You got to get up … pri-tty erley in da mornin’ … to stoke up the German vault oven in the old “black kitchen” if you want to get a good day’s preparation and cooking in before the roast lamb (w/rosemary) is just at an itch and a scratch to be taken out from the back of the oven and generously sliced and served with the pratties and peas for dinner …
This old settler’s cottage we bought from a German Aunty (through marriage) out here in the Mallee, was a fine example of the “settler’s layout” for farmhouse and black kitchen …
“A distinguishing feature of the German house is its high roof, below which the ‘protective’ attic was often used as a sleeping, working and storage place. Cultural ties associated with the roof were still evident in these early Australian German communities. Thus it was considered a bad omen for women in the later stages of their pregnancies to leave the protection of their roofs (once someone was unter Daeh und Faeh, that is sheltered by a roof, he or she could not be harmed by demons!). One of the ancient roof ceremonies, the Rieht/est, or the topping of the building with the roof, is still celebrated in South Australia (usually by fixing a small pine tree to the ridge).”
Although our house did not have a sleeping attic, all the other necessities were still extant … even if in a state of long disuse and in need of a amount of repair. For instance, when I went to restore the vault oven, I opened a makeshift flat of thin iron door to find several bricks had fallen from the roof and among the ashes left was a copy of “TV Week” announcing Johnny Farnham and Alison Durbin as King and Queen of pop for the year of 1971. So the oven had not been used since … and I suspect long before … that date … and I see Bob and Dolly Dyer also won a Logie for that year … they were still alive then … amazing!
Now these vault ovens are bloody great for doing a big cook-up in … of course, as stated, you got to get an early start to get the oven up to temperature. The first item that goes in the oven when it is raging hot is the capsicums and eggplants or any veggies that need to be grilled so the skin can be removed when thoroughly cooked … this is done by placing the hot, seared capsicums in a plastic bag straight from the oven … it is then sealed and left to cool before attending … then, when the oven is at a holding temperature of around 200 deg c’, in go the assorted breads and pizza bases and buns and such things …
“Closed-passage plans or black kitchens (Schwarze-Kiiche) are more generally found in the Barossa Valley, for example the Keil house at Bethany, and the Schmidt house at Lights Pass.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).
The design of this type of cooking hall stems from the late Middle Ages, when regulations began to be introduced in Germany to control the incidence of conflagrations caused by the use of open-hearth fires. Thatched timber canopies pargetted with clay were built over the hearths to conduct smoke and sparks away into similarly constructed chimneys.
Of course, my wife, Irene, is the brains behind the preparation and cooking … I am the muscle and the swisher around of the long-handled pizza shovel … and a dexterous user of such a device – if I say so myself – and it was not my fault that I came close to taking out one of Irene’s eyes as I pulled the naan bread flans out of the heat … I claim rights of “tradesman’s territory” of 180 deg’s from the front of the oven to safely wield that weapon!
Around lunchtime, in goes the pizza topped with all those delicious mouth-watering ingredients that can be loaded onto a base just big enough to fit through the oven door. This is a most delicate time, as the smells of those toppings cooking and sizzling can make a sane man desire strange things … food, indeed is the way to a man’s heart … and when served to him with the alluring smile and generous eyes of a loving woman, there is no mountain too high, no land to far or too difficult to conquer … and no love too deep to extend for the honour of giving. Good food is a wealth of knowledge combined with an artist’s hand. There cannot be a greater pleasure than the eating of such .. blessed be the house that enjoys that pleasure.
“During the first decades of settlement the German settlers clung to their mixed farming techniques and continued to supply Adelaide with fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and pork products. Thus on the night before market day it was a common sight to see the German women from Hahndorf and Lobethal wending their way through the Adelaide Hills, carrying wicker baskets filled with farm products to catch the early market.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).
And I’ll tell you one thing I found in my study of that period of South Australian history … regardless of some Anglo “born to rule” citizen’s claims of being “nation builders”, if it wasn’t for those early German settlers, with their dogged persistence and solid-down-to-earth ethics and hard work, the state would have folded and collapsed in around 1842, when the English speculators and con men sent the settlement into receivership … It was those hardy German farmers kept the state alive!
It is getting close to Christmas, and this year we are having my (adult) children up for dinner, along with a grandchild. Now, Irene has to shine with the home-cooked meal in that the son was head chef of an award winning bistro kitchen and so he knows the meaning of good food and good preparation … and he will always assert; “Home cooking is a world away from commercial kitchen prepared food” … and one has to discern and respect the difference. But in the end, good food is universal.
So this year, we have stoked up the vault oven and prepared in advance some of those delightful dishes … and as ‘official taster’, I have already sampled the crème brûlée , and made myself a glutton with the frittata and the custards etc … and that is the joy of slow cooking in a black kitchen … one is asked to sample for quality the delicacy as it is cooled and of course, a degree of doubt creeps into the equation and … “Perhaps another taste would give chance for a more accurate critique .. if you don’t mind.” Now there is nothing left except to cool the prosecco, prompt t.he stomach and welcome the guests.
“The Keil home with its central, brick-vaulted black kitchen is a classic example of this type of house. Its gable end faces onto the main street of the village (Bethany Road, Barossa Valley) and access to the house is roughly centred on the longer elevation which lies parallel to the Hule. This arrangement allowed for easier access to a small farmyard (Haj) at the back of the house, which was surrounded by slab barns, pig-sties, a slaughterhouse, and a smokehouse.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).
By Gott im Himmel! … Those old Krauts knew a thing or two about cooking with fire.