Out of the Frying Pan And Into the Antipodes--
Recipes & reminiscences from 70-plus years of New Zealand & Australian food; with some of the loves, some of the lovers, and some of the culinary & social history.
(A few names & places have been changed to protect the guilty)

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Australasian "Slice" (1)

Condensed Cholesterol & Sugar Blindness
The Australasian “Slice” 

I’ve got a book of “slices.” Well, one of those magazine-y books. Can’t remember why on earth I bought it—research, possibly, I’m no baker. I do recall that at one stage I was hoping to find a recipe that would be tasty, as healthy as possible, and require no baking. You know, incorporating mainly rolled oats and a few ground-up nuts or maybe even sunflower seeds, stuck together with something that wasn’t full of cholesterol and sucrose. Hah, hah.
    Back in the day, when no-one had heard of so-called “muesli bars” and we’d just started to be health-food conscious, the “slice” emerged in Australasian cookery, and gradually took over the rôle formerly played by actual baked cakes or biscuits in morning and afternoon teas. Cakes are still baked, though not as often as was normal right up into the 1960s, and biscuits (though to a much lesser extent), but the slice now dominates. It is often served as a dessert, too. Its huge popularity may be seen on the Aussie website, BestRecipes.com.au, which has hundreds of slice recipes.
    What is a slice? The usage appears to be confined to Australia and New Zealand. The cookbooks won’t enlighten you: they assume it’s a norm, and that you know. A “slice” is a kind of flat, low cake. Slices are made as a whole but then cut up into portion-sized pieces before storing and/or serving. They may consist of merely one layer, or of one layer, iced, or of a base with a topping, or of a base with a topping plus an icing or frosting. They may be baked or unbaked. Unbaked slices may require some cooking on the stove-top or in the microwave, or none at all. Some recipes may also be eaten as sweets and there is often no firm dividing line between them, though the sweets tend to have less flour content.
    The concept existed for quite some years before the “slice” gained its name. Sometimes such recipes were called “fingers,” but this never became the generic term Downunder. 

It’d have been in the mid-1960s—probably just before we moved to the new house—when Mum began to make the sweetish non-baked thing that the family came to call “Scradge.” I think the inspiration for the name was Dad’s, originally. Say a thing fifty times and the kids start copying you—well, maybe. His favourite (feeble) jokes and boring stories weren’t copied. But in the case of “Scradge,” it stuck. She must have got the recipe from the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, she always bought a magazine or two even when we were in our first Auckland house: it was her only indulgence, and if the minute amount of cash left over from the groceries didn’t run to a shiny McCall’s as well, it’d be just the Weekly. By the time we’d moved and Dad had the new job there was more money but she still bought the good old Weekly, and it still had pretty much the old format, with recipes every week. Sometimes they’d be stand-bys, or perhaps a slightly new touch to an old stand-by, but very often they were new discoveries or someone’s bright idea. 

Slice Origins
It’s quite difficult to trace the culinary history of the slice; there are so many strands to it. Let’s see:

® Baked “shortcakes”
® Sweetened condensed milk
® Rolled oats in biscuits
® Packaged cereals
® Sweets made with copha
® Bought biscuits as an ingredient
® Health foods and muesli 

I think these are the main ones, more or less in chronological order of their appearance in the Australasian diet. The basic ingredients, however, were not necessarily adopted in baking in the order in which they got into the diet. 

The 20th-Century Curse: Elaboration Upon Elaboration… 

As the 20th century rolled on, slices became more and more elaborate and the original purpose of the things, to save the home cook time and provide a relatively low-sugar, low-cost treat for the family, was completely lost sight of.
    Today’s slices may even consist of an oven-baked bottom layer or base, a saucepan-cooked main layer or “filling” (they’re flat, no sides, so you can’t literally fill them), and a saucepan-cooked marshmallow or oven-baked meringue topping. Guaranteed to drive the inexperienced home cook to tears and raise the temperature of the kitchen to that of an inferno, not to mention the temper.
Junk & More Junk
They may incorporate almost any sweet junk food you’d care to name and some that you wouldn’t. I've read slice recipes containing melted Mars Bars, chopped-up marshmallows (very popular), Maltesers, Rolos, lolly bananas (so described), Aero Bars, Cherry Ripe Bars, Violet Crumble or Crunchie Bars (containing “hokey-pokey” if you’re a New Zealander, “honeycomb” if you’re an Australian), peppermint chocolate, caramels, liquorice allsorts, and chocolate-coated Turkish Delight bars. 

Sticky & Sweet
In order to make the mixtures cohere—that’s often both base and filling—they may use of any of these, or any combination or permutation of them: 

® Sweetened Condensed Milk ® Butter ® Chocolate ® Sugar
® Eggs ® Honey ® Golden Syrup ® Copha 

    If using sugar as one of your binding agents your slice’s base definitely has to be baked; otherwise it may not be, though those with eggs usually (but not inevitably) are. The list is more or less in order of popularity, though it's hard to judge. And as I say, it’s not just one of them, it’s often two or more.
    All this, combined with the ubiquitous use of the family car, could just help to explain why the Aussie media keep reporting worriedly that Australian kids are some of the most overweight in the world—yes. 

Slice Origins
Today I’ll take a look at the first three strands in the complex culinary history of the slice: baked shortcakes, the introduction of sweetened condensed milk as a baking ingredient, and the use of rolled oats in baking. More later. 

