died, so if you know something, say something.
  • Stylistically, typographically and linguistically Italian Cooking just doesn’t look or sound like a book written at the turn of the last century. Don’t believe me? Have a look yourself and you will no doubt find a hundred other reasons why this book couldn’t have been published in 1900.

So this wrong date is now all over the Internet, with some categorising it incorrectly, even Google,  and others trying to make a quick buck. It makes me mad, not because people are potentially getting ripped off, although that’s never nice, but because a wrong date can lead a student of history to make incorrect assumptions about, well, everything. It also proves you can’t just accept what other people –  even if those people are big, established, respected libraries –  say. You have to question everything. Though, let’s be honest, we could’ve saved a hell of a lot of time if the publisher HAD JUST PUT THE DAMN DATE ON THE BOOK IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Sorry for yelling, but I was angry. I feel better now.

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What happened when Romano ate Vegemite pasta

10 Jun

Romano is my dad. I’ve talked about him before, mostly to point out that his criticism of other people’s cooking is not what you’d call gentle or sensitive or, well, nice. He once made eight-year-old me cry when he told me my risotto was a gluggy, gluey, inedible mess. You see, Romano lives his life by a strict set of edicts which govern all aspects of his dietary intake.  You could call it Romano’s Code, and he expects others to understand and respect his Code. There’s Romano’s way – salads should always be dressed with olive oil and vinegar not abhorrent concoctions that involve mayonnaise or, God forbid, yoghurt – and then there’s the wrong way.

Romano’s Code doesn’t just cover cooking, it extends to dining etiquette as well. If, for example, you find yourself eating dinner at Casa Cammarano and think it is OK to just pluck a few random grapes from the requisite fruit platter that appears after every meal, you are sadly mistaken. The right thing to do is to take a small bunch, stalks and all. Romano doesn’t care if you’re a daughter, a cousin, a new boyfriend or the parish priest, commit this sin and you’ll hear about it loudly and for a long time afterwards. You might be embarrassed, but then Romano believes you should be.

So when I came across this 1950 recipe for “Noodles” with a variation that called for the adding of “a teaspoon of meat extract or Vegemite” in Wynwode Reid’s New Australian Cookery Illustrated,  I knew, in the name of Italo-Australian cuisine, it had to be tried. And I also knew the person to try it should be Romano.

Noodles Recipe from New Australian Cookery Illustrated

Note the Vegemite variation under “Savory Noodles”.

I set about making it happen. In a bid not to prejudice his palate, I decided I would keep the Vegemite a secret.  Romano, like most Italians, is not a fan of the inky black substance – he’s more a Nutella man. I’m sure if I told him I’d taken what has been the staple of his ancestors for centuries, and mixed in a spoonful of Vegemite, he would see it as a betrayal of his culture and, worse, a clear contravention of Romano’s Code.

Following the instructions proved to be as simple as mapping the human genome, but somehow I managed it. In the middle of the task mum rang to say Nonna was expecting me for dinner. Perfect, I thought, ignoring the line that said “Leave at least 24 hours to dry”, dad can try the noodles then.

Vegemite ready to go in dough

Vegemite in dough

Vegemite dough rolled out

Rolling up vegemite pasta

Unfortunately, by the time my ribbons of latte-coloured pasta had been transported in their plastic box from the city to Spotswood they had turned into mounds of stuck-together dough. “Not you worry,” said Nonna and we set about re-rolling the pasta into little twists.

Nonna and mum re-rolling Vegemite pasta

Romano entered and pointed out that they looked like something the dog did.

This was not a good start. But cooked and covered in Nonna’s sauce, Romano didn’t immediately turn up his considerably-sized nose.

Cooked Vegemite pasta twirls

He looked at it closely. He looked at me. “What’s in it?,” he asked

“Just try it”, I urged

He smelt it.

“You used chestnut flour.”

“Just try it.”

“You used wholemeal flour,” he accused.

“Would you just try it?”

He took a little. He chewed it thoughtfully. He took a little more.

Romano tasting Vegemite pasta

A second taste of Vegemite pasta

“Is it alright?”  I asked timidly.

“Hmm yeah, alright. Not bad. Not great. Not bad. Now, what’s in it?”

“Vegemite!” I proclaimed triumphantly, ready for his face to turn from apathetic to angry.

“Oh, OK, yeah, it just makes it salty. It’s alright.”

“What do you mean? Isn’t it disgusting to put Vegemite in pasta? Aren’t you appalled? It’s what Australiani put in their Bolognese, dad. It’s wrong, isn’t it? I thought you would think it was wrong!”

