Just desserts from the Yallambie kitchen

saint nic
Chimneys to choose from

There was a large patch of dead lawn at Yallambie, large enough for the visiting Indian cricketers to practice their googlies. In the summer heat the grass was reduced to a stubble, a brown and blasted verdure that struggled to hold the top soil together in the north wind. The global warming experts said we were experiencing an El Nino event but they weren’t fooling me. Wasn’t it obvious? Santa had parked his sleigh there on Christmas eve and the reindeers had been chewing on the grass.

There’s room on the slate roof of the Homestead for a hefty man with a red suit, black boots and beard to climb after parking his reindeers. And chimneys, a half dozen or so, for him to choose from.

santa on the roof
Room for a hefty man with a red suit, black boots and beard to climb after parking his reindeers.

The present Yallambie Homestead has undergone several building phases in the 140 or so years since it replaced the Bakewell Station. In its original form the kitchens were very likely separate from the main house and might have contained features that had survived from the earlier era. The extant dairy is certainly in the same location as the building marked “dairy” on the c1850 survey map although in photographs of the 1890s, 20 years after the homestead was built, the kitchen is hidden behind a wall and was probably by then incorporated into the main building.

Yallambie kitchen 1994
Yallambie kitchen 1994

Two decades ago, those kitchen chimneys were in a sorry state of repair after a more recent, ambitious but ultimately aborted building project. The two chimneys had been partly demolished and for a time, a massive steel beam between the two kitchen chimneys that supported the 1st floor wall was mostly held in place by a series of Acrow jacks, bending disturbingly under the weight. Santa probably hadn’t been stopping by for a while.

The AGA leaving for that great kitchen in the sky, November, 1994
The AGA leaving for that great kitchen in the sky, November, 1994

This period saw the removal of the old AGA stove from the kitchen. It had been the heart of the kitchen and was remembered by the Temby family, who lived at Yallambie for 20 years throughout the 1960s and 1970s, “as always warm in winter and the place to rest wet feet that had come in from the garden.” It was probably not however the stove described by Winty Calder in her description of the Wragge family kitchen:

“The wood-fire stove in the kitchen was always hot. Cured pigs, sausages, dried fruit and vegetables hung from a central beam beneath the ceiling. Although a cook was employed, the family invaded the kitchen each year to preserve fruit in large, labelled jars and store it in the pantry; and then again to make the annual Christmas pudding.” (Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996)

Yallambie kitchen, 2003
Yallambie kitchen, 2003

Today the kitchen chimneys have been repaired, some cracking on the exterior walls remaining. An old IXL cast iron stove, believed to have originated from the Melbourne Grammar School, has been re-introduced into the Yallambie kitchen to replace the old, fuel burning AGA and a modern gas and electric stove top and oven installed for everyday use.

Calder also provides a picture of the dining table at Yallambie. That table was constructed from an almost semi-fossilised wood that had been pulled from the Wakool River near the Wragges’ New South Wales sheep station.

“It has been recorded that for many years dinner was eaten from a great, dark polished table, which was so heavy that about ten men were needed to move it. This table had an interesting history. When posts or piles were being placed for the original bridge over the Wakool River for the Koondrook Road to Tulla, an obstruction was met with. This was found to be a great buried red gum log, which, after great trouble, was taken out. This log may have been there for centuries… And proved to be quite solid and sound… Thomas Wragge had it cut into thick planks and made into (the) great dining table. “This was probably the same table as the one described to Avril Payne by Nancy Bush as: ‘…a round table, of simple elegant proportions and sufficient to accommodate a large family.’” (Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales, Winty Calder, Jimaringle Press, 1996)

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Royal Family at Christmas
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Royal Family at Christmas

In the late 19th century, the Wragges always gathered at Yallambie at the start of November for the Melbourne Cup, the “first Tuesday in November”. They remained there throughout the summer to avoid the worst of the 50°C heat of their Riverina sheep stations. Picture that table groaning under the festive weight each Christmas. Steamed puddings, boiled hams and roast meats all served in the summer heat of Melbourne in December.

A Dickensian Christmas
A Dickensian Christmas with a pudding like a cannon ball

Of all the seasons, Christmas is the one that appeals most to our memory. We remember a time when the 365 days between one Christmas and the next really was a year and not reduced to the September or October that it is now. A time (in Australia) when the prospect of summer holidays seemed to open up before us and those long, hot summer nights appeared to drift on forever.

