Thursday, 8 October 2015

Fear and Loathing of the Suburban Summer; and Oil Slick Lemonade

Oil Slick Lemonade (front); and my beloved woodpile (rear).
I miss winter.

I have always maintained that people with my complexion were never intended to live in this sort of climate.

In fact, I've come to feel (usually on particularly hot days as I sit in a miserable puddle in front of a fan) that my enterprising ancestors who first came from England to Australia were spitting in the face of thousands of years of evolution. And as for the Norwegians - they must have been completely barking mad.

Early European colonists in Australia formed Acclimatisation Societies. These were not, as you might assume, groups of sunburnt Europeans sharing tips on dealing with 40 degree summers. Rather, they were focused on building a replica of European society out here in the sticks. Their main method for achieving this was the import of every non-native plant and animal species imaginable, regardless of how poorly it was suited to the environment (for example, partridges) or what would happen if it turned out to be very, very well suited to the environment (for example, rabbits).

Humans also seem to fall into these two broad categories: those who wither in Australian conditions, and those who thrive. Needless to say, I am firmly in the 'partridge' category.

Pathetic pale specimens such as myself have been moaning about the heat since we arrived.

An early example is in an 1804 letter to the editor, in which "A Regular Passenger" begs local ferries to put up awnings:
"The intense heat of the sun increased by the reflection of its rays, to which with my fellow-passengers I was for several hours exposed, was as may readily be conceived, almost utterly insupportable."
To the Printer of the Sydney Gazette. (1804, January 8). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842), p. 3. Retrieved October 3, 2015, from
The Colonial era whinge which most spoke to my wretched summer condition is from 1860. Here it is in all its put-upon glory:
"There be some sports are painful," as Shakspeare says.  
We have heard, for instance, of men so devoted to science as to test newly discovered poisons on themselves in order to be able, the more accurately to note down all the symptoms which such noxious agent are capable of producing.  
In the same manner there may have been amongst our numerous readers some qualified persons who, during the late visitation of heat, employed themselves, whilst the rest of the colonists were stupified by a sort of general sunstroke, in watching the meteorological changes which took place. If any there were who thus devoted themselves to turning the public calamity to the best account we shall be glad to publish a brief statement of the results which they arrived at, for at present we have nothing like a satis- factory record of various peculiarities which marked the progress of the late eventful Saturday.  
That the excessive heat destroyed large quantities of fruit and injured many valuable trees, besides, in numerous instances, causing sickness and sudden death, we have unfortunately abundant evidence. The temporary sufferings of persons otherwise in good health appear also to have been un- usually great— so much so, indeed, that the letters of some of our correspondents from the towns in the north look like the histories of places smitten with the plague, so utterly was business suspended and exertion made impos- sible.  
The people of Gawler especially seem to have caught the very worst of the hot blast which swept over the colony. The thermo- meter there rose to 123° in the shade, and the astonished inhabitants were in a plight not much better than that of the Ancient Mariner and his companions— ' And every tongee, through utter drought, Was withered at the root; We could not speak no more than if We had been choked with soot'
THE RECENT HEAT. (1860, January 25). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 2. Retrieved October 3, 2015, from

So, Cookery Friends, what comforts are there for an English-Norwegian partridge facing yet another blistering Australian summer? Aside from air-conditioning, that is.

Well, summer is prime rice-paper roll season, which is certainly something to get excited about. There are also increased opportunities for barbequing - although this can be done just about year round in our relentlessly warm and dry climate. For me, the real culinary joy of summer is cooling drinks, and I've found a colonial era recipe writer who agrees with me.

The Age's 1860 food writer is that person:

Recipes for Cooling Summer Drinks.— Cream of tartar one ounce, three quarters of a pound of lump sugar, or less of moist, half the rind of a lemon, cut thin, one gallon of boiling water poured on it. When cold it is fit to drink. Corked and bottled it will keep three days. Any flavoring can be added.

