Poorman’s Cakes, Waddies Saddlebags, and Dunkers are the wonderful names of heirloom recipes that surfaced for a visit by Jacqui Newling, colonial gastronomer with Sydney Living Museums. Jacqui (photo credit James Horan © Historic Houses Trust 2012) visited as part of the Nundle Go For Gold Chinese Easter Festival program, the biggest annual event in our small town, Nundle, in northern inland NSW.
Months before the festival, Jacqui asked me to begin conversations about food memories and favourite recipes with the Nundle community with a view to cooking several heirloom recipes, offering tastings at the festival, and printing them in a handout titled, Lost Delights: Heirloom Recipes & Old Country Favourites.
A meeting for another event, the Nundle Country Picnic, was a good place to start with several committee members being part of the Nundle Branch of the Country Women’s Association (CWA).
Margaret Schofield’s face brightened as she recalled memories of eating eel. While probably not a politically correct term these days, ‘eel bashing’ was quite a past time, groups of families and friends gathering to catch eels in creeks and rivers on the eastern fall of the range rising above Nundle.
Margaret described her method for cooking eel, dipped in flour and fried, and promised a recipe for Dunkers, a recipe for a firm biscuit “good for dunking in tea” made by her grandmother and mother. Coincidentally, Margaret’s son Nathan also talked about Dunkers when I asked him about recipes he remembered from his childhood as we sat beside the Nundle Public Pool watching our sons play together.
True to her word Margaret delivered a recipe for Dunkers beautifully transcribed on a ruled recipe card with the heading “Poorman’s Cakes – Grandma”.
One morning I was driving into town to collect the mail and there were three gentlemen standing together talking on the post office corner who I knew would have food memories to contribute: publican Robert Schofield, former baker Reg Manvell, and lifelong resident Harvey Warden.
Robert marvelled at how 50-years-ago the general store sold only a dozen or so baking staples, while today’s catering suppliers offered hundreds of ingredients.
Reg laughed as he described his mother cooking “with a bit of this and a pinch of that”. Recipes were simple, using ingredients at hand, and few were written down. Indeed many of the heirloom recipes collected featured simple, easy to store ingredients: sago, flour, butter, sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, mixed spice, vanilla essence, bicarb soda, eggs and golden syrup.
Harvey offered to ask his mother Mona Warden if she had any recipes to offer. Mona, who at 97-years-old lives in her own home in Nundle, put together an impressive collection.
There were stapled pages of handwritten recipes for Date Pudding, Dunkers, Raspberry Short Tartlets, Ginger Biscuits (“Makes heaps, very tasty”), and Waddies Saddlebags. Mona’s grandson Simon particularly recommended the Ginger Biscuits. Harvey’s wife Joy Warden contributed a recipe for Coronation Tart.
Our shop, Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores provided good opportunities for soliciting recipes. A conversation with Kerry Swain inspired memories of Kerry’s mother-in-law Nan Swain’s recipe for Sago Custard. “My kids tell me I can’t make it as good as Nan does.”
After talking with Judy Wiggan about the food memories evoked by enamel pie dishes she brought back her handwritten recipe for Baked Rice Pudding, her mother’s copy of ‘Australian Home Cookery’, and a bag of quinces.
Eel came up again when I spoke with Judy and Harvey, who suggested I ask Maree Boland for her recipe for eel patties and she told me of friendly rivalry between her and the late Mickey Sipple for the best eel patties.
I am working my way through the Nundle Heirloom Recipes. They remain as popular with the current generation of Nundle children. This afternoon I made Waddies Saddlebags and, even with the suspiciously healthy addition of dates, our sons declared, “Mum these are delicious”.
See the link for Lost Delights: Heirloom Recipes and Old Country Favourites from Nundle Go For Gold Chinese Easter Festival 2014 and additional Nundle heirloom recipes below.
MONA WARDEN’S GINGER BISCUITS
Ingredients: 1 cup margarine, 2 cups brown sugar, 1 cup golden syrup, 5 cups plain flour, 2 tsp bicarb soda, 2 dessert spoons ginger, ¼ cup boiling water, vanilla essence.
Method: Cream margarine and sugar, add golden syrup and mix well. Add the soda dissolved in hot water, then flour and ginger to make a firm dough (add more flour if needed). Moderate oven. Makes heaps. Very tasty.
MONA WARDEN’S DATE PUDDING
Ingredients: 1 cup boiling water, 1 tbs butter, ½ cup sugar, 1 tsp bicarb soda, 1 cup dates, 1 large cup flour with pinch salt, pinch spice, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon, essence lemon.
Method: Mix butter, sugar, soda with boiling water then add dates, then flour with spices etc. Steam for three hours. A very rich, brown pudding. It can be mixed the night before if necessary.
MONA WARDEN’S RASPBERRY SHORT TARTLETS
Ingredients: 113g butter, ½ cup sugar, 2 cups SR flour, 1 egg, 1 dessert spoon milk.
Method: Cream butter and sugar, add egg and milk, then flour, mixing to a dough. Turn onto a floured board, roll out fairly thin and cut into rounds with biscuit cutter. Line greased patty tins with the pastry. Put a little raspberry jam in each.
Mix 85g sugar, 85g coconut and 1 well-beaten egg together. Put a teaspoon on each tart. Bake until light brown, 10-15 minutes in a moderate oven.
POORMAN’S CAKES – GRANDMA (Submitted by Margaret Schofield)
Ingredients: 2 cups flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon Cream of Tartar, ½ teaspoon of ginger, ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 113g butter, ½ cup sugar, 1 dessert spoon golden syrup, 2 well-beaten eggs, a little milk.
Method: Into a sieve put 2 cups flour, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon Cream of Tartar, ½ teaspoon of ginger and ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Sift all ingredients into a basin, rub in about ¼ lb of butter or like, ½ cup sugar, 1 dessert spoon golden syrup, 2 well beaten eggs and a little milk if too stiff. Roll out and cut with a cutter. Bake in moderate oven until golden.
MAREE BOLAND’S EEL PATTIES
Similar to fish cakes, skin the eel, boil it in water and vinegar until the meat falls away from the bone, mashing it with boiled potato and seasoning, shaping into patties, rolling them in breadcrumbs and frying them.