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Eating through history: 1800s Sydney

I’ve designed an 1800s hotel, I’ve explored interiors from the period, and lately, I’ve been discovering recipes. I love to read novels that include food as part of the story, the cooking, eating, and sharing of recipes is a traditional way women have communicated and the basis for many informal gatherings. As my current manuscript features several facets of women’s history, it has been my great pleasure to delve into as many mouth-watering meal ideas as possible.

My hotel may never be built (and I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m no architect), but my growing collection of recipes from Australian 1800s kitchens, can definitely be cooked and eaten – though a few of the ingredients might be hard to source.

I’m a dessert person. As far as I’m concerned, dessert is the most important part of any meal. So I was delighted to discover the recipe for Apple Charlotte on The Sydney Living Museums blog: The Cook and the Curator. Apple Charlotte is named after Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.

“Its beauty is in its humble style and simplicity. Serve with thick cream, ice-cream or warmed custard.”

Apple charlotte. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Apples, warm custard, and ice-cream… heaven in a bowl!

And it seems our taste for cheese on toast (and curries?) goes way back with this recipe for Cheese Curry in the West Australian Newspaper (Perth, Friday 9 Jan 1880.

CHEESE CURRY.-Grate a teacupful of rich,

hard cheese, and add to it a teacupful of milk,

a teaspoonful of mixed mustard and one of curry

powder. Stir it over the fire till thick and

smooth, and spread it over slices of buttered

toast. Brown a few minutes in the oven, and

serve hot.

And did you know you could make meringue from rice?

RICE MERINGUE.-Pick over one teacup of

rice, wash clean, and boil in water, until it is

soft. When done, drain all the water from it.

Let it get cool, and then add one quart of new

milk, the well-beaten yolks of three eggs, three

spoonfuls of white sugar, and a little nutmeg ;

pour into a baking-dish and bake half an hour.

Let it get cold ; then beat the whites stiff, add

two great spoonfuls of sugar, flavour with lemon

and vanilla, and spread it over the pudding, and

slightly brown it in the oven. Be careful not to

let it scorch.

Ever fancied trying some Roast Wallaby?

Image sourced from Sydney Living Museums

But having a bunch of recipes isn’t enough. I also needed an idea of what a kitchen and dining room in the 1880s might have looked like. State Archives are amazing places and so is the power of the internet. I printed this image of a family sitting down to dinner for a little inspiration and my characters were able to move, seat themselves, and eat a thoroughly Australian (with Irish and Scottish overtones) dinner.

Picture sourced from Sydney & Beyond

I think I may start my own recipe book....

Interested in the history of food in Australia? Try some of these links:

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