Sunday, September 19, 2010

That's not an old cookbook - THIS is an old cookbook

I have had an exciting couple of months on the vintage cookbook scene, which accounts for my silence on the blog front. First I tracked down for a Melbourne institutional library the holy grail for Australian cookbook collectors -The English and Australian Cookery Book: Cookery for the many as well as the Upper Ten Thousand by an Australian Aristologist. published in London in 1864.( You can read about its author Edward Abbott, a Tasmanian politician, in Colin Bannerman's entry for the Australian Dictionary of Biography . Even better read Colin's excellent history of early Australian cookery books A Friend in the Kitchen). Essentially it is a must-have for serious collectors because it is widely accepted as the first Australian cookery book. It is as scarce as... well as scarce as the first Australian cookery book really! When Fedex finally delivered this treasure (at great expense!) from the US I opened up the enormous package to find a small and slightly unprepossessing book, with a couple of nice engravings (particularly the title page which you can see below) and an amusing text on the vagaries of cooking and eating in the colonies (apparently kangaroo makes a good substitute for venison). The library were very happy to have it, and I felt the satisfaction of having managed to find it for them.

However my next purchases brought home for me the relative youth of Australia's European settlement and culinary scene - I bought a library of books which included 5 English cookery books published 100-150 years before Edward Abbott's, in fact three were published before Edward Abbott was even born in 1805. When you handle these beautiful books (very carefully!) you can literally feel the print on the thick, textured pages. While Edward Abbott's book is amusing in it's tone, in the earliest of these cookbooks the language and cookery terms are almost foreign (and the f for s mesfes with your brain!) In the earliest - a 1705 edition of William Salmon's The Family Dictionary or Household Companion household advice is mixed in with recipes, so a lengthy recipe for Lumber Pye (Take grated bread, cloves and mace finely beaten, beef suet cut fmall into fquare pieces, the veal or capon minced fmall) is followed by a treatment for Lunacy (apparently a bit of Angelica, rhubarb and other herbs boiled in spring water and given hourly while the victim rests in bed with a warm candle does the trick) One day I might try the killer recipe for Gingerbread, but doubt I'll be Fricafing any Neats-feet anytime soon!

Here are some photos of the others and and links to their descriptions on my website. A real treasure-trove.
The Housekeeper's Instructor or Universal Family Cook
by William Henderson (1805)
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
by 'A Lady' (Hannah Glasse) 1763

Monday, September 13, 2010

A few of our favourite cakes - the first Melbourne meeting of The Cake Committee

After a baking marathon by all concerned, yesterday was a great success for the first meeting of The Cake Committee. We had more than 25 cakes, 50 guests (yes that is half a cake each!!) and raised $600 for the loca, CFA and Melbourne charity second bite. Here's some photos to whet your appetite for the next meeting - which will be early December.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Trial Baking - The countdown to the 1st Cake Committee tea-party begins

Some of my friends think I'm a tad compulsive, and when it comes to preparing food for a big event I am inclined to agree. Ever since I first decided to convene a Melbourne slice of the Cake Committee I have become a little obsessed with what I should bake and wanting to make sure it turns out as perfect as possible. I scour the old baking books on my shelves, check out baking blogs and websites and dream up variations on past efforts. Much to my personal trainer Loz's despair, this compulsion naturally involves a lot of trial baking (but not too much tasting Loz, I promise). Here's one result:

The Chocolate Lush Cake from an old advertising pamphlet for baking powder. Actually called a Chocolate Plush Cake, I've replaced it's stodgy icing with a whisky marscarpone cream and a whipped chocolate ganache icing. The topping is pecan praline. Hiding shamefaced in the second picture is a trial baking failure - espresso macarons - I always said I wouldn't try making them, and I did and never will again!