Slice Origins: Baked “Shortcakes”

Date Shortcake
4 ozs. Butter; 4 ozs. Sugar
1 Eggs; 4 ozs. Flour
4 ozs. Edmonds cornflour
1 teaspoon Edmonds Baking Powder
1/2 lb. Chopped Dates
Juice of 1 Lemon
Cream butter and sugar; add egg, then sifted flour, cornflour and baking powder. Knead. Roll out half the mixture and place on a cold greased tray. Put dates into a small saucepan, add a little water (about 2 tablespoons) and lemon juice. Cook over a low heat until dates are soft. Cool, and spread on shortcake. Roll out other half and place on top. Bake 25 minutes at 375° F. When cold, ice with lemon icing. Cut into squares.
Edmonds Cookery Book. De Luxe Ed. ([Christchurch, N.Z.], T. J. Edmonds Ltd., 1955 (1968 printing)) 

One of the precursors to the slice was the oven-baked “shortcake.” It’s an old term, but recipes which we can relate to as modern rather than obsolete appear under various names quite early. A sweetish dough, halfway between a cake mixture and a pastry mixture, is usually used. Some versions are baked as a whole, some cut up before baking. In America the popular “cobbler,” typically with peaches, is a relation. Obviously these items are related to pies or tarts, and probably developed from them, but they are not the same: the crust or base is not shaped so as to hold a filling, and it is not a true pastry.
    “Short” here refers to “shortening,” a “fat used for making pastry crisp” which is related to the meaning of “short” as “friable, crumbling, not tenacious” (Concise Oxford). These recipes for flattish cake-like items date back over 150 years: in 1861 we find Mrs Beeton giving us the full works, from creating the shortening (lard) to the finished items from the oven.
    —You’re not mis-reading it, no (I thought I was), and it isn’t a savoury recipe, no. “Leaf” is leaf-lard, “made from layers of fat round pig’s kidneys” (Concise Oxford). 

1779. Ingredients.—2 lbs. of leaf, or the inside fat of a pig; 1-1/2 lb. of flour, 1/4 lb. of moist sugar, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1 oz. of candied lemon-peel, ground allspice to taste.
Mode.—Cut the leaf, or flead, as it is sometimes called, into small pieces; put it into a large dish, which place in a quick oven; be careful that it does not burn, and in a short time it will be reduced to oil, with the small pieces of leaf floating on the surface; and it is of these that the cakes should be made. Gather all the scraps together, put them into a basin with the flour, and rub them well together. Add the currants, sugar, candied peel, cut into thin slices, and the ground allspice. When all these ingredients are well mixed, moisten with sufficient cold water to make the whole into a nice paste; roll it out thin, cut it into shapes, and bake the cakes in a quick oven from 15 to 20 minutes. These are very economical and wholesome cakes for children, and the lard, melted at home, produced from the flead, is generally better than that you purchase.
To prevent the lard from burning, and to insure its being a good colour, it is better to melt it in a jar placed in a saucepan of boiling water; by doing it in this manner, there will be no chance of its discolouring.
Time.—15 to 20 minutes. Sufficient to make 3 or 4 dozen cakes. Seasonable from September to March. 

The lard makes it much cheaper than butter, which is used in real shortbread (for which Isabella has an excellent recipe), and thus the result is for the kids, and only “Scrap-Cakes.” 

1908: the American Contribution
The general idea of the “shortcake” was around for the next hundred years (and is still around). Versions with apples, sometimes other fruit, were very popular with the home cook during the first half of the 20th century. This is an American recipe: 

German Apple Cake.
Make a biscuit dough; roll out very thin and put on a well-buttered cake-pan. Have ready some apples. Cut in quarters; lay closely on the cake; sprinkle thick with brown sugar; add some cinnamon and a handful of currants. Pour some fresh melted butter over the cake; set in the oven to bake until done. Serve with coffee.
365 Foreign Dishes: A Foreign Dish for Every Day in the Year. (Philadelphia, G.W. Jacobs & Co., [1908]) 

Here a "biscuit" dough would be similar to a scone dough. This shows us that such recipes, whether ostensibly “German” or not (it's the apples), were already established in the English-speaking repertoire at the beginning of the 20th century. 

1940s/1950s: Going Strong Downunder
By the late 1940s/early 1950s such flat baked items cropped up regularly in the cookbooks. There is still no generic name, but they’re nevertheless a discernible grouping, and it's easy to see how they would become “slices.” Both the Calendar of Puddings and the Calendar of Cakes from the South Australian Country Women's Association, around 1951-52, contain recipes for apple shortcakes, and so does the Green and Gold Cookery Book, 15th ed. (rev.), circa 1949.

Here’s one of them that I just picked at random—they’re virtually indistinguishable. 

Apple Cake
(Quantity Makes Two Cakes. Each Serves Six.)
2 large cups S.R. flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 large cups stewed apples.
Cream butter and sugar, add beaten eggs, and mix well. Add sifted flour and cinnamon. Knead into light dough and divide into four equal pieces. Have ready two 8-inch sandwich tins. Roll out one piece and line tin. Spread with one cup of apples and cover with similar piece. Repeat for second tin, pinching edges together. Bake in moderate oven to 3/4 hour. Serve hot with custard or cream. When cold, may be iced and sprinkled with nuts.
-MRS. L. W. CLEMENTS (Cobdogla).
Calendar of Puddings (South Australian Country Women's Association, circa 1952) 

Then as now these “cakes” could be served for dessert or afternoon/morning tea. The sandwich configuration was quite popular, but not mandatory.

    It didn’t have to be apples, you could use other fruits or jam. This one’s from the Calendar of Cakes, not puddings, but it’s the same basic idea: 

Blackberry Shortbread

1/2 lb. S.R. flour, 1/4 lb. butter, 6 ozs. sugar, 2 eggs, blackberry jam, 1 cup chopped or minced nuts. Rub butter into sifted flour and mix in the sugar. Then take out one-third of this mixture. Mix the remainder with the beaten eggs. Press into greased cake tin and spread with blackberry jam. Add the nuts to the mixture previously taken out and sprinkle this over the jam. Bake about 40 minutes in a moderate oven. This amount fills two 7 in. sandwich tins.
--MRS. H. A. GARDNER (Tailem Bend).
Calendar of Cakes (South Australian Country Women's Association, circa 1951) 

(The crumb mixture appears in several recipes in this book, it seems to have been a fad of the time. Later revived off and on.) 