Here is an old fashioned Christmas pudding recipe that I have made many times in the past. It keeps very well and in fact improves with age. A pudding I once made from this recipe was left hanging for a long time from a beam in the kitchen. Like the pudding in Dicken’s Christmas Carol, it looked like a cannon ball. People kept hitting their head on it but when it was heated and served at Christmas it was delicious. Must have been the Brilliantine.

125 grams self-raising flour
125 grams fresh white bread crumbs
125 grams ground almonds
185 grams sultanas
185 grams glacé cherries, cut into halves
30 grams angelica, diced
60 grams blanched almonds, cut into chunky pieces
60 grams dried pears, chopped small
60 grams glacé apricots, cut into small pieces
185 grams raisins, halved if very large
150 grams brown sugar
Grated rind of one lemon
Grated rind of one orange
Juice of one lemon
185 grams unsalted butter
1 cup light beer
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons whisky or brandy

Mix the flour, fresh white bread crumbs and almonds. Put the fruit and nuts into a basin and stir. If they are sticking together, add a few spoonfuls of the dry ingredients to separate them. Mix in the brown sugar, lemon and orange rinds and lemon juice. Have the butter cold, and grate it coarsely over the fruits. Do this, a little at a time, and stir to mix it through or it becomes one large lump. Mix both dry ingredients, and fruit together. Add the beer, eggs and whisky or brandy and using your hands or a wooden spoon stir the mixture thoroughly for a minute. All family members should take turns to stir the pudding mixture, traditionally from East to West in honour of the journey of the Three Kings to Bethlehem. Don’t forget to make a wish. To prepare the pudding cloth, scald the centre of the cloth with boiling water and then dust with flour. Put mixture in the centre of the cloth, gather the cloth up and tie it securely leaving a little room for the pudding to expand. The recipe makes nine cups and is better cooked in halves, rather than one large pudding. The first boiling of this pudding takes seven hours for a large one and five hours if halved. Dry by hanging in an airy spot. Reheating times on Christmas Day are three and half hours and two and a half hours respectively. If you have any silver coins or tokens, insert them into the pudding. Douse with good quality brandy and set the pudding alight. Serve with ice cream, cream or custard.

Isabella Mary Beeton (1836–1865) was the author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. We have a much thumbed edition of Mrs Beeton’s book and it gets trotted out every Christmas time for various recipes, including the instructions for the so called “Bakewell pudding”.

Isabella Mary Beeton, author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Like Thomas Wragge, the Bakewell brothers came to Port Phillip from Nottinghamshire but their family originated in the neighbouring county of Derbyshire and had connections to the American bird painter, John James Audubon. Bakewell in Derbyshire is a town of some 4000 people, its main claim to fame today seeming to be its pudding. A jam pastry with an egg and ground almond enriched filling the origins of the recipe are obscure but it appears to have been created in the town in the early 19th century before being collected by Mrs Beeton for her book. So the story goes, a visiting nobleman in Bakewell ordered strawberry tart at the coaching inn and the cook, instead of stirring the egg mixture into the pastry, mistakenly spread it on top of the jam. When cooked, the egg and almond paste set similar to an egg custard in texture, and the result was successful enough for it to become a popular dish at the inn. Here is Mrs Beeton’s recipe:

¼lb of puff-paste
5 eggs 6 oz of sugar
¼lb of butter
1 oz of almonds (ground)

Cover a dish with thin paste, and put over this a layer of any kind of jam, 1/2 inch thick; put the yolks of 5 eggs into a basin with the white of 1, and beat these well; add the sifted sugar, the butter, which should be melted, and the almonds, which should be well pounded; beat all together until well mixed, then pour it into the dish over the jam, and bake for an hour in a moderate oven. Time.—1 hour. Average cost, 1s. 6d. Sufficient for 4 or 6 persons. Seasonable at any time.

Bakewell's medieval bridge in winter time
Bakewell’s medieval bridge in winter time

In the 1890s, the Wragges were photographed with musical instruments on the steps of their homestead alongside a pony chaise. The boys’ musical appreciation is perhaps doubtful however, given this story from Frank Wright and recorded by Calder.

