Living away from Melbourne all that time allowed me to adopt a certain anthropological role during trips home, based on an observer-participant model. My field, it must be noted, was limited and specific and chosen after the fact. No preliminary research was conducted, no literature review undertaken, and few conclusions were reached. Despite this, I’m confident in staking my reputation on three observations made in Melbourne cafés between 1994 and the present.
The first is old news – that during the mid- to late-1990’s, Melbourne was gripped by a sticky date pudding
craze. People were eating them, making them, talking about them. They’ve not completely disappeared, but have receded to the point of occasional menu item. I’ve wondered if perhaps the inclusion of dates (not your hippest dried fruit) gave the illusion of a healthy, fruit-based dessert? One interviewee conceded however the pudding as primarily a vehicle for the delivery of vast quantities of butterscotch sauce. Given my current Sydney location [ed. last week
], it may be worth a quick local survey to see if the sticky date pudding made it this far north, but frankly, it’s too early and too pleasant on this tree-surrounded balcony to venture out.
My second discovery has been made in classic fashion. The pith-helmeted researcher, surrounded by natives, completely blind to all going on around her – that’s me. Admittedly, I’d noticed Bircher muesli on menu boards around town, but I’d dismissed the idea of ordering some brand-named oat-based product that I could easily eat at home. In fact, I remember being given a fancy jar of the stuff as a housewarming gift, which, deaf, dumb and blind, I ate straight out of the jar doused in soy milk. What’s all the fuss?
I remember thinking.
I was about to write I said
, realising in doing so that had I actually said something, someone might have knocked me on the head and said, Duh. Get with the program
. And it is
a program: Bircher muesli was first developed and prescribed by Swiss doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner
for his sanatorium patients in 1887. Kitschenette
notes that the original was simply a tablespoon of oats and a grated apple, but Bircher has gotten much fancier since then. I can’t stop eating the stuff, conducting compare and contrast experiments all over town. I almost ordered it at bills
, only deciding at the last minute to go with the Ricotta Hotcakes on Miss Honey’s
recommendation, rationalising that I may in fact be disappointed by bill’s rendition, so confident have I become in my own.
For weeks now, I’ve been buttonholing friends and strangers alike, asking for recipes, tips and memories of their first Bircher encounters. [My favourite: at a Swiss-run café in Coober Pedy
sometime in the early 1990’s. Coober Pedy, for non-Australian readers, is an opal mining town in South Australia, in which the likelihood of finding a Swiss café would seem as remote as its location. Due to extreme heat, a large percentage of the population live underground.] Turns out, I had already eaten Bircher, without realising it at Babka some months back: I remember thinking, this is odd
, but didn’t think to question. I’ve become such a connoisseur, that silently, in my own head, I use the proper German pronunciation: Beer-cher
. Rest assured: I wouldn’t dare say this out loud.
MY VERSION (at present):
Roasted almonds (chopped in quarters)
Zest of one lemon
Tablespoon of lemon juice
Dash of vanilla
One grated apple
All this soaks in apple juice overnight.
In the morning, I mix in plain yoghurt, and berries if I have them.
1. I prefer currants to sultanas or raisins, as the latter plump up too much for my taste.
2. Dried cranberries are sold in Australia under the brand name "Craisins." They’re a new thing here, and I’m guessing that a marketing department somewhere came up with the idea to incorporate “raisin” in the name to give Australians some clue as to their use and and an idea of where to find them in the supermarket. Also, they’re crazy good?
3. I mix up a big batch of the dried ingredients every week or so.
4. Haven’t tried this yet, but I’m certain the King Island yoghurts would be delicious. (If you are in the United States, I’d recommend Brown Cow Organic Vanilla. Or Maple. I miss you, Brown Cow.)
5. Likewise, a small amount of berry coulis mixed in.
6. I like the unfiltered organic type of apple juice, the kind Americans call cider.
And finally, my third point of note: friands. They’re everywhere. Why? How? Where can one buy a friand pan? Stay tuned.