(1860, March 10). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 6. Retrieved December 27, 2014, from

A cooling summer drink. Aaaah!

Take note, this lemonade isn't fizzy, the way we would expect it to be today. The citrus oil from the lemon peel creates a beautiful pattern of refracting swirls in each glass, and a slightly slippery mouth feel. Imagine sending your tongue careering down an ice-covered Slip'n'Slide.

Oil Slick Lemonade

Makes four large tumblers of lemonade.

7g (2 ½ teaspoons) cream of tartar
80g (3 ounces) sugar
½ the rind of a lemon, cut thin
1.1l (2 pints) boiling water

5 minutes of effort, and then waiting for it to cool down (about an hour on a hot day).

Combine cream of tartar, sugar and lemon rind in a heat-proof bowl or a saucepan. Pour over the boiling water, stirring to dissolve the sugar. It will only take a minute, as the boiling water will do most of the work for you. Allow to cool.

If you like, add ¼ teaspoon of any essence (eg. coconut, almond, or lemon) to the whole batch, or a couple of drops to each glass.

It keeps well in the fridge overnight, but will need to be stirred well before serving.

Cookery friends - what is your favourite season? Which foods help you cope with bad weather?

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A Cheeky 19th Century Genderqueer Rhyme

Alice Veale (left) was a member of a prominent Victorian pioneer family who settled in Lake Bolac.
As we can see here, she also cut a dashing figure in a three piece suit.

Veale, W. E (1890). [Alice Veale and Ethel dressed in men's clothing, Lake Bolac, Vic.].

Much as we do with cooking, we assume that people in past times were simply 'better' at gender than we are these days. Men were men! Women were women! And anything in-between hadn't been invented yet.

In reality, the historical record is teeming with evidence that people have always been gay, lesbian, transgender and a lot of other things besides. (If you want to blow your mind with some history, check out John Boswell's meticulously researched Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe).

That brings is to today's artefact - a poem from the historical newspaper of my local area, the Box Hill Reporter.

She wore her brother's shirts and ties,
His collars, too, I swear,
And e'en his natty boating cap
Was perched upon her hair.
And he converted to his use
Her sash of ribbon red,
And wore her tennis hat besides
Upon his curly head.
They looked alike so very much
You'd scare know one from t'other,
So I don't know to which I "popped,"
The sister or the brother.

THE MANLY GIRL. (1896, June 19). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 - 1918), p. 3. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from

To "pop" to someone meant at the time to 'pop the question' - propose marriage.

Yes, the poem is humorous, but it does provide evidence that cross dressing (by both men and women) was not unimaginable in Australia in 1896. It is also significant that this poem appeared in the Friday edition of a regional paper, not a 19th century version of The Advocate, distributed to a select few in secret.

I found this poem while looking for local historical recipes. Surprises like this, that challenge our preconceptions of life in the past, are one of the true joys of research.

Cookery Friends, what are the most surprising and interesting things you have found while researching with primary sources?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Dark Magic Pulled Beef Pikelets

"Oh great - meat in a pancake".
It is a truth universally acknowledged that leftover beef is as dry as Jane Austen's humour.

No matter how plump and tender it was the day before, a night in the fridge turns any cut into the sort of sad-looking specimen that Gordon Ramsey would shudder over on Kitchen Nightmares. Even pulled beef, cooked to melting perfection, looks like a dehydrated porcupine the day after.

It was with no small amount of excitement, then, that I bit into one of these pulled beef pikelets and discovered that some type of dark magic had rehydrated the beef to dizzyingly moist new heights. The effect was so beguiling that my wife, who had greeted dinner with a resigned "Oh great - meat in a pancake", began to tuck in with her usual gusto.

It makes me feel a bit strange to say this about a recipe from 1889, but let me swap my historian hat for my mum hat and say that these pikelets would be great in lunchboxes. They're healthy, quick to make, and could be frozen (just not reheated as the meat has already been cooked twice). They also passed the toddler taste test, unlike the Kale raab I served them with. My tiny food critic threw that to the dog.

