In a nutshell. Because it’s part of the history of Anglo cuisine. Between 1790 and 1930, the number of Anglos (that is, English speakers, including Americans) increased sixteen-fold, from 12 million to around 200 million. The population of the rest of the world was increasing too but at nothing like the same rate. (To put this another way, the world population increased by about 70% in the nineteenth century, from one billion to 1.7 billion. The Anglo population increased by 1,700%).*
Everywhere the Anglo speakers went they had to eat. And like most people in the past, they thought it was dangerous to abandon their own cuisine. So they took with them what was needed to replicate it overseas, including pots and pans, cookbooks, bakeries, and seeds of wheat and sheep, cattle, and pigs on the decks of their ships.
So one of the big culinary stories of the long nineteenth century is the spread and divergence of Anglo cuisine: to Canada; across the United States; leaving traces from the Philippines to Argentina, India to West Africa; and of course going to to Australasia.
Captain Cook set foot in Australia in 1770. Eighteen years later, the first settlers arrived. By the end of the nineteenth century, Melbourne had half a million people and was bigger than St Louis, Cincinnati, or San Francisco, and half the size of Chicago.*
Barbara Santich tells the Australian part of the tale in Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage.**
One of the best things about Santich’s history is that she does not bemoan or belittle Australian food, she does not argue that the massive “Mediterraneanization” (and also Asianization) of the past three or four decades has rescued Australians from a culinary fate worse than death.
Instead Santich meticulously describes the cuisine. She talks about the interest in native foods, none of which could sustain huge population growth. She shows how American pumpkin became the common, if unheralded, Australian vegetable. She takes us through how sheep were valued first for fat for candles, then for wool, and finally for meat. She celebrates the picnics and barbecues of the nation. She revels in cakes, the signature dish of Anglo cuisines everywhere. She covers commercial candy and cookies. She shows how Australian food was industrialized and touches on Vegemite.
As Santich’s tale unwinds, it becomes clear that here, as elsewhere, Anglo settlers had bold palates, adjusting to life in a new land, recreating and transcending the cuisine they brought with them, and creating varied and satisfying meals.
In short, Bold Palates is a wonderful addition to the literature on Anglo cuisines. And I’m saving the best for last. It’s also full of quite wonderful illustrations.
If you don’t know Barbara Santich’s work and you’re interested in food history, it’s time you should because she’s had a distinguished career both as a researcher and as an administrator. She began with a study of medieval Mediterranean food. She has written on nutritional advice in Australia and other aspects of Australian food. She was a crucial mover and shaker in getting the gastronomy program going at the University of Adelaide, pioneering both in its high quality and in its accessibility since students could take courses on-line.
*These figures are taken from James Belich, Replenishing the Earth, The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-world, 1783-1939, a fascinating book.
**It’s such a pity that book publishing is so segmented. Search for this on Amazon and you will simply find a grey spot with “item not available.” You will have to order it from the publisher, Wakefield Press.