Archive for the 'History' Category

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Wattle Day – Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Wattle Day - Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Welcome to spring from south-eastern Australia!  The bush around Melbourne is a blaze of golden-yellow Wattle blossoms signaling the end of winter and offering the promise of sunshine to come. Now on the one hand I’m loving all the drought-breaking rain we are currently experiencing, on the other hand I’m OVER IT, bring on the sun!

In 1838 the movement to recognise the 1st of September as Wattle Day in Australia seeded in the island state of Tasmania.  This movement, grew throughout the mainland colonies, fully flowering as a day of national celebration in the early 1900′s. Traditions associated with this day include the wearing of a Wattle sprig as a buttonhole and the festooning of public buildings in Wattle garlands.

Our interest in Wattle Day has waxed and waned since 1838. Modern Australians don’t seem as comfortable as the Victorians were with overt demonstrations of national pride (unless we are beating another nation at a sporting event). So there has been no festooning this year. There was a flotilla of politicians wearing Wattle buttonholes just now on the News but that is just of whole lot of ‘baby-kissing’ as we still haven’t managed to form a Government (enough fussing with buttonholes guys and more focus on the politics).

Wattle - The Sprig for Spring

Historians argue that by tracking the history of Wattle Day and the debate to select our national floral emblem (the glorious Golden Wattle – Acacia pycnantha ) it is possible to track the creation of a national identity. This is a link to a really interesting article by the fabulous historian Libby Robin that follows that discussion.

Wattle Day is certainly the closest that we have ever come to developing a spring ‘May Day‘ tradition. Wattle Day was always more about nationalism than the rites of spring. It lacks the sex, drugs and rock and roll of an old fashioned fertility festival.

To the Indigenous Kulin Nations that lived in the Melbourne region Wattle has different associations. The blooming of Wattles signals a time to consider our ancestors and to acknowledge the passing of Elders in the late winter. The Kulin described seven seasons in Melbourne rather than the European experience of four. This time of the year is really a pre-spring or the Kulin Guling Orchid Season. While as a nation we are still battling to reconcile with each other, this landscape and our climate I take it as a sign of hope that the Wattle is often worn, as a substitute for rosemary in remembrance, by people of both Indigenous and European decent.

The Victorians urged us to unite as a nation beneath the golden blossom of the Wattle there may have been some deep wisdom in their musings after all.

I think the final word needs to go to Monty Python’s ‘Bruces’ Sketch.

“This here’s the wattle, the emblem of our land, You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand.”

Curry in a Non-Hurry

Curry in a Non-Hurry

“If Leekes you like, but do their smell dis-like, Eat Onyons, and you shall not smell the Leeke; If you of Onyons would the scent expel, Eat Garlicke, that shall drowne the Onyons’ smell.”  –Dr. William Kitchiner

Isabella Beeton includes fourteen recipes for curries in the Book of Household Management, including lobster curry, which I tried earlier this year, and Indian Curry-Powder [449.], from a Dr. Kitchiner’s Receipt. Here again I have struck gold with regards to one of Beeton’s sources.

William Kitchiner, MD (1775–1827) seemed to have been somewhat of a Renaissance man and an eccentric, who was known for his sauces and spice concoctions. His most famous cookbook was called The Cook’s Oracle (thrillingly subtitled “Containing Receipts for Plain Cookery, On the Most Economical Plan for Private Families; Containing Also a Complete System of Cookery for Catholic Families. Being the Result of Actual Experiments Instituted in the Kitchen of William Kitchiner, MD”). Well, now you don’t have to see the movie to know how it comes out, do you? I love the nineteenth century.

Let’s look at the important part of that gargantuan title: “Result of Actual Experiments.” (!!) Beeton went to the sauce source, it seems. Originally published in 1817, Dr. Kitchiner’s book was an attempt at precision in measurements and timing, rather than instructing the cook to add a bit of this-and-that until it was done. However, Kitchiner acknowledges in his preface to the seventh edition that many of the newly-added recipes had not been tested, though curry powder was not on that list of later recipes.

The book was published through and enhanced through at least the 1840s (William Crescent, the editor for the 1931 edition, released posthumously, notes in his introduction that “many receipts for pastry, preserves, &c, &c have been added to the present edition…”,  making it more of a well-rounded cookbook in keeping with others from that era). I assume Beeton got her hands on a later edition, which presumably means that some of the recipes she lifted for the BOHM were tested, and some were not. Many of Dr. Kitchiner’s recipes are very familiar, textually, such as Portable Soup; of course Beeton’s edit is to extract the  ingredients and lay them out for the reader at the outset like most modern recipes, and to make the language clearer, something she excelled at as an editor.

It is interesting to note that in his preface to the third edition (1819-20?) Kitchiner includes curry powder on a list of sauces, with a little disclaimer:

Store Sauces and many items of Domestic Comfort, which are extravagantly expensive to purchase, and can very seldom be procured genuine, he has given plain directions to prepare at Home–of infinitely finer flavour, and considerable cheaper than they can be obtained ready made…

While 44 years later in her introduction to her chapter on Sauces, Beeton declares that

ALTHOUGH PICKLES MAY BE PURCHASED at shops at as low a rate as they can usually be made for at home, or perhaps even for less, yet we would advise all housewives, who have sufficient time and convenience, to prepare their own.

…Demonstrating that times had changed.

