For the 2022 Tamworth Regional Heritage Week I explored A Taste of Nundle, researching Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores' collection of handwritten and typed invoices and purchase documents to understand some of the ingredients stocked in the store from its earliest surviving records.
Among the documents in our collection is a handwritten sales journal from 1909, giving us a snapshot of what ingredients people living in and around Nundle bought, and prompting ideas of what they may have cooked with them. Consider the contrast in the range of choice of ingredients available in 1909 to 2022.
We had previously been part of an Heirloom Recipe project with Sydney Living Museum Colonial Gastronomer Jacqui Newling who visited Nundle in 2014. This uncovered evocatively named Nundle biscuit recipes including Poorman’s Cakes, Waddie's Saddlebags, and Dunkers. These and other local favourite recipes are collected in Lost Delights: Heirloom Recipes and Old Country Favourites.
What these recipes and the groceries sold at Odgers and McClelland have in common are simple ingredients that are easy to store, and have on hand in bulk. Think dried fruit like dates, raisins, sultanas, and currants, canned goods like Golden Syrup, and the spices, salt, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Jacqui's book, 'Eat Your History' provided an opportunity to cook a couple of recipes that reflect some of the staple ingredients sold at the store and commonly stocked in pantries, including a contribution attributed to a Tamworth woman, Mrs Gaffney’s Date and Walnut Cake, and Sago Plum Pudding.
The jar of sago and Sago Plum Pudding prompted several conversations about memories of kitchen canisters marked with ingredients names, such as sago. Coincidently, our antiques dealer neighbour Mark Delahunt from Jenkins Street Antiques and Fine China has a porcelain Art Deco sago canister in his shop window.
There were also discussions about how to steam puddings in a pudding bowl; placing the pudding batter in a greased bowl, topping with a circle of baking paper, and a double layer of foil tied with string, and gently cooked in a water bath in the oven.
It was most touching to observe the fond memories of family cooks, commonly mothers, aunts, grandmothers, rekindled by the scent of spices, a traditional enamel or ceramic bowl, or kitchen tools.
The take out from our Heritage Week experience is that generations of our family history and influences are very much reflected in the food we've eaten throughout our lives, and even what we choose to cook today.
Mrs Gaffney's Date and Nut Cake, a 'particularly good cake' from Eat Your History by Jacqui Newling
What you need: 185 ml (3/4 cup) milk, 200 g pitted dates, roughly chopped, 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 340 g (2 cups) plain flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 225 g butter, 225 g (1 cup) white granulated sugar, 3 eggs, 100 g walnuts, roughly chopped.
What you do: Heat milk in a large saucepan over low heat until just bubbling. Remove pan from the heat and add dates and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside for 1 hour, allowing dates to absorb milk and soften.
Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan-forced). Place oven rack in centre of oven or one rung lower. Grease a large loaf tin or square cake tin and line with baking paper.
Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, adding pinch of salt.
Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine well before adding the next. Add dates and remaining milk, and stir in sifted flour and walnuts.
Spoon cake batter into prepared tin and bake for 1-1 1/4 hours or until skewer inserted in centre of cake comes out clean. If cake is browning too quickly cover with two sheets of baking paper.