Friday, January 26, 2007

Australian Meat, English Pie.

Today, January 26th …

There is no avoiding it, today Down Under it is Australia Day. When America won its War of Independence, Britain was forced to find another dumping ground for its criminal class (most of which was the urban poor). The prison hulks in the Thames soon proved insufficient (and had rather too much unsightly proximity to the urban rich), so a fleet of slightly more seaworthy hulks were obtained, filled up with convicts, put under the charge of Captain Arthur Phillip, and sent off to the Great South Land.

Australia Day commemorates the day in 1788 that this “First Fleet” sailed into Sydney Cove and was formally claimed for Britain by Captain Phillip. The last shipment of convicts arrived in 1868, just as a trade opportunity in the opposite direction was starting to assert itself.

There was a serious shortage of meat in Britain in the second half of the nineteenth century due to a combination of circumstances: the population grew from 28 to 35 million between 1850 and 1880, and cattle plague (probably Rinderpest) had drastically culled cattle herds. In the new colony of Australia there was an abundance of cattle and sheep. How to get this beef and mutton to the Mother Country? Many methods of meat preservation were tried and patented.

The Australian Meat Company was established in 1865, with head offices in London, and a large canning business in South Australia. It is difficult to avoid thinking that the amount of effort expended by the authorities, companies, and cookbook authors to promote the use of this tinned Australian meat somehow reflects its lack of intrinsic appeal. Its one great virtue was its cost, and Phyllis Browne, who addressed herself to “people of moderate income, with moderate domestic help, and ordinary kitchen utensils” in her book A Year’s Cookery (1879), had this to say about it:

“Australian Meat is at its best when served cold with pickles. It should be turned out of the tin very carefully, and the dripping that lies on it should be taken away, and will prove a valuable addition to the household stock of dripping to be used in cookery. .. The jelly should be preserved – it will make excellent gravy; and in order that there may be no waste the tin should be rinsed with warm water for gravy.”

Canned Australian meat remained a common commodity in Britain for decades after the first successful shipment of frozen meat from Australia arrived in England aboard the Strathleven in 1880. The 1910 edition of Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery feels justified in providing 100 recipes for using tinned meat because “considerable prejudice exists, owing, to a great extent, to the fact that few know how to cook them properly”.

Naturally, I have to give you a recipe for meat pie today (it is our national dish, after all), and have chosen one from a junior cousin to Cassell’s Dictionary, a cookbook “written on the basis of the maxim that economy and simplicity are not incompatible with excellence and elegance”. It is Cassell’s Shilling Cookery (1888).

Australian Meat Pie.

Warm the tin; strain off the jelly. Place this in a saucepan with six beads of garlic, and let it boil gently for ten minutes. Take out the garlic. Add a teaspoonful of salt, two of black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and half a grated nutmeg. Mix the meat thoroughly in this gravy, and put it in a pie-dish. Cover with a crust and bake till the pastry is done. Take it out of the oven, and let it get cold.
This pie must be eaten cold, not hot. If the jelly were insufficient to moisten the meat, some water, or still better, stock, should be added.
Australian meat lacks flavour and requires vigorous treatment, as above.
Should such a strong flavour of garlic be objected to, put in less, or an onion, but garlic is best.
[I must add, for those of you who have not experienced a good Aussie Meat Pie, that we dont make them from canned meat nowadays!]

Monday’s Story …

Mulling it over.

A Previous Story for this Day …

This day in 1888 marked the centennial anniversary of the day that Captain Arthur Phillips formally claimed the land as the furthest outpost of Her Majesty’s Empire, and landed a considerable number of her less desirable subjects as its first citizens. The ‘Inevitable Banquet’ that accompanied such events was the feature of the story on this day last year.

Quotation for the Day …

I live on toasted lizards,
Prickly pears, and parrot gizzards,
And I’m really very fond of beetle-pie.
Charles Edward Carryl (1841–1920), U.S. poet


Anonymous said...

The slang term "sweet Fanny Adams" comes from a young girl who was brutally murdered and mutilated in 1867 in Hampshire, England. The British Royal Navy adopted the term "Fanny Adams" to mean the canned mutton that had recently joined their rations, since the meat had a rather suspiciously smooth appearance. As an aside, the Navy also adopted the term "Harriet Lane" for the same purpose - to describe canned or preserved meat - in 1896 from another mutilation murder that occurred in London in 1874.

Unknown said...
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The Old Foodie said...

Hello Nene - I knew about SFA, but not Harriet Lane - another interesting thing to look up. Thanks!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Catching up almost a year later...Some of the British still have a taste for this type of tinned beef (usually from South America now). I love cold corned beef, as prepared in Australia (salted chunks of beef, similar to Jewish "Salt Beef"), and was horrified that when I bought corned beef sandwiches in Scotland to find that they were mushy, cat food like tinned meat.


The Old Foodie said...

Hello Adam
Growing up in post-war England (with a mother who was not, bless her, the world's greatest cook) I was very familiar with the Fray Bentos brand of corned meat. I think I liked it then, but I couldnt eat it now - I'm with you, I love a good piece of corned beef - in fact I cooked some on Sunday so it is cold, with salad, tonight. Lovely.

Indian Grocery Shop - Buy Grocery said...

good information about Australian meat