What were Australians eating on Christmas Day a hundred years ago?
What were Australians eating on Christmas Day a hundred years ago?

What were Australians eating on Christmas Day a hundred years ago?

In 1923 George V was on the throne in Britain, Billy Hughes and then Stanley Bruce were both Prime Minister and construction began on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and on the original Parliament House (then called the ‘Provisional Parliament House’ and now ‘Old Parliament House’) in Canberra. 1923 also saw the invention of Vegemite and the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio was founded in Hollywood, so in a way Australia – and the world – started looking a little bit more like it does today!

A hundred years is a long time in anybody’s books and so we thought we’d check and see whether there was much of a difference in what people ate for their Christmas dinner then compared to now.

To find out, you have to look at Christmas dinner trends in the ‘Mother Country’ at that time, which of course had a big influence on what Australians ate then, and then blend them with locally sourced foods available – and popular – in Australia at the time.

As in Britain, an Australian Christmas dinner in 1923 would have been dominated by roast meats – generally either roast turkey or roast beef, but sometimes goose or duck instead. As is still the case today, these were generally served with stuffing and a healthy serve of thick gravy.

Seafood was also pretty important at Christmas in Australia, although maybe not with the modern laser focus on the prawns! Oysters and fish were popular and, depending on household budgets, sometimes lobster and crayfish.

A big difference between the British menu and the Australian one was the range of fruit available at Christmas time – in Australia tropical fruits like mangoes and pineapples were in season, as well as local varieties of berries, and stone fruit such as peaches and plums – luxuries generally unavailable in Britain at Christmas – or at all!

One constant through the ages has been the Christmas Pudding – that timeless mix of dried fruits and spices. The only main difference (as you can read about in our article on Christmas Pudding last year) seems to be the quantity of alcohol used in the process – modern day Australians are practically teetotal in comparison. And today the brandy butter is still a must for many, but with decidedly smaller amounts of brandy.

Ditto Christmas Cake – again also a standard 100 years ago and again the 1923 version practically floating in brandy or rum.

The one purely antipodean Christmas dessert that may have been on the menu is the Pavlova (pictured left) – the meringue and fruit-based dessert named after famous ballerina Anna Pavlova, who was at the height of her fame in the 1920s, when she toured both Australia and New Zealand. There is still ongoing controversy between Australia and New Zealand as to where the dessert was invented. Going by current practice (Russell Crowe anyone?) Australia is more than happy to claim ownership of Kiwi people and inventions, so on that basis it probably was in New Zealand.

There is also some doubt as to whether a Pavlova would have graced Christmas dinners in 1923 – a book published in Australia Home Cookery in 1922 describes a recipe for ‘meringue with fruit filling’ but does not call it a Pavlova. You have to wait until 1926 to see a dessert called a Pavlova, but oddly it was a multi-layered jelly.

When it came to drinks, there’s no surprise that a very wide variety of winter type beverages from the old country were quaffed at Christmas, such as mulled wine, port and sherry. A concession to the hotter weather at Christmas time in Australia was the addition of punch to the drinks list.

The one item appearing on a 1920s Christmas menu that might appear a bit odd today was – right at the bottom – cigarettes. There’s been some change since 1923 then!

Main image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images_from_the_State_Archives_and_Records_Authority_of_New_South_Wales

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