Tag Archives: 1950s

Crimes against pizza – 1. Vita Brits Pizza

2 Nov
Vita Brits Pizza

Vita Brits Pizza - A criminal act?

For too long now, the pizza – that most humble of Neapolitan inventions – has been the target of overzealous recipe writers, “creative” chefs and idiot advertising types who think it is best made with canned dough and served with teriyaki sauce, chicken, pineapple, and both fetta and cheddar cheese.

While there have been many moves to defend the pizza, mostly from Italians concerned that their culinary heritage is being destroyed, little has been done to name and shame the worst perpetrators of these horrifying and indecent acts.

Over the next few weeks, this special Lamingtons & Lasagna investigation promises to open cold cases where the rights of the pizza were trampled over, its victim impact statement never heard. Until now, that is.

While Lamingtons & Lasagna does not advocate a return to culinary luddism – where what was authentic was sometimes even deadly – the “pizzas” in this series have jumped the shark, or, as the kids these days might say, nuked the fridge, from imaginative interpretations to crimes against cuisine.

So, without further ado:

Crime number 1: Vita Brits Pizza

Accomplice: Australian Women’s Weekly

Date of crime: Wednesday 15 October 1958

Motive: There’s only so much money a company can make selling breakfast food for breakfast. But if they give you “delicious, new round-the-clock recipes” which mean you can enjoy “different and delicious luncheon or supper treats”, then they can make a lot more money.

Modus Operandi: “Butter VITA BRITS (use one or two VITA BRITS per serve) and place them on a greased oven tray. Place thin slices of cheese on each VITA BRIT. Cover this with a little well-drained tinned tomato, or peeled fresh tomato slices. Season with salt and pepper and top with another thin slice of cheese; dot with a very little butter. Bake in moderate oven about 10 minutes or until cheese has melted and slightly browned. If desired anchovies may be added (one fillet for each serve).”

Evidence: Vita Brits Pizza

Verdict: Guilty

Sentence: Never eat Vita Brits again (which is fine, because I prefer Weet-Bix anyway).

See more Crimes against pizza

Bibliography:

  • “Delicious, new round the clock recipes.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 October 1958, 75.
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Helmut Newton’s perfect cheese photography

24 Oct

When I think of photographer Helmut Newton I think of fashion. More specifically, I think nudie, rudie Vogue-like fashion. Which is cool, if you like that kind of thing, but I prefer food, in particular cheese.

So I did not expect the man responsible for (potentially not workplace-friendly)  this and this to be taking photos of this:

Perfect Cheese Co Parmigiano

And yet Berlin-born Newton, who served in the Australian army and became a citizen of our fine country in 1946, is credited as the photographer of the 1955/6 Perfect Cheese Co. Silver Anniversary souvenir booklet:

Perfect Cheese Co Souvenir Booklet

You might know the Perfect Cheese Co. better as Perfect Italiano which is what it became in 1996. But, back in the 30s, way before it was part of multi-national Fonterra, the Perfect Cheese Co. was a small family-run operation started by one Natale P Italiano and his lovely wife Maria. Here they are, photographed by Newton:

Natale and Maria Italiano, Perfect Cheese CoBy the time this booklet came out, the Perfect Cheese Co. was known throughout Australia and was doing very well for itself – having increased production from 2,000 pounds in 1930 to 900,000 pounds in 1954. According to Randazzo and Cigler, the company is also credited with pioneering sheep-milk production and producing the first pecorino cheese in the country.

The souvenir booklet – which you’ll find at the State Library of Victoria  – is well worth seeking out. In both English and Italian it shows just how close the Italianos were to the Italian migrant community they primarily, but not exclusively, served. Who else would have a Catholic priest write the dedication to what is essentially a marketing exercise?

At the same time, they weren’t limited by the dairying traditions they knew from the old country. Amongst the mozzarella and the ricotta, you’ll also find fetta in brine, kasseri and grated cheese in little packets. More evidence to support the fact that success in the food industry for Italians in Australia came from adapting to a new market, not exporting food traditions wholesale.

As for Helmut Newton, who knew you could go from fetta to fashion (or pecorino to near-porn) in the span of a single lifetime…

Bibliography

  • Helmut Newton Foundation . “Biography.” Helmut Newton Foundation. <http://www.helmut-newton.com/helmut_newton/biography/> (24th October 2011).
  • Perfect Cheese Co. Perfect Cheese Co. – Silver Anniversary 1956, South Melbourne, Vic. : Freelance Press,1955.
  • Randazzo, Nino & Cigler, Michael. The Italians in Australia, Melbourne : AE Press, 1987. 

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.

Italian or not, I heart Sirena tuna

18 Aug

Today I learnt something that probably everyone else in the entire world knows.

Sirena tuna is not and has never been Italian.

Its bright yellow and red tin, cute little fish and modest retro mermaid might all evoke 1950s Vespa-Lollobrigida Italy but the product is the invention of a canny migrant from the Veneto whose family is now worth  some $327 million, according to BRW’s rich list.

Can of Sirena Tuna

A true Italo-Australian: Sirena tuna, since 1956.

Carlo Valmorbida saw a gap in the market in 1950s Melbourne for tuna preserved in olive oil. Instead of importing it, he decided to service the increasing “continental” market by getting it made to his own Italian recipe. And so Sirena tuna was born.

Not imported from Italy like I thought, but made in Australia by Italians. Kind of like me.

According to a report by GJ Crough on the development of the Australian tuna industry (now there’s a thrilling read!), Sirena tuna was originally canned in Port Lincoln, from tuna fished off NSW. Later it came to be canned in Melbourne, which meant it was “located in the city where Sirena brand was most popular“.   Now,  like every other major  Australian brand, the tuna comes from Thailand, but it still tastes pretty damn alright.

As a kid, it was the only tuna my parents would buy. I remember it best on Fridays for school lunch. As good Catholics, it was always in my grease-paper wrapped sandwich along with fine strips of preserved eggplant.  Delicious.

Dieting made me try tuna in brine and springwater. This was a mistake. Cat vomit comes to mind.

Good sense brought me back to Sirena.  So cheers to Carlo Valmorbida, who died just last year, for being entrepreneurial enough to make it.  Below is my favourite Sirena tuna stand-by recipe – simple, but good, like all the best stuff.

Quick tuna sauce for pasta

  • Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, squashed
  • 1 big tin of Sirena tuna
  • 2 cans of peeled diced tomatoes
  • Salt to season
  • A pinch of sugar (if it needs it)
  • Pasta to serve
  1. Heat the olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Fry the onions and garlic till they are soft.
  2. Drain the tuna and then toss it in the pan. Break it up with a spoon and stir.
  3. Throw in the peeled tomatoes. Stir and let simmer till the sauce thickens a bit.
  4.  Season with salt, add a bit of sugar if it needs it and serve with pasta.

Bibliography

  • Crough, G.J. The Development of the Australian Tuna Industry. Sydney:Transnational Corporations Research Project University of Sydney, 1987.
  • “Families.” BRW Rich 200, May 26  June 29, 2011, pages132-143.

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.