Before you crush all your apples into cider as the Curator had us doing last week, we thought we’d celebrate ‘Eve’s fruit’ with some tried and tested family favourites from our heritage kitchens. We’ve featured apple hedgehogs and apple snow in more summery posts, but Apple Charlotte, pictured above, and Auntie Tottie’s Apple cake make perfect autumnal fare. Continue reading
Though it seems the weather in Sydney is never going to cool down, its time to look at apples: from apple Charlotte cake to chutney, and a baked apple recipe that kids will love to try for mothers day. But first its cider time! Continue reading
Included in the line-up of ceremonies at Sydney Living Museums Eel festival this week included yours truly preparing a popular 19th-century delicacy, ‘collared eel’ following a recipe from 1816:
Bone a large eel, but don’t skin it: mix pepper, salt, mace, allspice, and a clove or two, in the finest powder, and rub over the whole inside; roll it tight, and bind with a course tape. Boil in salt and water till enough, then add vinegar, and when cold keep the collar in pickle. Serve it either whole or in slices.
Chopped sage, parsley, and a little thyme, knotted marjoram, and savoury, mixed with the spices, greatly improve the taste.
Maria Rundell, A new system of domestic cookery, 1816; Persephone Books, London, facsimile edition, p17.
On all the best tables
Collared eel was a popular enough dish to warrant its own dedicated serving ware, such as the colourful eel dish pictured above, from the Rouse Hill House and Farm collection. The Rouse’s serving dish, about 12cm in diameter, helps contain the rolled eel neatly, and the eel and surrounding jelly or aspic would be served straight from the pot. The lid has been broken and its staples indicate that it was valued enough to for someone to take the trouble to repair.
We’ve discussed the art of collaring in a previous post ‘Slippery stuff’, but it is an all-but-lost art that survives in the form of Scandinavian pickled roll-mops, French roullades and Italian involtini. It is well suited to thin fillets of fish or meat that can be seasoned and rolled to make a more substantial and interesting dish for the table and eel is particularly well suited to this mode of preparation as it is a very gelatinous meat, and sets in its own jelly once it has been poached.
An arcane reference
The ‘collar’ reference for this type of thin rolled foodstuff comes from the practice of storing shirt collars, which were once a separate entity from the shirt itself. As the picture above shows, it was typical for gentlemen to store their collars in their own, and in this case personally initialed, collar box.
As collared eel is not a dish we commonly make these days, I road-tested the recipe in readiness for the festival – see some step-by-step pics below, but perhaps not for the squeamish. It was a fascinating process, the most difficult part being deboning the eel. Eels for culinary purposes and can be ordered from a good fishmonger, who may also, if you ask nicely, fillet them for you. The ones I buy from the Sydney Fish Market are wild caught from lakes above the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. You can also buy ready-to-eat smoked eels, which are much easier to bone and quite delicious served on a slice of cucumber with a dab of mayonnaise and fresh dill fronds.
Bone a large eel, but don’t skin it. Mix pepper, salt, mace, allspice, and a clove or two, in the finest powder, and rub over the whole inside; roll it tight, and bind with a course tape; boil in salt and water till enough, then add vinegar, and when cold keep the collar in [its] pickle. Serve it either whole or in slices.
Chopped sage, parsley, and a little thyme, knotted marjoram, and savoury, mixed with the spices, greatly improve the taste.
Maria Rundell, A new system of domestic cookery, 1816.
Maria Rundell's cookbook remained in print in much the same form but under different titles until at least the 1860s.
An 1861 edition remains in the Rouse Hill house and Farm collection, as does a decorative collared eel serving dish.
Eels in Sydney waterways
Eel was popular in England and colonists were delighted to find rivers teeming with them. They still frequent ponds and wetlands around Sydney – including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Centennial Park and in the stream and pond at our own Vaucluse House, yet the have a much broader global reach. Sydney’s eels migrate well into the Pacific Ocean, finding their way to Indonesian waters and as far as new Caledonia. You can read more about them here.
Eels are highly significant for Sydney’s Parramatta region. The name Parramatta is derived from Burramattaga in the local Darug language, meaning, ‘where eels lie’. The Barramattagal people would gather and feast, share stories and trade with neighbouring clans at the time of the eel season. Sydney Living Museums’ inaugural Eel Festival at Elizabeth Farm celebrated this Indigenous heritage with a family-friendly festival this month.
