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We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch and tea.
Our Mummies say we’re growing stronger
Every single week
Because we love our Vegemite.
We all adore our Vegemite.
IT PUTS A ROSE IN EVERY CHEEK!
We’re growing stronger every week!

Vegemite

For most people on planet Earth, it might be difficult to comprehend how a by-product of beer manufacture should have taken such an addictive hold on the palate of every Australian.  How could something that spreads like peanut butter but tastes like mashed- up bouillon cubes become so incredibly popular?  Was it the 1954 J Walter Thompson advertising jingle, or is something more sinister at work?

Invented in 1922 by an Australian food technologist (working for the Fred Walker Cheese Company), the product was created to satisfy Australian demand for a similar British foodstuff–Marmite.  Supplies had been interrupted during World War I.  If Vegemite had been an instant and overwhelming success, I would have to question the taste buds and sanity of our Australian neighbours.  In fact, early sales were decidedly slow.

Fred Walker had the foresight to form an association with Kraft Cheese way back in 1925.  According to Wikipedia, when it was discovered that the new product did not sell like hot popcorn despite its alluring  taste, Vegemite was given away free with Kraft Walker cheese products using coupon redemption.  This was  followed by poetry competitions in which the top prizes were brand new Pontiac cars.  Sales shot up.

In 1939 Vegemite was officially endorsed by the the British Medical Association as a rich source of  B vitamins.  The spread was included in Australia’s army rations and by the late 1940s nine out of ten Australian homes had a jar in the pantry. All it took after that was the advertising muscle of an American multinational on radio and television to cement the sale to the Australian public.  Leftover brewer’s yeast with vitamins became the opiate of the masses.

The product is now produced in Australia at Kraft Foods’ plant in Port Melbourne, which rolls out more than 22 million jars per year. Virtually unchanged from Callister’s original recipe, Vegemite now far outsells Marmite and other similar spreads in Australia. The billionth jar of Vegemite was produced in October 2008

Despite being owned by Kraft, it has never been successfully marketed in the United States or any other non-English land.  New Zealand and Great Britain are the only other countries in the world where it is considered edible, although Switzerland does have a variation.  Stay tuned.

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You could be forgiven for thinking we don’t actually eat here.  With the exception of breakfast cereal, I have written virtually nothing about restaurants or local foods, such as kangaroo or Tiddley Oggies.  It is a serious omission.  We don’t dine out often, but we do eat, and I shop for groceries two or three times a week.

If you could rate people on some sort of sliding scale with carnivores at the top of the scale and vegans at the bottom, Australian males would be at the top or even over the top.  Since their post-aboriginal culinary heritage began in England, it is not surprising that part of the meat eaters’ consumption is associated with the bakery business– meat pies and sausage rolls. It is said that these date back to Egyptian times.

In Melbourne, there are two family names solidly linked to the bakery business– Ferguson and Plarre.  “Percy” Ferguson was born here in 1880; Otto Plare was born in Germany in 1882.  From the time Otto sailed for Melbourne and set up shop on Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds, these two men were rivals. Both men enlisted their family members in their bakeries; both families lived above their shops and both bakers found their best customers among the immigrant population.  They emphasized quality and good service.

The bakeries thrived when Melbourne boomed and struggled during the Depression.  Otto had traveled and worked in highly cultivated places before emigrating, so he had an advantage when it came to “fancy” cakes and pastries.  Ferguson had perfected very popular pies.  Their sons took an avid interest in baking.  Ray Plarre was actually caned for drawing pastry designs in school.

On a brief visit to Melbourne in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson’s Air Force One was met by Eileen Plarre’s  little green Prefect (car). There was a large crowd of people who had made a corridor to the plane, but instead of the President coming out, Eileen took advantage of the opening to deliver rum truffles, green frogs and other fancies directly to the President.  She had the perfect cover, a police escort right from the Puckle Street bakery.

In 1980, under ever-increasing competition from other bakeries, the two firms merged.  Their meat pies include country chicken, steak and onion, beef and cheese, sweet curry etc.  The company’s pasties got a name change when Ken and Pam Ferguson discovered that the original name for pasties (which has an entirely different connotation in North America), was “oggies.”  Tiddley means proper.  Pasties are stuffed with vegetables instead of meat.

According to Wikepedia, Australian meat pies were generally locally produced locally because of the lack of refrigeration in the early days of pie production.  One brand that began at a local bakery in Bendigo has been branded by its association with Australian Rules football– Four N Twenty.

A floater  is a an inverted meat pie, smothered in a plate of thick green pea soup.  It is typically covered with tomato sauce, often enlivened with mint sauce or malt vinegar. The Chiko roll consists of boned  mutton, celery, cabbage, barley, rice, carrot and spices in a tube of egg, flour and dough, which is then deep-fried.  The wrap was designed to be unusually thick so it will survive handling at football matches.

By this time in this post, you may be positively salivating, your taste buds overwhelmed with the idea of these delicacies.  I cannot claim responsibility for the stampede of gastronomic tourism that is surely about to begin, but if Australia wants to shower me with some of the  dollars they have left over from the “Australia” campaign, I won’t mind.  Not a tiddley bit.

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