1909 Savoury toast in Launceston, Tasmania

I’ve always taken note of regional dishes, or regional variations on dishes. There are regional variations on the sandwich: Perth’s Conti Roll and South Australia’s double-cut rolls. And trawling through the record, in the past there have been many variations on savoury toast. However, it seems that Tassie is one place where the term has taken on a fairly specific meaning as the name for a dish you’re unlikely to find on café menus anywhere else in Australia.

The Tasmanian version, as revealed to the rest of us by the ABC in July 2021, is a combination of beaten egg, grated cheese, chopped bacon, Worcestershire sauce (or barbecue sauce), tomato sauce, salt and pepper, spread on slices of white bread and cooked in the oven. Some versions add mustard and/or curry powder.

The earliest similar recipe I can find comes from Launceston’s Examiner in July 1909. It has the cheese and bacon but different condiments and doesn’t contain egg. However, it is finished in the oven. Many other recipes carrying the title “savoury toast” are merely for savoury toppings to be served on buttered toast.

The 1909 recipe goes like this:

Savoury Toast. Cut some slices of bread, cut off all the crust, and butter each piece rather thickly, then spread a little made mustard on them, cover them with finely minced bacon, sprinkle grated cheese over this, season with salt and cayenne. Fry them in butter, and then put them in the oven or under the toaster on a gas stove to melt and brown the cheese. Serve very hot.

An option was to use minced ham or tongue instead of bacon.

It’s not clear when the current recipe became codified or why it became a Tasmanian specialty. Over the years, the title “savoury toast” on a recipe has referred to minced left-over meat on toast (1907), a version of scrambled eggs on toast (1908), or even mashed carrots in white sauce on toast (1942). A recipe in a Victorian local paper in 1913 included the egg, grated cheese and spices, but no bacon.

When I was growing up in Melbourne in the 1950s and ’60s, my mother used to make a similar, but simpler, dish she called ‘bread savouries’. In this case, the buttered bread was spread with canned spaghetti, topped with cheese and bacon, cut into fingers and baked in the oven. On one particularly memorable occasion (my 21st birthday party) the prepared savouries were waiting on the kitchen table for a final blast in the oven when the family dog hopped up and helped himself.

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