Tag Archives: 1940s

Australian ricotta – Part 1

25 Feb

Some people understand the cost of living by the price of bread or milk or McDonald’s hamburgers. For me, it’s ricotta. A staple in my kitchen, I could not live without the stuff. Fresh, soft and still warm, I cannot resist scooping a few teaspoonfuls out of the container while I’m putting away the shopping. Days later, I’ll eat it with jam or honey on toast, with spinach in a pie, on spaghetti with eggplant and tomato, or stirred through pasta, made into a sauce with a bit of hot water, a handful of parmesan, a grating of nutmeg and a sprinkle of pepper. Comfort food at its best.

 But back to the index. When I lived in Leichhardt, in Sydney’s inner west, I used to buy ricotta for around $7.99 a kilo.

Later, when married life saw me move to the food wasteland that is Maroubra Beach, I had to make the admittedly-short journey to Maroubra Junction where I paid a shocking $10.99 a kilo.

Still, I realised I was better off than the poor ricotta-ripped off in Manly who were paying $15.99 a kilo. As for David Jones, in the city, they were suffering and continue to suffer similar stupid prices for a product that is not even a cheese – rather it’s a by-product of it.

In Melbourne, my home town, at the much loved Footscray Market, you can get it for $4.99 a kilo. And that, right there, is why I’m moving back to Melbourne.

All of this, however, got me thinking about when this most versatile of dairy products made its debut in the great brown land of Australia.

 The first mention of it I have found is in Tasmania’s daily newspaper, The Mercury, in 1930. In a short account of Christmas in Rome, the author describes the meal on Christmas Day as starting with soup:

…in which there are “cappelletti”, little cases of macaroni in the shape of hats, which contain a mixture of meat, brains, and “ricotta”, a kind of cream cheese.

It’s not till 1943 that there’s evidence of my favourite whey-based product for sale. The Cairns Post features an ad for Brightways Grocery where I would’ve been able to pick up 2 pounds of ricotta for sixpence. I’m not sure where that would sit on the index today, but what is surprising is that ricotta sits amongst the not-very-Italian ingredients of gooseberry jam, beetroot and the mysterious-sounding luncheon beef.

Perhaps the reason this ad wasn’t more targeted at the small Italian population of North Queensland was because many Italians there had either just been released from internment following Italy’s surrender to the Allies, or they were still incarcerated. Either way, anti-Italian sentiment in Queensland was running high.

 By 1954, however, back in Tasmania, it’s all about the Italians. A classified ad in The Mercury reads:

AAAAAA. TELL YOUR ITALIAN FRIENDS we have now BACCALA, Coppa, Bologna, Salame, Ricotta, Olio, Polenta. THE PANTRY, 37 Elizabeth St.

In the 1960s, ricotta became an ingredient that was featured in the odd Australian Women’s Weekly recipe, usually with the caveat that it could be substituted with either cottage cheese or cream cheese.

Publication in the Weekly generally means you’ve made it into the mainstream but in 1966, the Australian Dairy Produce Board thought the public still needed to be educated about the cheese and, maybe more importantly, where it’s from. An ad for “Australian ricotta” went something like this:

Ricotta ad

This ad appeared below an advertorial recipe for Heavenly Cheese Cake, which featured creamed cottage cheese, on 28 December 1966 in the Australian Women's Weekly.

The preoccupation with making sure the public understood that ricotta was now Australian continued into the late 60s. In a 1968 cookbook add-on about cheese again in the Australian Women’s Weekly, ricotta is one of many cheeses featured. Its provenance is given as “Italy” and we are told it cost “about 50 to 60 cents per lb”, however we are also told that it was one of many cheeses that used to be imported but was now made in Australia.

I find it quite hard to believe ricotta was ever imported, as it’s a fresh and highly perishable cheese. But if the bible of Australian womanhood says it is so, then it must be so:

cheeses of the world

Ricotta cheese is in the top left corner behind the glass of cottage cheese in this editorial spread from The Cheese Cook Book, an add-on to the Australian Women's Weekly on October 9,1968.

This brings us up to the 1970s which brought us flares, punk rock and a constitutional crisis. But you’ll have to wait for Part 2 to find out what happens next in ricotta’s journey from a cheese for the eye-talians to a common ingredient many of us eat and cook with all the time. Bet you can’t wait, right?

“Christmas at Rome.” The Mercury,5  February,1930, 4.
“Brightways Cairns.” Cairns Post, 30 September, 1943, 2.
“AAAAAA. TELL YOUR ITALIAN FRIENDS.” The Mercury, 14 January 1954,19. 
“Heavenly Cheese Cake.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 28 December 1966, 6.
“Cheese adds that gourmet touch.” in The Cheese Cook Book in The Australian Women’s Weekly, October 9, 1968, p 2-15.

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.

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.