Last week Hobart’s Templo joined much lauded Franklin on the Australian Financial Review’s prestigious top 100 restaurants list for 2017. This week, Keen’s Curry cooks took to social media in a show of support for the State’s oldest, commercially produced spice blend.
With an industry that continues to go from strength to strength, Tasmanians take our status as food destination seriously. Local, sustainable, creative and modern are the hallmarks of our menus.
But our food obsession might be producing a perverse outcome; a second-class food citizen who’s no longer invited to dinner.
Has the culinary contribution of Tasmania’s cooking pioneers become Bogan?
Local cooks were quick to defend the assumption that Keen’s didn’t cut the mustard. A steady stream of recipes and photos featuring the iconic orange canister appeared on the Home Cooking in Tasmania Facebook page, after the posts of fans appeared to have been removed. A good natured spoof – Keen’s cooking in Tasmania, appeared soon thereafter. Speculation arose that Keen’s Curry lacked authenticity. Perhaps real foodies only blended their own spice mixes? To add fuel to the fire, administrators from Home Cooking in Tasmania were absent from the debate that ensued.
Our love affair with all things epicurean is not limited to the burgeoning food industry that has been evolving here over the last decade or so.
Keen’s Curry powder is proudly Tasmanian. Its credentials date back to the 1860s after Joseph Keen and his family settled in Kingston and started production. Keen’s Curry is part of our collective psyche. The foot hills of Mount Wellington have been adorned with painted rocks that spell the words ‘Keen’s Curry’ since the early 1900s, with only momentary breaks in tradition, such as was once the case with the likes of anti-cable car protest.
Our multiculturalism is credited for the broad church of cuisine we hold dear in Australia. Before I was enjoying Thai green curry and souvlaki, a typical home cooked meal was meat and three veg. In the suburban, working class home of my youth, Keen’s Curry powder was about the only thing resembling flavour that came in close proximity to my taste buds. Extrapolate that idea to the creation of Keen’s Curry in mid-nineteenth century Australia and you begin to understand the integrity of the product and its role exposing European palates to the savoury spices of the subcontinent, Asian and the Americas.
If you’re unfamiliar with Keen’s Curry it contains turmeric, coriander, salt, fenugreek, black pepper, chilli powder, rice flour, allspice and celery. Ingredients any self-respecting cook would have in their pantry.
Look inside the recipe book of many contemporary home cooks and you’ll find savoury mince, curried scalloped, the ubiquitous curried egg sanga or devilled eggs, all proudly listing Keen’s Curry in the ingredients. This was evident from the Facebook posts of the week. It’s my personal go-to in a sauce for a cauliflower bake or macaroni and cheese.
I still hate my mum’s curry sausages but as an enthusiastic home cook I now know that’s because I actually hate sausages and understand the judicious use of cornflour as a thickener.
Keen’s Curry powder takes its rightful place on my spice shelf. It epitomises comfort food, because it is part of my food heritage, it’s shelf-ready and sometimes that mix of spices is just perfect for what I’m cooking. It’s just another one way I know there’s a place for everything in this world.
Thanks to Ally Horswill, Anna Sharman, Duane Flanagan and Kate Montgomery for permission to use images of their posts (including Anna’s Keen’s luncheon masterpiece) and for their good humour.
Home Cooking in Tasmania administrators were asked for a comment for this post but they weren’t keen (pun intended).
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