Category Archives: Recipes

A Treat from 1930s Australia

As a food historian, I always enjoy learning about old recipes. I’ve tasted and tested recipes from a wide range of nations and time periods. Today, I saw a video of a recipe from Australia’s past, and while I haven’t tested this one myself, as is often true of people who cook a lot, I can “taste” it based on what I know of the ingredients. So I’ll add it to my “try soon” folder—but today, as it is from 1930s Australia, I thought I’d share it here. This is a channel created by a Canadian gentleman (which the pronunciation of words such as “about” will make clear) who specializes in dishes from old cookbooks. He also shares a bit of background on the dishes and how foods evolve, which is also fun.

A perfect little something for an afternoon tea. Enjoy.


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It was fairly early in my first visit to Australia that I encountered the iconic confections called Lamingtons. These traditional sweets consist of rectangles of sponge cake dipped in melted chocolate and rolled in shredded coconut. Hard to beat that combination. I found them from one end of Australia to the other. Here’s a video that takes you through the whole process of making them — though one can simply buy sponge cake, rather than making it from scratch.

For Americans, be advised that caster sugar is what we call super fine sugar. If you don’t have super fine, just put regular granulated sugar in a blender for a few seconds. Icing sugar is what we call powders sugar. Corn flour is corn starch. And 180 decrees Celsius is about 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I think everything else will be familiar. Hope you enjoy this Aussie classic.


Filed under Australia, Food, Recipes, Video

Meat Pies

I thought I’d interrupt my string of Slim Dusty songs with a break for food.

In Australia, there are few foods more iconic than meat pie. This is not just something you make at home. This is sold in shops, off food carts, in train stations, and at sporting events. It is as Australian as the hot dog is American. I became completely addicted to these during my first trip to Australia, and while I haven’t gotten around to making them back here at home, I always manage to tuck into a few on return trips.

The dish seems quite simple, but the fact that it uses two types of pastry — short crust on bottom, puff pastry on top — makes it a bit more labor intensive than one might expect of a food so ubiquitous. That said, I got the pie tins on my first trip, so I’m prepared.

This video notes that it is served with sauce, which is simply ketchup — so you don’t have to look for an additional recipe to finish this off. Just looking at it makes me think it’s time to dig out those tins and finally make myself a meat pie.

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Vietnamese Food in Canberra

One of the joys of just about every city I visited in Australia was the easy availability of a tremendous range of ethnic food, especially Asian. It was not just in restaurants, but in shopping mall food courts and even street corner food carts. I’d grown up in a family that had broad experience with ethnic foods, and I had seriously pursued various cuisines myself since childhood. However, thanks to its proximity to Asia, Australia offered an abundance of foods I had either not encountered previously or didn’t find so readily available back home. In Canberra, the populations represented by the many embassies made the variety of ethnic offerings even more abundant than I had seen it elsewhere in Australia.

Vietnamese food was among those cuisines not experienced prior to that first trip to Australia. Since that trip, a growing Vietnamese community in Chicago has made both restaurants and ingredients available, and I have even had the delightful opportunity to experience Vietnamese food in Vietnam. However, my very first Vietnamese meal was on that first trip to Australia, and it was in Canberra. It was a cuisine that I liked immediately, and I have pursued it since then, both prepared by others and in my own kitchen. While the recipe below does not reflect that first experience in Canberra, it is a dish I now prepare regularly at home. Vietnamese food is bright and flavorful.

Warm Beef and Watercress Salad
3/4 lb. beef tenderloin, sirloin steak, or filet mignon
1 Tbs. green peppercorns, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 stems lemon grass (white part only), very finely sliced
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. watercress (about 1-1/2 average bunches)
4 oz. cherry tomatoes
4 scallions, sliced
2 Tbs. lime juice

Cut the steak into thin slices. Combine the green peppercorns, garlic, lemon grass (or rind), 2 tablespoons oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the beef and mix well. Cover and allow to marinate, refrigerated, for 30 minutes.

Wash and drain the watercress. Remove sprigs from the tough stems, breaking up any sprigs that are large. Arrange the watercress on a serving platter. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place the halves around the edge of the watercress.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or frying pan until very hot. Add the beef and marinade mixture, and stir-fry quickly, until beef is just cooked. Add the scallions to the pan, mixing them in with the beef. Pile the cooked beef in the center of the watercress and sprinkle the lime juice over the top. Serve immediately. Serves 2–3.