“I cannot resist a story of what happened somewhere about the 1890s when the Wragge family en masse went to the opera. Those were the days of walking sticks for the well dressed man and my uncles even took theirs to the opera. The family all sat in one long row. During the show one of my uncles, who was seated behind a fashionably clad and escorted female, went to sleep. Unfortunately he dozed off leaning forward on his stick. His brother, two seats away, leaned past his sister, and with his crooked handle stick, tweaked the stick from underneath his brother. Naturally, his brother fell forward onto the gorgeous lady in front, who let out a terrific squawk. Her escort thought it was a deliberate assault – he arose and smote the awakening uncle who gathered his shattered senses together and promptly fought back. Screams arose in the darkened theatre, and actors stopped, the lights came on and the two antagonists waded into each other. Attendants rushed up and the two men were forcibly removed. The uncle who caused the trouble, I’m told, just sat quietly in his seat, gravely delighted with the result.”

Carriage with Syd Wragge and his mother, Sarah Ann at the front door of Yallambie looking south.
Musical instruments and pony chaise at Yallambie

Music is played at Yallambie today, but without such drama. Last year a strange musical instrument was turned up at a country fair in Victoria. Called a psaltery it is an Early Music instrument somewhat related to a zither. It looks like a simple triangular box with strings keyed down the longitudinal sides and played with a bow. A bit of detective work on the internet soon found that the psaltery came from the Wragge and Bakewells’ home county of Nottingham. It had formerly belonged to the late Ann Cockburn, “a major figure in the Nottingham Traditional Music Club during its heyday in the 1970s.” Anne had the psaltery made for her especially by a local Nottingham craftsman, to a design that she had discovered in a book. A polymath with a broad interest in the arts, Anne was also remembered by her friends as an excellent cook. Although nobody could suggest how the instrument had made its way to Australia after her death, here is Anne’s recipe for Nottingham Gingerbread which was sent to us by her friends during the course of that exchange.

8oz (225g) Plain Flour
3-4 teaspoon ground ginger
4oz (110g) margarine or butter
4oz brown sugar (110g) (soft or Demerara)
8oz (225g) golden syrup (or half & half syrup and black treacle)
¼ pint (140ml) milk
1 egg, well beaten
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2oz (60g) preserved, chopped ginger and chopped dates

Line a 7 inch cake tin with greaseproof paper. Heat oven to Gas mark 2 or 300°F (150°C) Sift together flour and ground ginger. Melt margarine, milk, sugar and treacle over a low heat. Add bi-carb and quickly mix with beaten egg into the dry ingredients. Fold in the 2oz of preserved, chopped ginger and chopped dates. Pour mixture into tin and bake for about 1¼ hours. When ready it should be springy and pull away from the tin.

Rosemary Hodgson and musicians of "La Compania", Yallambie, 1997
Rosemary Hodgson and musicians of “La Compania”, Yallambie, 1997

In “Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales”, Calder describes a window that was once situated above the stairs at the Homestead:

“A large, arched window of figured glass at the top of the stairs threw light into the upstairs hallway which gave access to the bedrooms and bathroom.”

That window did not survive the 1923 alterations but in homage to it and the stained glass sanctuary window at St John’s Church of England, described in the previous post, here’s a recipe for a Stained Glass Cake, a Christmas favourite of my mother in law. Mostly fruit and nuts it gets its name from a stained glass appearance when cut into very thin slices.

2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt 500g
(1lb) glacé pineapple, coarsely diced
500g (1lb) of mixed glacé pears, glacé apricots, and glacé peaches, coarsely diced
500g (1lb) mixed dried fruit
250g (8oz) glacé cherries, red and green, halved
4 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1kg (2lb) of mixed shelled pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts and blanched almonds
½ cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Curacao

Grease two 23x13x8cm (9x5x3in) loaf pans or 3-4 smaller pans and line with greased brown paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add fruits and mix well with hands to coat each piece of fruit with flour. Beat eggs until frothy and gradually beat in sugar. Add to fruit and mix well. With hands, mix in nuts. Turn mixture into pans and press down firmly with fingers. Bake in a very slow oven 140°C (275°F) for about 1½ hours. Leave cakes in pans and, while still hot, pur liqueur over, a little at a time. Leave until quite cold, then remove from tins and take off the paper. Wrap well and store in a refrigerator. Serve straight from refrigerator, cutting into very thin slices of “stained glass”.

And finally, if baking’s not your thing at Christmas, simply leave a raw carrot and a glass of milk (or beer) beside your kitchen chimney on Christmas Eve. I guarantee you will find them gone by the morning.

Merry Christmas and peace to all!

A Christmas kitchen overflowing with good things
Who raided the kitchen overnight?

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