Shades of the Modern Slice Begin To Close, Around the Glowing Oven…
I was quite rocked when I discovered the recipe for “Marshmallow Shortcake” in my 1968 printing of the New Zealand Edmonds Cookery Book, De Luxe Ed., 1955. At first glance it seemed to have gone back to the future. But it isn’t a modern slice at all. Everything is made by hand, including the marshmallow. (Version 2 of the “filling”, i.e. topping, makes a concession to modernity in that Edmonds packet jelly crystals are used instead of the tricky business of making marshmallow from scratch.) 

Marshmallow Shortcake
4 ozs. Butter; 4 ozs. Sugar; 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Essence;
1 Egg; 8 ozs. Flour; 1 teaspoon Edmonds Baking Powder
Cream butter and sugar; add essence. Add egg, then sifted dry ingredients. Roll on greaseproof paper to about 1/2 inch. Place on cold tray and bake 30 minutes at 350° F.
2 dessertspoons Gelatine; 3/4 breakfastcup Cold Water;
3/4 breakfastcup Sugar; 1 Egg White;
3/4 breakfastcup Icing Sugar
Soften gelatine in cold water, add sugar and boil 8 minutes. Cool. Beat white of egg stiff, fold in icing sugar, then slowly pour in cooled gelatine. Beat until white and thick (about 3 minutes). Spread on shortcake immediately. Ice with chocolate icing and sprinkle with walnuts. 

The amount of beating this topping needs is typical of an enormous number of dessert and cake recipes of the 1950s: by this time, “rotary beaters” (hand-held eggbeaters with a handle that you turn) were very big. Of the many contemporary recipes which require a lot of beating, several mention the rotary beater. Only the very affluent or those with connections in the trade, like one of my aunties, would have had an electric mixer on a stand with its own bowl. She had hers around 1950 and in 1986 it was still going strong! 

    —You’re right, if we served it today in New Zealand or Australia everyone would think it was a slice. 

Slice Origins: Cooking With Sweetened Condensed Milk
Sweetened condensed milk, usually just called condensed milk, was invented in the middle of the 19th century. It made a spectacular breakthrough in the 1860s as an official U.S. Government foodstuff for the Union troops. From then onwards its place as a foodstuff was assured, but at first it doesn’t seem to have been used in baking. Back then, as now, it consisted merely of milk and sugar. The “sugar is added until a 9:11 (Nearly half) ratio of sugar to (evaporated) milk is reached. The sugar extends the shelf life of sweetened condensed milk.” (“Condensed milk”, Wikipedia).
    Earlier cookbooks only seem to use it in (ugh) the sort of salad dressing which was to become one of the banes of my childhood. In the late 19th century Australian cooks (mainly housewives, except the relatively well-off in the larger towns, who could afford to employ a woman as cook) are told to use it in a salad dressing by Mrs Wicken, but it doesn’t appear elsewhere in the book. The recipe is “Lettuce Salad,” and the dressing is made with 1 tablespoonful condensed milk, 2 teaspoonful mustard, 1/2 gill vinegar, 1/4 gill oil, and the yolk of a hard-boiled egg: “take the yolk of one and put it into a basin and work it quite smooth with a spoon. Then add the mustard made with vinegar instead of water, the condensed milk, pepper, and salt, and then the oil slowly; last of all the vinegar. Mix it all very thoroughly.” (From Chapter XXI. “Fifty Recipes For Salads And Sauces”, The Art of Living in Australia, by Philip E. Muskett; together with three hundred Australian cookery recipes and accessory kitchen information by Mrs. H. Wicken. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, [1894])
    New Zealand and Australia would still have been importing tins of condensed milk back then. However, it wasn't very long before factories were set up in both countries to process home-produced milk. In 1890 the Underwood Milk Condensory was set up in Invercargill in New Zealand’s far south. 

    In 1898 the Cressbrook Condensed Milk Factory (above) (more properly the Cressbrook Dairy Company's Condensed Milk Factory) was built on Cressbrook, a large dairying property in Queensland. (The township which arose round it is now called Toogoolawah.) The Nestlé & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company bought out the Cressbrook Dairy Company in 1907.
    During World War I the Dennington Condensed Milk factory in Victoria, Australia, which had opened in 1911, was the largest condensed milk factory in the world.
(“Cressbrook Condensed Milk Factory” [photo], http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:132767;
“Inverness residence, Toogoolawah”, Wikipedia;
“Nestlé International”, https://www.nestle.co.nz ) 

Sweetly Condensed
By the 1940s condensed milk was an established ingredient in sweets. The South Australian Green and Gold Cookery Book, 15th ed. (rev.) (Adelaide, R.M. Osborne, circa 1949) has several confectionery recipes which use it. This is typical: 

Cream Caramels
One tin condensed milk, 4 oz. sugar (No. 2 sugar, sand colour), 2 oz. butter, one teaspoon vanilla.  Put sugar, butter and milk together. Boil 15 minutes, and stir in a double saucepan. Add vanilla when cooked. Pour on buttered plates.
--Dorothy Sibley, Angaston. 

Condense Your Baking
Condensed milk had started to appear in baked goods, presaging the slice, by the early 1950s. It turns up in both the Calendar of Puddings and the Calendar of Cakes from the South Australian Country Women’s Association, both circa 1951-1952. 