Note: Green peppercorns, which are simply unripe peppercorns, come one of two ways: in brine or freeze dried. Either is acceptable for this recipe. If you use freeze dried green peppercorns, simply add 1 tablespoon of dried peppercorns to a couple tablespoons of hot water, and let them sit for 5–10 minutes. Then drain, chop, and add to recipe as needed. The ones in brine need no preparation—just drain and chop.

If lemon grass is not readily available, you can substitute 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of finely grated lemon rind.

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Filed under Australia, Book, Food, Recipes, Travel

Check Out My Other Blog

I had originally thought that this blog would be all I’d need—that I’d share other travels and interests here. However, this is pretty clearly a travel blog, with most of it’s focus on Australia, so I decided to start another blog for my equally serious food interests. That blog is The World’s Fare.

The original idea was that The World’s Fare would be a book—the history of the 100 most important foods in the world. This would be followed up by other food histories—less important foods, key processes (cooking, curing, distilling, etc.), and almost universal forms foods take (pies, noodles, dumplings, stews). But after two years, my agent has given up on placing the book—I don’t have a show on the Food Network, so publishers aren’t interested. So I’ve decided to share everything that would have gone into that entire series of books on my new blog, but also add tales of my more food-oriented travel. Food history, international travel, and exotic recipes all seem to fit comfortably under the title originally planned for my book—so welcome to The World’s Fare.

Of course, I want you to keep coming back here, as well. I’ll still be adding more photos and information about Australia. (I’m less than one-fifth of the way through the book, as far as illustrating my adventures—and then I’ll start on the three return trips.) I just thought you might like to know that there are further adventures on my second site.


Filed under Food, History, Recipes, Travel, Writing

Pavlova for the Holidays

The holidays seem to be all about eating—so I thought I’d offer a recipe to enjoy during your festivities. While traveling around Australia, I had several encounters with a really lovely dessert called a Pavlova, named for the great ballerina.

While Pavlova is massively popular all across Australia, where it is viewed as a fair dinkum Aussie creation, New Zealand also lays claim to this dessert. However, there is no definitive proof as to who really created it first. The main difference between Pavlovas in the two countries would be the topping: in Australia, you’d most likely see passion fruit, while in New Zealand, kiwi fruit would be a more common topper. (And it’s kiwi fruit, by the way, not kiwi – kiwi is a bird, or a nickname for New Zealanders – Americans may not care, but Kiwis do.) A nice combo of blueberries and sliced strawberries would be attractive and tasty, as would raspberries. Because it’s winter here in the Northern Hemisphere as we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day, if fresh fruit isn’t possible, feel free to thaw out some frozen berries to top off this elegant confection. And Happy New Year.

4 large egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp. white vinegar
2 tsp. cornstarch

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/12 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
fruit (see notes)

Place oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large, clean bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Sprinkle the cornstarch and vinegar on top of the meringue and beat a bit more, until stiff again.

Now you make your meringue cake. Opinions differ as to how to approach this. You can put down a sheet of baking parchment and draw a 7-inch circle in the middle. You might also get a pastry bag and pipe a circle and then fill it with a perfectly even rope of meringue. I just guesstimate the circle size and spoon the meringue onto the baking sheet, spreading it into a circle of about the right size. Do what works best for you (that is, pick a method that makes it likely you won’t write this recipe off as too complicated). Also, baking parchment might make it easier to get the meringue off the pan. I have used it. I have also just sprayed a cookie sheet lightly with baking spray, and I’ve had it slide off with no trouble.

Anyway, whatever method you choose, you now have a circle of meringue, looking rather like a single cake layer and a little more than an inch deep, on your baking sheet. Put it in the oven and bake it for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the oven door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely before removing from the oven.

Set the meringue aside until just before you plan on serving the dessert. Then, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat to incorporate. Spread the whipped cream across the top of the meringue. Decorate with the fruit you’ve chosen, and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

Notes: If you’re using passion fruit, you’ll need 10. For kiwi fruit, four or five should do the trick. For berries (blueberries, raspberries, sliced strawberries, blackberries), you need about a cup.

