Monday, January 26, 2015

An Australian Meat Dinner (1875)

Today, for those of you outside the continent who may not know, is our official national day here in Australia. The day commemorates the date in 1788 that the first fleet of ships carrying convicts from Britain sailed into Sydney Cove, and the country was formally claimed for Britain by Captain Phillip – without (as per the usual method of imperial nations of the time) the indigenous inhabitants of the continent being included in the new ownership decision.  The debate about the appropriateness of celebrating the day of invasion and colonization will hopefully be settled by consensus before too many more decades are past, even if this requires re-naming of the day (‘First Fleet Day’?) or perhaps the choice of another day altogether.

My mission on this blog is not to wax political but is simply to give you some insights into how the day has been celebrated in the past and how the Australian colonial experience was perceived in the Mother Country, and also from time to time to give you some ‘Australian’ recipes and food stories. 

In the middle of the nineteenth century there was a shortage of meat in Britain and Europe for a variety of reasons (see the first link, below).  Luckily there was no shortage in the colony of Australia, to which free settlers had been lured with the promise of “meat three times a day” – an unheard of luxury to the working class in Victorian Britain. The obvious opportunity was seized by some of the movers and shakers in the far south land, and in 1865 the Australian Meat Company was established, with a head office in London, eager graziers and farmers throughout the land Down Under, and a large-scale canning operation in the state of South Australia. Canned Australian meat was, however, not met with overwhelming delight amongst the working classes of the mother country (to whom it was targeted), despite the enthusiastic efforts of the promoters.

Many ‘Australian Meat Dinners’ were held in London over the second half of the nineteenth century to promote the product, and these were often reported with interest in local colonial newspapers. One such dinner was described in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld.) of 13 February 1875 :

The Australian Meat Agency, Cannon-street, London, who has recently given a series of Australian meat dinners to representative men, gave one at the Guildhall Assembly Room, under the auspices of the Walsall Trades' Council, by whom a gathering of 200, chiefly working men and their wives, had been got together.

... The bill of fare comprised boiled beef, spring lamb, seasoned beef, minced collops, vegetables, pickles, tea, and water.
The meats were served cold, in order that they might be subject to the severest test possible. In commencing the proceedings the chairman said that Mr. Tallerman would show them first how properly to open these tins of preserved meat, and this that gentleman at once proceeded to do. Holding the tin bottom upwards, over a plate, the splendid provision slipped on to the plate as easily and as perfect as if simply turned out of a mould, while loud applause proved at once the looseness with which he had been watched and the spectators' admiration. He cut it down the centre and it stood on the plate, and laying the two halves flat sides downwards proceeded to cut off thin and appetizing slices which looked as well as those which might have been cut off a cold joint.

… The gusto with which the particularly fine meat then handed round was discussed fully testified its merit, and indeed it is not too much to say that the samples set on the table evening were equal to any English meat out from the same part of the beast. Had all that has been imported from Australia been of equal quality there would not now have been any necessity for Mr. Tallerman to be perambulating the country prosecuting a vigorous war against prejudice. If, as is stated to be the fact, the meats served on Wednesday are simply the ordinary meats imported by Mr.Tallerman’s company (and indeed, as the tins were opened there and then it is almost impossible but that they were),there is little doubt that prejudice will rapidly be dissipated, and Mr. Tallerman and his supporters will deserve the ample return which their enterprise and public spirit will have won for them. All the meat was of high class but the minced collops were the perfection of a savoury and tasty dish, and will form a wonderful addition to the many delicious little tit-bits provided for breakfasts or for meat teas.

Mr. Tallerman spoke at some length on the Australian meats. He mentioned the enormous quantity now brought into this country, about 16,000 tons 'annually, and observed that it came in no less than ninety-two different forms. He asked the working people who tried it, to compare it with other cold meats of the same description, and urged that it would be found, not a substitute for, but an admirable addition to, the present meat supply. He dwelt upon its cheapness when compared with fresh meat, maintaining that in a leg of mutton, of ten pounds, at 10d. or 11d. a pound, the loss in cooking would be about 2 lbs.,which, after deducting the bones would only leave about 4 lbs. of cooked meat. This cooked meat would have cost by the time it was eaten about Is. 6d. a pound, while that from Australia was only some 6d. or 7d. a pound when it had been cooked. He also commented upon the advantage it had in many parts of the country from not requiring anything more than a few sticks to heat it and make it ready for table as a hot dish, by that means saving the very costly article of fuel, and concluded by thanking all for their attendance, and the patience with which they had heard him.

… The Chairman called on Mr. Hodgson, who, he said, had been one of the first in Australia to boil down sheep for their tallow, to second the motion.
Mr. Hodgson did so in a long and humorous speech, in the course of which he mentioned that he had twenty-five years previously given a lecture on Australia to a Walsall audience, at the request of his friend, Lord Hatherton, then Colonel Littleton. He explained the large surplus of cattle and sheep that existed in Australia, and pointed out that they were descended from picked English cattle. He was not the first, but the second, to boil down sheep in Australia for their fat, but now he thought they found a better use for them. He gave several anecdotes in relation to the use of the meat, and the admiration with which it was spoken of by prejudiced persons when they did not know what they were eating, and concluded in the words of Shakespeare by wishing ‘may good digestion wait on appetite, and health on both,’ to the company generally.

The enormously popular Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery (London, c. 1870) had an entire section devoted to “Tinned Meats, Australian.” At one time I promised to eventually transcribe all of these for your edification and delight, but I seem to have lapsed in that regard.  I offer you a couple today, but first, let me repeat the opening remarks in the chapter:

Tinned Meat, Australian.
The following original recipes (one hundred in number) are the result of several years’ experience in the use of Australian tinned meats. Against these considerable prejudice exists, owing to a great extent, to the fact that few know how to cook them properly. If the recipes, here given, however, are followed, it will be found easy, even for a cook of moderate abilities, to prepare from Australian meats a succession of tasty as well as digestible and nourishing dishes.

I have chosen recipes number 11 and 12 for you today, for no better reason that they call simply for ‘minced Australian,’ which amuses me.

Make a crust of one pound of flour, a quarter of a pound of bread-crumbs, half a pound of rolled and rubbed suet, one tea-spoonful of baking powder, and water sufficient to make it into not too stiff a paste. Roll it out half an inch thick, and spread over it a layer of minced Australian seasoned with pepper and salt, one shallot finely minced, and a quarter of a pound of minced ham or bacon, all mixed thoroughly together. Let this be spread upon the paste, half an inch thick, then roll up as for a jam roll, tie in a wetted and floured cloth, then boil one hour and a half; turn out, garnish with parsley, and serve thick brown gravy over the pudding.

Mix well together one pound of flour, half a pound of bread-crumbs, one tea-spoonful of baking powder, one pound of minced Australian, a quarter of a pound of chopped ham or good bacon, pepper, salt and nutmeg to season, a quarter of a pound of rolled and rubbed suet, two eggs well beaten, and half a pint of milk. Have ready a buttered pudding-basin, pour in the mixture, cover with a wetted and floured cloth, tie down tightly, and boil one hour and a quarter. Serve with rich brown gravy round it.

Previous Australia Day and related posts:

1 comment:

Shay said...

You Aussies are pretty tough. I imagine you'd have to be minced to be edible :-)