On 26 January each year, we celebrate Australia Day. When I was young, the day was not an occasion. It was merely a day off. These days, it is celebrated with much more fervour, despite the debates over the past decade, about the appropriateness of celebrating our nation on the day Australia was invaded by white people. I have scant opinion on the choice of date for our national holiday, but feel it is important to remember the value of the contributions and knowledge of generations of Australians, from the very first Australians, to white man, to the post war migrants, to vibrant and creative new comers.
On a recent visit to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, I was quite chuffed with the beautiful wombat cookie cutters they make at the Clarke Brothers Tinsmiths and sell at the Soho Foundry. I had a ball spending the afternoon at Sovereign Hill (and could have easily spent longer if I’d had it), but you can buy them online. With that little cookie cutter, I decided to celebrate the story of Australia Day this year, through the ingredients bought to, and used by waves of Australians new and old, to make a wombat biscuit. The colour, and flecks through the dough should contribute to the wombat-like appearance of the biscuits.
For 40 000 years or more, aboriginal peoples have roamed this land, and knew the foodstuffs: nuts and berries that would sustain them in each season. Their knowledge of this land is unparalleled and far too often underestimated. I worry about these peoples losing the knowledge of the land, and I worry that their knowledge will not be respected, appreciated and valued as it is increasingly incorporated into Australian cuisine. Knowledge is king, and this knowledge should be respectfully attributed to the indigenous peoples of Australia, and continue to serve them in good stead through the development of their communities. Wattleseeds and Macadamia nuts are two of these valuable foodstuffs with high nutritional value, and great, uniquely Australian flavours.
In 1788 the first fleet arrived in Australia, bringing with them wheat seeds to grow and make flour. But the first settlers struggled to grow crops and the first year of settlement threatened famine. Reverend Richard Johnson cut two crops of wheat by 1790 and James Ruse grew an acre and a half wheat at Rose Hill, Parramatta and received a 30 acre grant of land in 1792 which he then cultivated to sell wheat on the government account. Wheat has been a mainstay of Australian agriculture ever since.
Although sugar refining began in Australia in 1839, at a mill in Canterbury, Sydney; the Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) that we know so well from our supermarket shelves today, began sugar refinery operations in 1855. The first successful sugar crop in Australia was grown in 1823-24 under the patronage of Sir Thomas Brisbane, at the Penal Settlement of Port Macquarie on the Hastings River. The Queensland sugar industry was developed with slave labour from the South West Pacific islands. Because the sugar growing system was founded on a Plantation system, it is not entirely surprising that it took quite some time to legislate against the use of slavery. From 1868 to 1912, eight State, and thirteen Commonwealth Acts were enacted to regulate, and finally prohibit the use of indentured labour and provide for repatriation. Sugar growing has continued in far north Queensland as a mainstay of the agricultural landscape.
In the last ten years, a select number of third and fourth generation farmers have taken to growing cocoa, practising farming techniques that minimise the impact on the environment. Daintree Estates cocoa is a cooperative enterprise, all co-op shareholders enjoy the value-adding opportunities of Daintree Cocoa’s total supply chain structure, and the local businesses and communities of Mossman and surrounding regional towns. The cocoa is grown, fermented and made into the highest quality, single-origin chocolate in Mossman. They use raw sugar from the local Mossman Central Mill and Australian dairy ingredients in their chocolates. The milk chocolate has a lovely caramel and fruit flavour. The dark chocolate has the perfect amount of bitterness, and matches perfectly with wattleseeds that I’ll be using in these biscuits.
After World War Two, migration from Greece and Italy to Australia exploded. The post war migrants bought with them fantastic food traditions that were not initially valued by Australians who had come before. They bought with them tomatoes, basil, oregano, olive oil, salami, wine and other produce and food knowledge. Without them, it would also be inordinately difficult to get Italy’s vanilla flavoured liqeuer, Galliano in Australia. Vanilla Galliano will make the perfect addition to these biscuits.
Although other wars have seen waves of migration to Australia from other parts of the world, including South East Asia, there are waves of new Australians that make up the diversity of this nation and bring with them new ideas and new prospects. George Gonthiers grew up in the Seychelles where his grandfather grew vanilla. He came to Australia 20 years ago and bought a plot of land in the Daintree Rainforest. Vanilla thrives in the rainforest and George wanted to prove the authorities wrong, showing them that commercially viable vanilla could be grown in Australia of the highest possible quality. He’s succeeded. Vanilla production is a labour intensive enterprise, so Australian products cannot compete on price, but they can on quality. The Daintree Vanilla beans have a very high quantity of seeds, and an incomparable richness of flavour.
Makes about 24
|1||vanilla bean, seeds only|
|90||grams||dark chocolate, grated|
Beat the butter and sugars till light and fluffy.
Add the macadamia butter, vanilla seeds (use the pod for another purpose like infusing milk or store it a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar), wattleseeds, Galliano and egg. Mix to combine.
Sift over the flours and combine. Mix through the grated chocolate and bring the dough together in a ball, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 170oC.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Working in batches, roll the dough out till it’s 3-4 millimetres thick and cut into wombats. Transfer to a lined baking tray and bake for 10 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack.