The sincerest form of flattery

Are ‘mock’ foods poor imitations or making the best of what you have?

We’re pretty familiar with the idea of replicating a favourite food using other ingredients. Catering for common dietary restrictions and food intolerances have introduced us to vegan hotdogs, fakon, soy milk, and egg substitutes. Just because we can’t eat a food doesn’t mean we don’t want to feel like we’re eating it from time to time.

And disguising foods is nothing new. As kids we’ve all been told that there was defintiely no [insert hated ingredient here] in the meal in front of us.

Old recipes abound for all sorts of ‘mock’ dishes – everything from mock duck, pigeon, goose or fish through to mock raspberry jam or mock cream. Maybe the real thing was unobtainable (mock cream). Perhaps you had a glut of produce (mock rasperry jam was made of tomatoes or melons). Or you wanted to dress up less palatable foodstuffs – even disguise their borderline freshness.

Savory duck recipe, Camperdown Chronicle

Have a look at this recipe for ‘Savory duck’, from my home town paper, the Camperdown Chronicle, in 1934. You have to admit that calling it ‘Ox liver balls wrapped in pig’s caul and shaped like turkey eggs’ wouldn’t be anywhere near as appealing. See the original recipe on the National Library of Australia’s Trove website.

Transcript below:

“Savory Duck —Mince one pound of ox liver and add to it eight ounces of white breadcrumbs, two large onions parboiled and chopped, half a small teaspoonful of powdered sage, and pepper and salt to taste. Mix the ingredients well together and form the mixture into balls the size of turkey eggs. Wrap each portion in a piece of pig’s caul and place them side by side in a baking-tin. Moisten them with a teacupful of gravy or water and bake them in a slow oven for an hour.”

Then there are dishes that just defy explanation, like this 1932 mock tripe recipe from the Port Lincoln Times. It replaces tripe with ‘lamb flaps’. Hard to pick the least appetising option there.

Mock chicken

Not surprisingly, the poor old rabbit was something that regularly got disguised. Australian recipes from the 40s and 50s feature plenty of ‘mock chicken’, rabbit-based dishes. I don’t imagine anyone was fooled – and perhaps that wasn’t the point. If rabbit was your only meat most of the week, it was probably just nice to pretend it was something else from time to time. And what better than chicken, which you probably only got at Christmas IF you were lucky?

Mock chicken sandwiches were pretty easy to come by at the country hall afternoon teas of my childhood. Rather than rabbit, this was a savoury cheese and egg mixture. I recall my aunt making a particularly good version (she makes a particularly good version of pretty much everything).

I had a go at making this version from my copy of Cookery the Australian Way. They call it Mock Duck – perhaps by the time of my edition chicken had become a bit commonplace.

For this to be the legit mock chicken of my childhood, you really have to use Kraft cheddar. Which I did.

Mock chicken (or duck if you want to be all fancy like Cookery the Australian Way)

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 3 shakes pepper
  • 1 teaspoon herbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbs grated cheese

Peel and chop tomatoes. Melt butter in saucepan and saute onion. Add tomatoes, pepper and herbs. Cook until tender (10 mins). Beat egg and add with cheese to mixture. Stir over low heat until thickened.

The result is quite a tasty, slightly scrambled eggy, topping. It looks nothing like chicken, and no one would think it WAS chicken – but I suppose the onion and herbs do supply a savouriness reminiscent of roast chicken.

And maybe that’s a reason for eating ‘mock’ food that we share with cooks of earlier times: in the end it’s just a way to evoke a flavour, a texture, even the idea of a food, when you don’t have the real thing.


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