The Pub with no Beer

XXXX Beer Bottles, Queensland.

For my sins I lived in Brisbane, capital of the Northern State of Queensland, during the 1970s, producing over 40 radio plays for the ABC during the two years I was there, including a play (‘Corruption in the Palace of Justice’, by Italian Ugo Betti) that ran over two hours and was in full stereo. But the important thing in Brisbane was not radio drama: it was the beer, known as 4X, brewed at the Castlemaine and Perkins Brewery.
          I drove into the bottle shop there one Friday afternoon. The bloke on duty looked crestfallen. “No beer, mate,” he said. ‘They’ve had a strike at the brewery. Beer’s off’.
          ‘No beer?’ I cried. ‘Jesus, that’s tough.’
          ‘Sorry, mate. There’s nuthin’ I can do. All out.’
          ‘Ah, bugger it,’ I said, and prepared to drive away.
          ‘Of course I can let you have some of that Southern Beer,’ he called after me. ‘Victoria Bitter, stuff like that. We’ve got plenty of that.’

The Kentucky Phone

Kentucky Chicken Phone

Some of the most unusual and amusing digital accessories in the world are coming from the Japanese arm of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fast-food chain already unveiled a fried-chicken keyboard, computer mouse and USB drive as part of a Twitter promotion and giveaway. KFC Japan looked upon its mighty works and said, “Yes, this is good, but we can do better.” And then it introduced a fried-chicken iPhone case. I think the laughing Colonel is saying “Oh no, she’s actually using the Chicken Phone! This is too much! Talking on it! Wait until she starts trying to eat it!!”

[From: the Wonderful Amanda Kooser at]

Making Marmalade

seville-2Citrus fruit: front left, a Tahitian lime; front right, a Seville Orange; behind that a medium-sized grapefruit and a lemon. Emboldened by a successful sortie into Cumquat Marmalade making, my wife Lyn and I attempted a batch of Seville Orange Marmalade to Stephanie Alexander’s recipe. It worked beautifully, the pectin-heavy pith ensuring a rough, chunky jam of the type known as ‘Oxford Marmalade’, made in Oxford, England, by Frank Cooper, to his wife’s 1874 recipe. The marmalade was especially popular at Oxford University, hence the name. It was taken to Antarctica on Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole.

In Arthur Ransome’s children’s book Missee Lee, Miss Lee, the leader of the Chinese pirates, had been educated at Cambridge University but learned to enjoy Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade.

As she says ‘We always eat Oxford marmalade at Cambridge. Better scholars, better professors at Cambridge but better marmalade at Oxford.’

seville-1-spoonIt’s made from Seville oranges, a large, tart fruit from Spain. Some people call them ‘bitter oranges’ or ‘sour oranges’.

The Internet says that ‘A thousand or so years ago, traders brought Chinese bitter oranges to Iberia and the Mediterranean basin. By the 12th century, Spaniards in the area around Seville were actively cultivating tart oranges. For several centuries, these oranges were the only type of orange being grown in Europe. Sweeter oranges were developed long after this orange became established in Spain… [they] make the perfect base for marmalade.

Stew with Dumplings


First you cook your stew, then place dumplings on top, then grill them. It takes about ten years to get it right. Delicious! All my wife Lyn’s work! I’m a lucky boy!

More on quinces:

“The bright yellow quince is one of our favourite autumn fruits – not only because their perfume will scent a room for weeks but also because of the incredible transformation they undergo during cooking. Virtually rock hard and inedible when ripe, they develop a deep ruby-red colour with an intense, glorious flavour as a result of poaching.” It’s astonishing how few people cook them. Check this simple recipe:
Hint: a potato peeler is useful, as is a cleaver in place of a knife. Raw, they are rock-hard. And poach them very gently for five hours to develop a deep colour and flavour.



