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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.

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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.

Pasta al dente

10 Feb
pasta

Pasta as we know it... but not in the 15th century.

“Tania, this pasta… it’s not good!”

My father gently picked up a strand of the spaghetti I had cooked him and dangled it in the air over his plate.  It quickly joined its tomato sauce-covered cousins below.  

“See? Too soft. Too soft is not good. It is like the spaghetti in the can like the Australiani eat. We are Italians. We eat our spaghetti a little bit hard in the middle. We have always eaten it that way and we always will. Understand?”

“Si, yes, ok, I understand. Sorry dad.”

I was only eight-years-old and the lesson about al dente pasta was to stick in my mind like dough to unfloured hands. Still, I wish I’d known then what I know now. Then I could’ve replied to my father’s lecture with:

“Actually no dad, you’re wrong. Italians, or at least the people who lived in the country that was to become Italy, haven’t always eaten their pasta al dente. In fact, in the 15th century they ate it so overcooked it was like porridge. So when you say we have always eaten it that way, well, you’re just wrong, wrong, wrong.”

I would’ve delivered this in the “tone” my parents were always warning me about.  It might’ve earnt me a slap and perhaps I would’ve deserved it, but slap or no slap, it doesn’t change the truth.

John Dickie, in Delizia! The Epic History of Italians and their Food, draws our attention to a few pasta recipes written by the eminent Maestro Martino de Rossi, sometimes called Martino di Milano and other times Martino di Como.  We will call him Marty for short. Marty was a chef and the author of The Art of Cooking in around 1465 – a book generally considered important in the development of Italian gastronomy.

What’s clear from this book is that Marty and his contemporaries liked their pasta soft, super soft in fact. The recommended cooking time for vermicelli is an hour and for macaroni two hours. Dickie points out that even if you take into consideration that Marty’s dough contained egg white and probably needed a little longer to cook than our pasta today, we’re still talking super mushy pasta.

So see dad? You were wrong and I was right… even if it did take me 27 years to prove it.

The fattest women in normal times?

8 Feb

Poor Mrs Hegarty! As she tells the “Medico” in an Australian Women’s Weekly article from 18 August 1945, her husband has been in New Guinea for eighteen months and he’s due back next week. She’s put on nearly three stone and she’s “just afraid of what he’ll say!”

Never fear Mrs Hegarty! Medico is here! With plenty of questionable dietary advice for everyone! But why just share nutrition advice when you can include racial stereotypes too?

While Medico praises the Scots, English and Irish for their “winsome” figures, as well as the Chinese and Hollywood stars for their ability to stay trim, the Italians are tarred with the fatty bombah brush:

“What country produces the fattest women in normal times?” I [Medico] asked.”

“”I suppose it would be the Italians.” [Mrs Hegarty]

“The Italian national food is pasta (macaroni and spaghetti), white bread, and olive oil. The macaroni is made from white flour.”

“Australians eat a lot of white flour as bread and jam, cakes and biscuits, don’t they?” said Mrs. Hegarty, “and many seem to have bother with their figures.”

“I’m afraid they do,” I replied.

If this was true, and I do doubt it was, it is certainly no longer the case. A study from The Lancet reported a few days ago found that the BMI for Italian women has fallen from 25.2 in 1980 to 24.8 in 2008, making the average Italian woman of “normal” weight.

In Britain, on the other hand, the average BMI for women has risen from 24.2 in 1980 to 26.9 in 2008, putting them in the “overweight” category.

So take that Mr Medico.

Medico.  “Eat and Grow Slim.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 18 August 1945, 28.