Not surprisingly most of us who enjoy good food also love a good bottle of wine to go with it. Sometimes we have the opportunity of having extended experiences of enjoying the two over a long lunch or dinner.
Our local Legends Lunch, organized by Ian Napier, is held at a number of Pokolbin restaurants and is the classic example of the interest and pleasure that comes with exploring the components of the foods and wines that enhance our enjoyment. We are of course all converts to the matching of food and wine and never cease to be amazed at the permutations and combinations that exist once having embarked on this journey. Our lunch is in the long tradition of the Hunter River Vineyard Association started in the 1840’s where comparative tastings helped develop the qualities and suitability of the newly developing industry.
However for us today it is important not to drill down too far in our technical analysis (the wine shows do that) but rather to enjoy the interaction of the senses, the interplay of taste and smell, the presentation and the marriages and even divorces of the different foods and wines.
The winemakers of the Hunter have a long established regard for the matching of food and wine. Great winemakers such as Maurice O’Shea were famous for their cooking and gastronomic hospitality as well as their wines. In the appendix, to his book, Hunter Winemakers Max Lake published over 70 recipes of O’Shea’s including local game such as Wild Duck Clamart, Gibelotte de Lapin (a famous recipe from Ile de France) and Hare- Rable de Lievre a l’Allemande. It is a multicultural collection with a French dominance but also Italian and English.
In his earlier publication, Max Lake published his own recipes as well as a memorable Bouillabaisse prepared by Johnny Walker at Mount Pleasant in 1955 and pronounced superb by Maurice O’Shea. The wine recommended was a medium-bodied Hunter Red or a full flavoured white. Other recipes came from Eileen Tullock- Lamb Steak’s Tullock and Chicken Vigneron as well as Snapper Patterson and cold Lamb Bert Endersby. Len Evans declined to write an autobiography but did produce a cookbook loaded with fine recipes and stories that covered his life and many friends- always associated with food and wine.
Interestingly many of the recipes are a result of using local produce and calling on the past traditions of England, France, and Italy a trend that can be traced back to the first Australian Cookbook published in Tasmania by a great character one Edward Abbott. His book was called The English and Australian Cook Book published in 1864. The book drew on the traditional English and French but also many other cuisines such as Spanish gazpacho, Portuguese roast pork, German sauerkraut, Turkish kebabs and Brazilian stews among other things.
In particular, he was the first writer to explore the gastronomic potential of Australia. He vividly describes the produce of the land, the fish from the sea, the native Australian Game and the fruit of the vine as well as a collection of drinks and cocktails to enjoy.
He subtitled the book in a curious manner “Cookery for the Many, as well as for the ‘Upper Ten Thousand”, by an Australian Aristologist. I doubted Tasmania had an Upper Ten Thousand so I looked up the term to find it was a 19th-century term referring to the wealthiest New Yorkers that spread to refer to the Upper Circle as it were. Importantly he aimed the book at the Many and priced it so it was universally affordable.
It turns out an Aristologist is a “student of dining” coming from the Greek for dinner. It was a word coined in 1835 by a London Magistrate one Thomas Walker who sought to ensure the greatest quantity of health and enjoyment from dining. The term sounded very aristocratic and seems to have been dropped from our Australian lexicon fairly quickly!
To put its printing into perspective Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was first published a few years before in 1861. It was Victorian England and the rise of the middle class was underway. Three other cookbooks of note from the UK were “Mrs Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families” 1845, The Modern Housewife, 1849 and A Shilling Cookery for the People 1855. Of course, none of these had any reference to Australia.
Bernard Lloyd co-author of the Companion Volume to Abbott’s book describes it as being “Grand in ambition, catholic in taste, multicultural in range”. “He brought attention not just to new ingredients and recipes, but new modes of cooking” including sticker-up campfire cooking and the Australian “Pic nic”.
“At a time when most – and many assumed all – Australians dined on little more than lamb and tea Abbott presents colonial feasts with elegant table settings and fine wines selected for each course’ says Lloyd. His book became an icon, a touchstone for colonial cooks at every level.
We sometimes lose sight of how rapidly our colony developed and how abundant the local produce was. Elizabeth Macarthur writing about life at Elizabeth Farm around 1800 noted a beautiful landscape with Almonds, Apricots, pear and apple trees. Olive trees were propagated, potatoes, corn and wheat all around the Parramatta farm.
John Macarthur had sophisticated tastes as this receipt from an Oil and Italian warehouse in London shows. Olive oil, Capers, Anchovies and mustard are on the list. There are many records of kangaroo, wombat, birds and locally caught fish supplementing the local rations and as Edward Abbott showed these could all be used in Australian Dining.
The Maitland Mercury Circa 1850 carried an advertisement from a Singleton General store which included Mustard, Anchovies, Pickles, Salad oil and Salmon among other things, reflecting the broad taste that existed even then.
We justifiably attribute much of our modern day Australian cuisine to the impact of post Second World War migration and our close ties to Asia. However, there is no doubt a thread of our food appreciation dates back to the early days when necessity drove our interest in Hunting and Gathering to supplement our diet.
Even the convicts supplemented their rations with fresh meat. Our later settlers were often middle class looking to improve their lot and the Goldrush brought a multicultural approach to our food. As a result, our diet was much broader than that of the UK. It is said the ANZACS stood out in the first world war partly because of their stature, a result of their Australian diet and their good health…most of them had their own teeth ( no so the UK soldiers, making biscuit rations hard to eat !)
The success of Edward Abbott’s cookery book with sales in Sydney Melbourne, Adelaide and elsewhere, no doubt contributed to the diversity of food enjoyed long before the post WW2 migration.
Of course, the depression of the 1930’s led to a rather limited diet and reawakened interest in the local game and some became dependent on it to the extent many would not look at another rabbit. The Hermitage Road Hunters and Gatherers are keen to rediscover the best ways of supplementing our diet with the fish and lean meats we can hunt. We have enjoyed a good year with this in mind, the highlight being the Around Hermitage Hunter and Gatherers Dinner.
In acknowledgement of our long and varied culinary history and the importance of wine with food, The Around Hermitage Association is developing a feature documentary film.
This is based on the Hunter wine and food history with a particular nod to the writings of Edward Abbott and the first Australian Cook Book. ” “COOKERY FOR THE MANY AS WELL AS THE UPPER TEN THOUSAND”.
This will be a highlight of our Around Hermitage Film Festival next year.
I have used the following sources in writing this blog
Len Evans Cookbook Golden press 1985,
Hunter Winemakers Max Lake Jacaranda press 1970
Hunter Wine Max Lake Jacaranda press 1964
The English and Australian Cookbook Companion Volume Paul County and Bernard Lloyd The Culinary Historians of Tasmania 2014
Elizabeth Farm Parramatta Historic Houses Trust of NSW 1995 and the Mitchell library
#aroundhermitage #huntervalley #bobsblog
Author: Robert Lusby AM
©Around Hermitage Association Inc.