Pikelets in my hand-me-down cast iron frying pan.

Here is the original recipe:

Beef fritters are best for breakfast; chop   pieces of steak or cold roast beef very fine. Make a batter of milk, flour and an egg, and mix the meat with it. Put a lump of butter into a saucepan, let it melt, then drop the batter into it from a large spoon. Fry until brown; season with pepper and salt and a   little parsley.

THE LADIES' PAGE. RECIPES. (1889, March 9). Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954), p. 16. Retrieved September 29, 2015, from

Note: The original recipe does not include any instructions or quantities for making the batter, as it assumes that the cook would have her or his preferred recipe memorised. This really shows the difference in assumed knowledge for recipe readers in the Colonial era. When writing for the modern home cook, food writers are advised to assume little prior knowledge and explain terms including ‘blanche’ and ‘sauté’. The batter recipe included below is my go-to recipe, which I first learnt as a small child and as a result can be found in The Family Circle Cookery Collection: Kids’ Cookbook (1991).
The batter. I'll admit at this stage I had my doubts. Little did I know the deliciousness that awaited me.

Pulled Beef Pikelets

Serves four for a main meal with a vegetable side, or six as a snack. These would also make a healthy addition to lunchboxes.

130g (1 cup) plain flour
1 egg
340ml (1 ¼ cup) milk
150g pulled beef (I use this recipe); or cold roast beef, chopped very fine
1 T of chopped parsley
A pinch of salt and pepper
Butter, for frying

30 minutes.

Whisk the flour, egg and milk together to make thick batter. Keep whisking until there are no lumps, to avoid the startling sensation of discovering a pocket of uncooked flour in your pikelet.

Add the beef, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir well with a spoon to combine. (Abandon the whisk at this point. There are few kitchen experiences more unpleasant than trying to remove pieces of batter-covered meat from the interior of a balloon whisk.)

Heat a heavy based frying pan on medium high. While it is heating, set yourself up for pikelet production. As my grandmother would say "Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance". Put the bowl of batter next to the stove, with a soup spoon or 1/4 cup measure to ladle the batter into the pan. Put an oven-safe plate in your oven at 100C or "Keep Warm" (if your oven has that setting). You will transfer the pikelets to the plate once they're cooked to keep them warm before serving. Make sure you have an egg flipper on hand to flip the pikelets. Finally, have your butter and a knife nearby.

Cut off a piece of butter as big as a grape, and put it in the frying pan. Holding the frying-pan by the handle, swirl the butter around as it melts so that it coats the pan. Measure three spoonfuls of mixture into your pan (if it is medium-sized). You do not want to overcrowd the pan, or your will develop a pikelet traffic jam when you try to flip them. Use the spoon to spread the batter a bit so that the pikelets have an even thickness.

Cook for about a minute, until you can see a few bubbles on the surface, and a darker colour around the edge. Flip the pikelets over and cook for a further 30 seconds. If they're not golden brown when you flip them, turn your stove up a bit.Transfer the pikelets to the plate in the oven.

Put another grape-sized piece of butter in the frying pan, and repeat the above steps until you've run out of batter.

We enjoyed our pikelets with some good old-fashioned HP sauce.

Dinner, with the unwanted Kale raab just visible at the top of the image.
Cookery friends, what is your favourite way of reviving phelept beef? Would you give meat in a pancake a try?

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Importance of Preserving Food Traditions, and My Surprisingly Strong Feelings about Baking Powder

"AN UNEXPECTED RISE. Bob Sliprail, a Free Settler, having purchased some tins of Hunt's Baking Powder, is horrified at the result of his first experiment in making a pudding."
While this is supposedly an extract from Punch, it appears in the newspaper archives only alongside advertisements for Hunt's Baking Powder in regional papers.