“No, it’s alright. It’s fine.”

So, there you have it, when Romano ate Vegemite pasta, there was no yelling of cultures double-crossed, of codes violated, of anything really.  It just didn’t seem right – who was this man? This wasn’t how my father should react to Vegemite pasta, of all things. Had I slipped into a parallel future, an alternate 1985 of sorts?  Where was the outrage? What did I have to do to provoke that? And then grapes presented themselves for dessert. I plucked a few from the stalks, and Romano did his thing. Everything was right in the world again.

A plate of Vegemite pasta

My Italian Christmas – a special encore post

29 Nov

So you know how TV networks call repeats of TV shows encores?  Well, I’m taking a leaf out of their book and posting a story I wrote for Taste.com.au  a few years ago about what an Italian Christmas is like in the little-known Italian town of Melbourne. Consider it a prequel to Nonna’s torrone recipe which we were meant to make together this week, but Nonna hasn’t been feeling the best, so it’s on next week, with a post to follow. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what will be either very familiar or completely foreign, depending on the amount of wog blood coursing through your veins:

Roast turkey, mince pies and shortbread. This is what a foreign Christmas sounds like to me. The same goes for fruitcake, stuffing, pudding and Christmas crackers. Totally exotic.

My unfamiliarity with all things Anglo-Christmas is my family’s fault. My mother is Sicilian, my father is from near Naples, and I was born in Melbourne, but if what you eat is who you are then I am definitely Italian. No question. Or, to be more precise, southern Italian.

Like all good southern Italians, our Christmas meal starts with homemade pasta. In my house, these take the form of panzerotti. Now, the thing about pasta and Italians is that one man’s panzerotti are another man’s crespelle. By this I mean that depending on where you are in the tall skinny boot known as Italy, pasta often has the same name but can be something quite different. In casa Cammarano, however, the panzerotti are made by Romano, my father, and are precise little half moons of pasta filled with ricotta, parmesan and parsley, sealed with a fork, boiled in water, and served with a fresh tomato sauce. Perfect.

However, occasionally people who are not my father get involved in the making of perfection, and things inevitably go wrong. These people, Romano’s children and his mother-in-law, in particular, don’t particularly care if a complete circle has not been cut out of the pasta, making it impossible to create a proper half moon. Or they are sloppy in the way they seal the panzerotti, meaning when you cook them, they burst open and their ricotta filling is lost to the raging boiling water around them.

Sometimes, crazy people, like my mother,  put spinach in the filling and this not a happy Romano does make. He feels that spinach compromises the clean flavours of the fresh ricotta and I think he is right. (By the way, never ever buy the ricotta that comes in the containers at the supermarket – this is a criminal act in Romano’s book.)

While panzerotti were and still are the specialty of Mr Cammarano, my mother Lidia, or, as she hates to be called, Lil, always makes ricotta cake. The recipe for this cake goes way, way back to an ancient and sacred Italian cookbook that no one can remember the name of and has since been lost. But the cake lives on in the memory of Lidia, who will not share the recipe because it’s hers and hers alone. Even though she claims the book has been lost, I think she destroyed it to protect her ricotta cake-making monopoly.

But I digress. It is a delicious cake, no doubt about it. The pastry crust is short and contains orange zest. My mother doesn’t believe in making her own pastry – she outsources it to my grandmother, who brings it to her house already rested and rolled out, in a glass Pyrex dish with crinkled edges. The filling is fresh ricotta, cinnamon, eggs and caster sugar. There might be more, but Lil isn’t telling. It’s baked in the oven and then dusted with icing sugar. We eat it during the entire Christmas period – it is the fuel that keeps us going and propels us through everything festive from gift buying expeditions and loud card games to visiting friends and midnight mass.

Whilst it is starting to sound like ricotta is at the centre of my Italian Christmas, it’s not. Torrone is. Torrone is the Italian word for nougat but my grandmother’s version is not the snowy white version you are probably most familiar with. This one is made mostly of almonds and sugar, and is caramel brown in colour. To make it you must have the strength of 21 men, four oxen and three donkeys. Your hands must be capable of withstanding nuclear plant meltdown levels of heat. Or you must be my 89-year-old grandmother. She makes it, and has always made it, by herself. True, these days, she lets me or my mother occasionally have a turn at stirring it, but she waits impatiently as you try to churn the spoon, her eagle eyes watching for any signs of fatigue. It doesn’t take long – and as soon as you pause, she’s taken the spoon and is back at it again, and you’re left wondering why you’re standing exhausted while a woman four times your age, and a quarter of your size, is moving nearly 2 kilos of sticky, heavy sugar and almonds.