So I decided to try out Dr. Kitchiner’s recipe for curry powder. My old neighbor was from India and he was always exhorting me to make my own. “It’s so much BETTER!” he would say, as he foisted some of his on me as proof.

First, I had to assemble all the spices and let them heat overnight in a cool-ish oven. I did not track down cinnamon seed, but instead used sticks. I didn’t think the powdered and dried ingredients like turmeric and ginger really needed a go in the oven overnight, but I thought I would keep to the spirit of it. Modern curry recipes usually call for toasting the spices in a skillet on the stove top.

Then it was time to grind up the spices. A friend of mine once told me not to monkey around with a mortar and pestle, but to instead use a coffee grinder, so I did. As I ground the spice pile in small batches, I began to sneeze uncontrollably. I think I lost half the contents of my head and the tissues were beginning to turn yellow. My nose burned all day afterward from all the cayenne. Next time I will be smart and wear a handkerchief like a cowboy.

As I ground the spices, I saw that the coriander seeds were losing their outer shells, and that there were a few chunks left behind. I sifted the mixture when it was done to get rid of the excess debris.

It made about two-and-a-half cups, certainly more curry than I have ever purchased in one go.

I decided to use it almost immediately in Curried Fowl [941.]. The base of the curry was meant to be veal gravy, which is not something I keep on hand, so I made some quick gravy with bacon drippings and chicken broth out of the carton. It went over very well and was a nice mixture of hot and flavorful. The dish did not at all resemble what you get in modern Indian restaurants I have eaten in, but was in line with other Victorian Indian dishes I’ve made–the focus is on the curry, a simple gravy, and loads of onions. This one also called for diced apple, which was nice. I will be using the powder for all of the rest of the curry dishes I make this fall.

Visually unexciting, as usual.

I can’t think of anything duller than a long essay on the etymology of the word curry, but I admit I got a little curious about it after stumbling on some writing by Richard Sainthill, an art patron and coin collector who compiled a book of reminiscences and other hodge podge appropriately named An Olla Podrita: or, Scraps, Numismatic, Antiquarian, and Literary, Volume Two [1853]. In this second volume, which features riveting chapter titles such as “The Use of the Samaritan Language By the Jews Until the Reign of Hadrian Deduced from the Coins of Judea” and “Objections to a Laurel Wreath for the Bust of Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the Coinage,” is proof of what can happen when you sarcastically tell someone incredibly dull to “get a hobby already” and they DO, and then they write all about it and expect you to read it.

(Ironic Pause.)

Anyway, Sainthill reproduced some correspondence between himself and a friend whom he only refers to as “Madam Soyers” in regards to Kitchiner and what “real” curry is. Even in the nineteenth century there were obnoxious foodies arguing about authenticity, isn’t that grand? I got all excited because I thought maybe his correspondent was Emma Soyer, Alexis Soyer‘s wife, but I think she was dead by this time and did not travel to India besides. I thought it was worth looking into in spite of the typo, as Sainthill misspelled Kitchiner’s name in the article as well. Sainthill asked Madam Soyers what she thought about Kitchiner’s recipe.

She replied:

Now, both as an eater and maker of curries, I affirm that during nine years’ residence in India I never saw or tasted a curry like Dr. Kitchener’s [sic].

However, she does go on to say that every chef has his own recipe for curry, and surmises that Kitchiner’s recipe may be more similar to concoctions that were created to be imported to London (too turmeric-heavy, suiting English tastes) and not for use in India. I felt that Kitchiner’s was missing garlic, and the “authentic” recipe Madam Soyer includes in her letter from a “most capital cook, Haji Ali” includes it.

Very briefly I will say that while the OED claims the word “curry” comes from a Tamil word, “kari,” meaning sauce/relish for rice, I was interested to see that there is some debate about it. Of course the British appeared in India in the early seventeenth century, but the word “curry” or “cury” was already in the English lexicon. I was interested to find another discussion about the literal meaning of the Tamil word “kari” as well.

As a final aside, Dr. Kitchiner invented something he called “wow-wow sauce,” which does not seem to appear in any form in Beeton’s. There are similar sauces, but no real match. Perhaps it had fallen out of fashion by that time. When I stumbled across this tidbit, I knew the name sounded familiar, and then I got it. Wow-wow sauce is referenced in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an ingredient for a hangover cure. I could be wrong, but based on Kitchiner’s love affair with flash and the exclamation point, I bet the name is pure nonsense. I love it. I am going to order his biography Regency Eccentric as soon as my library reopens from furlough.

The Tea Trade

The Tea Trade

It’s hard for me to imagine England without tea.  High tea in the afternoon with scones, three kinds of jam, and terribly unsatisfying sandwiches.  The gentry taking tea in paper-thin porcelain cups after doing in a fox who seriously wasn’t asking for it.  John Cleese as some ridiculous character drinking his tea with his pinkie out so far, passerby are endangered.  But how’d it get that way?  Tea is from China, after all, half a world away.

The tea shrub (Camellia sinensis) is thought to be native to that part of the world where India, China, Burma and Tibet rub shoulders.  But it was first widely cultivated in China.  People have grown and drunk tea in China for so long that it’s origins are archaeological, rather than historical.  But for our purposes the important part is that when the British began trading with China, all the world’s tea was in China.

Cultivation of tea is a good deal more involved than say growing tomatos.  After propogation the tea plant requires pruning for ease of harvest and to get the maximum output.  Once picked, the tea requires several processing steps to produce a finished product.  Besides all of the worlds tea plants growing in China, so were all of the people who knew how to grow and process tea.  Europeans thought green tea and black tea came from different plants.  Botanists even went so far as naming two different tea plants, one black and one green.