EXTRACT FROM "SYDNEY PUNCH.". (1895, November 23). The Hay Standard and Advertiser for Balranald, Wentworth, Maude...(Hay, NSW : 1871 - 1873; 1880 - 1881; 1890 - 1900), p. 4. Retrieved September 27, 2015, from

As a historian, I realise that nothing lasts. I even know it on an emotional level. After the death of a childhood friend I forced myself to walk the length of the Paris Catacombs repeating the thought that everyone I had ever known would die. Since then I haven't been too troubled by our mortal nature. But it turns out that seeing my culture pass away turns out to be a different kettle of fish entirely.

You see, cookery friends, I consider baking powder a pantry staple. You know - like yeast, plain flour, treacle ... that's just me then? In any case, a recent trip to the supermarket to stock up on baking powder brought about a minor personal crisis. This is because, instead of having pride of place on the eye-level shelf, baking powder was tucked away on the bottom shelf. At first glance, I hadn't even seen it.

Wild Colonial Grandma, who was there riding herd on my toddler, said with equanimity that baking powder probably wasn't very popular any more; and did I know that the Norwegians use ground antler as a rising agent (I didn't - I thought ground antler had gone out in the 1600s). But could baking powder be going the way of ground deer antler, and soon be the sort of thing you ordered from a speciality online store? Surely not!

I'm not the first person to experience this kind of ingredient-related angst. When researching candied Angelica for a colonial recipe, I found an upwelling of British grief for lost Christmas traditions. Angelica, in case you didn't grow up in England in the 50s, is a herb that until relatively recently could be bought candied by the tin and used for decorating cakes.

Candied Angelica was a particular favourite on top of traditional English Christmas cakes, and it's sudden disappearance from British supermarkets a few years ago came as a very nasty surprise to those die-hards still using recipes in which it featured. Though you can substitute other candied fruits in terms of taste, there is really no visual substitute for the neon green logs. The first page on Google for "candied Angelica" is largely filled with people hoping to keep the tradition alive by making their own. 

All of this flashed through my mind in the supermarket. I had the sudden feeling that I was a bit of a culinary fuddy-duddy. Which, for a 29-year-old, is a hard pill to swallow. For me, baking powder is essential. For most other people? Apparently not so much.

Baking powder, to me, means hospitality. With baking powder on hand, no unexpected guest or tradesperson need go hungry at morning or afternoon tea time, because a tray of hot scones can be produced in 20 minutes. My great-grandfather, on seeing people coming down the road to his farm, would put on a kettle of tea and scones in the oven. Both would be ready by the time his guests sat down at his kitchen table. One of my strongest food memories from my childhood is my mother taking a tray of scones from the oven, including a knobbly customer she called the "chef's scone" which was made from the last few offcuts of dough. We, and our guests, would eat her scones with jam and cream if it was a special occasion. For everyday use they were split while steaming hot, and a knob of butter was sat on each half and allowed to melt down into the soft crumb. Scones, and the baking powder that made them possible, meant that no guest went away feeling as if they had gone unnoticed in our home.

Back at the supermarket, I tried briefly to console myself by thinking that this was the way of the world - new ingredients replacing old. Baking powder, as the go-to raising agent, had superseded bicarbonate of soda; which in turn had knocked off saleratus; which saw off ground up deer antler in the early 18th century. I'm sure each had its fans who grumbled when it was superseded. But one glance at the shelves of packet cake mix and pre-made icing on the supermarket baking shelf put paid to that idea. Glumly, I worried that the answer to the question "What comes after baking powder?" might be "Nothing".

Though I have accepted that I will die, as will my wife, my parents, and even my child, it turns out I cannot accept that the same fate awaits my culture. I will rage against the dying of the light, and continue to buy baking powder as long as there is still one specialist online retailer who will sell it to me. And when guests come over unexpectedly, I will feed them with a tray of freshly-baked scones.

