Details of Ned’s last meal would have made a marvellous blog entry, but if they have been recorded, I have not been able to find them. It is likely, however, that at least part of it would have been provided by the prison that was his last resting place. Pentridge prison had been built in 1850, and it had state-of-the art kitchens that supplied bread to other Victorian jails. Ned’s capture and execution occurred in the same year as the Melbourne International Exhibition, and a reporter from the The Queanbeyan Age who was in Melbourne for the event wrote a report on Pentridge’s kitchens, which was published two days after Ned’s demise. I give you an extract of the report:
The bread, though coarse in quality, is very sweet and nutritious. The ovens in which it is baked are not directly heated by fire, but the necessary degree of heat is conveyed to the ovens by means of flues or pipes. The advantages secured by this method are the moderation and equal distribution of the heat, and the cleanness of the bread from ashes. The officer in charge told me that beyond supplying bread for the 600 or 700 prisoners confined in Pentridge, more than half-a-ton of bread is daily sent out of these ovens for prison and other establishments in Melbourne.
Meanwhile, I wondered, what fine foods were the ‘better sort’ of folk eating at the time? Cookery columns were not a big feature in Australian newspaper of the time, although an exception seemed to be a Brisbane newspaper called The Queenslander. Five weeks after Ned’s execution, the following recipe appeared in the regular feature called ‘The Housekeeper.’
[CONTRIBUTED BY A LADY CORRESPONDENT.]
THERE is no cake more easily made than a sponge cake, if you but adhere to the following directions: - The weight of the eggs in sugar, and half their weight in flour. No occasion to use a given number of eggs; you can, if you like, make a cake with only one, provided you add the weight of that egg in white sugar and half its weight in flour. To make a good-sized cake, take eight or nine eggs - eight if all are large, nine if not; they will weigh exactly 1 lb. Separate the yolks from the whites, beat the sugar with the yolks, whisk the whites to a stiff froth (the whole success of your cake depends upon the whites) - they should be beaten until no liquid remains at the bottom of the basin; then add them to the yolks and sugar and stir till all are mixed; throw in the flour, and stir again till everything is blended - there is no occasion to go on beating after that. Pour into a well-buttered cake tin or mould, and bake in a quick oven. If the top gets brown before the cake is cooked wet a piece of brown paper and place over it; twenty minutes ought to bake it if the oven is in order. Many people use baking powder in their sponge cakes; it is quite unnecessary, unless the eggs are stale or you use duck eggs. A sponge cake made with stale eggs, either with or without baking powder, will not be very palatable.
The Queenslander, Brisbane, Dec 18, 1880
Quotation for the Day.
You will never get out of pot or pan anything fundamentally better than what went into it. Cooking is not alchemy; there is no magic in the pot.
Martha McCulloch-Williams, Dishes & Beverages Of The Old South (1913)