1945 Garlic bread arrives in Australia

Image: Madara Moroza on Unsplash

To be honest, it’s impossible to say when someone ate the first slice of garlic bread in Australia. But the first mention I can find is a recipe in Brisbane’s Courier Mail in 1945. It appeared in an article suggesting novel dishes for the Easter menu, a time when “housewives have four days’ catering with closed shops”. This is the recipe:

This is not generally known, but it is very much liked as a light savoury. Melt some margarine or butter and let a small clove of garlic soak in it for a couple of hours. Slice a long-shaped loaf almost through to the bottom crust, spread each cut portion with the garlic margarine and put in the oven to toast to a light brown.

A number of recipes appeared through the 1950s, eventually replacing the infused margarine with garlic mashed into butter. We didn’t have aluminium foil until the late 1950s, the alternative being to wrap the loaf in a brown paper bag or greaseproof paper before baking.

At this time, garlic was still regarded with some suspicion. An article in The Age in 1954 cautioned, “Garlic is one of those dangerous things which – like the atom – must be controlled and used with discretion”. Yes, otherwise the results could be…um…explosive?

Garlic bread came to us via America. A descendant of the classic Italian bruschetta (a toasted bread slice rubbed with garlic and doused with olive oil) it was reworked by immigrants to the USA. In the early 20th century, olive oil was in short supply so they substituted butter. As early as 1934, a US cookbook published a recipe for San Diego Special Garlic Bread.

It’s not clear when garlic bread became a feature of Australian restaurant menus, but by 1967 Dimitri’s Five Doors restaurant in Redfern, Sydney, was serving it alongside taramasalata. In 1969 it was a surprise arrival on the list at Kucuck Inn at Crows Next. Pizza Hut didn’t have garlic bread on the menu when the chain launched in Australia in 1970, but it was certainly there by 1978 and remains there still.

Not every restaurant succumbed to the trend. Sydney’s famous Berowa Waters never did. The Summit, which opened in 1968 atop Sydney’s Australia Square tower, refused to serve garlic bread for the first seven years. However, management bowed to customer demand in 1975 and proceeded to make a handsome profit from the dish.  In 1985, food guru Beverley Sutherland Smith wrote that “in most restaurants, garlic bread is offered at the beginning of a meal”.

Meanwhile, frozen garlic bread had popped up in the supermarket freezer. Invented in the USA in 1973 by a company called Coles (no relation to the Aussie supermarket chain), it meant we could avoid the tricky business of slicing into a long loaf while leaving the bottom crust intact.

While the pungent appetiser can no longer be found in upmarket restaurants, it hasn’t gone away. In 2022 there was even a Garlic Bread Festival in the hipster Melbourne suburb of Thornbury. UberEats eats lists the best places for ordering it home delivered. And there are still numerous brands available in supermarkets. Of course, if you’re a fan, it’s not too difficult to make some yourself. With discretion, of course.

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