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Adventures of a Girl Reporter, America, Asia, Australia, Hong Kong Deadline, Jack Spackman, Jack Spackman, Observations, Sport

Collard greens and Vegemite, it’s a cultural thing

I don’t know much about golf, but when Australian Adam Scott won the US Masters in 2013, I did know that he would bear the heavy cultural burden of choosing the menu for the following year’s Masters Champions Dinner.

Way back in 1997, Fuzzy Zoeller earned his own special place in the annals of golfing history by suggesting that then first-time Masters champion Tiger Woods would be putting fried chicken and collard greens on the menu.

I had to get my dad Jack Spackman to explain that one. I was familiar with fried chicken but I’d never heard of collard greens. Jack was living in California by then, so was more up to speed on matters of American culture. As in most things for that nation, it turned on the issue of race.

Collard greens, according to What’s Cooking America, are members of the cabbage family which are traditionally cooked down into a low gravy.

This style of cooking originated with African slaves in the southern colonies who created the dish out of leftovers supplied, generously no doubt, by the plantation kitchens.

Zoeller’s remark, for which he apologised, was therefore instantly recognisable to most Americans as a racially based slur.

What would Scott choose? As the ‘collard greens’ remark demonstrated, food choices can be fraught with cultural implications on all sides.

Scott’s donning of the green blazer was widely compared as an occasion for national pride to Australia’s winning of the America’s Cup – not least because his victory coincided with the 30th anniversary of that race.

I was in Hong Kong for that one, learning my journalistic chops in my very first job on Jack’s computer magazine. We’d not long moved from a tiny back room behind the Hong Kong Press Club in Wanchai to our first proper office in the bustling Western district.

It was about mid-morning when Jack got a call from the Foreign Correspondents Club. It was Gilbert Cheng, the FCC’s long-serving manager who, in a strange connective twist, is known to all as Tiger. He wanted to mark the historic day by serving something Australian on the bar at lunch. Could Jack provide any suggestions?

 Vegemite – served with tea and toast in the traditional manner. Penguins Optional.

Vegemite – served with tea and toast in the traditional manner. Penguins Optional.

Vegemite was the instant response. Very good. And how is it served?

Well, Jack launched into a lengthy description of the iconic Australian spread. He recalled how in his early days in Hong Kong you couldn’t get a jar of Vegemite for love nor money.

“My beloved mother used to send us care packages, which always included a couple of jars of Vegemite and some Fruit Tingles for the kids,” he said.

“Once she sent just one big jar, but when I opened the package it had smashed on the way. Tell you what, mate, the Vegemite kept its shape perfectly, holding all those bits of glass together.

“Oh no, I wasn’t going to throw it away. We just ate it out of the middle.”

He didn’t say it, but that had also been the first time I ever saw my father cry – and what child doesn’t remember that event? Yup, with wars and bombs all around, it was a smashed jar of Vegemite that brought the tears to his eyes.

But how to serve it?

“Well, the classic of course is toast and Vegemite, but you gotta be careful about that one. The toast has got to be hot and the proportions of butter to spread have got to be just right.

“Then there’s cheese and Vegemite sandwiches, but they’re only really at their best when they’ve been wrapped in plastic and carried around in the hot sun for a few hours…

“I know, mate, you want cream crackers. Set a few of those up on the bar and a bit of Vegemite and that’ll do it.”

Cometh the hour, we made our way to the FCC to celebrate Australia’s great sporting moment.

The club had only recently moved to its present home in the old Ice House on the street of the same name.

It was a grand step-up for the FCC, from two floors of Sutherland House to an entire historic building to play with. The new FCC, as the Old Hands still call it, has a sweeping staircase and a bar as big as a railway station.

There on the bar were little plates of crackers, as per Jack’s instructions, but where was the Vegemite?

Tiger pointed to a gravy boat beside the crackers. It appeared to have gravy in it, except for the silver teaspoon standing proudly in the centre.

The presentation certainly matched the elegance of the FCC’s new bar, but as a foodstuff it’s fair to say our national spread was not displayed to best advantage.

It looked disgusting.

Christmas at home with the Baxters usually includes a bug or two - and never more deliciously than when prepared by the Little Chef.

Christmas at home with the Baxters usually includes a bug or two – and never more deliciously than when prepared by the Little Chef.

I pay tribute to the several members who gamely tried first to spoon and then to smear a little bit of the vile looking goop on to their crackers. It’s fair to say that the only ones who went back for seconds were Australian.

It is an acquired taste.

For the record, Mr Scott went with that great little Australian the Moreton Bay bug – a staple of our Queensland Christmas lunch. It’s actually a kind of lobster but I imagine the American hosts would have been startled to hear they were getting bugs for dinner.

Who knows what culinary visions danced in the heads of the chefs at the Augusta National Golf Club when Scott called for an Australian Wagyu steak with some kind of swampy insect on the side?

I hope that was the point of Scott’s choice – and suspected it was when I read that he had given his dinner guests the following reassurance: “They are legitimate bugs, the real deal.”

It’s a cultural thing.

Historical note: Tiger went for cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries (a menu item which was later to take on its own cultural significance in the US) and milkshakes for his first Champions Dinner.

A report on Adam Scott’s Champions Dinner Menu from Business Insider

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated and hopefully improved since then with the addition of some delicious Moreton Bay bugs and a few penguins on the side plate. You know it makes sense.

© Sally Baxter 2016

 

 

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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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