TT: Meat Pies and Cork Hats

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wanderings, just page back and sing along on “Getting to Know It…”  Then come back and join me and Alan as we continue to explore Terry Pratchett’s version of Australia.

JANE: In Pratchett’s  The Last Continent, there’s a competition to name

Zoo Roos

desserts after opera divas. What’s that all about?

ALAN: Well, everyone has heard of Peach Melba, of course. That’s named after Dame Nellie Melba who was a famous nineteenth century Australian soprano. But the quintessential Antipodean dessert is named after a ballet dancer rather than an opera singer.

The pavlova is a meringue with a crispy crust and a soft, marshmellowy interior. It is topped off with whipped cream and fresh fruit. The folklore says that it was created to honour the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. Since she toured both countries, both countries claim to have invented it, which leads to endless arguments of course. New Zealanders get quite passionate about claiming the pavlova for their own. The Australians are rather more laid back about it and Robin claims that few people are even aware that the argument exists at all.

In 1999, Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand, baked a 45 metre long pavlova to celebrate its first birthday. It was known as “Pavzilla” and was much admired. In 2005 some students from Hawkes Bay in the east of the North Island baked a pavlova called “Pavkong” which was 64 metres long.

So even if the Australians did invent it, we’ve definitely got the world record. So there!

JANE: Since, once again, we’ve managed to get onto the subject  of food, what about the meat pie floater?  As Pratchett describes it, this is a  mushy pea soup with a meat pie in it, sometimes topped with tomato sauce. I’m hoping you’ll tell me Pratchett made this one up – especially the tomato sauce.

ALAN: I’m afraid I must disappoint you.  The meat pie floater does indeed exist. Pratchett didn’t make it up, not even the tomato sauce, though some people prefer mint sauce, and malt vinegar is not entirely unknown. It seems to have been invented in South Australia and it is South Australia’s one and only claim to fame. Nothing else has ever been invented there. Most Australians don’t believe that South Australia actually exists…

The pie floater is traditionally purchased from pie carts in the small hours of the morning after an evening of hard celebration. Apparently it is good for hangovers, though opinions differ as to whether it cures them or causes them.

JANE: If a meat pie floater  –  especially with mint sauce – is a cure for a hangover, I’ve just come up with another reason not to take up drinking!

Just one more question…  Rincewind invents a hat with corks hanging from the brim to knock out the flies before they can get to his face.  Do – or did – such hats ever exist?

ALAN: Yes. And no. It’s a stereotype of course, but nevertheless the fly infested Australian outback certainly demands something to keep the insects at bay. It seems probable that the cork hats or something similar did exist at one time. But if they did, they’ve long since fallen out of favour and the only place you see them now is in souvenir shops where they sell in their millions to the tourists.

JANE: I can just see a sozzled tourist talking through the side of his (or her) mouth and wearing a cork hat through Customs.   I’m beginning to appreciate just how much research Pratchett put into The Last Continent.  But I’m still certain I can catch him out over-exaggerating!  Just wait ‘til next time!


4 Responses to “TT: Meat Pies and Cork Hats”

  1. heteromeles Says:

    So the point of the corks is to give the flies places to sit and rest near your mouth and eyes? That sounds like an excellent thing to sell to tourists.

    Thanks for the info on the meat pie floater. I’ll admit I’ve never heard of one. It sounds like an inside-out soup dumpling.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Huh… I forgot to ask how big those meat pies are. I figured they were bigger than a standard dumpling (which is usually an inch or so), more like a turnover. They come in at about six to eight inches.

      Hey, Alan!! What do these things look like?

      • heteromeles Says:

        Whoops! I was thinking of the Chinese Xiaolongbao. This is a dumpling that contains liquid soup, sometimes slurped out with a straw. They pull this trick off by making the dumpling around a chilled soup aspic, then steaming the whole thing. The bun cooks, the soup liquefies, and you’ve got a neat food item.

        The meat pie floater seems to be an inside-out xiaolongbao, with extra meat inside the pie.

      • Alan Robson Says:

        The pie is a rectangular pastry crust about 5 inches by 3 inches by 2 inches. It is filled with cooked mystery meat, gristle and gravy, baked to a golden brown and stored in a pie warmer until ready to be eaten.

        A pie warmer is a heated cabinet that keeps the pie at comfortable eating temperature for long periods of time. By a strange coincidence, the conditions of temperature and moisture in the pie warmer are absolutely ideal for encouraging the growth of bacteria. Since pies seldom celebrate birthdays, it can be hard to know how old and infected the pie you are about to eat might be. It is usually a good idea to avoid the hairy bits, though some people feel that they add flavour…

        A pie floater is usually served in a soup bowl. Mushy green peas are poured in, the pie is placed carefully on the surface and generous helpings of ketchup are squeezed over it.

        If you type “meat pie floater” into your favourite internet search engine you will find quite a lot of singularly unappetizing pictures. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…


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