Cook your way through Rush Oh!

We’re thrilled to be hosting a free event with Shirley Barrett (filmmaker and now author) this Friday 4 September. Barrett will be in conversation with critic Rebecca Harkins-Cross. Find out more here.

Here, Barrett shares some recipes and housekeeping tips which are referenced in her debut novel, Rush Oh!.


One of the pleasures of writing domestic fiction in a historical setting is the opportunity it presents to waste hours of precious writing time poring over ancient recipe books. I am a keen home cook and avid MasterChef viewer. My kitchen cupboards groan with cookbooks and fancy gadgets and obscure ingredients well past their use-by dates, so to hark back to a simpler time when you might reasonably offer your guests a boiled neck of mutton – perhaps enlivened with a dozen blanched oysters and two hard-boiled eggs – never fails to appeal to me.


rush_mutton


My fictional lead character, Mary Davidson, is charged with the task of cooking for a bunch of unappreciative whalers. Like myself, she is well-meaning, but rather too slapdash in her methods to be ever entirely successful. Unlike myself, with my fancy induction cooktop and whatnot, she is rustling up ‘slops’ in a camp oven on an open fire. (Readers may visit the Davidson cottage in Eden to marvel for themselves at the real Mrs Davidson’s rudimentary equipment – with which, by all accounts, she turned out magnificent meals.) Anyway, I hereby share the following recipes, in the faint hope that readers might be tempted, Julia & Julia style, to cook their way through Rush oh! or, at the very least, bring a plate along to their book club.

Let’s begin with some gruesome recipes involving offal: sheeps' tongues, ox kidneys and lambs brains, with some mutton and rabbits thrown in for good measure. Any of these recipes would be a wonderful accompaniment to the chapter, ‘Fastidious Diet of Whale men’, in which Mary describes the various complex dietary requirements of the whalers. I was interested to observe that the ‘Rabbits’ recipe requires a half wine glass of Worcestershire sauce – personally, I’d tip a bit more in. It will only go off in the cupboard.


rush_offal


Next, Madeira Cake. Please attempt this as an accompaniment to the chapter entitled ‘Excursion to Boyd Tower’, in which Mary’s freshly-baked Madeira cake is sat on by the family dog. Mary’s recipe is of course from her mother’s P.W.M.U cookbook, but I was pleased to find this economical recipe requires only two eggs, and has been submitted by a possible ancient relative of mine, a Mrs Barrett. The interesting thing about Madeira cake is that it contains no Madeira. That is possibly the only interesting thing about Madeira cake – I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the effort, but up to you.


rush_madeira


Low on provisions, Mary and Louisa are forced to rustle up a batch of Rock Cakes for Mr Crowther when he comes a-calling, wanting his quarterly instalment for the Singer sewing machine. (See chapter: ‘A Visit From Mr Crowther’.) Personally, I think Miss Higgins has been a bit excessive with the eggs in this recipe. My ever-frugal namesake, Mrs Barrett, submits another version requiring only two eggs and ten minutes in a brisk oven. Nor does she bother with the candied lemon peel.


rush_rock


Next is Some Hints For Washing Day. Not a recipe as such, but an informative accompaniment to the chapter entitled ‘The Flukes’, where Mary and Louisa are tasked with the weekly washing. I note with interest that silk stockings are to be washed in a mixture of bran and water. “Rinse thoroughly in a succession of clean waters”, the instructions conclude. Well, quite, unless you want bran stuck all over your tights. Helpfully for Mary, there is also a section on starching, as John Beck has asked Mary to starch his good white shirt: “To every pint of starch add a piece of spermaceti candle the size of a chestnut.” Good luck with that. First you’ll need to get out there and catch yourself a Sperm whale.


rush_washing


Lastly, some homespun beauty treatments in order to prepare for the chapter entitled ‘The Plain and Fancy Dress Ball’. I imagine the whale men might mix up half a pound of lard and olive oil for their hair grease, scented with oil of lavender in a bid to overcome the pungent odour of dead whale emanating from their very pores. The girls meanwhile might be practicing their deep breathing: “The sallow girl with the dark circles under her eyes discovers that with correct breathing… the dark rings disappear, and the lustre reappears in her eyes.” Every time I read this, I find myself inhaling deeply – if you come along to Readings, St Kilda on Friday 4 September, you may judge for yourself how well it is working.


rush_lady


Read our review of Barrett’s novel here, and find out more details about Barrett’s event here.

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Rush Oh!

Rush Oh!

Shirley Barrett

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