1864 Australia’s first cookbook

The English and Australian Cookery Book. Cookery for the Many, as Well as for the “Upper Ten Thousand”  (London, 1864), was published by Edward Abbott under the pseudonym of  ‘an Australian Aristologist’.  For many years it was generally acknowledged to be Australia’s first cookbook but, in 2022, researchers discovered an advertisement for an earlier publication titled The Housewife’s Guide. That, however, seemed to be an adaptation of an English cookbook, revised to suit Australian ingredients and conditions. Abbott’s book, although it no doubt borrowed many recipes from other sources, remains the first known to be entirely compiled in Australia.

Edward Abbott was born in Sydney in 1801, travelled to Hobart with his parents in 1815 and became variously a newspaper proprietor, magistrate and politician. He was noted for his hospitality. His book included traditional recipes but also many with local ingredients, such as ‘slippery bob’ – battered kangaroo brains fried in emu fat. Abbott’s pen name was derived from the Greek word for dinner, ariston.

The cookbook is an idiosyncratic collection of anecdotes, advice and recipes. On soy sauce, Abbott observes that ‘the vulgar idea is that this condiment is generally made in the East from pounded cockroaches, well spiced’. He gave recipes for Belgian ortolans (rare song-birds) as well as black swan, Scotch haggis as well as kangaroo steamer. And there’s a whole chapter on ‘Hebrew Refection’.

Chapter headings are sometimes conventional – for example, Soups, Game or Pastry. But others are idiosyncratic. The Hundred Guinea Dish deserved a chapter all its own. This dish, purportedly served to Prince Albert and prepared by Alexis Soyer, consisted of turtle heads and fins, and 14 types of birds from turkeys to pigeons and stuffed larks. It was to be garnished with cock’s combs, truffles, mushrooms, crayfish, olives, American asparagus, croustades, sweetbreads, quenelles de volaille, green mangoes and a new sauce. There’s also a chapter devoted to Smoking and one on Dinner Party Precedence.

Cooking times were not specified. As Abbott explained, each cook needed to judge the heat of the fire or iron stove and adjust accordingly. Although a newspaper review concluded, ‘Enough has been said to indicate its value, and we recommend all good wives to invest 5s.6d. in its purchase
forthwith’, this first cookbook failed to revolutionise Australian cooking.

In 2014, 150 years after Abbott’s book was published, a sesquicentenary facsimile edition was produced by Culinary Historians of Tasmania.

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