The British would have to trade, but that wouldn’t turn out to be so easy.  Tea is a mountain plant, growing well as high as the foothills of the Himalayas.  Good tea growing geography is not so good for growing grain like wheat and rice, and tea was traditionally traded within china for food.  When the British trade ships arrived in China, the Chinese did not particularly need a new tea market, were not that excited at the prospect of British trade goods, and were not at all interested in cultural exchange.  Foreign traders were restricted to the port of Canton and the only trade good the Chinese would accept was silver, not something in over abundance in England.

With the almost complete disinterest China had in British traders and with the restrictions placed upon those traders, it’s a bit surprising that coffee didn’t become the caffinated beverage of choice in England.  But the history of Europe is not particularly harmonious.  The Portugese and Dutch traders were already established in the coffee growing regions of Africa and not at all interested in competition from the British East India Company.  The British had taken over large tracts of land in Ceylon to grow coffee.  But the plantations fell victim to a fungal epidimic, almost totally demolishing production.  So goodbye Ceylon, for now, but we’ll come to back to you in awhile.

Now back to Canton.  Paying silver for tea was expensive.  In a story reminiscent of the triangular trade of molasses for rum for slaves, the British hit upon growing opium in India to trade to China for tea which was then sold in England.  Part of the money from the sale of the tea was then used to pay for troops to maintain control in India. Troops were quite necessary to maintain control in India.  The opium was grown on land traditionally used for cotton or food production, leading to economic hardships for the Indian workers.

China was and is immensely large, populous, and tough.  It’s central government was quite well established.  The British East India Company was able to continue trading opium for tea in the face of Chinese objections.  But there was essentially no posibility of them colonizing China as they had done in India.  Up to this time, all the tea in China was still all the tea in the world.  But this was about to change.

Let’s now return to the ruined coffee plantations of Ceylon and the jungles of India.  A botanist named Robert Fortune managed to secure tea plants.  Using elephants and Indian laborers, they cleared vast areas of Indian jungle to plant tea gardens.  Eventually, the tea harvests of India and Ceylon rivaled those of China, which is kind of amazing considering that before the Victorian era, neither country grew any tea at all.  When I consider how the colonization of India effected British kitchens, I usually think of curry.  But that’s nothing compared to tea.

Sources:
Harvesting Mountains: Fujian and the China Tea Trade, 1757-1937
Tea: The Drink that Changed the World
Wikipedia

Timeline of the Tea Trade

1557 Portugal trades with China at Macao
1600 British East India Co. chartered
1619 British East India Co. establishes factory in Western India
1657 Dutch trade tea in London
1662 Catherine of Braganza marries Charles II, bringing habit of tea drinking from Dutch capital to London. Marriage allows British access to trade routes controlled by Dutch
1669 First tea imported by British East India Co.
1685 All Chinese ports open for trade
1715 All Chinese ports except Canton closed
1729 Chinese edict against using opium
1750 > 10 million lbs. tea imported by British
1757 Battle of Plassey
1758 Parliament grants British East India Co. monopoly to produce opium in India
1796 British East India Co. switchs to trading tea for opium via independant traders
1799 Chinese edict against importing opium
1803 Anglo-Maratha conflicts begin
1805 Anglo-Maratha conflicts end
1830 Son of Chinese emperor dies of opium overdose
1834 British East India Co. monopoly on trading tea from China ends
1840 First Opium War begins
1842 First Opium War ends, Treaty of Nanking opens ports to British and cedes Hong Kong
1848 Conquest of the Sikhs in India
1848 Robert Fortune collects and ships to India twenty-thousand high-quality tea plants, in addition to instruction from 8 Chinese tea experts
1856 Second Opium War begins
1857 India becomes British colony
1858 Second Opium War ends, Treaty of Tientsin opens more ports and allows Christian missionaries into China
1862 2 million lbs lbs tea imported from India
1866 6 million lbs tea imported from India, 90% of British tea still from China
1869 Fungus begins killing coffee plants in Ceylon
1888 86 million lbs tea imported from India, for the first time more tea from India than China
1900 Tea replaces coffee as major crop in Ceylon
1911 End of opium shipments to China by British East India Co.

Suffering and Suffrage – Visions of Victorian Life

Suffering and Suffrage - Visions of Victorian Life

The Head Gardener has been muttering to me about the fact that I haven’t yet planted broadbeans! I’ve been spending time in doors researching my Victorian family tree, staying warm, surfing with a cup of tea in hand and imagining the lives of my Great Grandmothers. I agree this is a gardening fail but it has been a lot of fun!

This is what I’ve found while surfing (don’t be alarmed I’m not about to go on and on about family history):

Visions of Victorian Suffering

The Art Gallery of New South Wales has an exhibition ‘Victorian Visions’ on from the May 20 to August 29. Their website hosts a fantastic lecture on the depiction of Poverty in Victorian Art, which I highly recommend, as the film shows the artworks that the speaker is referencing. To prove that this is still a gardening related post this lecture features the role of the potato in Victorian life and farming -woot!  The audio tour for the exhibition shows images of the painting in the exhibit.