Three-Layered, Twice-Cooked Summer Martyrdom
This recipe is for January 7th, when it’s often 40 degrees Celsius in the shade in South Australia. It doesn’t indicate whether to eat the elaborate three-layered, twice-cooked confection hot or cold—typically of the cookbooks of its time. My advice? Have a cold beer and give the whole thing away. But you can see it was popular with the contemporary voluntary kitchen martyrs: three of them wrote in with it: 

Creamy Lemon Tart
8 ozs. S.R. flour, 4 ozs. butter, 3 ozs. sugar, 1 egg, a pinch of salt.  Sift flour and salt, add sugar, and rub in butter. Mix to a stiff dough with egg and a little milk. Roll out and line two 9-in. tins or deep tart plates. Bake in moderate oven until cooked (about 25 minutes). When cold, mix this filling: 1 tin condensed milk, 2 yolks eggs, rind 1 1/2 lemons, 1/4 pint lemon juice. Stir all together and pour on cooked pastry cases. Beat the 2 egg whites stiffly, beat in 3 dessertspoons sugar, and pile on lemon filling. Bake a golden brown in slow oven (about 20 minutes).
—MRS. E. G. PEARSON (Ungarra), MRS. H. GRIFFITHS (Smithfield), and MRS. K. FEIGE (Monash).
Calendar of puddings (South Australian Country Women's Association, [1952?]) 

Slice Origins: Rolled Oats in Biscuits
Of course rolled oats predate condensed milk as a human foodstuff, but they don’t seem to have been used in baking until the early 20th century. Traditionally they were only used for porridge in the human diet. Gradually they made their way into biscuits, and thence into slices. 

Just By the By: Oatmeal ain’t Rolled Oats
If you’re confused by the usages “rolled oats” and “oatmeal” you’re not alone: Wikipedia, which of course is American-based, has failed to sort it out, as the suggestion that the entries for the two should be amalgamated indicates. Americans use “oatmeal” to mean porridge made from rolled oats (of which they have several qualities). But in standard English “oatmeal” is a fairly course flour made by grinding oats in the same way as wheat flour is ground. It has a much older history as a foodstuff than rolled oats: “oatcakes,” firm biscuits made from oatmeal, were a common food in northern England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland for centuries: “In the eighteenth century, sacks of oatmeal were as a common a sight in Manchester market as sacks of wheat were in the south. Fine white flour was a luxury in the north until modern times.” (Jane Grigson. English Food, Penguin, 1977 (first published 1974), p.267.)
    Oatmeal is described on the website of Hamlyns, the company which sells it in Scotland: “Hamlyns Scottish Oatmeal, in its distinctive red pack, is Scotland’s leading brand of oatmeal. We use only premium Scottish oats, which are stoneground, using traditional milling stones, milled to a medium grade, which makes a superb smooth porridge.” http://hamlynsoats.co.uk/product/hamlyns-scottish-oatmeal/
   I can just remember Mum using oatmeal to bake the most delicious oblong biscuits when I was about three or four, around 1948. The flour she used would have been a smoother grade than the sort sold in Scotland for porridge, but it was still faintly gritty.
    Rolled oats, by contrast, are whole oat grains, without their hard outer husk, that are steamed and then flattened out, rolled into flakes. The ones we buy are typically further heat treated in some way, which stops them going rancid and makes them easier to eat. (“Rolled oats”, Wikipedia: this article is okay, it’s the one on oatmeal which is confused.) 

Sugar Blindness: Caused by the Rolled Oat
It’s become a familiar syndrome in Australasian cookery. The rolled oat is such a HEALTHY ingredient that it causes complete blindness to the effect of sugar. 

—Make that to the effect of sugars. The slice is the great exemplar of this syndrome. You can add any amount of sugar in its various manifestations and the recipe will still come out healthy. It can be ordinary white sugar, brown sugar (the brown makes it healthier, too), raw sugar (the raw makes it even healthier), honey (very health-giving and in fact tends to cause sugar blindness all by itself), golden syrup (very traditional, much less processed than white sugar, can it be bad?), and any kind of dried fruits at all, in vast quantities. Dried fruits are terrifically healthy! But rolled oats are the most humungously healthiest of all.
    Sadly, I’m not kidding. I picked this modern recipe up from the RobernMenz website. It’s a family-owned Australian company, owners of the famous South Australian brand “Menz.” Well, famous in South Australia. Their products are lovely for a treat, specially their specialty, “FruChocs,” small chunks of dried fruit lightly coated with chocolate. But their recipes, frankly, horrified me. Wot they should not of, after my experience of the terrifying slices on BestRecipes.
    Here it is: a prime example of sugar blindness caused by the rolled oat, unchanged except for the layout and order of the ingredients. Hold onto your hats! 

FruChocs Oat Slice

[Whole grains] 2 1/2 cups rolled oats; 1 cup quinoa flakes
[Fats] 140g butter; 1/2 cup shredded coconut; 1/2 cup slivered amonds [sic], lightly toasted; 1/2 cup mixed sunflower and pepita seeds
[Sugary Fruits] 300g Menz Mini FruChocs, roughly chopped; 1/2 cup dried cranberries; 1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped; 1/2 cup sultanas
[Sugars] 1/2 cup brown sugar; 2 tbs honey; 4 tbs golden syrup
1.Preheat oven to 170c and line a 30cm x 20cm bakimg [sic] tray with baking paper.
2.In a small saucepan, melt butter, brown sugar, honey and golden syrup.
3. While butter mixture is melting lightly toast almonds in the oven for 5 mins.
4. In a large mixing bowl, add toasted almonds, oats, quinoa, dried cranberries, shredded coconut, dried apricots, sultanas and Menz Mini FruChocs. Mix through to combine.
5. Add melted butter mixture and stir through.
6. Place in the lined baking tray and press down firmly to compact, smoothing out uneven surfaces.
7. Bake in the oven for 15 mins.
8. Once baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
9. Once cooled, cover and transfer to the fridge to set for at least 3 hours.
10. Once set, cut the slice into 18 pieces and serve.
[NB in the picture the slice seems to have been scattered with extra chopped FruChocs] 

The web page describes it as, no kidding, “A healthy snack with a sweet twist -Great for the kids.”
    I know nuts are good for you in that they contain good fats and protein; nevertheless they are not slimming. Likewise fruit is good for you, but drying concentrates the sugars, and a cup of dried fruit is laden with far more sugar than fresh fruit of an equivalent bulk. And don’t get me started on coconut, the 21st-century foodie fallacy!
    I’ve got nothing against this slice as an occasional indulgence, in fact it sounds scrumptious. And it would be a great treat for the kids. But healthy? No. The really sad thing is that it’s not an exception, it's typical of the modern slice. 

