Bold Palates – Delve into Australia's Gastronomic Heritage by Barbara Santich

Australians all let us rejoice our fabulous food inheritance

By Laura McKinnon
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Wine and barbecue on a boat - what could be more Australian?
Sydney Seafood School
Tasmanian oysters and smoked salmon - Photographer Garry Moore
Bold Palates - Australia's Gastronomic heritage by Barbara Santich


In Bold Palates Barbara Santich describes how, from earliest colonial settlement, Australian cooks have improvised and invented, transforming and 'Australianising' foods and recipes from other countries and cultures.

Along the way they have laid the foundations for a significant and unique Australian food culture that continues to endure.

What makes the Australian barbecue characteristically Australian? Why are pumpkin scones an Australian icon? How did eating lamb become a patriotic gesture? All topical questions for Australia Day food celebrations, and beyond.

Santich sets out to answer these – and many more – in chapters with titles such as Bush Tucker, Land of Picnics, Australian Barbeques and Chops Rampant to name a few. These titles are complemented by a treasure trove of vintage images, giving the book an old style Women’s Weekly feel.

Particular highlights are the botanical illustrations in the Bush Tucker chapter, and a 1936 image of nuns preparing a BBQ.

Several traditional recipes are also included in their original format, often taken from submissions to newspapers and magazines of the time. Alongside these inclusions are thorough explorations of the food’s history. All fodder for the resurgence in native food flavours in today's multicultural, hybrid cuisine.

One such example debunks the myth that ANZAC biscuits developed from homemade biscuits sent to the troops during the First World War; instead Santich claims that the biscuit they received was mass produced and was very little like what we call an ANZAC today. So much for great-granny's tales of lovingly posted home-made biscuits, with 'no eggs because they weren't available'!

The text also goes into detail about the origins of the pavlova, which it turns out, is not strictly Australian, but more of a co-creation between New Zealand and Australia that developed over time to become what we know today.

And while on the subject of icons, the Arnott’s Milk Arrowroot gets a nice mention in ‘Made in Australia’ with interesting facts about it once being a staple in children’s’ lunches, parents coating one end in chocolate and creating a face below to make Arrowroot people so their children would eat them. (Ed: A practice I'm about to resurrect! Arrowroot is in fact a starch made from tapioca and other tropical arrow-shaped roots, not wheat, and was originally given to babies at weaning, so as not to overload them with gluten).

It also became a favourite activity at parties to nibble around the edges of an Arrowroot to try and form the outline of the Australian mainland. The book is full of these interesting snippets.

While Bold Palates doesn’t specifically answer which side of the Tasman the pavlova first appeared (the dispute has recently heated up, with New Zealand currently claiming innovation status),  it is lovingly researched and extensively illustrated. Barbara Santich helps us reach a deeper understanding of the Australian identity by examining the way we eat. And it's far from being all lamb!


Bold Palates written by Barbara Santich is published in Australia by Wakefield Press (Kent Town, SA, 2012; hc, 326 pp) RRP A$49.99

Bold Palates has been shortlisted for the 2013 Prime Minister's Literary Awards in the non-fiction category.

Bold Palates is the Australian winner in the Best Culinary History Book category of the coveted Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2012 – the Best in the World Awards are announced in February 2013. subscribers receive a 20% DISCOUNT when buying this book directly through Wakefield Press. Details and link here »

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January 23rd, 2013
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