For thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians lived off of the plants and animals native to Australia: Kangaroo, wallaby, emu, lizards and snakes were hunted for their meat, and local nuts, fruits and honeys were widely available. But for the British immigrants, who landed in Botany Bay in 1788 to form a penal colony, these foods were foreign and barbaric. The British saw the natives and their diet as primitive , and quickly set about introducing European crops and animals to which their palette was more accustomed. They imported sheep and cattle (which later gave rise to the booming Australian beef industry), rabbit and deer for hunting, flour for bread, and later, sugar. But the process of importing and introducing new foods was a long, arduous and expensive one. In the meantime, the colonists lived on rations brought with them from England. This post from The Old Foodie lists all the rations provided to each free colonist (notice that each one is given a weekly allotment of not only staples, like bread and meat, but also stranger things like raisins, vinegar, and mustard).
The few native ingredients that the colonists did use were those which could be most easily adapted to traditional British recipes. Bush berries and even some kinds of cacti were made into jam for jam tarts, and shark was substituted for salmon in baked fish dishes. As the number of cattle grew, the price of beef and dairy products fell, allowing the lower classes to incorporate them into their diet.
By the late 1800s, Australian cuisine had begun to establish itself. New dishes, generally in the British tradition but invented in Australia, became popular, such as Carpetbag Steak (also sometimes called Pocket Steak). Instead of trying to mask local foods or adapt them to be more like their British counterparts, tropical ingredients like coconut, macadamia nut and kiwi became dominant flavors that defined the new Australian cuisine.
For more information on Australia’s culinary history, visit the Cambridge World History of Food, the Food Timeline, and The Old Foodie. To read about the later impact of Asian immigrants and their food on Australia’s cuisine, visit ABC TV’s The Cook and the Chef.
Carpetbag Steak & Mushrooms with Mustard Butter from Cuisine:
4 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leafed parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 x 150g eye fillet of beef steaks cut from the middle of the fillet, all fat and sinew removed
12 fresh oysters
12 rashers rindless streaky bacon
12 Portobello mushrooms, stalk cut flush with the cap
olive oil for brushing
6 x 2cm-thick slices French bread, toastedWhip the butter until pale and fluffy, whip in the mustard and parsley, taste and season. Refrigerate until needed.
Cut a cavity in the side of each steak along its equator and push 2 oysters inside each. Wrap a rasher of bacon around the equator of each steak and pin it in place with a toothpick.
Brush the steaks and the mushrooms with olive oil, season well and barbecue until the steaks are medium and
the oysters hot (around 4 minutes each side), and the mushrooms are tender.
Place each steak on a croûton, top with a spoonful of mustard butter and serve two mushrooms alongside.
Good with a green salad.