Anzac Biscuits, or, Don’t Let’s Get Into That
I’m not even going to try to decide when the term “Anzac biscuits” was first used, let alone on which side of the Tasman. They’ve become an Australasian culinary icon. Let’s just concede that they’re lumpy biscuits made with rolled oats and golden syrup or treacle. Being good keepers, they were favourites for sending to the troops—probably, as their modern name suggests, as early as the First World War. They’re significant in the history of the slice, as this type of biscuit is probably the first example of rolled oats being used in baked goods.
    The recipe has been around at least since the beginning of the 20th century, under various names, and it isn’t confined to Australia and New Zealand. The earliest example I've got was published in America in 1914, in a book of recipes dating back into the 19th century that describes itself as: “a collection of old time recipes, some nearly one hundred years old and never published before.” 

Oatmeal Cookies
2 Eggs; 1 Cupful of Sugar
1 1/2 Cupfuls of Oatmeal or Rolled Oats
2/3 Cupful of Cocoanut; 1/4 Teaspoonful of Salt
1/2 Teaspoonful of Vanilla; 2 Tablespoonfuls of Butter
Cream the butter and sugar together and add the well-beaten eggs. Add the remainder of the ingredients and drop on a well-greased baking-pan. Bake in a moderate oven, from fifteen to twenty minutes.
Lydia Maria Gurney. The Things Mother Used To Make. (New York, Frank A. Arnold, 1914) 

    For over half a century such recipes were published and republished in successive editions (often just reprints) by the Australian cookbooks such as Green and Gold Cookery Book. In its 15th edition, around 1949, it has 6 versions of this rolled oat biscuit: “ANZAC Crisps” (with golden syrup, no coconut), “Brown Biscuits” [Version 1] (with treacle, no coconut), “Brown Biscuits” [Version 2] (with treacle & coconut), “Brownies, Or Munchers” (with treacle OR golden syrup, & coconut), “Rolled Oats Biscuits” (with treacle, no coconut), and “Soldiers' Biscuits” (with treacle, no coconut).
    The golden syrup or treacle seems to have been the Antipodean contribution.
    By the 1950s the name “Anzac” does seem to be widely used: around 1951-2 Calendar of Cakes from the South Australian Country Women's Association gives us “Anzac Dainties” (golden syrup OR treacle, & coconut). The New Zealand version appears in Edmonds Cookery Book, De Luxe Ed., 1955 (1968 printing) under the name “Anzac Biscuits” (with golden syrup & coconut): 

Anzac Biscuits
2 ozs. Flour; 3 ozs. Sugar; 1 teacup Coconut;
1 teacup Rolled Oats; 2 ozs. Butter;
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup; 1/2 teaspoon Winson’s Bicarb Soda
2 tablespoons Boiling Water
Mix together flour, sugar, coconut and rolled oats. Melt butter and golden syrup. Dissolve Bicarb Soda in the boiling water and add to butter and golden syrup. Make a well in the centre of flour, stir in the liquid. Place in spoonfuls on cold greased trays. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 350° F. 

Oaty Slices
Rolled oats were a standard ingredient in the early “healthful” slices. “Golden Apricot Bars” comes from Early Settlers' Household Lore by Mrs L. Pescott, first published in Ballarat in 1977 and reissued in 1980. Of course this is not an early settlers' recipe at all: it’s an example of the Australian “slice,” even though it isn't yet called one. 

Golden Apricot Bars
3/4 cup flour; 1/2 cup cornflour; 1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar; 1/2 cup butter; pinch salt
1 cup dried apricots; 1 cup brown sugar; 1 1/4 cups coconut
1/2 cup sifted flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon maize cornflour; 2 eggs (well beaten)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract; 1/4 teaspoon salt
Extra 1/2 cup of blanched almonds and coconut
Combine flour, salt, cornflour, sugar and rolled oats. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Press this mixture evenly into a greased shallow tin. Bake for 20 minutes in a moderate oven.
Cover apricots with water, bring to the boil, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well and cool. Cut apricots into small pieces.
Sift flour, cornflour, baking powder, and salt together. Gradually blend together the brown sugar, almond essence and beaten eggs. Stir in flour mixture and apricots.
Spread this mixture carefully over hot baked layer. Sprinkle with coconut and coarsely chopped almonds. Bake in moderate oven further 30 minutes. Cut into bars. 

It’s not too bad, is it? Sure it has sugar, but it lacks the very sweet, sticky ingredients such as golden syrup, honey and condensed milk. 

Passion in a Biscuit: The Apotheosis
This 21st-century Australian slice—I’d have missed it in my database if I’d looked under “rolled oats” instead of “Anzac”—is the apotheosis of rolled oats in baking. Here the rolled oats exist only in the commercial Anzac biscuits: 

Anzac Slice with Passionfruit Icing
400 g packet Anzac biscuits; 1/2 cup coconut
75 g butter, melted; 1/2 cup condensed milk
1 1/4 cups icing sugar; 2 tablespoons passionfruit pulp
Finely crumb the Anzac biscuits in a food processor or by hand.
Place the crumbs into a large bowl. Stir in the coconut, butter and condensed milk. Mix well.
Press the mix firmly into a slice tin 20 cm x 30 cm. Refrigerate for a few hours or until firm.
Sift the icing sugar into a bowl, then stir in passionfruit pulp to make a firm paste. Microwave it on high for 30 seconds or until it is warm and  spreadable, or place over a bowl of simmering water.
Spread icing over the base. Return to fridge until the icing is set, then cut into squares.
Recipe notes: You don't need to heat the icing, just mix a bit extra pulp into the icing sugar - it is optional.
From “kazzablues”, BestRecipes.com.au 

