I really missed Random Recipes in September as Dom from Belleau Kitchen took a mini break. He obviously spent that time concocting one of his more difficult RRs for us. This time, the theme is ‘local ingredient’. That might seem easy but it can be a little tricky. Is local, ‘Must be from the neighbourhood’? Cue Wild Weed Salad and a possible visit to emergency. Is local, ‘The food stuff everyone associates with your neck of the woods even though it doesn’t grow nearby’? Cue, Pineapple Surprise. Is local, ‘Made locally but associated with another continent?’ Cue, grilled haloumi, made in the next suburb. Is local, ‘The thing you have in your freezer that you need to use up?’ Cue Goat Curry and commit to not buying so much goat from the local Indian grocer next time. What is ‘local’? I was clearly over thinking it. But I wanted my dish to be unique and show others what Australians are really made of.
Then, there was a sign. I was reading through the paper on my flight to Canberra and spotted a small article about a National Icon celebrating its 90th birthday on October 25th. Vegemite. You either love it or you hate it. I wouldn’t say it polarises the nation as most of us love it but it is fair to say that it’s an acquired taste. In the same way that those who have grown up with haggis or stinky tofu think nothing of having it as a staple in the fridge, those of us who grew up on Vegemite think nothing of slathering it on our hot buttered toast in the mornings. For that is truly how it is best served.
An Acquired Taste
Vegemite is a concentrated yeast extract that was reputedly a by-product of the brewing industry (though I can find no reference to this on the Vegemite website). It’s vegan friendly and full of Vitamin B and folate. And salt. We may say the soup’s too salty or complain about an over salted risotto yet, Aussies can handle Vegemite which is essentially a spoonful of spreadable salt. Salt is the second ingredient on the label so there’s no denying it’s an acquired taste. Oh, and it’s black. For a while, Vegemite was known as Parwill – ‘If Marmite…Parwill’ but thankfully they came to their senses and re-named it Vegemite. The old song goes ‘It puts a rose in every cheek’. Though sadly no longer Australian owned, it is still Australian made and worth celebrating as a distinct and local ingredient.
Despite being in almost everyone’s cupboard across the land, there are surprisingly few recipes that use Vegemite. (Did I mention that it’s black and salty?) There is one well known dish – Cheese and Vegemite Scrolls or pull aparts. They’re very popular in kids’ lunch boxes, with many recipes on the Internet. In the spirit of Random Recipes though, I looked through my cookbooks for a recipe or one I could at least adapt. I did find one for coffee scrolls and another for Chelsea buns but in the end, the most authentic was actually the Savoury Scone Ring recipe in the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union Cookery Book – 1975 reprint. They have chosen to adorn the cover with a picture of tinned apricots with maraschino cherries. This interesting little book has a forward from Martha Gardener, a list of ingredients converted to the new fangled metric system and a list of local Op Shops and Boy’s and Girl’s Homes at the back (so watch out kids or your parents may send you there). Very eclectic. The original recipe called for bacon which I omitted and replaced with Vegemite. I amped up the ‘local’ factor by using Pepe Saya cultured butter that I won in a recent competition run by Liz from Bizzy Lizzy Cooks. This isn’t a yeast bread but a simple scone dough so it’s something you can whip up quickly to impress your overseas visitors or make with the kids.
- 3 cups self-raising flour
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp extra butter
- 1 – 2 tbsp Vegemite*
- I cup strong tasty cheese, grated (I used Mersey Valley)
- 1 shallot (spring onion) diced
- sesame seeds for decoration
- Sift flour and salt into a bowl and rub 3 tablespoons of butter into flour until well combined
- Add milk to flour and mix by hand until combined
- Turn sticky dough out onto floured board and knead gently until a soft dough is formed (remember, this is a scone dough, not bread dough)
- Roll dough into a rectangle, a few centimetres thick.
- Combine 1 tablespoon of butter and Vegemite and spread over dough. You may add more Vegemite if you like to slather it on.
- Sprinkle surface evenly with chopped shallots and grated cheese
- Roll long edge of dough to form a long cylinder
- Curl dough around into a spiral and place on baking sheet
- Snip top of scroll with scissors at regular intervals, paint top with milk (or an egg wash) and scatter sesame seeds on top
- Bake in oven preheated to 230c for 15 – 20 minutes until browned
- Serve whilst warm with unsalted butter
* In my opinion, there is of course, no substitute for Vegemite. Others may beg to differ and try to substitute Marmite, Promite or even tomato chutney but they will not be on my Christmas list
Click on this link to watch the original ‘Happy Little Vegemites’ ad. Not only will you get to hear the song but there are a few recipe tips in there too. Note that the Vegemite label remains almost unchanged 60 years after the commercial was made. I also suggest visiting the Vegemite website as they have lots of interesting information and pictures of the Taste of a Nation. Happy Birthday Vegemite.