Steak & Kidney With Sauerkraut



Fleisch mit Gemüse, Aussie-style

The above menu, sourced here in Australian state library archives, illustrates fusion cuisine before the term was known. (In further posts we will examine some of the other menus featured in this link, particularly of wine and food clubs).

The Vine Inn is a long-standing institution in South Australia, in Nuriootpa about an hour’s drive north of Adelaide.

The menu dates from November 1956 and features as main course steak and kidney pudding with sauerkraut, green beans, and tomato. It’s a dizzying exhibition of rather disparate culinary elements.

The appetizer is spaghetti on toast, a starchy combination that probably has no direct Italian origin. It’s a U.K. supper or nursery dish and known in certain areas of former U.K. influence; Australia is a prime example. A little birdie told me our Newfoundlanders like it too.

So, you have food elements here of English, German, and quasi-Italian origin. The desserts are more typically local, except the Christmas pudding, although the style of preparation, simply with cream, is English, as are biscuits and cheese to follow.

Do you know what Barossa Canneries was? Barossa had a vibrant fruit and canning industry from the 1930s until quite recently and vestiges yet remain. “Barossa Canneries” likely meant the desserts were made with fruit canned or dried by this large business.

Alternatively, if the fruit for dessert was fresh, theoretically possible in Australia’s climate, maybe the Barossa Canneries term meant that a selection of conserved or dried fruit was also available.

But sauerkraut? The Barossa district had a large element of German settlement, much of it from Silesia. The side of sauerkraut was a modest demonstration of that heritage. Given Australia’s isolation and the fact that only about 100 years had intervened from earliest (settlement) days, why were more dishes not represented with a Germanic stamp?

The answer is given by Angela Heuzenroeder in her informative and lively Barossa Food. By the year mentioned, the two wars had dampened enthusiasm for frank exhibitions of German culture.

And (my take): a hotel, as an “official” kind of presence in a community, might be expected to hew to societal norms more than, say, a family-owned restaurant or of course the family hearth. Indeed the Vine Inn was and is – it still flourishes – community-owned in a rather unique cooperative arrangement, which underlines the inference proposed.

The bistro menu at the current Vine Inn offers many more choices than its 1956 version. But interestingly, Italian food is still represented. So is German eating, now more fulsomely represented in the form of different schnitzels and a stuffed Heidelberg chicken. With the years passing, the war memories receded. Dishes representative of local culture were allowed to assume their former importance.

Dishes of U.K. inspiration still feature too including a roast of the day, fish and chips, and grilled salmon. So there is although not ostensibly, a kind of continuity. The cultural memory is long. Habits and attitudes can change, but it takes a long time.

When the day comes that schnitzel comes off the Vine Inn’s menu, you will know that the global village has arrived. We are getting there, as, turning the picture around a bit, Penfolds, proudly featured for the wine offerings in 1956, today has a world reputation, including some in the very top league. Even some beer people have heard of Penfolds Grange, you know.

Below is the dining room today, taken from the hotel’s website, here.


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