Quinces are in season in Australia now, so Lyn poached some quinces yesterday: quinces, sugar, water, vanilla, cinnamon: cover and stew in a low oven for five hours. They turn a lovely burnt orange colour. Left two photos courtesy Julie Goodwin’s blog.


Breakfast Egg

Breakfast Egg. Click on the image to see a larger, sharper image; use your browser’s “Back” or “Return” key to return here. Photo copyright © John Tranter, 2013.
Breakfast Egg. Click on the image to see a larger, sharper image; use your browser’s “Back” or “Return” key to return here. Photo copyright © John Tranter, 2013.

The Plumcot

l to r: My cousin Mary Peters, and a younger me, John Tranter, in the apricot tree, Kiora, Christmas 1955
l to r: My cousin Mary Peters, and a younger me, John Tranter, in the apricot tree, Kiora, Christmas 1955

We had a huge old apricot tree in our backyard that fruited generously. It was fun to climb, too.

I remember my mother telling me when I was still a child that my grandfather (or grand-uncle) was a great botanist, and that he had grown a citrus tree that had oranges on one branch, lemons on another and grapefruit on a third. That was a simple grafting trick, and lots of home gardeners had tried it over the centuries. But he also developed a plum-apricot cross he called a “plumcot”. I realised decades later that he had probably been influenced by plant breeder Luther Burbank, an American who died in 1926. He had been the first person to successfully cross plums with apricots in the late 19th century, releasing a handful of half-plum, half-apricot hybrids which he called plumcots.

Three organic apricots, two large red plumcots, photo by John Tranter
Three organic apricots, two large red plumcots, photo by John Tranter

Some sixty years passed without my ever seeing a plumcot until early in 2013, when I bought some deep red-coloured apricots (with yellow flesh) from fruiterer in Rozelle in Sydney. At least they looked like red apricots; the flavour, though, was intense, scented and exquisite, with a hint of sweet plum. Sure enough, they were plumcots (see photo).

A little searching on the Internet led me to Chip Brantley’s article in Slate magazine. He says:

Floyd Zaiger [now, in 2013, in his late eighties, born in Nebraska, raised in Iowa, resident in Modesto CA] and his breeding company, Zaiger Genetics, used Burbank’s work as a foundation for much of their own experimentation with plum-apricot hybrids. In the 1980s, they released two 50-50 plumcot varieties, Plum Parfait and Flavorella. But plumcots suffered from a bad reputation among stone-fruit growers for being tough to grow, harvest, and ship, and while Plum Parfait and Flavorella were much tastier than some of the older plumcots, they were still temperamental.

Floyd Zaiger
Floyd Zaiger

Also, as a rule, the term “plumcot” referred only to half-plum, half-apricot hybrids. So as the Zaigers began backcrossing plumcots with plums to create more complex hybrids (with varying ratios of plum to apricot), they wanted to market them with a different name — one that wouldn’t be tarnished by the notoriety of plumcots. Zaiger thus trademarked the name pluot (pronounced plew-ott) in 1990. (They renewed the trademark in 2007.)

As the Zaigers have continued to cross and backcross their increasingly complex hybrids, they’ve released dozens of pluots, each with a slightly different lineage. While it’s surely true that one variety’s family tree shakes out around 75 percent plum to 25 percent apricot (or even 60 percent and 40 percent), it’s not correct to say that all pluots are three-quarters plum and one-quarter apricot (or three-fifths and two-fifths). Best just to say that pluots are mostly plum and leave it at that.

I read in the Huffington Post that “Zaiger and his staff make repeated and complex crosses in successive generations to make a bridge between two species. Their low-tech methods are painstaking and methodical. He collects pollen with an eye shadow brush from a tree chosen for its flavor, then brushes it on the flower pistil of another tree chosen for its durability or resistance to disease. Each of the 150,000 crosses currently in the orchard has a number to trace its lineage back to its great-great-grandparents or longer.”