If you would like the recipe email me on If you want to try the finished product, come along to our first meeting on September 12th, 2.30 - 4.30 at the Kallista Mechanics Hall on Tom Roberts Rd, Kallista (Melways 75 K$).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tearooms at Yarck - a trip worth taking

Every time we head off to North Eastern Victoria or I drive to Canberra or Sydney we drive out the back of the Yarra Valley through Yea and onto the Maroondah Hwy, passing through a series of little towns before eventually joining the Hume: Molesworth, Merton, Bonnie Doon and a "blink and you'd miss it" hamlet called Yarck. For several years now I've been hearing all sorts of good things about the little Italian trattoria which took over the Tearooms at Yarck (and which is now called, appropriately "The Tearooms at Yarck"). As we would sail through in the early hours of the morning or return at dusk on a weekday, I would always promise myself - I must come back when it's open!!

Well last weekend David and I drove to Euroa to test-drive a 1978 Holden ute ( it's a long story and involves neither food nor cookbooks, so I won't bore you with it). As I was plotting out our route (I'm a little OCD that way) I saw Yarck on the map, and made a snap decision that we were finally going to take the opportunity to eat at "Tearooms at Yarck". I booked for 6pm for what I thought would be a quick meal on the way home, and we rolled out of there at 8.45, groaning but satisfied. The lovely waitress offered us the option of dining a la carte from the small (but perfectly formed) blackboard menu or choosing the chef's tasting menu of 4 courses. Well at $79 it seemed like a good option to sample the Tearoom's wares so we settled down with a nice glass of Italian sangiovese and the dishes started arriving.

First up was a delicate dish of the freshest kingfish, raw, thinly sliced and served with a light vinaigrette. Then a procession of small antipasto samplers: marinated fresh octopus, white bean salad, two gorgeous sardine fillets, beetroot salad and more. After a short wait a small bowl of hearty artichoke soup, smoky and perfectly seasoned and garnished with slivers of deep-fried artichoke leaves arrived, accompanied as the earlier courses had been by a plate of house-baked sourdough. A slightly longer wait later was rewarded with two plates of 4 plump pumpkin and goat's cheese ravioli.

So if you, like me are counting, that's four courses right? fish, antipasto, soup and tortellini. For a moment I felt cheated - they had goat and suckling pig on the menu and I gave them up for ravioli? But wait here comes the waitress with fresh knife and fork. OK lets just go with the flow, Goat you say? yes please. Slow-braised and tender, but I have to say not as tasty as the ragu I make regularly, a couple of gristly bits in theres and not served with any other accompaniment so I pinch some of the soft polenta from David's dish of two snapper fillets, quickly grilled and apparently delicious.

Right that's it then - I'm happy, it's 8pm and it's a 1 1/2 hour drive back home so we should be in bed before ten. But then the waitress comes by with spoons and forks and I say - "There's more?" and she says "Yes Dessert!" A plate of semifreddo arrives, which we have almost finished when the waitress places a share plate of three desserts on the table: a lemon meringue tart, flourless chocolate cake and a tiramisu. How can we resist. With each mouthful we both swear we can't eat any more, but somehow finish it off; the chocolate cake is the star of the show, the tiramisu not quite as good as mine (if I say so myself!).

We ordered coffees to go and dragged ourselves up to the counter to pay. As I signed, I said to the waitress: "I thought I heard you say the chef's tasting menu was 4 courses" "Oh it is" she says, "but there were somethings not available so we gave you a few extras" A few extras!

In conclusion a wonderful meal, a welcoming venue (if a little chilly the night we were there) and knowedgeable wait-staff. The open kitchen was a treat to watch in the lulls during our meal, which was, with a couple of exceptions, near-flawless. Although bookings are highly recommended the restaurant was not full the night we were there. The diners were a nice mix: a local family having pizza (which I want to try next time, having watched the Pizzaioli at work all night), a well-heeled spring-autumn couple clearly down from the snowfields or their nearby weekend retreat; a family celebrating some family occasion. For me the bonus of eating a great meal at a great restaurant was also the knowledge that as far as possible the Tearooms sources much of their produce locally (very locally, given some of it comes from the farm owned by chef/owner Pietro Porcu). And having now finally experienced a meal there, I wasn't surprised to see it get a second hat from the Good Food Guide. We'll be back-possibly next week when we drive to pick up that ute!!