Anzac Biscuits – Food Icons

How a Biscuit Helped Maintain the Anzac Spirit

Originally known simply as rolled oat biscuits (rather like OATCAKES), these are made from a simple recipe of oats, GOLDEN SYRUP and coconut. At the beginning of the First World War, women in Australia and New Zealand began baking huge numbers and shipping them off to the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

They choose this variety of biscuit because it would keep well during the long journey. The military, meanwhile, stamped the crates ‘ANZAC’ to ensure they reached the correct regiments on arrival, and the name stuck. Soldiers eagerly awaited their Anzac biscuits, because they made a nice change to their usual rations and reminded them of home.

In 1921 the recipe appeared in a New Zealand cookbook for the first time as Anzac crispies. At around the same time, commercial production of the biscuit began to raise funds for the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA) and there is now a traditional association between the biscuit and Anzac Day, the day of remembrance held on 25 April each year.

That is the date of the beginning of the doomed Gallipoli campaign in 1915, during which over 10,000 men died but in the process demonstrating a courage, stoicism and good humour later characterized as the ‘Anzac Spirit’. These days the Anzac trademark is protected by Australian law, meaning that, technically speaking, if you make these at home you are not allowed to call them Anzac biscuits without the permission of the Australian government. You have been warned.

Margherita and other Food Icons – Who inspired our favourite foods

Albert Jack books available for download here

 

What Does the HP in HP Sauce Stand For?

Rather as football and rugby were once the same game until they were formally separated in 1863, today’s bottle of brown sauce was once ketchup – a British-made ketchup of earlier times. It sits proudly alongside tomato ketchup on the tables of most British cafés and is a distinctively British preference. People who haven’t been brought up with it can find the strong tang of tamarind (also present in Worcestershire sauce) a little off-putting. The original recipe for HP Sauce – today’s best-loved brand of brown sauce – was invented and developed by Frederick Gibson Garton, a Nottingham grocer who registered the name ‘H.P. Sauce’ in 1896.

Garton called the sauce H.P because he had heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament in London had begun serving it. To this day, the label on the bottle has sported a picture of the Houses of Parliament and is the only commercial brand permitted to use that famous image. So it’s somewhat ironic that House of Parliament Sauce, the epitome of traditional British taste, is now owned by an American company (Heinz) and manufactured in the Netherlands.

Margherita and other Food Icons

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Worcestershire Sauce: Who were Mr Lee and Mr Perrins?

In the 1830s, in the cellar below a chemist’s shop in Worcester called Lea & Perrins, a barrel of spiced vinegar – made according to an Indian recipe for a customer but never collected as it had been considered undrinkable – sat for some years. Clearing out the cellar, the chemists were about to throw away the barrel but fortunately tasted it first, finding, to their astonishment, that the mixture had nicely matured. And so Worcestershire sauce was born. (You do have to wonder who dared to dip his, or her, finger into the old barrel and then lick it? It’s a little like the age old question of who first discovered cows produced milk? And what did they think they were doing when they found that out?)

The exact ingredients of the recipe are jealously guarded, but they include soy sauce and anchovies, which is why the mixture started fermenting. Worcestershire sauce is thus a modern, and rather more palatable, version of the Roman fish sauce garum. In 1838, the first distinctively labelled bottles of ‘Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce’ were released to the general public, and Mr Lea and Mr Perrins subsequently made their fortune from the distinctive-tasting condiment. The sauce remains hugely popular around the world to this day, especially in China and Japan, where it is praised for enhancing umami – the fifth basic taste, or ‘savouriness’, considered fundamental to their cuisine.

Margherita and other Food Icons – Who inspired our favourite foods

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Salmon Dish that Returns from the Grave

Gravlax, or Gravad Lax, is a popular Scandinavian dish commonly served as an appetizer as part of the traditional smorgasbord. Freshly caught salmon is skinned and boned, cut along its length and seasoned with salt, pepper and sugar. One fillet is placed in a shallow bowl, skin side down, and seasoned with fresh dill, the second fillet laid on top, followed by a plate or board and a heavy weight. The salmon is then left in a cool place for three days or so. Every twelve hours, the fillets are turned and basted with the juices that have collected. In Scandinavia the making of gravlax is seen as a traditionally male activity (on a par with paella or a barbecue), stemming from the original, and rather unusual, way of preparing it.

Its earliest mention in print is from 1348, in the form of a name, Olafuer Gravlax, a man from Jämtland in Sweden. His surname, following a practice that was common at the time, indicated his profession – that is, he made the dish for a living, which suggests that gravlax must have already been in existence for some time. Fishermen like Olafuer would bone and fillet the salmon they caught, wrap it in birch bark and then bury it for 4–6 days in the brine-soaked sand just above the high-tide line. This short-term burial resulted in a fermentation that softened the flesh, giving it a tangy taste and rendering it edible while still essentially raw. The Scandinavian word for ‘hole in the ground’, or ‘grave’, is grav, while lax simply means ‘salmon’. Although the dish is no longer prepared in this way, the name is still with us and ‘salmon from the grave’ continues to haunt menus the world over.