To my eye (at least in photographs) pluots look like plums (see photo above, of a knife cutting a Plout), with variegated colour and glossy skins. My plumcots from Rozelle look like apricots with dull red skins. They cost more than your plain old apricot, but the taste is, as they say, “redolent”. Redolent of what, you might ask. Redolent of heaven, in my book.

Read all about it on Wikipedia here.

Poached peaches

January is mid-summer in Australia, the season of shark attacks, murderous heat and bushfires. It’s also stone fruit time in the fruit shops. Recently Lyn made a dessert of white peaches with sugar and lemon zest poached in Prosecco with added raspberries. Let’s see what Wikipedia says about the wine:

Poached peaches and Prosecco ready to cook
Poached peaches and Prosecco ready to cook

Prosecco is an Italian white wine — generally a Dry or Extra Dry sparkling wine — normally made from Glera (‘Prosecco’) grapes. DOC prosecco is produced in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy […] Prosecco is known as the main ingredient of the Bellini cocktail and has more recently become popular as a less expensive substitute for Champagne. […] Compared to other sparkling wines, Prosecco is low in alcohol, about 11 to 12 percent by volume. The flavor of Prosecco has been described as intensely aromatic and crisp, bringing to mind yellow apple, pear, white peach and apricot.
Poached peaches and raspberries
With raspberries added

Unlike Champagne, appreciated for its rich taste and complex secondary aromas, most Prosecco variants have intense primary aromas and are meant to taste fresh, light and comparatively simple… Most commonly Prosecco is served unmixed, but it also appears in several mixed drinks. It was the original main ingredient in the Bellini cocktail and in the Spritz cocktail, and it can also replace Champagne in other cocktails such as the Mimosa. (Wikipedia)


The food in Newtown, Sydney

Newtown, Sydney, 2012, photo (c) John Tranter
Newtown, Sydney, 2012, photo (c) John Tranter

I spent an hour wandering around King Street in Newtown, Sydney, today, with my camera. I bought a pastizzi, a Maltese pastry with filling, for two dollars. I used to buy them from the original cook in Crown Street in 1965 for two and sixpence, a roughly equivalent amount. The contemporary Newtown versions have a slightly tougher pastry, or maybe that’s my older teeth. And I called in to an Indian grocery store I know of for some rice flour and some dhal flour, to attempt a version of dosai rice pancakes (thosai in India, dosa in South-east Asia, and dosai in Singapore where my wife Lyn and I had a masala dosai for breakfast with an old friend, poet and scholar Edwin Thumboo, recently.) (Lyn, a good cook, laughs at my foolish hopes.) The ‘masala’ refers to a filling of spiced potato which I already know how to make from a recipe, also from the 1960s, by Sydney cook Doris Ady, though she calls it “Potato curry with green peas”. The only spice used is turmeric, and a touch of garam masala at the end. (“Garam masala” = mixed pungent spices, highly flavoured but mild).

Remind you of anyone?

birds-rollersBABIES of a bird species called the Eurasian roller vomit a foul-smelling orange liquid as a defence mechanism against predators, biologists have discovered. Offspring of the bright-blue jackdaw-sized bird – Latin name Coracias garrulus – throw up the repugnant fluid when they are frightened in their nests, according to a paper appearing in the journal Biology Letters.

Covered in vomit, the nestlings not surprisingly become less attractive as a snack, the team says. But the smell also alerts parents, returning to the nest, that a threatening incident has happened in their absence, they believe.

Previous research has found that birds have a surprisingly wide range of defensive reactions. For instance, the northern fulmar (Fulmaris glacialis) yawks up stomach oils against intruders that makes them lose their waterproof coating. And the common eider (Somateria mollissima) and northern shoveler (Anas acuta) have the ability to spray faeces on their eggs to deter mammal egg-thieves. (From the Brisbane «Courier-Mail»)

Farce Double

Harry Mathews
Harry Mathews

My discussion of the recipe for “Fegato a la Veneziana” has stirred up some interest. But for a recipe to end all recipes, Oulipo member and talented American-born writer Harry Mathews has a recipe that will make your eyeballs bulge in disbelief: «Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)».

