Saturday, August 25, 2018

Weekend Cooking: Food through history

I find series that look back through time at food history totally fascinating. Over the years I have watched a few of them, including the funny British show Supersizers Go where the hosts go back to a particular time and eat as people would have done, and then look at what the effect on their bodies has been. Another one I enjoyed was a series set in Italy looking at the role of food in Italian history, including where pasta comes from and the humble origins of pizza. So fascinating.

Recently we have been watching an Australian series called Back in Time for Dinner. The premise is that a family has the living areas of their home restyled to show what life was like in each decade starting in the 1950's, moving through to the 2000's and beyond into the future. In each episode the family learned what food was like, what their individual roles would have been in the family structure, with particular emphasis on the slowly changing roles of women across the last 70 or so years, important historical events and the rapidly changing role of technology. The kids were very excited when the 80s came and they got a home computer.

The episodes from the 1980's on were probably the most interesting for us, because that is the era that we grew up in, and there were many times through these episodes where there was something that we remembered or that prompted conversations about how we lived and worked and ate.

There were some truly awful food things presented. The modern kids were not at all impressed with their first meal in the 1950s which was tripe in white sauce, but some of the other lowlights included a liver sausage sculpted into the shape of a pineapple, complete with a yellow coloured mayonnaise to complete the illusion, as well as food from the future which has been transformed into small gummy shapes. It may kind of taste like meat and 3 veg but it just doesn't sound very tasty or appetising.

It was very interesting to look at the way that food has changed over the years. In the 1950's the food was all fresh, but as they progressed through the decades we saw how food changed with the advent of frozen meals and microwave convenience meals but now, it seems as though we are coming full circle with the focus moving back towards fresh, and preferably local, ingredients.

The other thing that was interesting was how waves of immigrants slowly changed the food landscape here, from the first spaghetti bolognaise recipe in the Australian Women's Weekly, to the coming of Chinese food, to Thai and beyond. It was a fun series to watch.

I haven't read as much food history, but when I do I find it just as interesting. Over the last few weeks I have been browsing through A Timeline of Australian Food; From Mutton to Masterchef. It is actually a similar premise to the TV series. Each chapter is a new decade starting from the 1860's through to 2009.

This book doesn't have a narrative as such, but rather has paragraph sized snippets about the food that we were eating, the technology at the time, historical events, the origins of many of the brand names and advertising slogans (like Yoplait is French for Yoghurt) that are Australian icons and so much more.

I found it very interesting because there were plenty of snippets which I could feel a connection with. Having spent a lot of time growing up in Adelaide and in the Salvation Army, I found the fact that the first 'fair trade' tea was sold by the Salvation Army in 1888, the same year that the site the company that became Western Star began producing butter. The Adelaide Central Market opened in 1869, which is a good 9 years before the Queen Victoria Markets opened here in Melbourne.

There were some quintessentially Australian facts. For example,  there is a story about how Queen Victoria's son Prince Albert was visiting the country, so there was a big catered picnic organised, but the Prince was running late and so the crowd became rambunctious and ended up raiding all the catering. There were also strikes to protest against the early closing of pubs or when they tried unsuccessfully to change the name of Vegemite to Parwill. About 10 years ago, the makers of Vegemite tried to change things up a bit and launched a version of Vegemite that was called iSnack 2.0 which unsurprisingly was not particularly successful, but I had no idea that it wasn't the first time that there had been a spectacular marketing disaster involving Vegemite. Doesn't really matter what it is called, I am not going to be eating it! Bleugh!

A couple of other interesting facts...whilst peanut butter originally came from the U.S,  the first commercially produced versions were actually produced here in Australia in 1898. There is a brand of tomato paste here made by a company called Leggos. I would have sworn black and blue that this was a company with Italian origins but it actually was founded by a Welsh man named Leggo. In the 1970s the company even hired Gina Lollobrigida to promote the brand.

One interesting story was about one of the most iconically Australian songs - Waltzing Matilda. I had no idea that the words were changed in 1903 to be used as a theme song for a Tea company, and this is the version that we know now. Apparently the swagman wasn't originally jolly or didn't need to wait until his billy boiled!!

This was the perfect book to browse through at night, a decade at a time, and there were lots of fascinating new to me facts!

I am also linking this review to Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


  1. Food history fascinates me. I've read a couple of histories of Australian food, but not the ones you mention. What's striking is how modern transportation and shipping changed things there, as well as increased immigration and contact with other than British society. Thanks for the interesting post.

    best... mae at

  2. Love to read about food history too. I haven't seen any of the food series you mention (rarely turn on the TV), but you motivated me to find out if the library has any in DVD format. Visiting you at Weekend Cooking where I posted "Plant-based Food Tips to Make Life Healthy and Lively." Enjoy. Nancy Andres @

  3. Oooh, I'm going to see if the library has this one. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

  4. What an cool book. I love exploring food history in different countries--it's so interesting! ;-) The series you've been watching all sound intriguing too.

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