Suffrage in Australia

Great Petition. Artists Susan Hewitt & Penelope Lee 2008. Commemorating 200th anniversary of Women's Vote

Some clever people have transcribed all the names of the women in Victoria, Australia who signed the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition.  These names are now searchable on our State Government’s website. So if you had female ancestors living in Victoria, Australia in 1891(city or rural) put their last name into the search window and see if you can find them. If you know roughly where they were living at the time it makes them easier to identify.  Once you have found their names a link will take you through to an image of their actual signature.

The ‘Monster Petition’ as it has come to be called collected 30,000 signatures of women petitioning the State Government for the right to vote.  The petition itself is a 260 m long role of paper that requires hours to unwind. This petition played an important role at Federation in 1901 (the process by which Australia became a nation) as Australia became the first country to give women both the right to vote and the right to stand for government by 1908. There is a great history of the petition that was collected during a six – ten week period in spring 1891 at this location.

The Exhibition Building - Site of Australia's first Parliament 1901

I found the signatures of two of my Great Grandmothers one maternal, one paternal and some of their female relatives and neighbours. I wish I knew more about how they felt about the petition on that spring day in 1891 when a woman knocked on their door and asked them to sign. Are my missing Great Grans on there and I just can’t find them, did they refuse to sign or where they out the back digging potatoes when the suffragettes came calling?

Interestingly there was an enormous difference in the living conditions between the two signing GGs. One a young unmarried woman living with her father and sister in a working class area of the city of Ballarat  and the other a wife of the local Mayor living on a large orchard in rural Lilydale. The struggle for women’s suffrage seems to have crossed class barriers I wonder if women at the time felt united by the petition? Clearly these women rocked and I feel very grateful to them.

There is a wonderful 3 minute clip on the Victorian Arts website that shows Diane Gardiner of the State Records Office talking about the petition and the petition roll itself.

This is something that I’m going to dig further into while it’s too cold to dig in the garden.

In Which We Look at Adulteration and Brain Molds

In Which We Look at Adulteration and Brain Molds

Hello kind and proper ladies and gentlemen. I have been recently subsumed by work, but that situation seems to have a lid on it for the time being. I cannot believe it has been about a month since my last meal, so I will hit the highlights, since it is starting to fade in my memory a bit, unfortunately.

Now that the first quarter of this year is passed and it is properly spring in the Northern hemisphere, I feel like I can reflect on winter. I made an attempt to choose items from Beeton’s seasonal meal lists. Winter was fairly bleak in England for most people, from all accounts. Lots of preserved food was consumed, which could be done at home, or procured at a market.

In fact, Mrs. Beeton, who was, of course, in the business of selling recipes to housewives in serial form, acknowledges the availability of canned goods:

360. ALTHOUGH PICKLES MAY BE PURCHASED at shops at as low a rate as they can usually be made for at home, or perhaps even for less, yet we would advise all housewives, who have sufficient time and convenience, to prepare their own. The only general rules, perhaps, worth stating here,—as in the recipes all necessary details will be explained, are, that the vegetables and fruits used should be sound, and not over ripe, and that the very best vinegar should be employed.

It’s interesting to me that Beeton doesn’t really give a great reason for making them at home. At the introduction of Chapter IX. Sauces, Pickles, Gravies, and Forcemeats she mentions, as she often does, of the importance of choosing quality ingredients.

So, since Beeton is not explicit, it is fun to guess at a couple of reasons behind making one’s own preserved foods. The most obvious and easy to pinpoint would be a way to save food produced by the household, like eggs or fruit. This would matter less if you were a city mouse, and had your servants do regular marketing, unless you were one of those “screaming deal, I could not pass it up” people. I am one of those people. A giant flat of blueberries seems like a great deal until you get home…then what? Jam time!

The second is an issue that Beeton probably would have been aware of in the news, which was the investigation led by Arthur Hill Hassall into the adulteration of food stuffs produced outside the home, and how food production should be regulated, from 1850 on. Isabella did not embody the stereotype of the Victorian housewife, childlike and blindered. Quite the contrary, letters between Isabella and her husband Sam paint her as a shrewd businesswoman, showing that she was the one concerned with and capable of doing figures and ordering related to their publishing house, and that she was the origin of many of their profitable ideas.

Dr. Hassall’s investigations uncovered unsafe drinking water and the contaminants within; alum, lead, strychnine, chalk and more added to food to sell less or inferior-quality food for more money; and vermin and human or animal hair that could sicken people once ingested. The Lancet picked up the gauntlet in 1873 when the Adulteration of Food Act passed, calling for even tighter regulations and definitions of allowable levels of adulteration. No doubt this investigation, legislation, and the shocking abuses it revealed trickled down through the popular media and magazines. Was it safe to eat the store-bought jam? Maybe, maybe not.

The third reason may be similar to why people in wealthy nations produce handicrafts today: domestic pride, hobbyism, and a sense of satisfaction. Beeton knew that many women collecting her serialized Book of Household Management were leaning heavily on one servant, or (gasp) could not afford even one, and were doing a lot of work themselves, and were expected to adhere to that Cult of True Womanhood bullshit. In Barbara Welter’s famous article “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860″ (1966), Welter discusses one of the “virtues,” domesticity:

In the home women were not only the highest adornment of civilization, but they were supposed to keep busy at morally uplifting tasks. Fortunately most of housework, if looked at in true womanly fashion, could be regarded as uplifting.

Changing tack a bit, I will also say winter is also about citrus, loads of it, thanks to the Victorians’ wide reach with trade routes.