It might seem a good idea, at this point, to give you some of the recipes for these tasty Christmas treats. However, my father would not give his recipe for panzarotti, on the grounds that you will not make them as well as he does. My mother would not give her recipe for ricotta cake, for the reasons stated above. My nonna, however, has provided her recipe for torrone. Because nonna is good and kind and just, and knows that as there’s no way you’re as strong as she is, trying to make it will probably kill you anyway… so look out for Nonna Maria’s Torrone in the next post (complete with pictures, I promise)! In the meantime, tell me if this Christmas is anything like yours?

Thoroughly modern macaroni

6 Oct

Just when you think you know how 19th Century Australians cooked their pasta, along comes a recipe that changes everything.

Before we go on, however, you have to know there was no such thing as pasta in the 1800s – it was called macaroni. And it was most commonly cooked in a sweet pudding , much like a rice pudding, in a bake of some sort, like macaroni cheese, or as an accompaniment or garnish to different meats  (ox tongue garnished with macaroni anyone?).

There were, of course, exceptions, mostly revolting-sounding ones which involved brown gravy and batter, but none are as exceptional and out of place as the recipe below:

Maccaroni Dressed with Oil.

Take two cloves of garlic, slice them very finely crosswise, and set them to boil in a gill of fine olive oil, adding during the process two or three anchovies, well washed and boned, and cut in small pieces, and a dozen or more olives, cut in two and stoned.  When the slices of garlic assume a golden color, pour the whole over 1/2lb of boiled string maccaroni (Vermicelli or Spaghetti) well drained; mix well, and serve.

It comes from Australian Town and Country Journal in 1890 and, culinarily for its time, it’s a freak.

Not only does it contain garlic and olive oil – both at least a good seventy years away from real acceptance in the mainstream Australian pantry; it doesn’t contain any kind of protein – unless you count anchovies – which I don’t;  and it mentions spaghetti – which, while not unheard of in this period, is rare. The recipe is not prefaced with it being Italian, or foreign or unusual in anyway. It’s just a normal recipe for normal housewives, unlike any others before it, and a good way ahead of any others that follow it.

Unfortunately, there’s no author given for the recipe and that is a real shame, because they should be congratulated for their foresight…  of course, this could mean the recipe was plagiarised, in which case I take the congratulations back…

Bibliography

“Maccaroni Dressed with Oil,” Australian Town and Country Journal,  26 April 1890, 34.

A recipe for ravioli…

26 Sep

For kicks these days, I spend a lot of time looking for Italian recipes in Australian cookbooks. The one below comes from the 1961 edition of the P.W.M.U. Cookery Book. It left me asking one question. Read it, and see if you can figure out what that question was:

Ravioli

1lb. rissole steak, 1 cup diced celery, 1 chopped onion, 1 dessertspoon curry powder.

Heat a dessertspoon of oil and fry onion. Add curry powder, salt and pepper. Add steak and brown a little. Add 8 oz. tin tomato soup, celery and flavourings. Cook 1 cup spaghetti and add. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

The question, dear readers, is why? Why on earth is this recipe titled ‘Ravioli’? If ravioli, in its broadest definition, can be described as a stuffed pasta, this recipe is just, well, stuffed…

Bibliography

  • Jenkins, Gwen, Hanna, Betty, McMillan, Muriel and Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Victoria P.W.M.U. cookery book (Rev., enl., redesigned and completely reset ed). Melbourne: Cheshire, 1961.

The macaroni cure

18 Jul
Uncooked penne

Good news for the wine and pasta set... if your definition of "news" doesn't mean it has to be new...

As a pasta addict from way back, I hate people who say it’s bad for you. All those Dukan, Atkins and anti-carb crusaders who maintain it’s too processed and too white to be beneficial. Oh, they say, you can have a little bit, but not after 5pm, and make sure you have it with loads of vegetables, and while you’re at it, wholemeal has more fibre so use brown instead of white. And skip the cheese. And add tofu. And really, you shouldn’t eat it at all, so, while you’re at it, just leave out the pasta altogether. You won’t miss it. Trust me. And you’ll feel so much better!

Hmpf. Makes me want to hotfoot it to my nonna’s house who understands there is only one real serving size when it comes to pasta – huge – and only one way to eat it – with plenty of rich ragu and a hilltop of freshly grated parmesan.

So I was happy to read that Charles Napier doesn’t agree with the pasta puritans.

