The egg plant, or aubergine, does so exceedingly well, and can be so highly recommended, that one may well wonder why it is never seen. It is a native of Africa and tropical America, and is very popular both in the East and West Indies. It is cultivated also a great deal in the United States, where it is greatly appreciated for culinary use. In aubergines farcies, a favourite dish, they are cut in halves, the centres chopped and put back into the skins with oil, etc. They are then sprinkled with breadcrumbs, and browned. It is easily grown, and it seems unaccountable why it should be passed over.
The kohl rabi, or turnip-rooted cabbage, is another nutritious vegetable which has inexplicably never been received into public favour. Its delicate flavour should ensure for it a well-established position with those who are fond of good vegetables, as it is more tender and more savoury than either turnip or cabbage, and is not at all unlike cauliflower in taste. For table purposes it should be only about two-thirds grown, for if allowed to go to full size the outside skin becomes tough and hard. It is another of those vegetables which are so highly prized on the Continent, and it is already an acknowledged favourite in America. It does well in all the cooler localities, and gives a larger yield than turnips.
The salsify, or "vegetable oyster," is a typical example of a most unaccountably slighted vegetable with us, and yet it is highly appreciated on the Continent and in the United States. The root is long and tapering, becoming fleshy and tender by cultivation, and with a whitish, milky-like juice. It has a rich flavour, not at all unlike that of cooked oysters, whence it derives its name. In preparing salsify for table the darkish outside skin requires to be lightly scraped off, and then it should be steeped for a while in cold water so as to remove any slight bitterness it may possess. Like parsnips, when cooked it requires to be boiled slowly, in the smallest possible quantity of water, until it is almost ready to melt. If boiled fast, in abundance of water, the flavour of both parsnips and salsify is to a great extent dispersed and lost beyond recall. One of the most approved methods of cooking salsify roots is to slowly boil them to tenderness in the smallest possible quantity of milk, and then to mash and fry them in butter, with salt and pepper. Cold boiled salsify, with the addition of some chopped herbs, tarragon vinegar, and salad oil, makes an exceedingly good salad. The salsify does well in all the cooler regions, and, moreover, it is easily grown.
This Spanish plant is very similar to salsify, and requires the same kind of treatment; but, being a stronger grower, requires more room in its culture. It may be served in soups or treated like salsify. The outside leaves should be removed before the vegetable is cooked. The blanched leaves also are highly esteemed on the Continent, and are used for salad purposes. It grows well in all the cooler parts of Australia, and might certainly be introduced for the public benefit.
Sea kale is one of those vegetables which are brought to perfection in England, so much so that Careme, that mighty chef, when he came across them in London went into ecstasies. He described them as resembling branches of celery, which should be served like asparagus, with butter sauce, after 20 minutes' boiling. In some respects this is verily the most delicious of all vegetables, and as it grows well here it should be largely cultivated, yet it is almost unknown. It is fit to rank with, if not precede, asparagus, and as a matter of fact it is far more profitable than the latter, so that market gardeners would have something to gain by its introduction. Like the cabbage, it was originally a maritime plant, and has been brought to its present state of perfection by cultivation. It requires to be thoroughly blanched by exclusion from light, similarly to celery, for when coloured at all it possesses an acrid taste. Of the many ways of sending it to table, one of the best is to boil it and serve it on toast with a little melted butter. It should be largely cultivated, as it does well all along the coastal parts, being, as already mentioned, a maritime plant.
Sweet corn is deservedly a great favourite with those who know of its succulent flavour and nourishing properties. Unfortunately, however, it is with us only in the imported tins from America, and therefore we can only conjecture how delicious it must be when fresh. It is so commonly met with in the fresh form in America that it is found at nearly every dinner table. Large areas where land is not expensive are devoted to its growth, and hundreds of acres are required annually for the New York markets alone. It does splendidly in all parts of Australia, and for growing children it constitutes one of the most nutritious vegetables that can be well imagined. On this latter account alone, therefore, it is really a matter for national regret that it is so improperly passed over. One thing requires to be borne in mind, and it is that the cobs of ordinary Indian corn which are seen in so many country districts must not be confused with this sweet corn, as the latter is entirely different.