The meringue can be made a couple of days in advance. Once it is completely cool, put it in an airtight container and keep it someplace cool and dry.

It’s important that you don’t complete the dessert until you’re ready to serve it. The acid in the fruit will break down the whipped cream and the whipped cream will make the meringue soggy. If you don’t want to serve all 6 to 8 servings at once, you can either cut up the meringue and just add whipped cream and fruit as you serve it (not so great on presentation, but the taste is the same), or you can make a couple of smaller meringues.

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Filed under Australia, Book, Food, Recipes, Travel

Anzac Biscuits

Well, I’ve done five excerpts from the book, so I thought it might be time for a “detour.” Aside from travel, one of my great interests is food — primarily food history and food as it relates to culture. So I thought that here I’d share a little foodie insight into Australia, along with a recipe for a classic Australian food item — Anzac biscuits.

“Biscuit” is Australian (and British) for what Americans call a cookie. Anzac (or, more properly, ANZAC) is an acronym for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. The corps, which served with distinction in World War I, is probably best known for its heroic service during the bloody Gallipoli Peninsula campaign. (A glimpse of this ill-fated campaign can be had in the wonderful, devastating Australian movie Gallipoli, which stars a very young Mel Gibson.) Though the fighting was vicious and very costly for the ANZACs, the Turks came to admire the heroism and high spirits of the corps, and called them the New Spartans.

The ANZAC infantry units were then sent on to France, where they participated in some of the most brutal battles of the war. Because Britain, at the time, had a pretty low opinion of the inhabitants of the antipodes (all those transported criminals, you know), they tended to think of them as cannon fodder, and as a result, Australia and New Zealand (still considered a single political unit at the time) had the highest casualty rate of any country in the war—69 percent. The ANZAC cavalry units were sent to the Middle East, and their heroic and astonishing feats can be relished in the Australian movie The Light Horsemen. (This movie is a lot less grim than Gallipoli, especially since the ANZACs won their battle in the Middle East. And it’s great if you love horses.)

When Australian and New Zealand forces were separated in 1917, ANZAC ceased to be an official designation, but the name lives on in ANZAC Day—April 25, the date of the Gallipoli landing—when both Australia and New Zealand commemorate the dead of the two World Wars.

So, what, you may be wondering, do all these soldiers and horsemen and horrible battles have to do with cookies? Well, as with the US’s involvement in the World Wars, people back home got involved, too. This consisted of everything from Victory Gardens to women working in munitions and aviation to simply giving up a lot of luxuries so that the soldiers could be supplied. Tales of the origins of ANZAC biscuits, which were developed based on an old Scottish oat cookie recipe, range from making foods that didn’t use luxurious ingredients, such as eggs, to developing something tasty that could easily be shipped to soldiers. Whatever the real story is, there is no doubt that their purpose was to honor the brave Australian soldiers and horsemen of World War I.

These are such incredibly delicious, luxuriously rich cookies, you’ll have trouble believing that they represent a time of hardship and privation.

One note regarding measurements: I got this recipe in Australia, which means that it used a mix of British Imperial measure and European metric. I’ve translated it into American standard measure, but thought you’d wonder why some measures are a little inexact. For example, one cup Imperial is 10 ounces, while in American it’s 8 ounces, and tablespoons are the tiniest bit bigger in Imperial measure. However, being off one way or the other by a couple of shreds of coconut or drops of golden syrup won’t really make a difference.

Anyway, these are among the most delicious cookies on earth. Enjoy.

Anzac Biscuits

1-1/4 cups rolled oats
1-1/4 cups plain flour
1-1/4 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup shredded coconut (or a pinch less)
one stick butter (125 grams, to be exact, so a smidge more than one stick, really)
2 slightly overflowing Tbs. Lyle’s Golden Syrup (available in the baking section of most stores)
1 tsp. baking soda
3 Tbs. boiling water

Combine oats, flour, sugar, and coconut, blending thoroughly. In a small saucepan, combine butter with golden syrup, melt over low heat, and remove from heat. Add baking soda to the boiling water, then add this to the butter/syrup mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the liquid. Mix thoroughly.

Drop mixture by the tablespoonful on to a greased cookie sheet, approximately 3 inches apart, to allow for spreading. Bake at 300-310 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 17 minutes. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes approximately 36 cookies.


Filed under Australia, Food, Recipes