When one leaves the country of one’s birth to travel to somewhere else permanently – well, as far as one knows it’s a permanent move – it is inevitably a wrench, no matter how exciting the “new start” is. Nowadays, one considers oneself more Australian than British, but a deep affection for the land of my birth, with all its quirks and wonderments, persists and will never leave me.
Initially, of course, one misses friends and family enormously, no matter how one makes new links overseas. This is an experience known to millions worldwide, and when yours truly made the jump it was long before such things as Skype and so on. Even email was in its infancy. (Some would say ‘the good old days’.)
But distance can make the heart grow fonder, and welcoming one’s nearest and dearest to experience the new life one is creating is a joy. We will never forget going to the butcher’s with Mum and asking what she’d like for her first “Aussie BBQ”. She shyly indicated some lamb chops – one of her favourites – but was horrified when we simply told the butcher we’d take the whole tray. A lamb chop at a pound apiece was a luxury for her back in Blighty, but lamb isn’t something we’re short of Down Under. We also regularly piled her plate up with King Prawns, which are plentiful in warm Southern oceans, but an eye-widening world away from the tiny shrimps she enjoyed so much growing up in East Anglia and South Wales, coming in little pots sealed with melted butter.
Other friends have variously loved sweet and peppery pumpkin soup served in hollowed out pumpkins – a ridiculously kitchy 1970s thing to do, but a revelation to those visiting from a country where it’s called “Squash” and mainly served to pigs as fodder – and one memorable Christmas with friends disappeared into a comforting blur under the influence of vodka and homemade fruit punch cocktails that complemented the rock lobster.
But for all that entertaining overseas guests always offered a frisson of pleasure, everyday life proved less amenable in some important ways.
It was some time before one could get past asking incredulous barman to microwave our pint of English ale to bring it nearer room temperature rather than struggling with the ice-cold version served in Australia. (The precise time to do this in a 600w microwave is 47 seconds on full, by the way. Just in case you need to know. Then stir the beer with a straw or something to distribute the warmer beer at the outside of the glass to the middle, and wait 20 seconds before drinking – if you can.)
Everyone in Australia knows that Brits drink their beer warm. To see someone actually do it would frequently stop all discussion in the bar, and produce much sad shaking of heads.
Nowadays, of course, one has come to appreciate the frigid beauty of a lager-style beer on a forty degree day – or plenty of them – but like stout, (Guinness is also served everywhere at near-freezing), British ale is meant to be drunk at room temperature to release its gorgeous flavours. Now, at least, one can easily buy bottled ales that one can keep and serve at any temperature one likes, but it would be great to be able to have them served at the right temperature in a pub, especially during Melbourne’s frequently chilly winter. Still: one adjusts. But in the early years nothing emphasised one’s distance from “home” as a pint of Boddington’s served with pearls of condensation on it.
Globalisation, though, has its upsides. In the early years, friends were obliged to stuff their suitcases with packets of Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing and Colman’s Bread Sauce so a Sunday roast chook still tasted something like a roast chook should. One dear amigo, stopped at customs with at least 20 packets of Bread Sauce in his suitcase, had to patiently explain for some time that it wasn’t cocaine artfully packaged, and that if the packets were confiscated there’d be hell to pay from his irascible host.
Eventually, bemused, the customs guy waved him through, and the immortal phrase “Bloody Poms” was heard clearly in a stage whisper as he exited the green channel, head held high. Nowadays both items are freely available in Aussie supermarkets, where they walk off the shelves and into the grateful pantries of expatriates and their ever-patient families. The same is true of Heinz Salad Cream, which goes perfectly with both french fries and mashed potato, to the eternal horror of Aussies who were brought up with slightly healthier food habits. A bottle of HP Sauce peeking out from the shelves now restores a beatific grin when sausages are on the menu. And despite a wonderful range of home-grown biscuits on offer, still nothing complements a cup of tea quite like a McVities Digestive. As the immortal ad campaign once said, “a drink’s just too wet without one”.
Once upon a time one was thinking of a starting a business called pommygrub.com but neither international transport nor the internet were up to snuff in those days. Needless to say, time marches on.
We might have to order ourselves a pot of Marmite for Christmas. I mean, Vegemite is great, but there’s only ever been one Marmite. And some Bara Brith seems indicated for Christmas afternoon. As it says: “From a bakery in the heart of Pembrokeshire, Tan Y Castell Bara Brith is a delicious and traditional fruit loaf baked with fruit, tea and mixed spices.”
You can take the boy out of Wales …
Traditional Welsh recipe for Bara Brith
Bara Brith translates to ‘speckled bread’ and is an especially rich fruit loaf made with tea. Produced all over Wales, but especially in my “home country” of Pembrokeshire, the spiced fruit loaf is delicious when spread thickly with good Welsh butter.
Bara Brith ingredients
- 450G/1lb self raising flour
- 1tsp mixed spice
- 175g/6oz Muscavado sugar
- 1 medium size free-range egg
- 1tbsp orange zest
- 2tbsp orange juice
- 1tbsp honey
- 300ml/½pt cold tea
- 450g/1lb mixed, dried fruit
- Extra honey for glazing
How to make Bara Brith
Put the mixed dried fruit into a mixing bowl, pour over the tea, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next day mix together the sugar, egg, orange juice, zest and honey, add to the fruit. Sift in the flour and spice, and mix well. Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, 1.2L/2pt. Bake in a preheated oven at gas3/160c/325f for about 1¾ hours. The loaf should be golden in colour and firm to the touch in the middle. Baste with honey whilst still warm. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing in a cake tin.
The recipe for Bara Brith can be altered slightly by adding a few flavours. When soaking the fruit, substitute ¼ of the fluid with a whisky liqueur. Replace the honey and fruit juice with 2 tablespoons of marmalade. Alternatively, replace two tablespoons of fruit with chopped stem ginger, and replace the juice and honey with lemon marmalade, and the orange zest with lemon.
In loving memory of Simon Titley, who would have understood.