Marching onwards

View of Rouse Hill House

View across the carriage loop at Rouse Hill House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Here at the Cook and the Curator we’re bidding a fond farewell to Eat Your History: a shared table exhibition which closed on Sunday after six fantastic months at the Museum of Sydney. We’re also gearing up for another busy series of posts, as we visit Rouse Hill House and Farm, welcome in Celestial City: Sydney’s Chinese story and bake an Easter treat.

It was a strange sensation as Jacqui and I walked around the exhibition after giving our last floor talk on Sunday. An exhibition is after all a major undertaking, and Eat Your History: a shared table has been a big part of our working lives for over two years now. As I write this the individual exhibits are already dismantled, the wall panels all taken down, and the many objects are being prepared to head back to the houses or lending institutions. You can just make out the remains of the letters from the curio wall:

Eat your history ghost letters

The last traces of Eat your history: a shared table, the vestige of the curio wall. Photo Scott Hill © Sydney Living Museums

We’re going to be bringing a large part of the Eat Your History exhibition on-line, from the fascinating contents of the curio wall to the videos of Jacqui making calves foot jelly and June Wallace baking the “Meroogal sponge cake”. And yes, maybe the blooper reel.

Celestial City

But it never stops down at the Museum of Sydney, and within a week Celestial City: Sydney’s Chinese Story will be taking shape, to open on March 29th. We’ll be exploring aspects of this new exhibition on the blog, especially the story of Quong Tart and his famed Tearooms, a recipe for “Quong Tart scones” and of course Chinese market gardens. You may already have seen the market garden project in the MOS forecourt, created for Celestial City.

Quong Tart and Dr On Lee, on the deck of the Australian by Kerry and Co., Sydney , 1898

Quong Tart [in robes to left] and Dr On Lee, on the deck of the Australian by Kerry and Co., Sydney , 1898. Tart McEvoy papers, Society of Australian Genealogists LON13_CEL_0093

Chinese garden project at the Museum of Sydney

Chinese garden project at the Museum of Sydney. Photo Scott Hill © Sydney Living Museums

Welcome to Rouse Hill House & Farm

We’re also introducing Rouse Hill House and Farm, Sydney Living Museum’s largest property and one of the country’s most unique and complex house museums – it’s also where I spend most of my time as curator. Its an extraordinary property, complex and layered with evidence of 6 generations of the Rouse and Terry families in its landscape, gardens, Georgian house and precious outbuildings. If you visited Eat Your History; a shared table you’ll remember the Rouse family cookbooks including the wonderful “beaten up Beeton”. We’ll meet the cows (and probably end up chasing them) and chickens, take tea in the summerhouse, leave behind the ‘Francaise’ as we set the table in a ‘wholly new style’, decide whether we bake or roast,  and look at archeological remains from the earliest European occupancy on the site. And as always, there’ll be plenty of recipes to try along the way.

  • Alison

    Jacqui I found this post very interesting not least of all because I had never heard of blancmange being set with gelatine. I’ve always made it, as my mother did, with cornflour so the mould would set without refrigeration. Although I now know that both Beeton and Acton used isinglass it still seems that the ladies of Rouse Hill were one step ahead of the technology.

  • The Cook

    Hi Alison, thanks for your query – blancmange is one of those fascinating dishes that has had many incarnations over time so its caused me to consult an array of recipes and cookbooks to track its evolution! My understanding is that it originated as a middle eastern style almond milk pudding, sometimes with rice which would probably be closer to what the English call a flummery. Probably responding to a more northen European dairy influence, blancmange turned into a milk pudding set with isinglass, as you note, in the C19th. The emergence of commercial gelatine in the mid-1900s saw it taking the place of isinglass in many recipes. The cornflour version seems to have become common in the early-mid C20th although the Golden Wattle and Goulburn cookery books from the 1930s call for gelatine. My 1960s Commonsense Cookery book (and indeed the 2014 centenary edition) uses boiled milk and cornflour and I suspect the original 1914 edition may too. I’m wondering if this is aligned with the prolific number of companies advertising corn flour in Australian cookbooks from the 1890s onwards – a burgeoning local industry perhaps? It’s not an ingredient you see in British C19th cookery texts. Just a thought…

    Interestingly the Commonsense cookery books and instructs that you stand the mould in a shallow basin of cold water until it sets – just as Nina did using their well at Rouse Hill.

    And as Eliza Acton point out – pink or strawberry blancmange is of course an arguement in terms as it is no longer white. She suggests it should instead be called a moulded strawberry cream or bavaroise, which we would make these days, with gelatine.

    Do you have fond memories of blancmange Alison – and is it a dish you’d make for your own family now? Cheers, Jacqui