These nutritious, although somewhat unknown vegetables, therefore, evidently deserve to be brought into prominent notice, and once public interest is aroused, their cultivation and ready sale will speedily follow. At the same time it must not be forgotten that the tomato itself had a desperate struggle for reception into public favour when first introduced to us. It actually trembled in the balance for no inconsiderable time, and it was some years before its good qualities were universally recognised. To-day, however, it occupies a very different position, and takes rank as a luscious vegetable, appreciated by thousands of people; and besides, it is of undoubted value in many disorders of the liver. But now that the Agricultural Colleges are in full swing in the different colonies, notably in New South "Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, it is certain that the greatest possible good to the whole community will result. Their effect, too, in indirectly populating the agricultural areas of Australia will materially aid the great work of decentralisation.
But apart altogether from this matter of the introduction of vegetables which have hitherto been overlooked is another which is hardly less important. I refer to the crude cookery which is bestowed on the ordinary vegetables at present in daily use. That there is any monotony in an endless recurrence of boiled potatoes, boiled cabbage, boiled this and boiled that, never seems to occur to the vast majority of people in this country, who seem incapable of understanding that these different vegetables are worthy of being served in an infinite number of ways. It will doubtless shock those who cling to this belief, but the following remarks by Dr. Mitchell, an English physician practising in Paris, directed against his own countrymen be it understood, are forcible enough : - "The plain boiled potato," says he, "whatever else it may be, is clearly a cattle food; "so for the matter of that are cabbages, carrots, turnips, "beans, peas, and almost every other vegetable when plain "boiled. None of them in that condition would be "refused by a cow in fair appetite." Now, there are so many appetising ways of preparing vegetables for table, and at no additional expense, that it is lamentable to find people offering no protest against this feeble exhibition of culinary skill. Why, if there be nothing in the preparation of vegetables for the table beyond plain boiling, it must be acknowledged that Cookery has made mighty little progress since the time it first came into existence.
Having seen, then, what faults exist and what improvements might be made, it may well be asked how these latter are to be brought about, or, rather, how can Australians be induced to live in accordance with climatic requirements ? The answer is by no means easy. It may be said, in truth, that till the great mass of the people recognise their food faults, reform will not be of a national character. As I have already said, the acceptation of that valuable and nutritious vegetable fruit, the tomato, took years to accomplish. In the same way, I fear, a universal recognition that excessive meat indulgence is a climatic error will take many decades before it is an article of national belief. In the schools, Cookery must form an all-important part of a girl's education - not a superficial knowledge of the science, but practical instruction, thorough, complete, real. The dietetic properties of meat, vegetables, of salad vegetables, and of fruit, from an Australian standpoint, should be so thoroughly inculcated that a proper conception of their respective food values should remain for a lifetime. The prizes for proficiency and excellence in culinary matters, too, should be such as to render them worth the winning, and serve as a stimulus for future exertions.
Is it not strange that so far ingenuity, universal approval, or general consensus of opinion, call it what you will, has not up till the present given us an Australian national dish? Although tea and damper instinctively arise in the mind when the matter is referred to, yet I take it that we would all repel such an accusation if levelled against us. Does the Australian, moreover, away from his native land perpetuate his patriotism by oft partaking of this pastoral fare ? Certainly not. Well, when this national dish is composed and formally approved of by the nation, let us devoutly trust that it will be a macedoine of vegetables, or a vegetable curry, or some well-concocted salad. It is true that in one of the cookery books I have seen a dish of peaches, dubbed Peches a l'Australienne. It is a sort of compote of peaches, but to the best of my belief it is simply entitled Australian for the sake of giving it a name, and for no other reason.