Margherita and other Food Icons – Who inspired our favourite foods

Albert Jack books available for download here

 

Peach Melba: The Pudding to Defrost a Diva

Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935) was a French chef, restaurateur and writer, a key figure in the development of modern French cuisine. In the 1880s, he formed a partnership with the equally celebrated César Ritz (founder of the Ritz Hotel in London), the two of them being called upon by Richard D’Oyly Carte to run the Savoy Hotel, where Escoffier devised some of his most famous dishes. Aside from being the most respected chef in London during the 1890s, Escoffier was also an avid opera fan (see also poire belle Hélène) and legend has it that he forged a friendship with one of the greatest opera singers of her era, Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931), when she was staying at the Savoy.

One evening in 1893, the Australian singer, and reputed drama queen extraordinaire, remarked to Escoffier that she loved ice cream but was unable to eat it in case it froze her vocal cords. Never averse to a challenge, the chef went straight to his kitchen and set about experimenting with ice cream mixed with different types of fruit and sauces, in the hope that these might render the dish less chilly. He soon hit upon his favourite combination, peaches and vanilla ice cream smothered in raspberry sauce (although alternative versions of the story ascribe the sauce to a later version of the dish).

In a dramatic flourish, the chef later presented his new creation in an ice sculpture of a swan, in reference to Lohengrin and its story of the Swan Knight. Melba was so enchanted by the dish that she was soon demanding it at restaurants and hotels the world over. Since then, Peach Melba has proved such a hit that it was recently shortlisted by a national television competition as one of the world’s greatest dishes, while a National Peach Melba Day (13 January) has been declared in America. (See also Melba toast for another dish inspired by the diva.)

Margherita and other Food Icons – Who inspired our favourite foods

Albert Jack books available for download here

Pavlova: The Cold Dessert that Inspires Hot Debate

Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) may well be the most famous ballerina in dance history, synonymous with one of ballet’s most enduring roles, that of the Dying Swan, created for her while she was a principal dancer at the Imperial Russian Ballet. Pavlova fell in love with ballet when she was just eight years old after seeing a performance of The Sleeping Beauty. Her mother took her to audition for the Imperial Ballet School but, frail and small for her age, she wasn’t finally accepted until three years later. Once there, however, she trained obsessively and with the help of extra tuition the tiny dancer graduated in 1899, at the age of eighteen.

Pavlova went from strength to strength, her debut performance in Pavel Gerdt’s The False Dryads earning her high praise, not least by one noted critic and historian who complimented her on her ‘natural ballon, lingering arabesques and frail femininity’. It was this frail femininity coupled with a graceful energy that led to her quickly becoming a favourite with both the adoring public and ballet masters alike. She was also the first ballerina in history to go on tour around the world, even as far afield as New Zealand and Australia, where her first appearance was described as the ‘Chief Event of 1926’.

The public of both countries were enraptured. ‘She does not dance, she soars as though she has wings,’ was how the New Zealand press described her during that first tour, in 1926. ‘Exquisite Pavlova!’ cried the Australians. On her second tour of the continent, in 1929, the Australians were so excited that one reporter noted: ‘A symphony of silence! But who, seeing the famous ballerina for the first time as she stood on deck at Fremantle yesterday, could apply that description. It was Babel itself.’

It was in honour of Pavlova, and her visits to the Antipodes, that the famous dish bearing her name was invented. Consisting of a wide disc of meringue covered in whipped cream and fresh fruit, pavlova is so called because its built-up sides are thought to resemble the frothy layers of a tutu and the strawberry and passion fruit slices thought to resemble the rose decorations upon her outfit. The dish is said to have been created in New Zealand, but the Australians disagree, saying that it originated in their country. With numerous claims and counter-claims on both sides, it’s a culinary tug of war that has persisted for many years.

According to the Australians, the pavlova first appeared in 1934, three years after the dancer’s death. Mrs Elizabeth Paxton, owner of the Esplanade Hotel in Perth, asked the head chef, Bert Sasche, to devise something special for the menu. After a month of experimenting, Sasche presented the now-famous dessert to his boss with the words, according to Paxton family legend, ‘It’s as light as Pavlova’, a clear reference to the dancer who was once their guest. Sasche stood by this claim for the rest of his life, although he did admit that the dish wasn’t entirely original, explaining in a magazine interview in 1973 that he had based it on an existing recipe. Indeed, it’s possible that he may have seen a recipe for meringue cake that appeared on 2 April 1935 in Women’s Mirror, submitted by a lady from New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Pavlova’s biographer Keith Mooney supports the idea that the dish originated in New Zealand, claiming that it was the creation of a young chef at a hotel in Wellington who had fallen in love with the ballerina during her first tour in 1926. Since the publication of Anna Pavlova: Her Life and Art in 1982, Australian food historians have argued that while the dessert seems to have been invented in New Zealand, it was only named after her later, in Australia, as borne out by Australian cookbooks, which didn’t include pavlova until the 1940s.

And so the debate raged on, with each side refuting the other’s claims, until 2008 and the publication by Dr Helen Leach, a culinary expert at the University of Otago in New Zealand, of The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History. Since then, the Australians have gone a little quiet on the subject as Leach, in her research for the book, managed to unearth evidence for a pavlova in a New Zealand women’s magazine from 1929. She also discovered a recipe for the dish in the Rangiora Mothers’ Union Cookery Book, a New Zealand publication of 1933, while Mrs McKay’s Practical Home Cookery Book of 1929 includes a recipe for three dozen ‘little pavlovas’. So unless the Australians can come up with an earlier, printed recipe, then I’m afraid this debate appears to be over, sport.

Margherita and other Food Icons – Who inspired our favourite foods

Albert Jack books available for download here