Aunty Tot's lemon biscuits

Albumen print of young woman.
Kennina [Tottie] Fanny McKenzie Thorburn, 1886 / Grouzelle & Cie. Sydney Living Museums, June Wallace papers, Rec. no 43029
Create some delicious edible gifts this Christmas, from cherished favourites made with love over the generations, from our book, Eat your history: stories and recipes from Australian kitchens, including these tasty lemon biscuits from the Meroogal kitchen.

Family histories recall Auntie Tottie cooking these biscuits, cut into fingers, on large baking trays in the fuel stove at Meroogal. Tottie – Kennina Fanny Thorburn – was the youngest of the Thorburn sisters. Tottie kept a personal diary between 1888–1893 and 1895–1896, which reveals her commitment to home cooking – making jam, baking bread, cakes, scones and biscuits such as these.

…[The] routines laid down in the 1880s… set a pattern kept largely unbroken a least until the 1930s. The whole thing depended on regularity, early rising and the designation of tasks. Special skills were given appropriate application. Belle and Tot… were the cooks, taking the main responsibility week about. But all did their share, especially when it was preserving or jam making time.

Janet K. Ramsay, The women of Meroogal. Historic Houses Trust, 1998. p61

To enter the front door of Meroogal is to step into the family’s everyday lives of social rounds and family ties, domestic chores and routines, the delight in preserves from their orchard and afternoon tea enjoyed with visitors. On the first Monday of each month the Thorburn sisters hosted an ‘at home’ tea – no invitations were needed, friends and family knew to call. Several of the Thorburn’s heirloom recipes survive in manuscript cookbooks which remain in the Meroogal collection.


Recipe: Tot’s lemon biscuits

Ingredients

  • 225 g unsalted butter
  • 225 g (1 cup) white granulated sugar
  • 1 very large egg (or 2 very small eggs)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • good pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 450 g (2 2/3 cups) plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced). 

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the egg thoroughly. Add the lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, and the nutmeg, if using, and stir well.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the butter mixture and mix until fully incorporated. Turn out onto a well-floured board and knead into a smooth dough, adding a little extra lemon juice if the dough is too dry.

Working in small batches, roll the dough out to 3–5-mm thickness between two sheets of baking paper and cut into desired shapes with biscuit cutters. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook for 12–15 minutes or until the biscuits just start to colour. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack and allow them to cool and harden, and repeat the process until all the biscuits are made. 

Makes 30–50 depending on size.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

See the original recipe on the Cook and The Curator Tea under the jacarandahs blog post.
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About the Author

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Jacqui Newling
Assistant curator
Creative Services
Jacqui brings over ten years of ‘visitor first’ interpretation experience to her role as a curator at SLM. She specialises in place-based social history and heritage, bringing meaningful stories from our past to contemporary audiences through various forms of media, from exhibitions to interactive opportunities for visitors in our museums. 

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