A Curried Scallop Pie In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Warmer

Some time ago I committed to getting my teeth cleaned twice a year; I decided on this preventative maintenance schedule because I didn’t want to go through again what I went through to fix years of teeth neglect and abuse. At my last teeth cleaning I settled into the reclined dental chair, and as I always do gazed up at the ceiling. I was soon mesmerised by the dreamlike sky created on the ceiling by the decorative fluorescent cumulus cloud diffuser panels and my faraway thoughts sent me back to when I first moved to the US; it was then that I decided to save my teeth, to give them a new go at life. I braved jaw bone implants, bridges, caps and root canals, fillings and extractions so I could once again find happiness and joy in chewing.

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When I was growing up during the fifties and sixties dental hygiene wasn’t really practised in Australia; at least not in our family. I may have brushed my teeth once a night before going to bed. Mum’s answer to most of our tooth problems was: we can get them fixed, but if they really start hurting, out they’ll come. I did get an occasional filling. I went through childhood and adolescence knowing that my teeth would eventually be coming out. I remember only going to the dentist a couple of times. Mum kept telling us that he was some relative of ours, distant cousin or something as obscure and that he wouldn’t hurt us. He practised in a nondescript double-fronted cream brick veneer building, just down from the corner of Douglas Parade and Ferguson Streets. A waiting room was to the right as you went in, and the surgery was on the left. I vaguely remember sitting in the waiting room, and wondering what the strange smells were.

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I don’t remember ever getting a local anaesthetic to numb the part of my mouth where he was going to drill; you always knew just before when it would hurt. You’d watch the chains and pulleys driving the drill slow down, and as he kept pushing the drill into the tooth they’d stop. It seemed as if he’d always hold the drill right in front of you when he pulled it out of the tooth to wait for the chains and pulleys to start back up. As you watched the hurt starting to happen you started to notice the strange smell coming from your mouth. I think we often left the double-fronted cream brick veneer building with tears still in our eyes. We pleaded with mum never to send us back to the dentist who was our relative. I remember going to a dentist just around the corner from where we lived; I don’t remember what he did or why I went. His practice was in a couple of remodelled rooms in a house in North Road; we always wondered if he lived in the rest of the house.

When I thought I was old enough to no longer listen to mum I decided to never go to the dentist again. Fillings fell out, cavities appeared, and I even loosened a front tooth when I fell off my bike and went face-first into the footpath. Over the years my tongue would discover a rough edge on a tooth; another filling starting to go, or a new hole starting to happen. I never really had toothache; it only hurt when I chewed on the cavities. I started to eat a lot of soft foods.

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Sausages became my go-to food. I’m not talking pork and apple honey, chicken with roasted red capsicum, basil and garlic, chicken and artichoke with kalamata olives, or turkey with broccoli and provolone cheese artisan gourmet sausages, but the true blue butcher shop Aussie sausage; the snag, the banger, the mystery bag. A sanger from a sausage sizzle, meat pies, and sausage rolls, are the first on my list of must-eat foods when I go back to The Land Down Under; some habits just die hard. I’ve always liked sausages; from back when mum used to cook them under the grill on the old kitchen gas stove, to when she would throw a pound of snags into the Sunbeam on the kitchen table. Mum never did bother with the slice of white bread wrapped around a just cooked sausage, but she did bother with two other classic Aussie snag recipes. Whenever the breadcrumbs came out, and the Sunbeam went onto the kitchen table you could bet it was either going to be cutlets or crumbed sausages for tea. The recipe for anything coated in breadcrumbs was the same; roll the thing in flour, dip it in a beaten egg, and coat it with breadcrumbs. Fry in dripping until nicely browned.

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No Aussie kitchen would be complete without a tin of Keen’s curry powder. For as long as I can remember, anything that was called curry in The Land Down Under was made with Keens; and for a while, curried sausages were all the go at our house. Mum would whip out the Sunbeam, and fry some snags with sliced onions until they were just cooked. She would take the snags out of the Sunbeam and slice them, then add water, flour, and Keens’s curry to the Sunbeam. After simmering the slurry until it became a thick sauce mum would throw some peas and the cut-up snags into the sauce; we ate mum’s curried sausages with boiled rice or mashed potatoes.

Keen’s Curry powder is about as Aussie as you can get; it’s rivalled only by Vegemite. In 1841 a British chap named Joseph Keen sailed out to the new colony. He established a bakery in the small town of Kingston in Van Diemen’s Land and dabbled in creating and selling sauces, and other condiments; he created what would become Keen’s curry powder in the 1860s. The curry powder became known throughout the mainland. Joseph was awarded a medal for his spice mix at the 1866 Melbourne Inter-Colonial Exhibition and received an honourable mention at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition. In 1905 after Joseph and his wife went to the big spice rack in the sky their sixth daughter Louisa, and her hubby Horace took over the family’s curry powder business. Horace bought some land in the foothills of Mount Wellington overlooking Hobart, and turned it into a giant advertising sign; he used white painted stones to spell out Keens Curry in forty-foot high letters. The white stones are still there today, but somewhat obscured by the houses of South Hobart.

