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As well as recipes, The Art of Living in Australia contains wide-ranging and often entertaining advice on how to live well. Philip Muskett, a doctor, was appalled by the typical Australian lifestyle, lamenting that “Australia is inhabited by a people largely carnivorous and addicted to tea. Surely not one person in a thousand would advocate such a diet under any circumstances.”

Today’s lifestyle gurus often favour an indulgent, forgiving tone. Self-fulfillment is all. (“Surrender is a self-affirming act of personal responsibility”, to quote Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop.com.) Not Philip Muskett. He is a man of clear and uncompromising standards:

Although there may be a certain proportion of people whom the cold bath does not benefit, yet I am fully convinced that the number is comparatively speaking small. A good many make the excuse that they cannot take it, while all the time laziness is the real trouble.

He takes the important things in life seriously: “To boil potatoes properly, much care and judgment are required.”

He advocates for summertime naps: “During the hot summer months, it must not be forgotten that an extra allowance of sleep is quite indispensable.”

He even anticipates Marie Kondo: “At least every twelve months there should be a regular clearance of worn-out articles, and of that miscellaneous collection of odds and ends which can be of no earthly value to anybody, unless he be an antiquary.”

Personally this is the tone I want in a life coach: someone who will tell me in unforgiving detail what I’m doing wrong, shake me by the shoulders and leave me with no excuse not to do better. My resolution to improve may be short-lived – but while I’m in the mood for self-improvement, I want to be bossed around at least a little.

All that said, when it came to choosing recipes to test, I was self-indulgent in a way that Muskett may not have entirely approved of. I chose “Potato balls” because they sounded delicious, and “Stewed lettuce” because it sounded revolting – for balance. (I’d have gone with “Mock spinach”, i.e. pumpkin leaves boiled in salt water, if I hadn’t left it too late to source the pumpkin leaves.) As it turned out, both recipes were significantly tastier than expected.

Potato balls

INGREDIENTS
1 lb cold boiled potatoes
Bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 oz. butter
hot fat

METHOD
Rub the potatoes through a sieve or mash them smoothly. Put the butter into a saucepan, and, when melted, season with pepper and salt; put in the potatoes and turn them about till hot through. Drop in the egg and mix into a paste, turn on to a plate to cool, and roll into balls. Beat up an egg and brush over the balls, cover will with crumbs, and fry in hot fat. The yolks of eggs will do for this dish if the whites are wanted for other purposes.

This dish consists of mashed potato fried in butter, rolled into balls, then fried again in butter. Need I say more? The finished balls were crispy and golden on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside. I’d have eaten them all straight from the pan if I hadn’t needed to take a photo for this blog. The three that survived dinner were delicious for breakfast. We ate them plain and they were amazing, but they’d also be delightful with dill and sour cream, or anything else you might serve with croquettes.

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Frying mashed potato in butter. I don't care what happens after this point, let's be honest. I'm sold.

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Rolling...


Stewed lettuce

INGREDIENTS
4 lettuces
1 oz butter
nutmeg
pepper and salt
lemon juice

METHOD
Wash the lettuces very thoroughly and lay them in salt and water for half an hour. Plunge them into plenty of boiling water seasoned with salt and a quarter of a teaspoon of carbonate of soda. Boil quickly without the lid from fifteen to twenty minutes, then take up and squeeze all the water from them. Chop them up and put into a saucepan with some butter, nutmeg, pepper and salt, and a few drops of lemon juice. Stir them about and cook for about five minutes. Turn into a hot dish and serve.

Mrs Wicken’s recipe titles are refreshingly blunt. Modern cookery books tend towards either the unnecessarily elaborate (“Burgonya kroketts imbued with Gippsland mantequilla”) or the irritatingly chummy (“Bazza’s game-night spud balls”). Either way, they’re generally followed by a breathless account of the chef’s first encounter with the dish (“My brother’s best mate Bazza has been whipping these beauties up in his toaster-oven since 1998, whenever the Swannies make the finals...”). There’s no time for such intimacies in The Art of Living. There are no lyrical epiphanies, and definitely no place for Bazza. They’re potato balls – and this is stewed lettuce.

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Soaking lettuce in salt water before boiling it and frying it in butter. #salad #cleaneating


Okay, so I chose this recipe because it sounded kind of awful and I thought it might lend some comic effect. I spent an enjoyable half-hour threatening my child with some of the more confronting recipes in the book (jugged rabbits; calf-foot salad; sheep’s tongues in tomato sauce), before finally settling on stewed lettuce as something guaranteed to disgust a 5-year-old while being something I might conceivably agree to eat.

As it turns out, it’s not disgusting at all. It seemed odd to me at first to cook lettuce like any other leafy green, but Google tells me it’s not really that odd at all. (Here are some more cooked lettuce recipes.) It was even a nice complement to the potato balls – the bitter green balanced out the greasy white.

If you were faced with an old or tough lettuce, this recipe would let you salvage it, and that’s definitely something we can learn from the 1893 kitchen: nothing is wasted, and the emphasis is on cooking simple ingredients well rather than wowing with complex dishes. It's the kind of cookbook where the ingredients lists are short, but the instructions for boiling potatoes, selecting a salad bowl ("that which is nearest to half a perfect sphere is by far the best"), or properly storing butter ("in our semi-tropical climate ... it is [often] presented at breakfast in the form of semi-liquid grease. It would require a person with the stomach of an ostrich to digest, to say nothing of relish, such an oleaginous compound") are as opinionated and evocative as can be. ("Stewed lettuce" could still have done with a better name, though.)

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