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Slow cooking in a “Black Kitchen”

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.


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  1. Karen Kyle

    Good story Joe. Thanks very much.

  2. Joseph Carli

    Onyer, Karen…I suspect you are of that age that knows the scent and flavour of wood-fired oven cooking….I don’t need to paint the picture of the roast first drawn out of the oven with the smoke swirling and the mix and sound of sizzle and onions and potatoes all cooked in the big roast dish in that saved fat of the last roasts…a sort of eternal marinade in the residual juices of many roasts..and when the fat set hard, you would in some cases and families find it between two slices of bread as a dripping sandwich in your school lunch….Christ!…my mouth is watering just thinking on it!….must be getting old.
    But hey!…pity the young..

  3. Karen Kyle

    Bread and dripping, the infernal food of the poor. My father and his sibs were raised on it, because there wasn’t much else. They all died in early middle age of heart disease. It isn’t good Joe. But I do know of others who ate bread and dripping sometimes and they lived long. I suspect it depended on how poor and how hungry they were.

  4. Joseph Carli

    Yes..we had our share in our family…and when we caught fish down at the rocks, my mother (an old Mallee bush girl) would deep-fry them in lamb fat….funny how the “strongy” tasted the same as the garfish!

  5. Joseph Carli

    Nice header pic..ta, Michael…I looked it up..a Canadian…from Canadia..

  6. Michael Taylor

    Ah, Lobethal. My mother’s family settled there after coming over as refugees. I used to love going to stay there as a wee boy, even though I could never understand her strong Middle Eastern accent.

    My grandmother was 89 when she died in 1969. In the 1990s the house was heritage listed, but when I went back a few years ago to show Carol, there in its place stood a block of units! I guess the developers always win.

    As far as bread and dripping sandwiches … my mother couldn’t force them down me.

    My sister in the Riverland still cooks on a wood stove. Can you cook a roast on anything better? And toast over the coals, too?

  7. Michael Taylor

    Yes, Canadian. But as the post was about stoves rather than anything else, I still ran with it.

  8. Joseph Carli

    Michael..Am trying to get hold of some of those old cooking methods and recipes that the pioneer women around here used. After all, those ovens cooked more than a light roast and they smoked a lot of produce and meat in the black kitchen.
    Was talking to old Rosenzwieg about his mother’s cooking and he told of whole legs of kangaroo going in the oven..and the metwursts back in those times were not the sanitised versions we have these days…anything went in them and even I remember some of those original salamis made by Italians had lumps…LUMPS of meat and fat and they were literally dripping with oils and by God …did they taste good..but you had to have the teeth of a young lion to rip them apart!

    F#ck!…they don’t make food any more…the whole bloody thing is just a shit sandwich!

  9. The AIM Network

    Perhaps I can help.

    Look for an old “Green and Gold Cookery Book”.

  10. helvityni

    Nice picture, Michael and a good story Joe.

    Hubby’s Russian sister in-law’s parents came here via Peru. Lovely hospitable people, who invited their immediate and extended families to a weekend lunches: something lovely baked in their outdoor brick oven…the lunch was hardly over when the dinner roast was pushed into the oven…

    When it came to drink, we were offered by the man -about- house a very sweet home-made wine made from his own home-grown grapes… It tasted OK as an after dinner drink…

    Huge well-kept vegies-patch provided the rest…

    If there were any left-overs, it was shared amongst the guests to be taken home…too good to be given to any dog…

  11. Joseph Carli

    Green and Gold cookery book…I remember seeing one of those back when I was much younger…in my mother’s kitchen…Damn!..I should have snaffled it on her passing…and she also had one called ..: “The Kuipto Colony cook book”….a lot of recipes made up for a fund-raiser for the old Kuipto Colony retreat…” A Collection of Inspiring Thoughts, 1943, Kuitpo Colony, SA.”

    Don’t know what this is about..
    From Google…: ” Doomsday cult Agape Ministries’ Kuitpo compound to be auctioned
    Jul 30, 2014 – The property, known as Kuitpo Colony Retreat, is located at 737 Blackfellows Creek Rd and is being sold off by the controversial cult at the …”

  12. Michael Taylor

    Carol tells me that the CWA cookbooks might have some of the old recipes.

