The early settlers in Australia not only brought with them livestock and seedstock from Britain, they also brought an absolutely firm determination to make everything as much like “Home” as possible, and were resolute, on the whole, to avoid the food of the “natives”. Those who settled around the penal colony of Moreton Bay in what is now Brisbane could however hardly eschew the abundant local seafood (which would indeed have been foolish, as it is magnificent) even if they had wanted to, for fish cannot be farmed as easily as land, and cannot be preserved as readily and “sent for” from home.
The following menu for a Brisbane café in 1898 could have been lifted from any English café. Although the snapper and oysters must have been local varieties, they were prepared in a thoroughly English way. Not a sliver of kangaroo or a sprinkle of lemon myrtle or a bit of macadamia crust anywhere to be seen. This was solid, heavy English fare for the mild Queensland winter season.
From the Brisbane Courier, July 22, 1898, this advertisement for the Café Imperial.
BILL OF FARE FOR THIS DAY
Pea Soup. Beef Tea.
Boiled Schnapper and Oyster Sauce.
Fried Schnapper and Anchovy Sauce.
Saute of Kidneys and Bacon.
Veal and Ham Pie.
Lamb Cutlets and Tomato Sauce.
Roast Turkey and Pork Sausages.
Roast Fillet of Beef.
Grills.- Fillet Steak and Oyster Sauce.
Loin Chops and Chip Potatoes. French
Cutlets and Bacon. Peas. Potatoes.
Fruit Salads and Wine Jellies, 6d. extra.
Soup, Fish, Meat, or Poultry, with Tea,
Coffee, Bread and Butter, and Cheese, Is.
Three Courses for One Shilling.
Cafe Imperial, 28 Queen-street.
From Phillip Muskett’s The Art of Living in Australia (1893), a recipe for a local ugly but not particularly interesting fish, cooked in a thoroughly Victorian English style:
2 oz. Forcemeat—2d.
1 gill Gravy
1 oz. Dripping—1d.
Time—Half an Hour
Take a little veal forcemeat and season nicely. Sew this into the flathead and truss it into the shape of the letter S. Rub some dripping on to a baking sheet, which should only be just large enough to take the fish. Put some dripping on the top, and bake in a moderate oven for half-an-hour, or longer if large. Slip it on to a hot dish, draw out the trussing string carefully, flavour and boil up the gravy and pour round it. Serve very hot.
Quotation for the Day.
"In the hands of an able cook, fish can become an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight."
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)