Readers, please help me in my quest to preserve this part of our food culture! If you've never tried baking with baking powder before, give it a go. You can use 1 teaspoon to a cup of plain flour or 2 teaspoons to a cup of wholemeal flour, to instantly produce self-raising flour. Entry-level recipes that use baking powder include pikelets and cupcakes. If you live in Australia buy heritage Australian brands such as Anchor and Mackenzies (neither of whom sponsored this post in any way).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Australia's Love Affair with Beef; and a Topical Recipe

Beef Braised in Vinegar (recipe below)

I have an ambiguous relationship with beef. I know, I know - for an Australian, that's like saying I've never really been keen on oxygen. But it's the truth.

For some reason, my family were avid lamb consumers with a strong sideline in pork and chicken, while beef was often left languishing at the butchers. After an unfortunate stint as a vegetarian (no offence, vegetarian friends!), I found myself further plunged into an even more unpleasant stint as a genuinely poor person to whom meat was a luxury. The upshot of this is that I only learned to cook a steak this year. Grim indeed.

I feel the nation's love affair with beef can best be seen in the slightly forlorn advertising campaigns of its two competitors: pork and lamb.

Please eat our pigs. Our lean, lean pigs. Not that nasty, fatty beef. Please!

Image from

We love our lamb. Really!

Image from

If you're the scientifically-minded type that prefers hard data, this table shows the amount of each meat the average Australian puts away each year. (On a related note, I think the average Australian might need to cut down.)

As you can probably tell from the darker 'chicken' line, this data is from the Auustralian Chicken Meat Federation. Beef consumption is still a lot more than that of its direct rivals, pork and lamb. I have no idea why. Has no one else in Australia tasted pork crackling?

This graph is interactive, by the way. You can play with the original over at

The population of Australia was actually engineered to be fairly carnivorous. Early Australian activist and social engineer Caroline Chisolm used the promise of three meat meals a day to lure settlers over, making us a self-selecting sample of steak eaters.

The popularity of beef can also be seen in the fact that it is the second largest category of Colonial main meals I have collected (behind vegetarian, strangely enough). Admittedly, my spreadsheet of recipes is drawn from newspaper archives and selected on the basis of what I might conceivably get a family member to taste test for me. But I think it's safe to say that beef was darn popular in the Colonial era too.

That brings us to today's recipe. Despite a rather Italian ingredient list including garlic, onion and bay leaves, this end result is thoroughly English. Thankfully it still went well with polenta and sautéed green beans.

Will this recipe convert vegetarians? Possibly not. But it will make a perfectly acceptable weeknight meal, even for the beef sceptics among us.

Here is the original recipe from 1866, which appears to quote a cooking class lost to the mists of time (perhaps this one in New York?):

BEEF WITH VINEGAR. - For this, a piece of almost any kind of beef that is tender, and has little or no bone, may be used. The piece used for this lesson weighed two and a half pounds, and was nicely tied, put in a pan with four tablespoonfuls of fat, the same of broth fro the "Alphabet Kettle", and fried upon all sides until slightly brown, but not cooked. The broth and fat were then poured off, and a gill and a half of vinegar added, also two cloves, two bay leaves, one stalk of thyme, one onion, and one clove of garlic. After being fried in these seasonings for a few moments, a little over a quart of broth from the "Alphabet Kettle" was added, and the whole left to gently simmer for an hour; at the expiration of which time the meat was placed on a plate in which it was to be served, and the sauce after being thickened with flour and water was strained over it.

Recipes. (1866, June 16). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 6. Retrieved April 16, 2015, from

Beef Braised in Vinegar

600g stewing steak, or other bone-free cut of beef
2 tablespoons oil
550ml stock, divided
100ml vinegar
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 stalk thyme
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon flour (optional)

