Oysters four ways, accompanied by Gin Punch

Notes from home cook Darby Carr

If you love history, cooking and a good laugh, I recommend The English and Australian Cookery Book: Cookery for the many, as well as for the upper ten thousand.

The author, a self-proclaimed 'Australian aristologist', was in fact Tasmanian politician Edward Abbott. Published in London in 1864, it is understood to be the first Australian authored cookbook. To use an oldfashioned expression, what a hoot!

The names of some of the recipes are worth their proverbial weight in gold. Take '"Shuv" in the mouth', a mix of brandy, water and sugar, or 'Slippery Bob', which are fried kangaroo brains.

A drink called 'Blow my Skull' that even the aristologist describes as 'very powerful' sounds like a hipster’s dream. And maybe the new State Library rooftop bar will open with jugs of Gin Punch for us all, lined up on the slick bar?

After I put my hand up to cook for Openbook, I imagined I would produce a lavish eight-course meal. But when it came time to whip up a storm, the storm pointed to a lockdown-free summer and the storm said, 'Darby, eat more oysters. Make them some of the world’s finest, most delicious, plump Sydney rock oysters. Wash them down with a popular local gin.'

Getting involved with the lands of the Wangal people on the Cooks River, near where I live, was another reason.

First, the bivalves. Then as now, most importantly, shuck the oysters yourself. That juice inside is gold. Pre-shucked oysters will be washed in water, stripping all those wonderful juices.

I drew my inspiration from these recipes of the Aristologist: Oysters Stewed, Boiled Oysters, Oyster Patties and Oysters Scalloped.

I was so intrigued by the use of nutmeg and mace, as well as lashings of butter and breadcrumbs.

The sheer quantities of oysters used in recipes indicates our waterways were still healthy, despite colonisation.

They must have been covered with these precious bivalves of goodness because recipes in the book often call for three dozen oysters at a time.

For the Oyster Patties, I swapped the patty-pans and made an old-fashioned vol-au-vent case instead. I used very small amounts of cream, butter and nutmeg for the sauce, tasting as I went along.

Surprisingly, it didn’t ruin the oyster as so many recipes do, and I would use the nutmeg and mace in the future.

Second, the cocktail. In line with border closures, I picked a fine local variety, Gindu Gin. Full of botanicals including blood lime, anise myrtle and old man saltbush, it smells like Australia.

I adjusted the original quantities of the recipe, swapping a full cup of maraschino juice for a teaspoon of sour cherry syrup, and a pint of gin for a more responsible glass of gin.

I also added greenery with some mint and thyme and some tiny bubbles of bush finger lime.

A toast to your good health!