I decided to make Orange Cream [1463], which is a creamy gelatin, for dessert. Since my children are gluten-intolerant, and Victorians loved jellies, I decided to finally invest in a mold. The recipe calls for regular oranges, but I found some blood oranges on special and could not resist.

Blood orange

It was fun to make the jelly. I love juicing oranges, though I usually have little nicks on my hands in the winter due to hangnails and dryness.

Blood orange juice

The result was delicious, but I was amused to see that it separated out in the end.

Brane Jelly

The entree was not much to write home about. I was in the mood for fish, which usually means fried or smothered, as far as the Victorians are concerned. I chose smothering in the form of Soles [328] with Brown Mushroom Sauce [474]. I gently simmered the sole in milk until it was cooked, and then covered it in a mushroom gravy.

Yep, that is smothered.

Probably the most successful part of the meal was the Potato Rissoles [1147]. This involved boiling and mashing potatoes, combining them with fried onions and chopped ham…

Mashed potatoes with ham and onion

…forming them into balls…

…breading them, and frying the balls.

They were absolutely delicious with gravy. One thing that cracks me up about Beeton’s is that she was always describing things as “much improved” or “much increased” by adding mushrooms, some kind of sauce, or other flavor booster. In the case of this recipe, the “flavor of these rissoles may be much increased by adding inley-minced[sic] tongue or ham…” It is usually worth taking her advice, though.

I will reproduce the recipe for the rissoles. It was my first experience ever with lard, and if I made these again, I would probably use vegetable oil. I am not punk rock enough for lard. It will sit in my cupboard and menace me, I reckon.

Potato Rissoles [1147]

Ingredients:

Mashed potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
when liked, a very little minced parsley
egg
bread crumbs

Mode.—Boil and mash the potatoes by recipe No. 1145; add a seasoning of pepper and salt, and, when liked, a little minced parsley. Roll the potatoes into small balls, cover them with egg and bread crumbs, and fry in hot lard for about 10 minutes; let them drain before the fire, dish them on a napkin, and serve.

Oblique Floral Reference – cause she’s Gorgeous!

Oblique Floral Reference - cause she's Gorgeous!

I visited Ballarat last weekend and saw for the first time this beautiful statue of Queen Victoria. Ballarat was the site of the 1851 Victorian Gold Rush and the town, if you squint and look up slightly (so as to avoid the cars) looks much as it would have in the late 1880′s.

Her Majesty

The detail on Her Majesty’s dress could be Wattle Blossom – but the leaves aren’t right.  I wonder if anyone knows what plant this is?  I wonder if the plant is symbolic of something?

I’ve looked at images of the Orb that Victoria is holding in her left hand and they all have a cross on top rather than an angel.

The Victoria Memorial in London is surmounted by the angel Victory.  This statue was commissioned in 1900 the year before Victoria’s death so I wonder if this little bronze angel was added later as a reference to a bigger sister in London. Looking closely at this little angel I could see that she / he is holding a trumpet so perhaps it is Gabriel and his horn calling Victoria to the last judgement.

The Orb itself is meant to be a symbol of a world ruled by Christianity. The cross that usually sits on top of the Orb symbolises the office of the Queen as the Defender of the Faith. So Gabriel calling the world to judgement upon the sovereign’s  death might be the story that the artist is telling.

What does the angel on her Orb symbolise?

Ballarat is well worth a visit if you feel the need to immerse yourself in some genuinely gorgeous Victoriana.

99 Years Later

99 Years Later

A very short post to say it is 99 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Excellent post from the New Yorker today. I really dove into this topic a couple of years ago when I read Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century. I wrote a little about the book at Blogher for International Women’s Day (March 8). Great read.

Hooray for fire escapes!

Love Apples for Valentine’s Day

Love Apples for Valentine's Day

We are now in High Summer in Melbourne.  February brings warm weather, windy skies, very little rain but if we are lucky a glut of tomatoes for Valentine’s Day.

This week I am continuing my quest to find out how Australians gardened during the Victorian Era. Did we grow and eat tomatoes?

Turning to the esteemed Mrs Beeton it is clear that tomatoes were grown in Victorian England but were not as popular as she felt they should be.

Tomato, or Love Apple an admirable sauce by itself, it enters largely into a great number of our best and most wholesome sauces.  It also may be cooked and brought to the table like other vegetables, in several different ways; or eaten raw cut into slices like cucumber, but much thicker, and dressed with salt and pepper, oil and vinegar in the same way. When prepared in this manner, as a salad, a few slices of onion will be found an improvement. Further, it is extremely palatable when eaten as a fruit, dipped in sugar. Those who have analysed its properties say that the tomato is singularly wholesome, and very useful, especially in cases of bad digestion; still, it is not appreciated or cultivated as it ought to be.   Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management.

Mrs B's Simple Love Apple Salad - Yummy!

Inspired I prepared tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper as Mrs B suggests.  The tomatoes were still warm from the garden; served with crusty bread this simple salad suggestion was simply fabulous.

Mrs Beeton’s advice for growing tomatoes follows the steps that would be very familiar to any modern gardener. Tomato seeds are planted in late winter keeping the pots in a glasshouse or on the window sill in the sun.  The seedlings are then planted out once the soil begins to warm up in spring in a hot and sunny spot in the garden.