- Sydney Living Museums Eel Festival 2016 © Sydney Living Museums
The celebrations began in the evening on Friday April 22, with a traditional smoking ceremony and storytelling. This special ticketed event featured Indigenous elder Uncle Wes Marne, telling stories of his extraordinary life as we gathered around the fire bucket. The following day, Elizabeth Farm was host to a diverse range of family-friendly activities celebrating the Indigenous heritage of this special place, featuring talks, demonstrations and tastings about connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and the ways eel was enjoyed in the time of the Macarthur’s residence at the Farm.
Here is Mrs Beeton’s words of wisdom about eels in the UK
THE COMMON EEL.—This fish is known frequently to quit its native element, and to set off on a wandering expedition in the night, or just about the close of clay, over the meadows, in search of snails and other prey. It also, sometimes, betakes itself to isolated ponds, apparently for no other pleasure than that which may be supposed to be found in a change of habitation. This, of course, accounts for eels being found in waters which were never suspected to contain them. This rambling disposition in the eel has been long known to naturalists, and, from the following lines, it seems to have been known to the ancients:—
“Thus the mail’d tortoise, and the wand’ring; eel,
Oft to the neighbouring beach will silent steal.”
The Curator’s story about bananas and plantains earlier this year recalled the banana curry I enjoyed at Hannah’s Long Lunch last year, which celebrated colonial cookery author, Hannah Maclurcan. I’ve now put Mrs Maclurcan’s recipe for ‘banana curry’ to the test using green plantains, with pleasing and thought provoking results. Continue reading
This April Fools Day I’m departing from tradition and not telling a whopper, but I’m still talking about fools – the dessert that is.
In readiness for our fun family Easter Trails we’ve been investigating Easter traditions over time, including, of course, Hot Cross Buns.
One a penny, buns; Two a penny, buns;
One a penny, two a penny, Hot cross buns
With the benefit of Trove, a searchable (and invaluable!) archive of Australian newspapers provided by the National Library (NLA), it has been interesting to find celebrated food traditions discussed in Easter-time articles. All make the point that these traditions have transcended time and cultures, most of them pre-Christian and even pagan or heathen in origin.
They include Simnel cakes, which we discussed in a past post and Tansy cakes, a kind of spinach pie made with bitter greens bound with eggs and ground almonds, with honey added to neutralise the bitter flavour. Both are now obscure in our Easter repertoire. More enduring are Easter eggs which were until relatively recently, real eggs, hard boiled and decorated which children would play with, rolling them in ‘boules’-style competitions with their friends, and of course Hot Cross buns.
Old tradition, modern tastes
According to the Queensland Times in 1936, however, the traditional Easter bun was ‘not now quite so popular as it was even a decade ago‘. That seems hard to believe now, when they seem to appear on supermarket shelves the day after Christmas or in bakeries that run them all through the year in place of the conventional, plainly finished fruit bun. Even in 1902, it was lamented that
‘The buns of the present day are not like the buns of our youth. They lack the spice, the crispness, and everything else to which our tender palates were accustomed’ 
Despite one newspaper’s claim in 1936, that ‘Enshrined by traditions like a gem in a finely-wrought setting … [throughout] the changing ages Easter has never allowed itself to become “modernised“. Can this be so, in 2016? Not only have chocolate eggs become the norm – a late 19th century innovation, but Hot Cross buns are now available studded with chocolate rather than dried fruit, and there are totally fruitless versions, being merely a sugar-and-spice bun, marked with a flour-paste cross on top… where’s the tradition in that?
If at first you don’t succeed …
As a family we’re often away at Easter, so I’ve never taken the opportunity to make my own Hot Cross buns. This year, however, I decided I should try out an old recipe for curiosity’s sake. Unable to find a mention of them in my favourite C19th century cookbooks – by Maria Rundell or Eliza Acton – I turned to Mrs Beeton’s ‘Book of household management’ from 1861. While she didn’t have a dedicated recipe for them, a footnote to her ‘Plain Buns’ recipe says that, with currants and candied peel added to the ingredients list, ‘the mixture answers for hot cross buns, by putting in a little ground allspice; and by pressing a tin mould in the form of a cross in the centre of each bun.’ The addition of spice is important, harking back to times when spices were an expensive luxury and reserved for special occasions, and what distinguished a ‘plain’ cake or pudding from a ‘rich’ one. Mrs Beeton had a definite leaning towards allspice but the more traditional English-style ‘mixed spice’ is the accepted fruit bun flavour we expect today. 