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About the same time, Joseph started creating his sauces and condiments, scallops were discovered and harvested from the cold waters of the Derwent River near Hobart town. The scallops soon became a local delicacy, and it wasn’t long before someone added Keen’s fantastic curry powder to the scallops when they were being cooked. Some say the quaint tradition of putting scallops into a pie began on the Hobart wharves in the early 19th Century, but the origin of the curried scallop pie is a little vague. Regardless of their history, the golden parcels of curried gelatinous joy have become Tasmania’s national dish; the curried scallop pie is the jewel in Tassie’s culinary crown.

I’m the third great great grandson of the transported convict Thomas Raines. In 1842, 44-year-old Thomas was convicted of stealing sheep from Henry Hilton of Salridge and sentenced to 15 years transportation. There is no record of him being sent to Port Arthur so he was probably assigned to various Van Diemen’s Land farmers. Convict records at the State Library of Tasmania suggest that he spent some time in and around Richmond Town before being issued his Certificate of Freedom. Richmond Town was established as a military staging post, and convict station linking Hobart with Port Arthur. Today, Richmond is a quaint little town with its main street still lined with beautiful heritage buildings. Australia’s oldest bridge, a sandstone arched bridge built by convicts in the 1820’s, is just off the main street.

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The Richmond Bakery is just a stone’s throw away from Australia’s oldest gaol. I think many a convict would have longed for a Bakery pie or pastry; just biting into one of their sensational curried scallop pies would cause, if only for a brief moment, one to escape from the hardships and brutality of convict life in early Van Diemen’s Land. On a sunny October afternoon, I bit into a Richmond Bakery curried scallop pie. Scallops encased in flaky pastry, swimming in a creamy curry sauce that has been spiced up with a dash of Keen’s; their scallop pies are up there with the best. A quality curried scallop pie should have

  • at least four scallops in a pie; five is great, six is booming
  • only fat and juicy fresh local Tasmanian scallops
  • never been within cooee of frozen or imported scallops
  • a sauce that isn’t clumsy and overpowering; has a just-right curry tang
  • a sauce with a delicate balance of curry and viscosity; not too thick, not too runny
  • soft, flaky, buttery pastry that makes a golden browned cap

I could’ve had three of those tasty little bottler’s but restrained myself to only one; I’ve never thought it was rude to lick your plate in public. And there’s nothing like a flat white, and vanilla slice to finish off a winner of a meal.

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You never need to wonder why Keen’s Curry Powder is a household name across Australia, and why over the last 150 plus years Tassie’s own curry powder has been a staple of Aussie kitchens. A dash of Keen’s Curry Powder can do wonders to an egg sandwich, and make a ripper curried seafood supreme. I think the ultimate in deliciousness would be to combine the curried scallop pie with the sausage; imagine if those golden parcels of curried gelatinous joy were made into bangers. There’s no telling what would happen if you chucked a few curried scallop pie snags on the barbie at a sausage sizzle. You could throw any leftovers in the Sunbeam the next morning and heat them up for breakfast; yum, what a great way to start the day.

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The Tooth Fairy Left Me a Cyborg

When I read the headline in the Age Fake dentist operating in Melbourne’s northern suburbs I at first wondered why anyone would want to be a dentist so bad that they would just do it without any schooling. As I read further it was about Mr Velipasaoglu who was trained as a dentist in Turkey but was not qualified to practice in Australia. So I wondered what makes a person a qualified dentist; and where do dentists come from.

Throughout the fifties and sixties, dental hygiene and management weren’t really practised in Australia; it certainly wasn’t in my family and the catchphrase about teeth was if they start hurting get them taken out. But I think there was a degree of hurt that would concede a visit to the dentist was in order and curative work could be considered.

I thought back to what I remember about my early dentist experience. I don’t remember his name but my mother kept repeating that he was a relative of ours; some distant cousin, or something as obscure and that he wouldn’t hurt us. We rode our bikes everywhere in Williamstown, even to the dentist; 72 Electra Street Williamstown. The building was a non-descript double-fronted cream brick veneer structure, the second building down from the corner of Douglas Parade and Ferguson Streets.

There was a waiting room to the right as you went in and the surgery was on the left. I vaguely remember waiting in the waiting room wondering what the strange odours were. I didn’t smell chloroform or ether again until I was studying chemistry at Footscray Institute of Technology. I know my mother would never tell us an untruth, but it did hurt. Sitting back in the chair you knew when the drill would stop spinning because you would watch the chains and pulleys slow down as the drill was pushed into the tooth. And that’s when you had the different levels of pain, and there was also no escaping that burning smell. How I dreaded each visit but I did have more fillings. I think that this dentist relative of ours wore rimless glasses.