In the reading that I have done so far one of the things that sings out loudly about Victorian Head Gardeners is how clever they were, if successful, at using and creating micro-climates within their gardens. If you have good soil and water in Melbourne it is easy to grow tomatoes. In colder British gardens large estates built walled gardens which allowed gardeners to take advantage of the reflected heat off the sun facing walls to grow crops such as tomatoes. It seems that really successful Head Gardeners needed to cultivate a strong connection to the seasons and the particular conditions and opportunities of their garden – I take my hat off to them!

The plants should be well watered with liquid manure to keep up a rapid growth. As soon as the blossom buds appear, watering should cease.  Stop shoots by nipping off the tops, and throw out all those sprays that show little signs of fruit, exposing the young fruit as much as possible to the sun and air, only watering to prevent check in case of very severe drought, of which the state of the plant will be the best index. Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management

When I first learnt about growing tomatoes from my Father nipping or pinching out the lateral tomato shoots was still the preferred practice.  It means that the tomato plant can grow neatly straight up a tall stake. The theory behind this practice was that you would get fewer but larger tomatoes than a bush that was allowed to sprawl unchecked. The Victorians were very interested in precision and efficiency and their estate gardens needed to be as beautiful and orderly as they were productive.  I can see that neat stakes of tomatoes would appeal to their aesthetic tastes. Interestingly research by the Digger’s Club shows that un-pruned tomato plants produce more (and a greater weight) of tomatoes than their pinched out cousins.

Tigerella and Cherry Bite Tomatoes

So did Australians grow tomatoes during the Victorian Era and what other vegetables were grown in colonial Melbourne gardens? In order to answer this question I visited the library of the National Herbarium of Victoria which has a small collection of seed catalogues from the mid 1800s. I have a thing for seed catalogues I love reading them so this was a great treat.

The selection of vegetable seeds available in each catalogue was surprising small and didn’t list varieties.  There were artichoke, cabbage, carrot, turnip, onion and other basics but no tomatoes! In a present day Australian seed catalogue produced by Eden Seeds there are 162 varieties of tomato listed from Black Russians, Green Zebras to the delicious Tigerallas.

I’m finding it difficult to believe that this meagre list of seeds represents the only vegetables that were grown in the mid-1800s. It could be that settlers were still purchasing seeds from England. If they were free settlers rather than convicts it is very likely that they brought their favorite varieties with them on the voyage to Australia. I’m reading a really interesting book called Green Pens by Katie Holmes, Susan Martin and Kylie Mirmohamdi.  In this book a reproduction of a letter from a land agent Henry Widowson in 1829 to prospective settlers of Tasmania encourages them to bring seeds “I should recommend every one to purchase a quantity of the best kinds of seed previous to leaving England.”

I’m still dipping in and out of Green Pens but it seems clear from the letters reproduced that settlers were sending seeds back home as they found native plants that they liked and requesting seeds in return from home. Plants, cuttings, seedlings and seed were also swapped between settlers as a means of making friends or establishing status. It isn’t difficult to imagine that creating a garden as a way of establishing a sense of home and belonging let alone growing food would have been a priority for settlers.  Interestingly gardening seems to have become the province of women very early on in Australian settlement. It isn’t until the late Victorian / Edwardian era that gardening is exhorted as a suitable occupation for women in Britain.

While the seed catalogues in the Herbarium have very few vegetable seeds they are full to overflowing with fruit trees, roses, azaleas, fuchsias, geraniums and pelargoniums. Roses don’t seem to have ever gone out of fashion here in Melbourne; they are just as popular today as they were in the Victorian era.

Ballam Park Homestead 1855 - The view from the rose garden

Roses and Chocolate

On the weekend I visited Ballam Park Homestead a local property maintained for public display by a volunteer historical society. Ballam Park was built in 1855 and where I live now in suburban Melbourne was once a field in this 8000 acre estate.

The great thing about Ballam Park is that much of the 1855 ornamental garden, gravel paths and orchard are still intact. I took this photo standing in the recreated rose garden.  To the left of the house is an Oak tree which would be one of the oldest oaks in Melbourne to the right is a Carob tree – the only Carob I’ve ever seen.  The pods of this plant were used by the family who built this house to create a chocolate substitute – good to see they had their priorities straight – get settled grow chocolate!

The orchard follows the main road way to the house and was planted with apples, fig and olives.  There isn’t any trace of a kitchen garden and the guide book to the house doesn’t talk about a location for a kitchen garden. Apparently the President of the society is a font of knowledge and I have been invited to call in again to talk to her at the tea-rooms now run next to the homestead. It maybe that the archive has records of the kitchen garden. So I will report back on our meeting.

Ripe Carob Pods - still fruiting 165 years on!

Again not possible to take photos in the house.  One of the interesting things about the house is that the dairy is attached directly to the kitchen with a stable door for bringing the cows into be milked. It looks a lot like a cow garage.

Ballam Park was in the middle of nowhere when it was first built and was accessed by boat across the bay from Melbourne and then a long walk along the beach, through swamp and then scrub.  The house has a small lantern room at the front of the top storey of the house. It is believed that a whale oil lamp was hung in this top window, which faces the bay.  This was to provide a guiding light at night to people trying to find the homestead. This seems a risky strategy during the days of bushrangers.

I still haven’t tracked down a copy of the Colonial Gardener but I have found that their is a copy on fiche at the Victorian State Library.  Once we get some cool weather I will make time to visit the VSL and to sit and read it in the great Victorian domed reading room – sounds like fun.

