Until relatively recently in Australia, curry meant only one thing: Keen's curry powder. Everyone knows the old favourites: curried sausages, curried eggs and curried rissoles – this was as "curried" as Anglo Saxon Australians got.
In contrast to the wide variety of exciting curries that are available to us today, this mild, yellowy powder can seem a bit, well, drab. But in truth, the spice mixture that provided the base for those "exotic" dinner table staples deserves some serious credit.
Joseph Keen was a clever businessman. He and his wife Annie established a general store in 1843 at Browns River, Kingston just south of Hobart where he sold his own condiments. His curry powder blend was a particular success and quickly became famous throughout the colony within a decade. It was so popular that in 1866 he received a medal for it at the Inter-Colonial Exhibition in Melbourne. A combination of ground tumeric, coriander, salt, fenugreek, black pepper, chilli powder, rice flour, allspice and celery, Keen's curry powder successfully gaged the tastebuds of Australians at the time. It was very different to anything that had graced Australian tables before it, but was adaptable to Australian cooking. It was exotic, rather than foreign.
The curry powder business was kept in the family until 1954 when the recipe and rights were sold to Reckitt & Colman Australia. Today it is owned by McKormick Foods.
It could be argued that Keen’s Curry powder primed Australian palates for the spicier, more intense flavours that were to come. Today, jars of vibrant, heat-ladened curry pastes tend to push the old Keen’s tin to the back of the pantry. There is something undeniably comforting about a curried egg sandwich that brings back memories of soggy but satisfying school-yard lunches. However, it is possible to revisit this old favourite with a more modern twist.
Mitch Orr and Thomas Lim of Duke Bistro in Sydney’s Surry Hills share their recipe for their unique take on another old favourite – fish fingers.