The English scientist maintains that macaroni is actually an excellent cure for alcoholism. He says that macaroni, and other products made from flour,  as well as dried peas and lentils, work by rendering the “carbon in an alcoholic drink both unnecessary and repulsive”.

He cites the case of one 60-year-old man who “was seriously impaired by his frequent excesses”. After an “almost fatal attack of delirium”, the man adopted a diet heavy on the macaroni and beans, and, somewhat miraculously, “a complete cure was effected in seven months”.

Sure, he said this in 1878, but good science is forever right?

Maybe not, but at least the Pastafarians will be pleased …

Bibliography

  • “Alcoholism and Farinaceous Food.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July, 1878, 7.

Spaghetti sandwiches

7 Jul
Spaghetti sandwich illustration

Spag sanga anyone? Lorraine Hannay's illustration of a spaghetti sandwich in Richard Beckett's Convicted Tastes.

I have a confession to make. I have never eaten a spaghetti sandwich. A tangle of tomato-tinged, soggy and sweet can-confined spaghetti has not ever presented itself to me as a viable sandwich filling. The concept is utterly foreign, which isn’t surprising given I grew up in a household where  a can of spaghetti was like bacon to a Jewish Rabbi – not only a banned substance, but one thought of with a fair amount of  disgust.

Not so for my eighth generation Australian husband who recalls with delight chomping down on buttered white bread crammed with slimy spaghetti.

He wasn’t the only one. Richard Beckett recalls that spaghetti sandwiches were once very much a part of the culinary landscape:

Its construction was quite basic – a spoonful of tinned spaghetti between two pieces of buttered bread. Along with baked beans, it was always an integral part of a plate of mixed sandwiches at city tearooms – now vanished – run by large department stores on their top storeys.

When exactly the spaghetti sandwich made its debut is hard to know. What we do know is that to make this historic sandwich you need a can of spaghetti, and that process was kicked off in the late 19th Century by the Franco-American company in the US.  By the 1920s it was joined by versions from Heinz and Campbells, amongst others.

Heinz, which didn’t start local production till 1934, claims that US miners introduced their canned products to Australia during the gold rush, along with their shovels and picks and dreams of striking it rich too, no doubt.

However, by 1917, you didn’t need to know an American miner to get your hands on a can of spaghetti – you would’ve found it along with other imported products like baked beans, cream of tomato soup and “many other desirable lines of distinctive quality” at HG Wilson and Co, “The Family Grocer” on Swanston Street in Melbourne, just opposite St Paul’s Cathedral.

By 1924, the spaghetti sandwich must’ve been sufficiently established as a culinary entity as to allow the Geisha Café in Townsville to advertise it as “very, very nice”.  It might sound like they employed Borat to do their copywriting, but the Geisha was keen on selling its special  spaghetti sandwich with its “special coffee”, as, well, a “special”:

Spaghetti sandwich ad 1917

"You could ask for nothing more delightful" than a spaghetti sandwich, according to Cafe Geisha's ad in The Townsville Daily Bulletin,10 September 1924.

In 1935, the Barrier Miner of Broken Hill published Miss Marojorie Mann’s recipe for Hot Savory Spaghetti Sandwiches. It was sent in as an entry for an “Afternoon Tea Delicacies” competition. It didn’t win:

Hot Savory Spaghetti Sandwiches

Slices of crisp toast, well buttered, some thin slices of ham, sliced tomato, grated cheese (if desired), 1 tin spaghetti, parsley

Reheat the spaghetti thoroughly. Heat the ham in a little milk – either in the oven or over the fire. Place a thick layer of spaghetti on a piece of toast. Cover with another slice on this. Place heated ham and sliced tomato and cover with another slice of buttered- toast. Garnish with a sprig of parsley and sprinkle thickly with grated cheese. Serve very  hot.

Which begs the question, am I game enough to try this so-called “delicacy”? I think it’s time to confront my fears about this most foreign of foods,  and while I’ve barely recovered from my last spaghetti-led carb overload, I think, as they once said about Whitlam, it’s time…

Bibliography

  • Beckett, Richard, Convicted Tastes: food in Australia. Sydney : George Allen & Unwin, 1984, 204
  • Levenstein, Harvey. “The American response to Italian food, 1880 – 1930” in Food in the USA, ed: Counihan, Carole, M, Routledge, 2002, New York, 78.
  • “Groceries.” The Argus, 23 May 1917, 12.
  • “Spaghetti Sandwiches are Very, Very Nice.” Townsville Daily Bulletin, 10 September 1924, 3.
  • “Afternoon Tea Delicacies.” Barrier Miner, 14 September 1935, 4