A Button-hole for Valentine’s Day

I think the Victorian’s would approve of this button-hole with a dusky red rose for love on Valentine’s Day. This variety of rose is called Tradescant and is named for one of the most famous Head Gardeners of all time John Tradescant the Elder born in 1570. Not a Victorian obviously but his work was tremendously admired by Victorian Head Gardeners so it seems an appropriate choice. The rest of the button-hole is purple Plectranthus flowers called Mona-lisa (because the Mistress is a big fan of purple), Yellow Lomandra flowers a sweet scented Australian native plant and a Rose Geranium leaf. This button-hole has a very fragrant rose perfume. Happy Valentine’s Day for this coming 14th February 2010!

Happy Valentine's Day

Time Travel to Marvelous Melbourne – Como House

Time Travel to Marvelous Melbourne - Como House

Last week I was overcome with excitement when my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Guide to Garden Management – the art of gardening arrived in the post – finally! The tricky thing is that this Wordsworth Reference Series book doesn’t let you know when it was first published or reprinted.  It does own up to being newly type-set in 2008. So should I assume that it is abridged?

I’ve never heard Mrs Beeton’s name associated with a gardening book. I have seen reference to a Mr Beeton’s gardening guide. Doing some googling I found that Mr S.O. Beeton published this book in 1861. So now I’m not sure which book I actually have?

On the plus side this book does have one very long article on the usefulness of the Dutch Hoe. Be advised do not operate heavy machinery while reading this coma-inducing quote.

The Dutch Hoe, or Scuffle, as it is sometimes called, is shown at A. It consists of a sharp and comparatively narrow blade, attached to the socket by two arms, which spring from the lower end of the latter, and are fastened at their extremities to the blade, one on one side and one on the other. The blade of the hoe being thus attached forms an angle with the handle, and by means is almost parallel to the surface of the soil when in use. The edge is thrust into the earth with a pushing motion and cuts up the weeds, which, with the surface soil, pass through the aperture between the arms.  By this arrangement the tool meets with far less resistance, and the labour is rendered far lighter than it would be if the opening was closed, or even if the socket for the handle proceeded immediately from the centre of the blade.

The mysterious and legendary Dutch Hoe

As we know the Beetons were editing or compiling these books from many other uncredited sources rather than writing them. This gardening book like BOHM is a grab bag of articles from horticultural magazines, journals and pamphlets. This led me to wonder about the reliability of this book as a text for explaining how the Victorians gardened. Was this the kind of book that you owned rather than used? Certainly it is likely to be a reference book that came out to the colonies but does it capture gardening in Australia in the Victorian era? Australia has such a radically different climate to the Mother Country.  In other words have I been barking up the wrong tree?

Como House - Living in very grand style in colonial Melbourne

While I try to find some Australian gardening reference books I decide to visit Como House in inner-city Melbourne. This amazing house was built in 1847 and is still furnished with its original period furniture and boasts a vegetable garden – hazar!

Apart from being stonking enormous it really has a very plain exterior or I guess elegant depending on your point of view. It actually looks more like an English Regency house than a English Victorian country mansion. The family that built this house were extremely rich owning some 1 million acres of sheep farms across Victoria – baa! It seems unlikely that lack of money was the barrier to a  full flowering of fanciness in architecture.

I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside due to the low lighting that they use to conserve all the soft furnishings. Have a look at their gallery if you are interested.  I was however allowed to take as many photo’s as I wanted in the laundry – very happy!

The laundry outhouse at Como

So by way of an update to my earlier post exploring Victorian laundries here is the real thing.

The devices on the window sill are for ironing crimps into fabric and lace.

In the back left hand corner is a wood fired copper in the corner. Just to the right of the copper is a black iron stove for heating Flat Irons.

Stove for heating irons.

This laundry would have been a hot and steamy spot. It does at least have high ceilings and lots of doors and big opening windows. So not as bad as it could be – still I bags working out in the garden rather than in the laundry as a Washer Woman. I do love the old shabbiness of this room!

A green winding mangle just like Grandma used to use.

That’s probably enough laundry porn.

The kitchen was really unbelievably basic which is surprising as it was the kitchen they used right through until the 1960′s when they sold the house to the National Trust.

The benches in the kitchen were all low; about mid thigh in height.  I’m 165 cm (5ft 6 in) and I would have had to stoop down uncomfortably to use them. The tour guide said this was evidence of how short people were during this era – I don’t know – this would make them very very small indeed.

The scullery seemed cramped for catering to such a large household so maybe they used more of the outdoor space around kitchen than just the indoors? This would be a good solution apart from the flies.

Scullery - not the Queen's

Unfortunately the 5 acres of garden remaining around the house are a legacy of the the 1920′s. The vegetable garden is a recreation of a garden planted by the Mistress of the house in 1925 and uses varieties that were available in Melbourne between the wars.

The 1925 Vegetable Garden with chicken coop but no Art Deco stylings

A little disappointing for me as I was hoping to see how Victorian-Melburnians grew their vegetables. While my time traveling experiment wasn’t entirely successful I have since found one fabulous book and a lead on another.

Remembered Gardens – Eight women & their visions of an Australian landscape by Holly Kerr Forsyth is a wonderful read. Forsyth states that

“Gardens created in the colonies during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) displayed all the plants popular in Britain.  In towns and cities, front gardens of the less wealthy continued to feature circular and oval beds surrounded by upturned rock or glazed tiles…Gardens of the wealthier settlers now featured edging of Box, introduced to the colony in about 1828, and even carriage circles. A typical front garden for a large Victorian terrace house might have a parterre of box hedges encasing standard roses.”