Says it all? More or less, yeah! But I haven’t yet looked at the other strands of the slice’s involved culinary history; the use of packaged cereals, especially, is a very important factor—

The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter 

Stan the Man informs me he’s getting off up the bush. Leaving tomorrow. Not sure how long it’ll take. He’s MAD: it’s freezing cold, damp and miserable here; what’s it gonna be like in the depths of wherever-it-is, the Kaimanawas or somewhere equally ethnic and daft? It’ll be just him and his hunting rifle, as per usual. What if he falls down a ravine and breaks his leg? What, indeed?
    I’m waiting, but he doesn’t tell me he’s after “pig,” singular. Or possibly generic? Whichever, it is always the singular when they’re gonna kill them—sorry, it.
    “Um, yeah—righto.” I’m still waiting but nothing more is forthcoming. “Um, you mean you’re going hunting, Stan?”
    I get that macho grin. He’s not particularly good-looking—well, fairly manly, I suppose you’d say, looks a bit like Steve McQueen if you can imagine him twenty years on, poor guy: lost the pretty fair hair, lots of wrinkles. Still bloody fit, unquote. The macho grin doesn’t improve him—the top choppers are squareish, not too long, can’t stand horse-teeth on either sex, and the bottom ones are a bit irregular. Nevertheless it’s the sort of macho grin that’s guaranteed to turn the party of the second part, if female, to jelly.
    “Might get after deer.”
    Yeah, right. What this means, folks, is track them for hours, quite possibly days, through soaking wet, dense, precipitous, dark bush. Translation for those from the other side of the world: an impenetrable forest. The deer are vermin, of course, they’re not native to EnZed, so it’s all right to kill them, in fact it’s apparently doing the native forests a favour.
    Um... technically I suppose the pigs are vermin, too: they’re not natives, New Zealand has no native warm-blooded animals—well, possibly a native rat, but I think it might actually be Polynesian—but the funny thing is, introduced though the pigs are, they don’t get called vermin by the macho men. Whether the ones he hunts are actually the ones known as “Captain Cookers” and said to have been introduced by Cook himself I don’t know and have never asked, ’cos if I do, ya know what? I’ll get the whole bit. And I don’t actually care. Why is it blokes always have to tell you?
    Yeah, well, I’ll expect you when I see you, then, Stan. (Don’t say it.)
    He’s off!
    I haven’t bothered to ask if he’s got his rifle, because of course he’s got his rifle, it’s sitting snugly on the back seat of the car. Not in a proper case, no: if he’s on form, and when isn’t he, it’s loosely wrapped in a piece of old blanket, think that’s to stop it rolling on the floor, also to hide it from any prying eyes that might just peer into the car. I am not kidding. Half the time it’s in the car when he’s not even going hunting.
    Isn’t that illegal? You may well ask. I have no idea. 

