With foodie focus on Tasmania during the screening of MasterChef Australia’s episodes on TEN this week, mention has been made not only of Tasmania’s marvelous food and produce (Sunday) but also an amazing early Australian Cookbook.

Written by Edward Abbott, ‘The English And Australian Cookery Book’ was a standard (although apparently quirky one) for its time, with illustrations, and unusually … advertising! A copy is held in the collection of the Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office (TAHO) – at the Allport Library & Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, and as an online scanned copy. It is certainly significant in Australia’s culinary history.

Acknowledged as Australia’s first cookbook, it was written in 1864 by Edward Abbott, a Hobart landowner, newspaper publisher, member of the Tasmanian Parliament and ‘aristologist’. Edward Albert was born in Sydney but moved as a young boy with his father who had taken a posting in Hobart Town in February 1815, when Edward senior took up the post of deputy-judge-advocate. The family prospered and in 1818 young Edward became clerk to his father. He continued to work in the Lieutenant Governor’s Court until 1824, then became a pastoralist, having received land grants of 1100 acres (445 ha) on the Derwent River in 1823. In 1828 he was made a justice of the peace.

Later, he exhausted his fortune in his relentless pursuit of a claim against the government over the ownership of 210 acres (85 ha) of land known as the Launceston swamp. Winning in the end, he was awarded a settlement which was less than he had anticipated. The publication of his landmark publication, The English and Australian Cookery Book. Cookery for the Many, as Well as for the “Upper Ten Thousand” (London, 1864), was probably an attempt to recover his fortunes.
Although published pseudonymously, by ‘an Australian Aristologist’, the book was known to be Abbott’s work. It is a collection of gastronomic miscellany of ‘the modern cookery of the mother country and the colonies’, and of Continental and Hebrew cookery. Recipes included ‘Roast Beef of Old England’, ‘kangaroo steamer’ and ‘slippery bob’ — a dish of battered kangaroo brains fried in emu fat!
In scope and style the book was somewhat idiosyncratic, as in its use of the arcane expression ‘aristology’ (coined by Thomas Walker in London in 1835 to describe the art of dining). It also had (for its time) slightly edgy commentary and anecdotes.

Abbott died on 4 April 1869 at Bellerive and was buried in old St Mark’s Anglican chapel where an impressive monument was erected.

More information? The book was featured in an episode of ABC’s “The Collectors” which is produced in Hobart.

Edward Abbott and a page from "The English and Australian Cookbook" image credit: National Library of Australia (Tasmania)

Information credits: Treloars Auctions, National Library of Australia. Allport Library Collection.

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