26 September 2023

The Getting of Garlic

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By John Newton, NewSouth, $32.99.

The garlic conundrum is scrutiny that’s of particular interest to well-known food writer John Newton.

He claims those who colonised or invaded Australia suffered from Alliumphobia, a fear of garlic. His extensive research into the Australian diet and early recipes show garlic was conspicuous by its absence.

Local cooks didn’t touch the stuff and it took centuries for that fear to lift. This food history of Australia shows we held onto British assumptions about produce and cooking for a long time and these fed our views on racial hierarchies and our place in the world.

Newton looks back at Australia’s food culture over the past 230 years. His observations and recipes old and new show what has changed and what hasn’t.

Newton argues convincingly: “garlic’s passage from neglect to enthusiastic acceptance tells the story of the changing Australian food culture in a way that no other ingredient does”. With “recipes old and new” this volume, like its predecessor, features numerous meat-based dishes with classics.

Newton’s work, meticulously researched and told with fervour, is a history of originality. It also shows how garlic has gone from a hidden ingredient to being eagerly embraced. It is also a story of the joy of “chaotic diversity”.

In this book, I look at what we Australians ate for the first 200 years of colonisation. And how the way we eat has changed since then, and what that means to us today. I explore the reasons Australians eat what they eat, and what that says about them. I am interested in what is cooked, who cooks it and where it is eaten: at home or outside the home at a restaurant, café or other form of public eating house.”

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