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?