1853 Bush-cookery by Caroline Chisholm

Published in 1853, The Emigrant's Guide to Australia included Caroline Chisholm's advice on bush cookery

In a book titled The Emigrant’s Guide to Australia: With a Memoir of Mrs. Chisholm, published in 1853, Eneas Mackenzie included what he called Bush-Cookery, from an Unpublished MS by Mrs. Chisholm. Caroline Chisholm was an Englishwoman who spent long periods of her life in Australia. In the 1840s she was instrumental in encouraging the immigration of families to the colonies and in providing guidance for young single women in what was still a very rough-and-ready social environment.

Her suggestions for bush-cookery stem from her awareness of the challenges facing young wives living in primitive conditions. In the absence of refrigeration, salting was the usual method of preserving meat and the daily rations consisted largely of salt beef and flour. Chisholm’s recommendations are not without humour, as she recounts the tale behind one of the dishes, known as “Trout Dumplings”.


“The great art of bush-cookery consists in giving a variety out of salt beef and flour, minus mustard, pepper, and potatoes. Now, the first thing that a wife has to do in the bush is examine the rations, and think and contrive how to use them. Every woman who values her husband’s health and comfort will give him a hot meal every day.

To commence with the flour: this should be divided into three parts – one for dumplings and pancakes, two for dampers*

Divide the meat into seven portions. Take the best piece for Sunday: for as there is more leisure on that day, men congregate together, and get a habit of grumbling if the wife does not make the best use of her means. Let the Sunday share be soaked on the Saturday, and beat it well with a rolling pin, as this makes it more tender; take a seventh portion of the flour, and work it into a paste; then put the beef into it, boil it, and you will have a very nice pudding, known in the bush as ‘Station Jack.’

Monday. Cut the meat into small pieces; put them in the frying pan to stew; throw away the first water, then shake some flour over the meat and when sufficiently done, turn it out upon a dish; then take the remainder of this day’s flour (for you should be very particular and have no guess-work), mix it with water, not too much, and make it into a pancake. When fired, put the stew on top of it, and this will prevent any loss of gravy; keep it hot until your husband comes home, and he will have a palatable dish called ‘The Queen’s Nightcap’.

Tuesday. Chop the meat very small; mix it with this day’s flour, adding thereto a due portion of water, then form the whole into small dumplings, and put them in a frying pan. This dish generally goes by the name of ‘Trout-dumplings.’

As some people feel great interest in tracing the origin of strange terms, I was at some to ascertain how so foreign an appellation could have been given to this dish, so general in the district of ———, New South Wales. The richness of the story lies in the talent of the narrator. The substance, as related to me, was that a sturdy Highlander and his wife were advised to try this dish  ; and the dumplings, four in number, were put into a six-gallon iron pot to boil – very easily got in, but troublesome to get out. Forks and spoons were tried without avail. The “guid wife” burnt her fingers in the attempt. The stout mountaineer, murmuring about his wife’s stupidity, at length essayed to accomplish what he imagined an easy affair, but failed. A visitor proposed to take the pot off the fire. “No;” he would not be beaten’ he would not yield – do it he would. A wager was laid ‘ further trials were equally abortive. At last, driven to desperation by being foiled, and writing under the amusement he caused, the Scotchman rushed to his chest, and from thence drew forth his old Highland fishing-tackle, hook and line, and made a desperate “cast” at the dumplings ; but all in vain = he had not even a nibble. Overcome with vexation, he declared “they were as slippery as an eel, and muckle warse to catch than a Strathglass Lough trout!”

Wednesday. Stew the meat well in a small pot; when near done, take the portion of flour allowed for the day, make it into a crust, cover the meat with it, and in half an hour you will be able to serve up ‘A Stewed Goose.’

Thursday. Boil your beef, and make your flour into dumplings.

Friday. Beefsteak pudding; if Catholic, fish for your dinner.

Saturday. Beef ‘a-la-mode.’ “

* Bread made into large cakes, and baked on hearths.

No details of what constituted Beef ‘a-la-mode’ were given. Traditional recipes have it as a pot roast cooked in wine with the addition of flavoursome vegetables and herbs. The bush-cookery version was, no doubt, much simpler.

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