Living in Tasmania stories
Pioneer’s cook book highlights our bounty
By Graeme Phillips
This year is the 150th anniversary of Australia’s first cook book, written in Hobart by landowner and parliamentarian, Edward Abbott, and published in London in 1864.
It had the felicitous title The English and Australian Cookery Book: Cookery for the Many as well as for the Upper Ten Thousand by an Australian Aristologist.
A collection of gastronomic miscellany from the Old Country, the Continent and from Hebrew cookery, it included such idiosyncratic colonial recipes as Kangaroo Steamer and Slippery Bob – kangaroo brains fried in emu fat.
Only one edition was ever published.
In the 1970s, a selection of Abbott’s original material appeared under the title The Colonial Cook Book: the Recipes of a By-gone Australia, edited by Alison Burt.
On May 4 this year, a full facsimile, published by Paul County of The Culinary Historians of Tasmania, was launched to celebrate the book’s sesquicentennial anniversary at the Tasting Australia Festival in Adelaide.
While Slippery Bob understandably remained and remains an historic quirk, Abbott praised Tasmania’s striped trumpeter as one of the world’s finest eating fish. It still is, and ‘stripy’ remains a Tasmanian restaurant and household favourite to this day.
Abbott also championed locally produced wines before the infant industry eventually failed; only to re-emerge more than a century later and earn today’s wide national and international acclaim.
Abbott would be able to write a very different book today and his “Many and Upper Ten Thousand” would no doubt be delighted to witness the quite dramatic changes that have taken place in Tasmania’s culinary scene.
Evolution has accelerated in just the past two decades.
Of the 45 producers at a recent Brand Tasmania’s Meet the Producers event, only three were operating in 1980. Of the 63 products on show, only five were available at that time.
The ’80s were King Island Cheese’s time to show the country there was more to cheese than packaged Kraft cheddar slices.
At the same time, fifth-generation sheep farmer, John Bignell and others were catching fallow deer from the island’s large wild herd to lay the foundations for our farmed deer and venison industry.
In a pioneering example of farm diversification, Bignell then went on to produce the State’s first goat and sheep cheeses.
The first farmed Atlantic Salmon went to market in 1983. Today it’s a $500 million a year industry with sales growing at over $1 million a week.
The year 1989 saw the release of Tasmania’s first modern sparkling wine, Jansz, and the State is now seen as the southern hemisphere’s answer to Champagne.
In 1992, Bill Lark was freezing his butt off while trout fishing in the highlands and felt in need of a whisky. So he decided to make some.
In fact, he founded an industry.
Tasmania now has seven distilleries exporting their product globally and the Sullivans Cove Cask H 525 was judged the top single-malt in the world at London’s recent 2014 World Whisky Awards.
Tas Saff, started by Nicky and Terry Noonan with three acres of bulbs in 1991, is now the largest saffron operation in the southern hemisphere with over 50 associated growers around Australia and New Zealand.
People laughed at plans by Duncan Garvey and Peter Cooper to grow black truffles in Tasmania – until they unearthed their first truffle in July, 1999.
And the abundance goes on – olives, oysters, farmed mussels and cocktail abalone, wagyu and Angus beef, lamb, wasabi, wakame, leatherwood and meadow honeys, cherries, apricots, walnuts, hazelnuts, berries and, most recently, artisan beers, fruit liqueurs and a booming apple cider industry.
It’s a gastronomic story and a larder that Abbott would have been proud to write about.
Image courtesy of The Culinary Historians of Tasmania
1 May 2014, Edition 149