Cooking Time
1 1/2 hours

Serves 4 for dinner, with a vegetable and carb side

Heat 600ml of stock in a small saucepan.
On a moderate stove, heat a large saucepan or a casserole dish with a heavy base.
Add the oil, and sear the beef on all sides.
Remove the beef, and sit it on a plate.
Tip off the oil.
Add a dash of stock from the smaller saucepan to deglaze the large one.
Add the vinegar, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, onion and garlic. Stir well, and cook for a minute until aromatic.
Put the beef back into the large saucepan, and add the rest of the stock.
Simmer for an hour, with the lid on. Add a dash of boiling water if necessary.
When cooked, the beef should be tender and in an aromatic sauce.
Remove the meat, and set it aside while you finish the sauce. (Don't worry - it will only take a minute or two so your meat won't get cold).
Strain the onion and other seasonings out of the sauce. They have done their dash.
Thicken the sauce either by sprinkling in a tablespoon of flour, and stirring vigorously until there are no lumps; or by reducing the sauce at a roaring boil until it is the desired consistency.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper before pouring it over your beef to serve.

Cookery friends, which is your favourite meat? Is it the same as your nation's?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Cultural Cringe and the Unbearable Brownness of Colonial Cooking

My recent foray into Pinterest has revealed a startling trend, cookery friends. Almost every dish I make from the Colonial era is brown. Brown stews, brown pastries, brown puddings and preserves. Yesterday, I even managed to produce a brown drink.

Quite frankly, it's all a bit grim.

Looking at that page of browness, I had a mild existential crisis. All of a sudden, my Pinterest page seemed a terrible metaphor for everything Australian: not just our food, but our culture, our history, and even the vast tracts of suburbia in which I live. What if we, as a nation, could be summed up in that one unremarkable yet slightly grotty colour?

This feeling of rising revulsion at one's own country is what social studies types like to call "cultural cringe". It's a nagging suspicion that one's country isn't much chop, especially when compared to other contenders. The term was invented by my fellow-Melburnian A. A. Phillips in 1950, but the sentiment goes back to the Colonial era, and quite possibly to the settlers of the First Fleet who hopped off the boat and suddenly thought that London wasn't that bad after all.

(You can read about Phillips' essay here, if you too live in a post-colonial nation and want to thoroughly depress yourself.)

After stewing on my concerns all day, I was cringing hard. Lying in bed at night, I suddenly burst out that I was afraid that no one would ever read this blog because of the subject matter - that Australian culture was in fact an absence of culture, and that this condition stretched back to colonisation making Australian history empty of value as well.

My wife, who had been trying to sleep, commented that I was having some type of hormonal shift which she was sure would pass soon.

As I pondered the brownness of my Australian existence, a phrase from an 1865 recipe kept rattling around in my head. That phrase, to describe America in comparison to New South Wales, was "the elder colony". New South Wales was only 77 years old at the time . Compared to America's 258 years, New South Wales (site of the first European settlement in Australia) still had that 'new colony' smell.

Of course, Australian history doesn't start with British colonisation. But Australian culture is unfortunately another story. There are a few hundred Indigenous nations whose continuous history goes back around 50,000 years; and who have members that survived European colonisation. But in effect, the brutality of that colonisation ensured very little cultural continuity between those nations and the one that now inhabits their lands. Colonial Australians did their best to obliterate the Indigenous cultures they interacted with, and as a result our nation missed out on the chance to be rooted in an older culture. I believe that it is as consequence of this that we are very young, an awkward tween to America's swaggering 21-year-old.

Lying in bed with that phrase rattling around in my head, I started to think that perhaps Australia's browness isn't a cultural vacuum, but is instead the awkward national equivalent of a twelve year old trying to decide if they're a goth or a preppy. We're just beginning to realise that we can shape our own identity. It is only natural that as part of that process we are agonising over each similarity and difference between us and our parents.

I came to a conclusion. Instead of being a hopeless case, writing about Australian history and culture (brown though it may be) was an exciting opportunity. Perhaps, in my small way, I could help Australian food culture inch towards an appreciation of its history, even as it discovered its adult identity.

I felt elated, and full of the importance of historical recipe reproduction.

Well, either that or I'd had another hormonal shift.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Orgeat: The Scourge of the Cocktail World

Home-made milk Orgeat, with a dash of cinnamon.

Orgeat, an almond-based liqueur, is a source of much consternation in the cocktail world.

