Saturday, November 3, 2012

It's A Retro Cook-Off!

It's time for the Hung Up On Retro / Lucy Violet Vintage... 

It's A Retro Cook-Off! 

I collect vintage cookbooks, primarily those from South Australia, and my Retro Meal (which I served last night to my family) comes entirely from South Australian recipe books.

I followed the recipes as closely as possible, but had to substitute in a few places where the ingredients no longer exist (probably for good reason): the shops are empty of 'Green Lemon Jelly' (was 'Lime' such a frightening concept?) and 'menz malt biscuits'. The type of canned salmon was not specified; I went with 'pink' rather than the costly 'red', which I think is in keeping with the parsimonious ethos of these cook-books. 

What did I make? To begin, a cocktail

Barossa Lightning
"This is a dry cocktail that is guaranteed to start off any party with a sparkle, but it has no depressing after-effects. It can be mixed for immediate use, or bottled. Four glasses gin, three quarters glass French vermouth, 1 glass Italian vermouth, 1/2 glass green ginger. Ice and shake well. Serve so cold that glasses are frosted."

This type of meal requires a sturdy anaesthetic type of pre-dinner drink. The Barossa Cookery Book is a classic of the country cookbook genre and is still in print. It was first published in 1917; the second edition of 1932 has since reached its 33rd edition (2006). The cocktail quantities are expressed in 'glasses', a term explained as 'cocktail glass'. Since the 1930s, cocktail glasses have increased in size from around 3.5 fl oz to 10 oz.. I used the cap on the cocktail shaker. This is a very strong cocktail and I must never let my mother have another one. On the plus side, it made all the food look really tasty.

With the main course I served Mateus Rosé: this ran like a river of pink sweetness at my parents' dinner parties in the 1970s. My fall-back would have been a Liebfraumilch (something like Blue Nun).

My entrée comes from p.24 of The Parson Knows: Easy Dinner Party Recipes produced by The Parish of St. Stephen at Glenunga (one of the eastern suburbs of Adelaide). The cookbook is undated, but I suspect it is from the late 1980s. St. Stephen's has since been demolished, but its legacy lives on... The recipe forms part of a 'Autumn Menu'. I could not find tinned grapefruit, so settled for fresh (from our tree):

Prawn & Grapefruit Cocktail 

200g tin prawns
200g tin grapefruit OR 1 fresh grapefruit
1/4 pint reduced cream
1 tbs tomato sauce
3 drops Tabasco (optional)
1 tbs brandy
1 tbs lemon juice
1-2 tsp horseradish
salt & pepper

Method: Empty prawns from tin and rinse in cold water - drain well. If using fresh grapefruit, remove pith and skin, then dice fruit and mix with prawns. Pour over brandy and lemon juice and leave to marinate for an hour at least. Meanwhile, mix all other ingredients to make sauce - pour off excess juice from prawns, etc. and mix with sauce. Serve garnished with parsley or a prawn or a grapefruit segment. Serves 4. [recipe]

It turned out like a cold soupy prawn cocktail with a vicious grapefruit aftertaste. It wasn't awful. It wasn't great: the proportion of sauce to prawn was completely wrong. The sauce was delicious, but then it is basically a Marie Rose sauce.

The main course - Salmon Meringue Tart - is something I have wanted to make for a very long time, but have never had the courage. The recipe comes from p.64 of one of my favourite retro cookbooks, The Lunchbox: A Selection of Tried Recipes produced in Clare (in the Barossa Valley) by the Bihar Mission Auxiliary (raising money for the then Jesuit mission to Bihar state in northern India). I have the second edition (1975). The recipe was contributed by Mrs. M. Horgan. 

I cheated with a pre-made pastry case, and I served it hot. The mixture smelled like cat food. I had no idea that tinned salmon was so revolting in the flesh - bones! skin! Ghastly, revolting things I couldn't identify. It tasted like tuna mornay and while it was not as unpleasant as I feared, I'm glad I didn't waste my time making pastry from scratch. The meringue added zero to its charm. The cheese helped a lot.