When I was old enough to no longer listen to my mother I never really went back to the dentist again. Fillings fell out and new cavities appeared, and I ate a lot of soft foods. Whenever we journey back to Australia the meat pie and sausage roll are the first on my list of must-eats. Some habits just die hard.

They say that America is the land of opportunity. So I decided I was going to save my teeth and give them a new life. And I would eat hard foods that needed severe chomping: the chewing of sound and fury. I braved bone implants, bridges, caps and root canals, fillings and extractions to reach crunch domination. Three dentists a periodontist and an endodontist have been part of the save the teeth team. I remember my first visit to the first of the three dentists. I don’t think he looked in my mouth; the hygienist pushed a probe between the gum and the roots of my teeth and she repeated numbers as she wrote them on a chart. Two four, four eight, eight eight, sixteen two and so on. She then cleaned my teeth. When the dentist came into the room the hygienist shared the chart she had written the numbers on and all I overheard from their hushed conversation was; bicuspid, bite and bifurcation. We made two follow up appointments: to extract a front tooth and prepare a bridge and then to struggle with three fillings.

Save the teeth was set in motion.

I think the dental office was in a building on South 17th street but has since been demolished to make way for the Omaha skyline landmark First National Bank of Omaha Corporate office. But all I could see, my body tense and rigid and my hands clenching and gripping that arms of the chair, as I lay facing the window, was a huge ceramic pot containing a lonely amaryllis bulb. I was referred to the periodontist by my first Omaha dentist, Dr Steve Wachter: it was soon after when he saw his last gum tree.

On my first visit to the periodontist, the hygienist pushed a probe between the gum and the roots of my teeth and she repeated numbers as she wrote them on a chart. Two four, four eight, eight eight, sixteen two and so on. Dr Swain was committed to saving my teeth; he peeled my gums back to expose the jaw bone for bone grafts and then stitched the gums back in place with the sewing dexterity that I thought only my mum could ever have. Swain deadened my jaw and most of my face with abundant amounts of lidocaine, articaine, and epinephrine but I was still tense, rigid and skittish. I would spend several hours in the dental chair on each visit and it was during my second visit that I thought about the heavy use of the numbers that were factors of two: two four, four eight, eight eight, sixteen two. And all the dental words that had the prefix bi. Maybe it was the lidocaine but my mind went back to form 5AB at Williamstown Technical School.

williamstown technical school form-5AB

Form 5AB. John McAdam 2nd from right top row. John Colville 4th from right top row. Robert Ballard 5th from right top row. Gunter Jergens 1st from left 2nd row. Kevin Thompson 2nd from left 1st row. John Savory middle 1st row.

We were two years past Mr Stonehouse’s class but John Colville and Robert Ballard and a lot of the form 3AB boys were still classmates. We were introduced to the concept of the new Math; Venn diagrams, intersection and union of sets, matrices, and numbering systems that were not base ten. It was the time of Sputnik and the Explorer satellites and we were told that computers were going to engineer the future of humankind and they used binary, octal or hexadecimal numbering systems. We mastered the subtleties of only using ones and zeros to express numbers and became masters of the binary number system; a numbering system that uses the base two.

I never put it all together before now. I started to look forward to my doses of lidocaine, articaine, and epinephrine because it unloaded my mind of daily occurrences and allowed me to focus on the fact that dentists and periodontists communicate mostly with a binary number system and in a language that contains a lot of bites. It was like a computer talking to a computer; they were humanoids. I mused over my epiphany every Swain visit; he had done all he could with bone grafts and scaling of the jaw bone and I was getting comfortable in his presence and was preparing to confront him about my humanoid theory when just like Wachter, he saw his last gum tree.

So I’m now back with the dentist I should have always been with: even though he has had to extract a couple of teeth he has also capped and filled others. He is a loyal save the teeth team member. Whenever he adjusts the chair so I’m in an upward prone position I turn away from the blinding white light and just whisper knowingly: convergent evolution humanoids. As soon as the instruments are put in my mouth I say things like; did you use a laser blade to shave this morning, or isn’t it around your lunchtime, are you going out for a byte. And when I leave the dental office; there is so much roadwork on Dodge Street I’m going to have to take the R2 detour home.

The drive to my dentists’ office takes me down two of Omaha’s major streets. Depending on my route I can pass; casual fast-food drive-throughs, coffee shop drive-throughs, pharmacy drive-throughs, furniture pick up drive-through, a bank drive-through, a library book return drive-through, a job fair drive-through and a pizza drive-through. Maybe they should have a dentist drive-through.

 

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