A visit to Elizabeth Farm, Australia’s oldest homestead, takes us back to Jane Austen’s era. Built in 1793, it was home to members of the Macarthur family until the 1850s.
In the early 19th century places for genteel women like Elizabeth Macarthur to meet were limited in the colony, with public houses and coffee palaces entirely unsuitable. The only option was to entertain guests at home. The trend was known as ‘morning calls’, though many took place in the afternoon. Guests would be served tea, often a blend of green, black and fragrant leaves and flowers, made to the mistress of the household’s preference, with accompanying sweet and savoury snacks. With its cosy drawing room, lush gardens and shady verandah, Elizabeth Farm offered plenty of options for elegant entertaining.
Baked cheesecakes made with fresh ricotta-style cottage cheese appear in many cookery texts from the period. The original recipe for these cheesecakes, published in 1816, gives instructions for making fresh cheese from ‘the curd of three quarts of milk’. It was not unusual for families of the time to have their own ‘milch’ goat or, on larger properties, a house cow to provide fresh milk each day. They would also have had to make their own ‘puff paste’, which meant making cheesecakes was quite an accomplishment. These days, however, most of the work is done for us, even when we make things ‘from scratch’.