A rather interesting article in the Worker (Brisbane) of 1 April 1890 managed, in a few short paragraphs, to advise the young housewife on the health benefits of sweating over the stove, on how to feed her family in a healthy but economical way without giving them indigestion (and especially to tempt those who are fatigued), to adapt her cooking to the ingredients at hand - AND to get her husband to buy her a new dress. It even included a few recipe ideas too. It is all about “ticklers.”
Over the Stove.
There isn’t anything more interesting than cooking nice things to tempt tired people with – that is supposing you have nice things to cook, and really it’s wonderful how handsomely common-looking materials will repay you for taking a little trouble with them; I believe a plain rice pudding is as grateful as a pretty girl to you for trying to make it look pretty. Cooking is hot work, I’ll admit, but then it’s healthy, in moderation; in fact it’s as good as a Turkish bath and costs nothing but time and trouble, and you are well repaid for those in the coin that women best love – kind looks and sweet words. For, preach as you will, you cant prevent a family with bad digestions from having bad tempers, and bad digestion will be so long as the mother has no ideas beyond steak and tea. Is that your plight? Well, drop the tea and try “ticklers” instead of everlasting steak; you’ll find out the difference the first time you tell your husband you want a new dress. I’ve been through it myself so I can talk.
But how to get the ticklers? I can tell you of plenty, but the trouble is I don’t know what materials you have at hand. Some of you get as much milk and fruit as you can use “dirt cheap;” others don’t see such luxuries once a month; one is in the bush eating salt meat all the year round while her sister buys fresh fish for a song; or again, one is comfortably off and can afford a cupboardful of groceries while the other has to be sparing in using sugar and tea. The best thing is to remind you that cooking is not a book or recipes but a knack of mixing whatever you have to hand; when you have to suit yourself to your materials treat cooks’ directions as you treat advice – listen to everybody and take your own way.
Still, one likes hints and here are a few out of which you can make a backbone for all sorts of dishes:-
Never be without onions or garlic in the house. I prefer the garlic and so will you when you have got over the English prejudice against it. Always cook your onions or garlic for a long time; it is your half-cooked onion that taints the breath and make the stew seem coarse; well cooked it is one of the most wholesome vegetables we have and may save you many shillings worth of medicines.
If you can afford it always have a bottle of salad oil in the house and use it for your stews; you will find that it makes them both more tasty and more delicate; besides, the oil is easily digested and fattening and it is exactly what the children need as a set-off against the meat and bread diet little Australians get so plentifully.
Mix plenty of vegetables, or where these run short, plenty of fruit, with your meat stews; dried prunes and raisins, fresh cooking plums, apples, quinces, even lemons. Anything with a little acidity draws out the flavour of the meat and helps to make it tender. Always fry your stewing materials before setting them to simmer; oil is by far the best frying material, but if economy forces you to use dripping, clarify it well first; two teaspoonsful of sugar fried with the rest is an improvement; also lemon juice with a little of the rind is always an improvement on vinegar when oil is used. Oil is your best friend when meat is tough; steaks and chops, soaked in oil with pepper and salt for some hours before cooking, will not have the face to be tough. If you cannot afford this time, boil them in oil (if possible with fruit or tomatoes) for half an hour, then let them simmer for another half-hour or three quarters.
When you are making milk puddings and eggs run short, use a lump of butter or a spoonful of oil instead. Ground rice, cornflour, [word not readable] &c. made with milk and a little butter added (say butter the size of a walnut to a pint of milk) are more delicate than if made with eggs. Sweeten your puddings with sugar rather than honey, [this seems to be the wrong way around] it gives a peculiar delicate flavouring of its own besides having medicinal and fattening proportions. Whenever there is a tendency to sore throats honey should be used as much as possible.
To wind up with here there are two practical suggestions which anybody can carry in their heads and vary according to circumstances. Have you facilities for procuring ripe fruit? Then take a fruit mixture, [word unreadable] put plums, bananas, oranges, pine-apple, anything and everything you can secure (the greater the variety the better) piled together in a deep dish, breaking the fruits into small pieces so that the juice may run out. Scatter over it a large quantity of sugar, the quantity must of course vary according to the sweetness or acidity of the fruit you are using, but it is best to err on the liberal side; leave the sugar to melt and soak in till the fruit is floating in syrup. It ought to stand quite six hours before serving. Pour over and mix in with it rich cream, if you can get it; if not, boiled custard is a delicious substitute. You will find everybody asking you for the recipe of your wonderful “fruit salad.”
If you can only get stewing fruit you will find them much improved y mixing; bananas, insipid when cooked by themselves, are delicious when stewed with one or more kinds of slightly acid fruits. If you can afford to stew fruit in cheap claret or claret and water you will find the flavour immensely improved.
N.B. – If you cannot spare time to make boiled custard to eat with fruit and yet have the materials you will find a raw egg beaten up in milk and sweetened a capital substitute, only remember, it will not keep.
For a good, cheap dinner trim two pounds of steak, cutting away all fat or skin. Cut half a small pumpkin into mouthful pieces. Pepper, salt and flour your steak and let it stew fast. In about half an hour change places, i.e., put all the pumpkin at the bottom of the pan and lay the steak over it and let it all stew thus for about three-quarters of an hour more, during which time the steak is practically steamed. Results: tender, tasty, and cheap. Any oil over to be kept for another stew – with which practical remark I cast anchor.
Not too many recipes for “ticklers’ there after all, were there? I don’t know if the following idea from the same era is ticklish, but it is certainly strange, in a scary kind of way. What do you make of it?
One egg, two tablespoonsfuls sugar, half a cup strong vinegar, one teaspoonful butter, half a teaspoonful salt, one teaspoonful ground mustard, one teaspoonful curry mixed in cream. Mix mustard, salt, sugar, vinegar and curry, and pour on the well-beaten egg[s]. Simmer all for ten minutes. This will keep for a month in a cool place.
Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.) 3 November 1897.