So nothing yet specifically about the vegetable gardens but it is likely that Melburnians were using the same vegetable seeds as the English.  To confirm this I need to track down an 1858 publication called Brunning’s Australian Gardener. More time travel maybe required!

Artichoke flowers at Como

Tonight we Celebrate like it’s 1888!

Tonight we Celebrate like it's 1888!


January is Stone Fruit season in Southern Australia. First the cherries are ready for Christmas then plums ripen, then peaches and finally apricots and nectarines. At this time of the year the Head Gardener would be busy ensuring that fruit was sent up to the kitchen for turning into jam and preserves just before ripening. This highlights that good communication between the kitchen and garden was important to ensure that the cook got a heads-up from the Head Gardener as fruit began to ripen.  It would certainly make the Cooks life easier to get on well with the Head Gardener.

As choice as the peaches but delivered in a fair quantity were dark red Morello cherries.  Harry had picked these from two fan-trained trees spread against the north wall of the garden. Old recipes spoke of having the stalk half cut, but Harry followed his training, delivering them to the kitchen minus any stalk at all.  It was a gentlemanly gesture that gardeners of the past always made to housekeepers who preserved Morellos, for leaving the ‘strings’ on the tree and removing just the cherries saved the housekeeper’s fingers from being soiled.

The Victorian Kitchen 1989

Keeping the garden watered daily would be the other major task as rainfall begins to decline and temperatures rise as we head into February.

Picking delicate fruit like peaches would have been an important task for the Head Gardener.  They are really difficult to pick without bruising once they are ripe.

Peaches and nectarines, once they gave off that certain ‘translucence’ Harry associated with ripeness, were cupped in the hand and given a slight twist.  Coming away from the stalk easily they were turned over and placed on padded trays.

The Victorian Kitchen Garden 1987

Peaches ripening in the sun.

I tried to remember this advice as I picked peaches for tonight’s dessert.  If you use your finger tips like I tend to do you end up with big bruises on your peaches; you really do need to cup them carefully.

As today the 26th of January is Australia Day we are have a fancy dinner to celebrate our day off work.  My contribution to the spread is dessert.  I’m going to make a Victorian peach dessert that is a big favourite in my family – Peach Melba.

Peach Melba

Peach Melba was invented in 1892 by the french chef Escoffier in celebration of the Australian Soprano Dame Nellie Melba’s performance of Lohengrin at Covent Garden in London.  Melba was born in Melbourne Australia and is probably our only international Victorian era celebrity (here is a link to Melba singing Sempre Libera which I recommend you listen too while simmering peaches – she sounds a little like she is being boiled herself!).

Escoffier’s original receipe for Peach Melba is really easy to make. Peach halves are boiled in water for about 2 minutes, one peach per person.

Simmering peaches

Once the peaches are removed from the water it is easy to slip off their skins and remove the stone.  They are then drained, sprinkled with caster sugar and left to cool.

Make raspberry sauce by pushing a cup full of raspberries through a fine sieve to remove their seeds. Add caster sugar to sweeten the raspberry puree to taste.

Scrunch berries through sieve.

To serve place scoops of vanilla ice cream in a dish, add two peach halves and then pour over raspberry puree.

Yummy!

In order to make this an authentic Escoffier dish you need to serve this in individually carved ice swans but this has never happened in my household. Escoffier recommends serving in a silver dish if your swan carver is on holiday.

There are heaps of versions of this recipe on the internet and most of them boil the peaches in sugar syrup.  This is OK if you like sweet peaches.  I prefer Escoffier’s original recipe because I like the tart peaches with the sweet ice cream and tart-ish raspberry.

It must be possible to make this dessert look really elegant but I find mine always looks like a train smash!  This is not up to Victorian standard but still tastes extremely yummy.

A Buttonhole for Australia Day

On the 26th of January 1888 all the colonies of Australia celebrated ‘Anniversary Day’ for the very first time. This date marked the 100th anniversary of the First Fleet arriving at Sydney Cove and the beginning of colonial Australia. In 1888 the colony of Victoria (the State where I live) was only 50 years old.  The separate colonies of Australia did not come together as a federation until 1 January 1901 only 21 days before the end of Victoria’s reign.

In modern Australia we celebrate (possibly too strong a word) Australia Day with a national public holiday, a day off work and a barbeque. It is a Nationalists festival that we have become somewhat embarrassed about as our indigenous country men and women refer to the day as ‘Invasion Day’. Back in 1888 colonialism was still cool, Victoria was on her throne and all was right with the World.

I decided this morning that in order to capture some of that 1888 gusto we would have buttonholes to wear at dinner tonight and that the appropriate buttonholes for today would be made of only Australian native plants.

Australia Day Buttonhole

Slim pickings in the garden so we have two identical buttonholes for the Master and Mistress. They are made from Pittosporum and Plectranthus leaves which both last very well out of water.  The small white flowers are Lemon- scented Teatree which smells delicious.  The purple berries are the fruits from the Flax Lilly which I think would look really nice as a hair decoration; these berries are edible and a great favourite of our chickens.

The final word goes to Melba our diva long before Kylie singing an appropriately smultzy and patriotic “No place like home“.  Happy Anniversary Day folks!