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The Colonial Kitchen


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Table of Contents

Introduction 1.The Land and Its People: Time and Place 2. Food Production: The Indigenous Kitchen 3. The Kitchen: Transplanting the British Kitchen 4. The Cook and The Help. 5. Colonial Manners at Table 6. The Meal 7. Colonial cookery books

About the Author

Charmaine O'Brien is a writer, culinary historian and educator and the author of several books on Indian food history and culture including The Penguin Food Guide to India, the first comprehensive work on Indian regional food. Her other works include Flavours of Melbourne: a culinary biography (Wakefield Press 2008), Recipes from an Urban Village: A cookbook from Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti (The Hope Project Charitable Trust, 2003), and Flavours of Delhi: A Food Lovers Guide (Penguin Books, India, 2003).


This fascinating and well-researched history revises the view that nineteenth-century colonial Australian food was nothing but 'mutton and damper'. Charmaine O'Brien brings to life the skilled Chinese gardeners of Sydney who supplied Australian cities with cheap vegetables. We encounter, with the colonials, a world of luscious fruits such as pineapple and Cape gooseberries. O'Brien shows that east-west influences go a long way back in Australian cooking, from fresh ginger stews to lemon pickle. But The Colonial Kitchen also depicts the richness of the Aboriginal food that was displaced so violently by the settlers. The Colonials came into a sunny world of native thistle, pigweed and bush yams and brought with them 'plain cookery' and steaming hot Christmas pudding. -- Bee Wilson, author, Consider the Fork
The Colonial Kitchen by Charmaine O'Brien is a hard book to put down as we are taken back to the early years of convict and pioneer settlement and we feel their imperative to grow food that was familiar. Not that the incursion of the British invading Aboriginal Lands was justified nor is the brutality covered in the book but we do get to understand why the British (and later the Chinese) did not embrace the local plant foods in any significant way. However, she does point out that the dietary variety for some settlers was far wider than in England even though we now know that even this was a mere fraction of the dietary range and food quality of the traditional care-takers of this land. We learn that the new and in their general view, temporary Australians simply wanted to mimic the upper classes back home in terms of food access, service and class culture. Part of this urge was to focus on meats and sheep were suited to the country as they proceeded to eat out the very species that Indigenous Australians had managed, encouraged and harvested as dietary staples for millennia. As wild food crops disappeared, eco-systems degraged and native animals, birds, fish and shellfish were hunted to local extinction, the countryside settled by would-be farmers lost its biodiversity and could only support European style farming (fewer but more intensively grown crops) rather than the more sustainable indigenous forage-farming methods. Charmaine also makes it clear as to why we are only now discovering an authentic Australian cuisine based on what wild foods remain to be commercialized and adapted to our modern food style. This is a book that every Australian should read and I do hope that schools add it to their essential reading list for students. -- Vic Cherikoff, wild foods pioneers and author of Wild Foods; Looking back 60,000 years for clues to our future survival

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