Monday, November 21, 2005

Politicians don't write cookbooks anymore

Today, November 21 …

Ludwig Leichhardt was a Prussian botanist and intrepid explorer of inland Australia in the1840’s. Other adventurers of the time took familiar food supplies on their expeditions, but Leichhardt planned to learn from the Aboriginal people, and live off the land. He has been criticised since as being a poor bushman, and he and his men did indeed spend a lot of time very hungry, but he would try any food once, and never repeated a mistake. On November 21st 1844 he reflected on the situation, and his journal reads:

“ … Iguanas, opossums, and birds of all kinds, had for some time past been most gladly consigned to our cooking pot, neither good, bad, nor indifferent being rejected. The dried kangaroo meat, one of our luxuries, differed very little in flavour from the beef, and after long stewing afforded us an excellent broth, to which we generally added a little flour. It is remarkable how soon man becomes indifferent to the niceties of food; and when all the artificial wants of society have dropped off, the bare necessities of life form the only object of his desires.”

Kangaroo might have been a staple for indigenous people and bushmen, but the representatives of the “upper ten thousand” who had the dubious fortune to find themselves in the farthest and wildest reaches of the Empire never embraced it. They were quite able to ignore an available and nutritious food precisely because it was enjoyed by “the many”, and because they too wanted familiar food from the the mother country, no matter how inappropriate for the new living conditions.

The first Australian cookbook was addressed to both groups and was published in 1864 by Edward Abbott, a Tasmanian politician passionate about all things Australian – which was not an desirable eccentricity in the colony. The recipes are an odd mix of local and British ingredients and dishes, interspersed with anecdotes and testimonials. It was a resounding failure, and never had a second printing. It was just too “colonial”.

Or perhaps it was some of the more outlandish recipes that frightened the expatriates off:

Slippery Bob.

Take kangaroo brains, and mix with flour and water, and make into a batter; well season with pepper, salt, &c; then pour a table-spoonful at a time into an iron pot containing emu fat, and take them out when done. “Bush fare” requiring a good appetite and excellent digestion.

Tomorrow … Propaganda and puddings.

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