The Australian National Dictionary Centre, the fine folks who bring you Ozwords, a blog listed in my sidebar, have a dictionary listing as well, Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms, and from the letter N I bring you:
It is a tradition at the Australian National University that computers have names as well as serial numbers. The computers at the Australian National Dictionary Centre are named after Australian food items: king prawn, icypole, pavlova, lamington, floater – and neenish. The last named computer gets its title from the neenish tart. But are neenish tarts Australian? Many people believe that they are. First, for those who are not of the cake-shop conglutination (aficionados of glucogunk), what is a neenish tart? It is, it seems, a cake with a filling of mock cream, and iced in two colours – white and brown, or white and pink, or (occasionally) pink and brown. In May 1995, Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald included some discussion of the origin of the term: Wendy Kerr and Jenny Hawke, of the Forbes public library, found this in Patisserie, an encyclopedia of cakes, by Aaron Maree: ‘Thought to have been invented by cooks in outback Australia.’ And that may be right. Leo Schofield, writing in the SMH in 1988, said his mother made them from a Country Women’s Association cookbook sold in Orange in World War II. When he asked for information, some readers suggested they had a Viennese or German origin. But a Mrs Evans said they were first made in her home town, Grong Grong. She and her sister, Venus, nominated Ruby Neenish, a friend of their mother’s, as the originator. Mrs Evans said that in 1913, running short of cocoa and baking for an unexpected shower tea for her daughter, Ruby made do by icing her tarts with half-chocolate, half-white icing. From then on they were known as neenish tarts. That, said Leo, would account for the tarts’ popularity in country districts and country cookbooks. We have been unable to track down the eponymous Ruby Neenish, and some of the ‘authenticating devices’ in this account feel a little shaky – just how ‘unexpected’ can a shower tea be?
The earliest reference to neenish we have been able to find occurs in a 1929 recipe for neenish cakes. This is in Miss Drake’s Home Cookery by Lucy Drake, published at Glenferrie in Victoria. The cases are made from: 8 ozs. almond meal; 6 ozs. icing sugar; 1 large tablespoon flour; essence almonds; 2 whites of eggs. The filling is made of: 1 gill cream; 1/2 gill milk; 1/4 oz. gelatine; 1 tablespoon sugar; essence vanilla. No mock cream here. The icing is half white and half pink.
The fifth edition of the Country Women’s Association Cookery Book and Household Hints, published in Perth in 1941, has the following recipe, provided by E. Birch of Baandee: Cream 2 ozs. butter and add 1 tablespoon sugar, rub in 5 ozs. self-raising flour and a pinch of salt and mix to a stiff paste with an egg. Knead well. Roll on a well-floured board till very thin, line patty tins with paste and fill with a good thick custard. Glaze the tops with thin icing. Use chocolate and white alternately’. This time, the icing is half chocolate and half white. And, of course, no mock cream. More interesting is the fact that the cakes are called nienich tarts. This certainly has a Germanic ring to it, and the spelling continues to be used in the CWA Cookery Book as late as 1964.
So here is the challenge. Do any of our readers have a cookery book printed before 1929 which includes neenish or nienich cakes or tarts? Can anyone provide evidence for a European origin? Are there any supporters of the pseudo-eponymous Ruby Neenish?
I love not only the word neenish but the ultra-Aussie town name Grong Grong. Thanks, Paul!