At the cooking school here a few days ago I had the opportunity to do a colonial cooking session, albeit a shortened version due to time constraints. I have loved researching convict and particularly colonial food for many years now, so for this session I carefully selected recipes that reflected the food of the era from the collection I’ve accumulated over the years.
It always strikes me as incredible that the very principles that we apply today were reflected in the cookery of that time. Fresh and local when it came to fruit and vegetables, with a heavy emphasis on preserving, the recipes for which vary little to today’s versions – from jams, pickles and chutneys through to the bottling of fruits, even dehydrating.
I really wanted to put my slow combustion stove (a relic of 1940s) into action to make the cakes and shortcake, as well as stove top preserves, along with the lamb. Although most homes would not have had such a luxury, the principles of cooking in a Dutch oven, and stoves like the one in the Commandant’s Cottage at Port Arthur HIstoric Site, were similar in their cooking methods – slow, moist, wood fired.
I should maybe wait and put the following recipe in a book at some stage, but it is too good not to share straight away. It’s based on a recipe from an old cookbook of colonial recipes and it is simply delicious. I had here a leg of lamb from an animal that had been grass fed contentedly in a paddock near Hamilton.
The recipe featured redcurrants to deglaze the pan and to add a piquancy to the gravy. I just happened to have some left in the freezer (as the season for currants has now passed).
The lamb surpassed any I have ever tasted, so very tender and tasty. This was partly due to the quality of the meat as I know from cooking other roasts from it. However, the moistness of the meat that melted in your mouth was certainly owed in no small part to cooking it in the slow combustion stove. The gravy? Likewise, the best sauce I have ever tasted, due to those red currants to be sure.
The simplicity of available ingredients those times must have led to the invention of such gastronomic delights. Meat was a focal point and was said to be the “faith, hope and charity” of the Australian colonial diet.
Bread was a bit of an obsession too (when they prayed for their daily bread, it was with real fervour for the actual thing). It was so scarce in very early colonial times that a visitor to Government House had to take their own bread! But that’s another story. Here is the recipe for the Colonial Lamb as promised.
It will still be delicious if cooked in a regular gas or electric oven, but a slow combustion stove lifts it to the level of sublime.
And oh yes, if you can’t buy red currants fresh, as is likely, then try buying them frozen. If you are a local to southern Tasmania, there is a sign on the board at the Bushy Park Market with a phone number, advertising frozen redcurrants for $10 per kilo.
Colonial Lamb with Redcurrant Sauce
1 leg lamb
1 tablespoon dripping
4 cloves garlic, cut in half
4 sprigs thyme
1 onion, halved
150g red currants
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (about 210 degrees C). Place roasting dish on stove, add and melt the dripping and then sear meat on all sides. Add the garlic and thyme. Put in oven until lamb is cooked (about 15 minutes per lb – i.e. .500g). Take dish from oven, remove lamb and keep warm. Drain off the fat, but leave the delicious lamb juices in there as far as possible.
Add the crushed currants and stir for one minute, then add ½ cup water to the pan, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Strain into a small saucepan.
Bring to the boil and reduce to desired consistency, or thicken slightly with about 1 to 2 teaspoons cornflour mixed to a paste with 1 tablespoon cold water.
And here, just for the record, is a photo of my wonderful slow combustion stove.