It is apparently essential (as the basis of the Mai Thai), but at the same time jolly hard to get a hold of. It lurks at the back of cocktail cabinets. Even bartenders mispronounce it (it's pronounced Or-ZHAT, apparently).

Wild Colonial Grandma, currently enduring a cold with all the grace of the usually healthy, declared it too rich. My wife reacted to a sip with an involuntary shudder and the dark verdict that it was for "the rice pudding set". My toddler literally ran screaming.

It seems that everywhere Orgeat goes it causes trouble, my home being no exception. But despite all this, I'm going to tell you to make it. And what's more, I'm going to tell you to make this particular recipe despite the fact that its inclusion of milk makes it a fringe oddity in the Orgeat family, and renders it not terribly good for keeping.

The recipe at hand is from an 1866 edition of The Australasian, but has much older pedigree. It is closely modelled (cough *plagiarised* cough) on Maria Eliza Rundell's 1808 recipe from her recipe book A New System of Domestic Cookery. This throws us back beyond the Victorian modernism that characterised most of the Colonial era, into the murky depths of the Georgian era and its lingering Medieval influence.

The early origins of this drink saturate the experience of consuming it. With the smooth texture of a creamy winter soup, but the jangling tastes of sweet almonds and spirits, this vintage Orgeat is a delightful oddity.

My Virgin Japanese Cocktail, made with milk Orgeat.

You can drink this home-made version neat, unlike its modern commercial counterpart. Though interesting on the palate it is also mild, and well suited  to being enjoyed in a cocktail glass with a stark dash of freshly ground cinnamon.

Orgeat is also the basis of the Japanese Cocktail, an 1862 invention credited as being one of the earliest modern cocktails. You can read more about its potentially scandalous origins, along with a recipe here. Scroll down for my recipe for a Virgin Japanese Cocktail.

Finally, here are a few serving suggestions straight from Australian Colonial era newspapers:

The Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate suggests in 1886 that Orgeat need only be diluted with ice water.

In 1924, with the world in the grip of the cocktail craze, the Adelaide Advertiser suggests the recipe of 1 measure Orgeat to 3 measures iced seltzer, and decorated with a slice of peach, pineapple or apricot. Exotic!

Orgeat a la Warragul Guardian and Buln Buln and Narracan Shire Advocate.

Here is the original recipe:

ORGEAT.-Boil a stick of cinnamon in a quart of new milk, sweeten to taste with loaf sugar; let it stand till cold; then take 3oz. of Jordan almonds ,and twenty bitter almonds, blanch them, and beat them to a paste with a little water; pour the milk to   these by degrees, well stirring as you proceed; then boil all together, continuing to stir the whole, till it is cold, adding half a glass of brandy.

Recipes. (1866, September 22). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 5. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from

Orgeat in the pan.

Pre-Modern Orgeat

1 stick cinnamon
600ml milk
¼ cup castor sugar
60g almond meal
¼ teaspoon almond essence
¼ teaspoon brandy essence

Cooking Time
1 hour, largely spent waiting for it to cool (twice)

Enough for 10 cocktails


Combine the cinnamon, milk and sugar in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
In a large bowl, with plenty of stirring room, beat the almonds with 1 tablespoon of water until they form a paste.
Add the almond essence to the almond paste.
Gradually add the cooled milk, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. If lumps simply will not be avoided, keep stirring vigorously until you have banished them.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and bring once again to the boil.
When cool, mix in the brandy essence.
You're now ready to make any of the cocktails described above or...

My Virgin Japanese Cocktail

Mix 1 part home-made Orgeat with 3 parts Lemon, Lime and Bitters. Stir to combine, and then pour into a large tumbler. Top with tropical fruit and a jaunty umbrella. If you don't have a shot measure, I've found the cap of a baby bottle works well and is about the same volume. You're welcome.

Orgeat mocktails as far as the eye can see.

Cookery friends, what do you think of this divisive drink? What was your favourite cocktail?