    A week later. He’s ba-ack!
    Funnily enough I don’t get the full report on the hunting trip, instead we go to bed right away. Well, yeah, he is that keen, and this makes up for a Helluva lot. I don’t mean the macho crap, in fact I’m bloody glad he’s not a limp, helpless, namby-pamby git like some I could mention—in fact like the vast majority, including the grate sportsman type, you bet: all they want is a Mummy to look after them for the rest of their lives.
    Some time after that. Lies back, linking his arms behind his head. –Very pretty underarm hair, about the colour his hair must’ve been, a soft pale fawn.
    “Got a deer.”
    It’s actually very hard to respond to this sort of remark. “Oh, yes?” doesn’t seem right. Nor does “That right?” And “Did you?” is inane. On the other hand, I can’t congratulate him, that’d imply I was thinking the macho man might not manage to hit one!
    “Oh, good,” I reply extra-feebly. “Um, did it take you long to, um, track it?”
    “Had to find it, first.” There’s more but I don’t really understand. He’s not a dog, so he couldn’t have been doing it by smell. Find out where they are, or might be—ye-ah... Eventually he reveals in intelligible English that once he’d found it, he had to track it for a couple of days.
    I must be gaping at him, because he explains, well, he clearly thinks it’s an explanation: ‘‘To get near enough to get a clear shot.”
    Yeah—um, but he’d already tracked it, hadn’t he? Feebly I venture: “No, um, you wouldn’t want to just wound it, of course.”
    Now, to the distaff side, this seems a totally reasonable, indeed understanding remark. But, it was actually the wrong thing to say, folks! Quite an insult, really. He doesn’t actually say “Of course I wouldn’t just wound it, you hen!” but it’s there in his tone, you betcha. Okay, bad mark, Katy.
    Uh—keeping downwind of it, uh-huh... Oh! Right! “I see! Otherwise it’d smell you!”
    Why this remark, which frankly to the distaff side seems totally inane, pleases the macho man, do not ask. But it does: he corrects my phraseology pleasedly to: “Scent me—yeah.” And launches into further... Uh-huh. Tracked it for hours and hours and hours through soaking wet, dense, precipitous, dark bush, is wot. Reading between the lines, that is, he’s not actually admitting it.
    “I’ll come over on Sunday and we’ll have venison stew,” he promises.
    Er... not out of my kitchen we won’t, mate.
    “Bring a bottle of decent red, too,” he decides, getting out of bed.
    That seems to be that. One can only wait and see what eventuates. 
    Okay, he’s cooked it at home—great.
    I’m not asking what, if anything, the wife thought of this. According to him they don’t speak, they’ve got separate bedrooms, and he makes all his own meals. Also according to him he won’t leave her because of the kids. You’d think they were aged between about five and ten, but no, the girls, that he’s always fussing over, have all left home—well, shacked up with blokes is the technical term, here—including the one that took off to live with the boyfriend when she was only sixteen but, mind you, is bright enough to get a scholarship to university if she wanted to (isn’t the proof of the pudding supposed to be in the eating?), plus and, has psychological problems. Gee, does she? How surprising: with parents that get on that well! The son’s just left school and is still living at home. Periodically one or other of the daughters is also at home, having busted up with the current—You goddit. Doting Daddy apparently cooks for them, too. Well, okay, Stan, actually I don’t wanna be a wee wifey, let alone have anything to do with your horribly spoilt kids—the son sounds okay but the daughters are all real little madams. Do anything at all, up to and including drugs, yep, safe in the knowledge that Daddy’ll come galloping to the rescue. He is that sort, yeah: knight in shining armour. Unfortunately for him the wife isn’t the sort that wants or needs that and has, apparently, more than let him know it.
    Plus and, this is a strong factor in his decision not to upset the marital boat, he is twenty-four years older than me. Yeah, okay, it happens. And you don’t ask a bloke how old he is before you leap into bed with him at a bloody conference that you only went to because your misguided tutor pushed you— Forget it. I’m not the domestic type, and I do know by now it’s written on my forehead and they can read it—yep.
    We’re gonna have the venison with this bottle of red—help, it’s actually a French red, I better like it—and have I got any potatoes? Fortunately, yes. Okay, he’ll mash them. If he says so. Vegetables? Um, I think I might have some carrots. Well, heck, when somebody else says they’ll bring the dinner— Yeah. (Don’t say any of it: just hunt frantically for carrots.) Okay, I can peel the carrots while he does the potatoes and carefully warms the venison stew.
    Thinks: Or I could just go into the front room and watch that TV programme I was gonna watch this evening, before he rearranged my schedule for me...
    He’s finished peeling the potatoes and puts them on, so now the carrots— Oops, not finished. Doesn’t tell me I’m a dreamer, just competently takes over.
   “Why don’t you go and sit down? Make us both a drink.”
    Good idea, I can do that!
    On second thoughts... “There isn’t any gin.”
    “Whisky’ll do,” he says generously.
    Yes, it would, in fact I’d rather have whisky than gin except on a hot day, when a very cold gin and tonic with loads of ice just hits the spot, but funnily enough there isn’t any, because I drank the last of it last week when you were somewhere in the depths of the temple, I mean bush. (Don’t say any of it.) “There’s sherry. Amontillado?”
    “That’ll do!” Stan agrees happily.
    It ought to, it cost a bomb. I don’t point this out: there was nothing forcing me to buy it, except that the wholesalers had it in—real Spanish sherry, well-known English shipper—and I hate bad Antipodean sherry. –That’s redundant, all Antipodean sherry is bad. And I’m just very, very grateful that he’s got such an equable temperament and, unlike some males I could name, isn’t going into a sulk because he isn’t being offered what he wanted. Or, put it like this: he’s an adult, whereas most of them never grow up, do they?
    So I pour us both a sherry. He pats my bum and tells me to go and sit down.
    Right, I’m up for that! ...Blow, that programme isn’t on after all, must’ve got the day wrong. Which gives me time to think, is the wife the sort that can’t let the hubby do a thing but always has to, take your pick, do it first, do it better or do it because it’s her preserve? Perhaps not in the kitchen, though, if he cooks. Or maybe that was the trouble, perhaps he muscled in on her territory and she couldn’t stand it? Well, who knows, they’ve been together for years, any number of things could have gone wrong. Well, he likes sex and she doesn’t, that’d sour any marriage, eh? She refused to do it any more after she had the last of them. No: I tell a lie: I think he said he got to do it, um, four times after that? This is the son, the one that’s just left school—work it out. It wasn’t total abstinence on his part, there was a lady that he very nearly—Mm. Whether she wanted the whole bit, full-blown domesticity with the gold ring on the finger, and held out for it, or he confessed all to the wife and there was a terrific row, which she won, I don’t know. Well, poor old Stan. 

    Personally I quite enjoy cooking, but he’s a miles better cook than me, I’d much rather he cooked, actually. I don’t need to undertake a load of household tasks in order to reinforce my selfhood, thanks, oh, Grate Middle Classes.
    “Penny for them.”
    Shit! I’ve jumped ten feet where I sit. “Nothing, really. Well, I was wondering if you marinated the venison first?” –Not entirely a lie, I was sort of thinking that at the same time, with part of my mind, y’know?
    Terrifically pleased, sits down beside me, puts an arm round me and proceeds to tell me...
    Yeah. Well, I’ve sort of got it, fighting my way through the macho off-handedness. It’s really just like a beef stew done in red wine. If you added some mushies you could call it Chasseur! (Don’t say it: I might get the giggles, and you never know, he might not see the funny side and get his feelings hurt.)
    So we have it. Yep, tastes very like a beef stew done in red wine. Venison is a drier meat than beef, very lean—zat so? This is lean, all right, but it isn’t dry, how could it be, it’s been soaked in wine for days and then simmered in the stuff slowly for ages.
    Grins at me over it. “Nobbad, eh?”
    What can ya say? It tastes just like beef? “Yes, it’s really great, Stan.” 

    Well, it is. A very, very nice dark red meat stew. Good big chunks of meat in it. You don’t have to get hold of some venison, or, as Robin McDouall, poor deprived Pommy, puts it in his Cookery Book for the Greedy, “own a mountain” to make it: you can produce something very like it with a lean cut of beef. It’s more or less a Beef Bourguignonne recipe, in fact. That is, if you don’t know that, according to my ancient copy of Le Répertoire de la cuisine, that should be casseroled in the oven. All the modern versions stew it on the stove top. I’ve only found one recipe that uses the classic approach and that’s an early one of Graham Kerr’s—he learned his trade in the sort of kitchen that produced the Répertoire. It’s very, very long. A simpler one will do. 

The Word
Of course, if you want the Word on venison you could go back to Isabella Beeton. Most English cookery books, and hers is not an exception, assume that you want to roast a haunch, and give other recipes, if at all, as a sort of afterthought. Here’s her recipe for a sort of stew—I think these days we’d call it a pot roast! 