Salmon Meringue Tart

(May be eaten hot with vegetables, or cold with salads)
1" x 10" lightly cooked Pastry Shell
1 x 8 oz tin Salmon
1/2 pint Milk
Knob Butter
2 Eggs
1 rounded tbsp. Cornflour
Squeeze of Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Method: Drain salmon, remove skin and bones. Flake into a saucepan, add milk and butter, bring to boiling point. Separate eggs, blend Cornflour with the yolks and add to saucepan and cook one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and turn into tart shell. Beat egg whites (with small pinch cream of tartar) until stiff, cover salmon with this meringue, bake for 15 minutes at 375 deg. When cooked sprinkle with chopped parsley and grated cheese. [recipe]

To accompany the Tart, I made a Jellied Pea Salad. Gelatine salad is a staple of retro cooking. This salad also comes from The Lunchbox cookbook (p.74, contributed by Mrs. T. Chidwidden). I used lemon jelly and tinted it with a drop of green colouring. The mould is a vintage glass one. And? This was surprisingly good, albeit rather sweet. Some vinegar in the mix might have fixed that. It fell to pieces too quickly for presentation as a mould - I'd set it in a bowl next time (next time!).

Jellied Pea Salad

1 large dspn finely chopped mint leaves, mixed with one packet of green lemon jelly crystals. Add 2 cups boiling water, stir until dissolved, then pour whole mixture over 1 lb frozen peas; leave to set. [recipe]

Dessert. How does one remove the taste of Salmon Meringue pie from the mouth? I initially thought about something with that other great staple of retro cooking, pineapple, but then I saw Rum Pudding) on p.28 of The Parson Knows: Easy Dinner Party Recipes (another item on the 'Autumn Menu'). I set it in vintage compote dishes, rather than another mould (why detract from the moulded delights of the Jellied Pea Salad?). I sprinkled the sponge with additional rum. The verdict: very nice indeed. A bit bouncy, perhaps. But not bad. Not bad at all.

Rum Pudding

1 small jam roll
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaped tbs cocoa
1 tbs gelatine
whipped cream
1 tin Carnation milk
1 heaped tbs Nescafe
1 tbs rum
1/2 cup hot water
walnuts, cherries/strawberries

Method: Line a basin - bottom and sides with slices of jam roll. Beat chilled Carnation milk, add sugar (slowly), Nescafe, cocoa and rum. Beat in gently, then stir in gelatine dissolved in hot water (when cool). Pour mixture into basin and set in refrigerator. Turn out of basin and cover with whipped cream flavoured with rum. Decorate with walnuts and cherries or strawberries. [Serves 4] [recipe]

Finally, a little digestive: Chocolate Mints.

The after-dinner mint is another staple of these books. Perhaps it was cheaper than Mylanta? This is a common recipe, appearing in various guises, often shaped into a log, rolled in coconut and cut into coin-sized pieces. I chose a simple version where the mixture is rolled flat and cut into squares (I used a berry-shaped cutter). They tasted like minty tarmac when I was making them. After a day in the fridge, all the bits melded together and they were really very nice and not so much like peppermint asphalt. Minty. Very minty. The source, The S.C.N.H. 1st Floor Cook Book (no. 2), is local - from the Southern Cross nursing home about 100m from my doorstep. There is no date, but it looks late 1980s/early 90s. The recipe was contributed by one V. M. Smith:

Chocolate Mints 

1 pkt menz malt biscuits
1 pkt white mints, round ones 
3/4 cup sweet cond. milk 

Method: Crush biscuits and mints, and mix all together. Roll out then cut into squares.

The verdict? 
Would I make any of these recipes again? 

I thought the cocktail rather a waste of decent gin, but it certainly made everyone mellow. The entrée sauce was excellent, with a real horseradishy punch. The grapefruit was just plain nasty. Salmon Meringue Tart was a tuna mornay in tawdry floozy attire. It made Jellied Pea Salad look like a good thing. Dessert was surprisingly nice - decent rum and mocha flavours (and good looks). The mints rocked. And I find myself with a strange craving for retro rosé… 

Many thanks to Kylie (lucy violet vintage) and Donna (hung up on retro) for inspiring me to cook from my collection; and thank you to Anne (pineapple princesses) for letting me know about the Cook Off.  I thoroughly enjoyed torturing my family myself.


  1. To say I am impressed is an understatement!! What a fabulous selection of dishes you have made! And I don't think anyone in the cook off has done cocktails yet - or after dinner mints for that matter - very cool! Must say that that the Prawn & Grapefruit Cocktail entree made me gag. So bad, that it's good. The Rum Pudding dessert looks super impressive! Food styling 101, and I'm glad it tasted good too. Thank you so much for joining in.
    (PS. Loved the before and after Jellied Peas pics - Gold) x

  2. I would happily come to your place for a three course retro meal, maybe minus the prawn cocktail :)

  3. I'm really impressed with all the work you put into this. I don't like grapefruit or green peas, so those dishes left me a little ill, but the rest of them looked relly wonderful. I could go for a little rum pudding and a few after dinner mints right about now. Good job!