I tried the recipe but my buns were more like rock cakes. It produced a very dry dough, brought about perhaps by messing up the yeast application, which was doubtful in itself: ’1/2 gill of yeast’ doesn’t equate to the way we buy yeast now – dried in sachets or in a Plasticine-like block.
… try, and try again
Before making a second attempt, I scoured more cookbooks for clues to guide me through the fermenting process. A later, turn-of-the-century Mrs Beeton’s ‘All about cookery’ volume features Buns, Hot Cross recipe made more sense, following the same procedure as the 1861 version but double the volume of warmed milk, into which the yeast is added. I took the plunge, and was pleased with the result – not as soft and bread-like as the (dare I say pappy?!) commercially made varieties, having a pleasant ‘toothsomeness’ about them. I also prefer the simple cut-through cross on the top of the bun rather than the flour paste addition, of which I’ve never been a fan. Perhaps you’d like to give them a go and let us know how you get on… and if you’re unsure about the yeast process, step by step images below.
Hot Cross Buns, Mrs Beeton’s way
Hot cross buns are traditionally served on a Good Friday. This recipe is based on Mrs Beeton's original recipe published in 1861, which used allspice, and a later turn-of-the-century version which uses the now accepted English style mixed spice blend.
- 450 g (2.5 cups) plain flour, sifted
- 100 g (scant 1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
- 1/2 cup currants
- 3 tablespoons mixed peel
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice or ground allspice
- 7 g (1 sachet) dried yeast
- 250 ml (1 cup) milk, warmed
- 110 g butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons sugar, for glaze
Mix together the flour, sugar, fruit, spice and salt in a large bowl, and make a well in the centre. Mix the yeast into the warm milk and pour into the well. Gently stir the milk with a wooden spoon so that enough of the surrounding flour mixture is gradually introduced into the liquid to thicken it to a batter consistency. That is, don't mix all the flour into the milk - leave the excess flour mixture around the edges.
Place the bowl over a pot of hot (not boiling) water and set aside for 30-40 minutes to allow the yeast mixture to ferment; it will expand in size and look puffy and bubbly at the edges.
Preheat oven to C180° and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Return the bowl to the work bench and pour the melted butter into the fermented mass. Mix the butter into the wet mass with a wooden spoon, gradually incorporating the remaining flour into the mixture until a soft dough is formed. (If it seems too wet you may need to add an extra dusting of flour or if too dry, a little more milk).
With floured hands, kneed the dough until smooth and elastic. Continuing with floured hands, break or cut portions from the dough and gently form into 12 buns (or more smaller ones).
Place the buns onto the baking tray a little distance apart and allow to them rest near the warmth of the oven for half an hour so that they will swell in size again.
Using a serrated knife cut a cross into each bun and bake for 30 minutes or until nicely browned and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean..
To make the glaze, dissolve the sugar in 2 tablespoons of boiling water, and brush onto the top of the buns while they are still warm. Serve the with butter while still hot, or if making ahead of time, split them and toast lightly.
Serve the with butter while still hot, or if making ahead of time, split them and toast lightly.
 Queensland Figaro, Wednesday march 26, 1902, p.16.
 Queensland Times (Ipswich). Sunday April 11, 1936, p.8.
 Allspice is a ‘New World’ spice sometimes known as pimento or Jamaican pepper – and the subject of a future series we’re planning for this blog this year – watch this space!
The ancient Egyptians valued watermelons so highly that they entombed Tutankhamen with a stash of them. In colonial NSW, that sweet ruby flesh was hardly less prized – as a story from the early years of Vaucluse estate goes to show. Continue reading
Along with 6 generations-worth of furniture, paintings, clothing and ephemera, Rouse Hill House is crammed with a rich collection of kitchenalia. Routine housekeeping of the house’s service wing provides a great opportunity to see these objects up close. Continue reading
No city is without its skyscrapers, and Sydney is no exception. All eyes seem to be on the current developments at Barangaroo on the western foreshores below Millers Point, which itself was named after the sailed flour mill run by John Leighton – known as ‘Jack the Miller’. Continue reading
Adapting recipes for modern tastes is a challenge: we have expectations of what a dish should taste like, what it goes with, how and even when it should be eaten, which are generally culturally learned. There are recipes that are achievable but may not be deemed acceptable on all tables these days – jelly is a good example. It was once revered on the finest society tables but you’d rarely find jelly served anywhere but at children’s party or possibly at yum cha.
