Amongst the collections provenanced to Meroogal is a very simple manuscript recipe titled ‘Bobs Pudding’. Its obvious restraint makes it intriguing, being devoid of butter, sugar or eggs, ingredients that the kitchen at Meroogal would always have had on hand. In this way it strikes me as being an ‘austerity’ pudding, suited to times or circumstances when access to fresh provisions is limited. It is quite unlike the other recipes in the family collection.
1 pint flour
½ [ditto] hot water
1 tablespoon dripping
1 teaspoon soda
Melt dripping soda & hot water together add fruit next morning boil 2 hours
A bit of guess-work
The lack of structure and grammar in the method renders it a tricky recipe to recreate – for example fruit is mentioned in the making process but not specified in the ingredients list, so I researched other boiled fruit puddings to establish how much might have been suitable for the quantity of other ingredients. Logic told me that the fruit should be soaked overnight with the dripping and soda, ie full stop after ‘add fruit’ rather than ‘add fruit next morning’. Similarly, there was no indication of whether it should be cooked in a cloth or pudding bowl – I opted for the latter. My first attempt was a disaster – very dry and crumbly, and rather unsightly, but with a couple of small adjustments (like using butter instead of dripping) my second try managed to produce a surprisingly pleasant pudding – much improved with the addition of warm custard!
Who is Bob?
The recipe, obviously torn from a small ledger book, was amongst the family papers of June Wallace, who inherited Meroogal in the 1970s. Many of the family recipes from Meroogal are attributed to a family member or friend, usually the author or person who created or regularly made the dish. It is difficult to attribute this recipe to a particular ‘Bob’ but its ingredients indicate that it might have been a wartime alternative to the richer plum puddings that would be made at Christmas time. There is a very significant Bob in the Meroogal family history whose story seems fitting to tell on Anzac Day. Robert James Macgregor Barnet (1895 -1916) was June’s cousin, and nephew and great-nephew to the Macgregor and Thorburn families respectively.
An Australian soldier
Like many young men of his generation, Robert Barnet enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (the army) in 1916, stating his occupation as a surveyor’s assistant. He disembarked at Marseilles in May the same year, and died only three months later, aged 21, after being wounded accidentally in the field. He was buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near Poperinge in Belgium. His name appears on the Illawarra Roll of Honour, which acknowledges ‘the supreme sacrifice paid in war’ in the region. From the extensive list of those from the Illawarra who lost their lives during World War 1, grief and loss of loved ones were shared across the district and few would have been spared the impact that this had on a small community. A framed photograph of Bob hangs on the wall in the sitting room at Meroogal, still dear to the family-members’ hearts and memories, and never forgotten.
Whether this pudding recipe was Bob’s, or one he himself enjoyed we can’t establish, but certainly the notion of an austerity pudding is fitting as a memorial to those who endured the tough times of loss during the war years.
A memento of childhood
Another pudding that is attributed to Bob Barnet is in the form of a hand-made gift card that Bob and his brother Don made for their grandfather, in the early 1900s. Along with photographs of Bob, some of them self-portraits taken with a time-delay on his camera, this naive childhood artwork is an endearing memento of his youth and a life lost at war.