It is part of his collection «The Way Home» which can be ordered from

Here is a brief taste of Mr Mathews’ baroque and heroic recipe:

Marinate the lamb in a mixture of 2 qts of white wine, 2 qts of olive oil, the juice of 16 lemons, salt, pepper, 16 crushed garlic cloves, 10 coarsely chopped yellow onions, basil, rosemary, melilot, ginger, allspice, and a handful of juniper berries. The juniper adds a pungent, authentic note. In Auvergne, shepherds pick the berries in late summer when they drive their flocks from the mountain pastures. They deposit the berries in La Tour Lambert, where they are pickled through the winter in cider brandy. The preparation is worth making, but demands foresight.

If no bowl is capacious enough for the lamb and its marinade, use a washtub. Without a tub, you must improvise. Friends of mine in Paris resort to their bidet; Americans may have to fall back on the kitchen sink, which is what I did the first time I made farce double. In La Tour Lambert, most houses have stone marinating troughs. Less favored citizens use the municipal troughs in the entrance of a cave in the hillside, just off the main square.

The lamb will have marinated satisfactorily in 5 or 6 days.

Allow yourself 3 hours for the stuffings. The fish balls or quenelles that are their main ingredient can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated until an hour before use.

Continue reading “Farce Double”

Fegato a la Veneziana

In Australian: Lamb’s fry (lamb’s liver) with onion and polenta. In Lyn’s version for dinner recently, no polenta, and the lamb’s fry was accompanied by onions and mushroom and mashed potato. An odd but workable mix.

Liver is offal, and offal is also called, especially in the United States, ‘variety meats’ or ‘organ meats’, according to the useful Wikipedia. Sounds nicer, doesn’t it? It has always been inexpensive (read ‘cheap’) and is so unfashionable now that a half kilo of lamb’s fry, one pound weight, costs only a couple of dollars from Glenfield Butchers in Glebe, Sydney. Good quality lamb cutlets can cost up to $42 per kilo, or ten times as much. Liver is high in iron.

Lyn and I recalled that while working in London in 1966 we (separately) were given a ‘luncheon voucher’ every day, a green, black and white slip of printed paper, a hangover from the food rationing of the war years. Worth five shillings and sixpence, a fiftieth of my weekly wage, it bought you a cup of tea and a dish of lamb’s fry and bacon, a filling lunch, at the local café.
Luncheon Vouchers
The vouchers were famously used as a form of payment in Cynthia Payne’s brothel in London during the 1970s. (Wikipedia) If only I had known!

I was in Venice for a month or so back in 1984 – did I have Fegato? I can’t remember. The bottled wine I bought I can remember: the light red, slightly sweet vino dei fragoli, ‘strawberry wine’, so called because it’s made from ‘strawberry’ grapes, which ripen unevenly and need to be plucked from the bunch one by one, leaving the green grapes behind. Or so my Sydney barber Sam Volpe says. That’s why there is no commercially available version of the wine, he opines: it is usually made from the grapes grown in someone’s backyard, and to obtain it outside the Veneto, you need to have some Italian friends who know an Italian neighbour who makes it. Ask around.

Cassoulet for Dinner

Lyn Tranter, Carcassonne, 1967
Lyn, 1967

For dinner a few weeks ago Lyn cooked a modified (less filling) version of cassoulet, a stew of sausages, pork, duck, and haricot beans. The dish comes from the South-west of France, they say, especially from Carcassonne, Toulouse or Castelnaudary (the soi-disant ‘Capital of Cassoulet’).

It takes most of the day to cook. Like ‘casserole’ (a related word) or ‘tagine’, the word describes both the pot and the meal that cooks in it.
Continue reading “Cassoulet for Dinner”