Manuscript recipes from the Rouse Hill House and Farm collection for ‘meat soufflé’ and ‘quenelles’ are another example of a once admired dish that might not quite ‘cut the mustard’ on modern tables.
Take one pound of any kind of fresh meat, a slice of bread, 2 eggs, a little nutmeg, pepper & salt, a little cayenne enough milk to soak the bread with a piece of butter the size of a walnut – Mince the meat well pound it in a mortar, and the bread soaked with the milk & then the eggs & seasoning mix well together & pass // through a wire sieve. Steam for an hour to an hour & a half & serve with white sauce poured over it.
Quenelles are made in the same way as soufflé & made into the shape of an egg with two dessert spoons by taking the mixture from one spoon to the other – have ready a stewpan half full of water with a handful of salt in it drop them in separately & boil for ten minutes dish them up on mashed potato & serve with white sauce poured over them & a macedoine of vegetables in the centre
The recipes are written on personalised writing paper marked ‘Baroona Whittingham’. Baroona, near Singleton, was the family home of Phoebe Dangar, nee Rouse. Designed by colonial architect, Horbury Hunt who also designed the stables at Rouse Hill House, the homestead still stands today. Families were surprisingly mobile throughout the C19th and the various members of the Rouse family would frequent each others homes, often staying for weeks at a time. A recipe can be a souvenir or touchstone, providing a way of ‘revisiting’ a place, a family member or a memory at a later time.
Lamb in sheep’s clothing?
Essentially these are a very fine-textured meatloaf and meatballs, respectively, served with a white sauce. Rather than baking the meatloaf or pan frying the meatballs as we might today, the meat souffle is steamed and the quenelles boiled in water. With no added flavours specified on the recipe – herbs? salt and pepper? - when recipe tested they were something of a let-down. But someone taking the time to write out the recipes indicates that they were worthy of recording. Perhaps they were served to a guest who was so impressed they wanted to be able to make it themselves at home, or dishes that one of the family or a friend recommended because they liked them.
Many of us would think these minced-based dishes relatively ordinary, perhaps even humble, however the names themselves elevate them above the every-day. Indeed they may have seemed quite refined, as without the benefit of modern mincing equipment they involved quite a bit of work and considerable mess, having to push the meat through a sieve to achieve the fine texture – a job that can be done in mere minutes in a food processor.
‘Dead meat in shampoo’
I was interested to find on a very slick food blog from Denmark, Aorta Food, that poached meatballs served in a velouté-style white sauces are something of a cultural classic in Scandinavia and among their favourite comfort foods. The author of the article, chef at Draggsholm Castle, Claus Henriksen, notes that ‘Granted: Often it looks like dead meat in shampoo’ and proffers a more sophisticated recipe using fermented asparagus instead of the more traditional celery in the sauce.
It seems that quenelles (boiled meatballs) are not lost to history but a celebrated tradition that has been maintained in other parts of the world. As for its larger variation, the meat souffle (steamed meatloaf), I’m yet to find evidence of it surviving elsewhere.
Meat souffle and Quenelles
This ‘souffle’ is more like a finely textured meatloaf. ‘Quenelles’ were made in the same way, but formed into small football shapes and poached or steamed. You may prefer to pan fry the meat once formed into shape, and finish off in the oven for more colour; similarly you can flavour the white sauce if you wish, or substitute with gravy. These changes would spoil the authenticity of the dishes, however.
They were served with mashed potato and ‘macedoine’ or a mix of diced vegetables.
- 450 g minced beef, or blended pork and veal
- 1 medium slice day-old or stale bread
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 heaped teaspoon butter, melted
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- cayenne pepper or chilli powder, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup white, or bechamel sauce, to serve
Pound the meat in a mortar and pestle until smooth, or process in a food processor for a few minutes.
Place the bread in a shallow dish, pour the milk and butter over and allow it to absorb, adding a little extra milk if necessary. Transfer the meat to a bowl, add the bread, eggs and seasonings and combine well, using your hands or a fork to blend through. Return the mixture to the mortar and pestle or food processor, and pound or process until the bread is fully incorporated. (The original recipe instructs to then push the meat through a wire sieve, but if using a food processor this should not be necessary.)
Form the meat into a log or round loaf shape. Place the meat onto a steaming rack over a few centimetres of boiling water in a deep saucepan (or stand a plate upon a coffee mug to keep it above water level). Steam, lid on, for 1 to 1½ hours, topping up the water as necessary.
To serve, slice the ‘souffle’, arrange on a plate and pour white sauce over.