  4. The jellied peas are gold!! you have done the cook off proud, nice to meet you! :)


    I'll be back with a proper comment once I've digested this feast of South Australian retro deliciousness you've served us.

    Frankly, I'm overwhelmed.

    Too be continued...

  6. that's to (but hey, I think an extra 'o' is perfectly fitting for an extravagant menu like yours)

  7. AWESOME. This. Was. Unbelievable. It was a brilliant touch to start off with the stiff drink. As I read through your detailed descriptions, I realized why you made it. The pea gelatin salad thingy puzzled me. The Salmon tart was worrisome. I breathed a sigh of relief at the desserts. A great dessert always makes up for past transgressions.

  8. I think its fantastic and also that everybody ate it. Maybe the cocktail helped?? This must have been loads of work but it looks amazing

  9. just the drink for me please!...the peas tipped me over the so impressed with your efforts!!
    Allison x

  10. Thanks for the lovely comments, everyone. I have so enjoyed looking at everyone's blogs today, trying to figure out whether I'd be brave enough to eat these things!

  11. Brilliant to the max... I can see it now Darren calls Samantha at the last minute letting her know Larry and Louise will be arriving in half and hour for dinner and this would totally be the menu!.

    Awesome Tina x

  12. Wow! Congratulations on a sensational menu -what a courageous family you have! Cheers, Anne

  13. Thanks Anne - I wish I'd managed to squeeze in some pineapple though...

  14. I actually feel inspired to make the pea jelly. It was a bit spectacular I have to say. Bobbing for prawns in the sauce might have been the greatest challenge. What jolly fun you lot had. Great effort!

  15. I think a strong cocktail would be essential before a retro cook-off! But the jellied pea thingy looks magnificent!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  16. This has been the most fun link up - I'm more than impressed with your full meal. Salmon meringue pie does sound like the world's most unfortunate typo though! I still feel a bit queasy after eating my attempt.

  17. For some reason to do with incompetence and customized template, I can't thread my comments, sorry! But I do want to get everyone in, as I've loved checking out your blogs:

    @Donna - thank you! I've loved following all the blogs around with the Retro Cook Off - have found heaps of new people to follow. It was a fabulous idea.

    @A Treasured Past - You're welcome! I think grapefruit is only good for things like campari sorbet. NOT prawns.

    @Dana - ta muchly! The peas were surprisingly good, although I had my doubts! A lot of mint in things really helps with removing-the-taste-issues!

    @Pippa - thank you. So nice to discover your blog, a new one for me. I'll be back!

    @Kylie - lovely! Thank you and Donna for getting this together. I am still giggling about your cake, which is *definitely* going to appear at a meal one day soon.

    @Rebecca - stiff drink very necessary, thank you! I suspect one at the end is probably needed to, to guarantee amnesia.

    @Deb - thank you! Interestingly, most of it could be made ahead or was very fast at the last minute. Most time I wasted on reading through the recipes trying to find something everyone might actually eat!

    @Allison - two of those cocktails and you'd eat anything, Allison! Thank you!

    @Tina - you can see why everyone in those shows was knocking back cocktails - to forget what it to come! BTW I am in awe of your pie!

    @Annie - the jelly was a bugger to get out from the glass mould. I think I'd cheat with silicon next time! Thank you.

    @Liz - thank you. I keep thinking about radium glass when I look at the peas!

    @Lakota - I smile every time I think of 'salmon meringue' - you are so right. Love your Cod in Custard - foul in such a good way!

  18. I'll just add that if I'm ever in S.A. I am looking you up. Especially if a meal like this is on offer. I could try and exhaust my list of superlatives but that would take forever and I should be painting our bedroom...Once again thanks for joining us and for preparing such an amazing retro spread. You rock!

  19. Thanks Kylie - I'll make sure to keep an extra Salmon Meringue Tart in the freezer just for you!

  20. What a mammoth effort! Oh those jellied peas!

  21. Fabulous fabulous fabulous post. "It turned out like a cold soupy prawn cocktail with a vicious grapefruit aftertaste." Oh the mirth this end whilst reading of your exploits...I felt like I was there only my tastebuds were relieved of the experience. But perhaps I will pick up a bottle of Blue Nun next time I'm at the local....

  22. @Lea: Thank you! I *love* you mandarin salad.

    @Alex: thank you! Yesterday when it was 36 degrees I kept thinking how nice a Mateus rose on ice would be. I'm worried now...! ;-)

  23. @Lea: obviously I love you, but I think I mean "your"!!