    (CWA – Country Women’s Association).

  13. Michael Taylor

    You mentioned Hahndorf…

    My uncle had the German Arms hotel there when it became the first hotel in SA to get a Sunday-trading licence.

  14. SharonA

    This was a most interesting article and I enjoyed reading it. So much remembered history and I thank you for writing it Joe and for publishing it Michael………… I have nothing like that in my family or it’s history, so articles like these are fascinating for me.

  15. Joseph Carli

    You’re welcome, SharonA…a pleasure!….But hang on, Sharon….there’s a “history” for every person and family…is there not so much more to yours?

  16. SharonA

    There could be some history, but my dad came from WA and my mum from Qld and we live in Vic. I didn’t know my family to know about history. Mum’s parents died when I was young, only met them once or twice, and my dad’s parents were dead – he was youngest of 12 or 13 children. So not a lot of history and no one left to ask now….. but yes there is always a history I just don’t know it. Thanks Joseph.

  17. Mark Needham

    Merry Christmas to everyone.
    Good Health.
    Be Honest.

    Mark Needham

  18. Roswell

    Sharon, you could grab a copy of your parent’s wedding certificate and go from there. I don’t know how much it costs, but by memory it’s around $17. You’re in luck if they were married in Victoria, as I read somewhere (might have even been on this site) that Victorian wedding certificates include the maiden names of the mothers of the married couple. It could be a start.

  19. SharonA

    Thanks Roswell, I tried that years ago…. hit a few stumbling blocks re birth certificates and marriage and death certificates in UK………… it’s ok. It’s not that sort of history – it’s the anecdotes and happenings I miss out on, my dad would sometimes say things but it’s a long time ago and I have forgotten most, but thank you for your help. It is all good. Well from my end it is all good.

  20. Shaun Newman

    Joe, for some strange reason (unbeknown to me) I have lost the facility to be able to “like” the story but I did enjoy it, they were hard times, but no harder than the times being experienced by we low income earners in 2018 with the increasing number of homeless people, especially women over 45 years of age, I am very concerned for these people.

  21. Joseph Carli

    Well, Shaun…had the kids up for dinner last night and heard of the rents and mortgage repayments they have and know of others down in the city…and Christ!..it’s gotta be criminal…How can young people ever save enough for their own security and house?….those negative geared property investors ought to be hand-cuffed.

  22. Roswell

    Sharon, a suggestion. Join RootsWeb UK (which is free, as compared to ancestry.com) and join a group for the area your ancestors originated from. If you know the town they are from, there are many links that could lead you to the Holy Grail.

    BBC Family History is good too.

  23. Joseph Carli

    Michael…I can’t stop looking at that picture you put up as a header..it is so attractive to the eye…the colours and the little actions going on are so curious…enhancing.

  24. Roswell

    Joseph, it’s be damn near impossible.

    Wages are flat, yet people still have to find a 20% deposit on a house, say, costing $500,000 … while also paying $400 a week rent.

    I feel for them.

  25. helvityni

    The artist William Kurelek might have been born in Canada, but when seeing his painting here, I immediately thought that he must be of Russian, Ukrainian, Rumanian background; the outdoor kitchen, the little Babushka, the milk contains drying on posts upside down….

  26. Michael Taylor

    I’m glad people like it. 😀

  27. helvityni

    ..plus the three-coloured house, and the rows of sticks for the next summers tomatoes….

  28. Michael Taylor

    helvityni, the house certainly doesn’t look German. Ninety-nine percent of the old houses in Germany are white with a dark brown wooden balcony. The other one percent don’t have balconies.

  29. Michael Taylor

    Nonetheless, it was the best image I could find that depicted something about life in SA for the early German settlers.

  30. SharonA

    Thank you Roswell

  31. Michael Taylor

    Sharon, you don’t have to login to The AIMN anymore. Just comment as usual.

  32. SharonA

    I really don’t seem to know what I am doing Michael, I don’t comment very often but the log in blue button is there and I thought it was to be used…….but it tells me I am blocked anyway. Thank you!

  33. The AIM Network

    Don’t worry about that, Sharon. As soon as we get a notice that your blocked, we go straight in and unblock you.

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