The recent closure of the Rosella factory in Sydney’s north-west is regrettable on two counts: the loss of jobs entailed and the demise of one of the most identifiably Australian brands, with that brightly coloured native bird adorning the label.
The Rosella Preserving and Manufacturing company, founded in a Carlton backyard in Melbourne in 1894, has been making tomato sauce since the turn of the 20th century, though home-made tomato sauce had been popular since colonial times.
In his absorbing gastronomic history of Australia, One Continuous Picnic, Michael Symons draws a wonderful picture of the early Victoria Markets in Melbourne where “vociferous merchants” were spruiking their wares, including their own ketchup in wine bottles and tomato sauce in jars.
The pie man was also an early incarnation of the colonial food scene but as a double act, Symons says, ‘meat pie and tomato sauce’ was not spoken of as Australia’s national dish until the Second World War. For all that, it’s interesting to note New Zealand has the greater average pie consumption: 15 a year per person to Australia’s 12, according to Food Standards ANZ.
I never touched the stuff, preferring Worcestershire (black sauce) where tomato sauce might be used. Oddly, Singaporeans adore it, putting a liberal dose of it alongside chilli sauce in dishes such as the famed Singapore chilli crab.
But it’s kids who universally love the brew, which probably isn’t such a good thing: while the condiment does contain a high proportion of the antioxidant compound lycopene, tomato sauce is loaded with carbs and full of salt and sugar, even in these ‘salt-reduced’ times.