Thursday, February 16, 2006

Extracting the goodness.

Today, February 16th …

Today in 1893 there was born in a village near Ballarat, a baby who would change the food culture of Australia. He was Cyril Callister, and he grew up and became a brilliant scientist. One day he was head-hunted by the entrepreneur Fred Walker, who gave him the challenge of making something useful from the nutritious but disgusting waste from the Carlton & United Breweries. Cyril eventually came up with a dark, salty spread with a strong taste that was not, it has to be said, immediately appealing to the general public.

The name “Vegemite” was chosen via a national competition for a fifty pound prize, and the product was launched in 1923. Sales were still too slow by 1928 and the name was changed to “Parwill” to attempt to lure customers away from the English yeast extract called “Marmite” (get the play on words?). That didn’t work either, so it was Vegemite again from 1935, and an intense marketing campaign was begun. By the time of WW II, it had become an essential part of Aussie troops’ ration kits, and civilians who did not need it “medicinally” were asked to deny themselves of it, so that it could be saved for soldiers and invalids.

Before there was yeast extract, there was “meat extract”, and in 1865 the Liebig Extract of Meat Company was formed to convert the nutritious but disgusting waste from meat carcasses into a meat substitute. Eventually the Liebig company became the Oxo company, and “stock” became a salty dark brown cube.

Cookbooks were often part of the marketing campaign for these extracts, and the 1899 edition of “Nelson’s Home Comforts” had a recipe for:

Mock Turtle Soup
This, like real turtle soup, can be made of Nelson’s Extract of Meat, and Bellis’s Mock Turtle Meat. Boil the contents of a tin of this meat in water or stock, salted and flavoured with vegetables and turtle herbs, until tender. Finish with Nelson’s Extract of Meat, as directed for turtle soup.

The book also described “Bellis’s Sun-dried Turtle Meat” (sold in boxes) and warned against “an inferior article, got up by negroes from turtle found dead … sold at a low price … but it is unnecessary to say it is not good or wholesome.” It did not specify what nutritious but disgusting waste the tinned Mock Turtle Meat was made from, which may have been a sensible marketing decision.

Tomorrow: The parson’s tongue and other parts.

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