Tag Archives: 1920s

Unfortunate advertisements in old Australian cookbooks – No. 1

7 Nov

In the 1921 edition of this book:

P.W.M.U Cookery Book of Victoria 1921

We find this:

Kiwi advertisement in PWMU Cookery Book of Victoria

Look out for more of these in this irregular new series…

Advertisements

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 

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.