    1051. INGREDIENTS.—A shoulder of venison, a few slices of mutton fat, 2 glasses of port wine, pepper and allspice to taste, 1-1/2 pint of weak stock or gravy, 1/2 teaspoonful of whole pepper, 1/2 teaspoonful of whole allspice.
    Mode.—Hang the venison till tender; take out the bone, flatten the meat with a rolling-pin, and place over it a few slices of mutton fat, which have been previously soaked for 2 or 3 hours in port wine; sprinkle these with a little fine allspice and pepper, roll the meat up, and bind and tie it securely. Put it into a stewpan with the bone and the above proportion of weak stock or gravy, whole allspice, black pepper, and port wine; cover the lid down closely, and simmer, very gently, from 3-1/2 to 4 hours. When quite tender, take off the tape, and dish the meat; strain the gravy over it, and send it to table with red-currant jelly. Unless the joint is very fat, the above is the best mode of cooking it.
    Time.—3-1/2 to 4 hours. Average cost, 1s. 4d. to 1s. 6d. per lb. Sufficient for 10 or 12 persons. Seasonable.—Buck venison, from June to Michaelmas; doe venison, from November to the end of January. 

During the century that follows, the English writers seems to follow in her wake, usually advising port with venison, done one way or another, and often redcurrant jelly as well. In those days the meat would be well hung, of course.
Mrs Beeton’s “Roast Haunch of Venison” 

This is more or less Stan the Man’s recipe. It’ll work with beef. 

Beef or Venison Stew
1 kg lean stewing beef or venison, cut in fairly large chunks
2 rashers bacon, diced; 2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed; 1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf; 2 tablespoons flour
olive oil; salt and pepper
8 large mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in butter
1/4 cup cognac
For the marinade:
2 cups (about 450 ml) red wine; 1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced; 1 good sprig thyme
1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns; 1 bay leaf
1. Marinate the meat at least overnight; if using venison longer if possible; turning occasionally.
2. Drain meat and dry thoroughly.
3. Strain marinade into a small saucepan, boil fiercely until partly reduced.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan and brown the bacon. Remove.
5. Add 2 sliced onions and fry until lightly browned; put aside.
6. Brown the meat a few pieces at a time in the hot oil.
7. Put browned meat, bacon and onions back into the saucepan, sprinkle with the flour and stir till it is absorbed.
8. Add brandy, if using, otherwise pour a little marinade into pan, and while it bubbles scrape meat juices with it from bottom and stir in.
9. Add reduced marinade with 2 cloves garlic, crushed, and new sprig of  thyme and bay leaf.
10. Cover saucepan tightly and simmer slowly for 2-3 hours.
11. Add sautéed mushrooms if using, remove thyme & bay leaf, cover and cook for 1/2 hour more.
12. If the sauce seems too thin, thicken it with a little beurre manié (flour and butter rubbed together), stirred well in.
Tastes even better if kept overnight in the fridge and gently reheated. 

My only addition is a rounded teaspoonful of sugar, which I always use with a red wine sauce if it doesn’t have brandy in it. It just seems to make it slightly more mellow. 

    Later in the week. It’s still freezing cold, damp and miserable.
    “I’ll be off overseas soon.”
    What? The stunned silence not to say the open-mouthed gaping, must have penetrated, because he reminds me that he has told me he’s due for sabbatical leave. Uh—yeah, but it’s not even Christmas! I mean, his term hasn’t ended. He reminds me that the academic year starts in September in France.
    Uh—oh, yes, la rentrée. “So, um,”—swallow—“when do you leave, Stan?”
    End of the week. Friday.
    The day after tomorrow?
    I’m still gaping. Cheerily he assures me that it might take him a while to get settled, but he’ll write when he does.
    Yeah, sure. A whole year’s relationship by letter. Lovely.
    That’s that, then. I don’t know if I can even last out that long—and what if he meets someone else over there? The wife isn’t going: no, well, more fool her.
    He gives me a big hug and kiss, and goes.
    Funnily enough it’s still freezing cold, damp and miserable. In fact it sounds as if it’s pouring, again. Why did I ever uproot myself and come back to this gloomy, wet, and very, very chilly Hell hole?
    Two guesses? Right, ya will only need one.
    When I met Stan the Man at that bloody Lang. & Ling. conference I was just finishing 3 years of post-grad study in French literature, unsupervised by my so-called tutor; what the man was actually paid for I never discovered, but he certainly never read a word I wrote. And as he didn’t write down any instructions for my year in France (when I stayed with Gégé), the professor was very annoyed indeed to discover when I got back that I hadn’t signed on with this, that or the other over there... Of course nobody came to my conference paper, the audience numbered three and they all looked asleep.
    Wellington was where Stan was lecturing. His subject is French, but he’s a mediaevalist, we’ve got very little in common on that level, I can barely stagger through the Chanson de Roland with a crib. At that period I was in Auckland, but my scholarship had finished and after a couple of episodes of him driving 650-odd K at breakneck speed from B to A, arriving dead keen at midnight for the weekend, I decided to looked for a library job down there. Which I had been trained for, yes: when I was an undergrad I had a Govt. studentship for several years, which had to be repaid in kind, after the training. A year’s enforced librarianship training after your degree with a roomful of people that couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation, in classes at a level aimed at— Yeah. All very nice people, of course, and very earnest indeed about their chosen profession. Gee, what proportion of the population actually reads? Most of them call magazines “books.” Well, in large parts of Auckland they do, for sure!
    Later still. It’s freezing cold, damp and miserable.
    “Have you heard from Stan?” my American friend Susie asks sympathetically. –Of course she knows; my siblings also know: what’s the point of hiding stuff from your own generation? Naturally the parents and the aunties don’t know, I may be infatuated but I haven’t entirely lost it.
    Flatly I report: “Yes. He’s found a flat in Paris. It’s just round the corner from Gégé’s old flat.”
    She gulps, poor thing.
    Yeah. That about says it all, really.