Jaffa chocolate cake, Jaffa lollies and even Jaffa milkshakes pervade New Zealand and Australian culture. But why?
Who doesn’t remember rolling Jaffa lollies down the aisle of the picture theatre? Of gobbling Jaffas at the Royal Easter Show. How lovely to suck the strong orange flavour from the Jaffa and then crunch into the delicious dark chocolate core?
And this Jaffa fetish seems to be also shared by our NZ cousins.In Dunedin today, they still have a Jaffa race whereby they release thousands of Jaffas and roll them down the road.How Bizarre!
The ANZAC addiction to Jaffa orange borders on sheer madness which leads us to ask..what is behind it all?
Our culinary detective story takes us to the shores of Israel to discover the origins of this New Zealand and Australian love affair with all things Jaffa.
So let’s start from the beginning…What is a Jaffa Orange?
The Jaffa orange is a wonderfully flavoured tangerine like orange with a sweet rich flavour which originated in the city of Jaffa in Israel. It has no pips so it is ideal for baking. It was developed in Jaffa in the mid 19th century by a hybrid between local oranges and a sweet Chinese variety of orange.
The new variety was so popular that by the early 1900’s there were 300km2 of orchards employing over 100,000 workers in Jaffa. These orchards were growing near 40 million oranges and supplied Europe with this fantastic new variety.
And what exactly is a Jaffa cake anyway?
It is a chocolate cake which has the fruit of an orange, perhaps the rind of the orange and a dark chocolate flavour. Some classic recipes use Arabica coffee for a great complexity of flavour and a truly delicious taste. We presume the Arabica coffee was added as the city of Jaffa had a large number of Arabs and Arabs…well love their coffee. Hence Arabica.
Where is Jaffa?
Jaffa is located on the Mediterranean Sea in the modern state of Israel within a few kilometers of Tel Aviv.
“The rather startling fact is that Jaffa is the second oldest continuously occupied city in the world behind Damascus in Syria. Archaeological evidence points to habitation for about at least 4000 years BC”
Traditional accounts place the first inhabitant of Jaffa as being the son of Noah after the worldwide flood…Jaffa features in the oldest book of the Bible in the history of Jonah the prophet. And even in the New Testament when St Peter visits the town.
Jaffa has been a pivotal place of importance for nearly every civilization in every millennium it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the Phoenicians, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, The Romans, the Ottoman Empire or the British Empire etc…Jaffa is continuously featured in just about every old-world civilization and is, therefore, to be found in History books of many cultures.
It remains to this day a city of sidewalk cafes, markets, mosques and synagogues, bakeries and restaurants all servicing the bustling and never-ending stream of tourists. The small fishing fleet on the idyllic shores complete this historic picture.
But what has Australia to do with Jaffa anyway? How can Australia be intimately connected with a city on the other side of the world?
We were as surprised as you are to find that New Zealand and Australia have a very special connection to the city of Jaffa in Israel.
Few Australians or Israelis know the fact that Australians and New Zealanders were the liberators of the Jewish Holy Land after hundreds and hundreds of years of Muslim rule.
It began when The Australian Light Horse Brigade with some 700 men stormed heavily fortified Turkish emplacements at Beersheva and with a biblical type victory took the city on October 1917 after only a few hours of ferocious fighting against overwhelming opposition.Believe it or not the city of Beersheva has an annual holiday celebrating that victory but it even has a huge garden memorial documenting the Australia Light Horse.
It was this and subsequent battles in which Ottoman rule in Palestine was brought to an end during World War I and it is these victories which are widely recognised as critical in paving the way for the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948
The next great battle after Beersheva was yes you guessed it,….. at Jaffa.
The next great battle after Beersheva was yes you guessed it, at Jaffa. The Australians and New Zealanders fought side by side and the Kiwis were given the task of occupying the ancient city. No wonder that Jaffa has been imprinted into the mindset of New Zealanders!
The troops then moved on and liberated Jerusalem and the Australian Light Horse camped on the Mount of Olives.
But the punchline is that when the Australian Light Horse arrived in Jerusalem, they entered through the Jaffa Gate! The Jaffa connection to Australia at that moment was indelibly imprinted on the Australian identity. They had achieved what no-one before them had managed to do and that is to liberate the Holy Land.
Then followed a feat rivaling or even surpassing the charge at Beersheba. Known as the ‘Great Ride’ of 12,000 Australian Light Horsemen that began north of Jaffa on 19 September 1918.
The mounted Australians and New Zealanders as part of the British Expeditionary forces rode from Jerusalem to Megiddo and encircled and captured thousands of astonished enemy forces.
The Turkish troops were battle hardened and entrenched with German rifles and machine guns. And yet a tiny force of Australians overwhelmed them. Another triumph of biblical proportions.
They then went on to take before Nazareth, Tiberias then moved into Lebanon, Jordan and finally into Syria. Over 12 days and 400 kilometers, the ANZAC forces took over 76,000 astonished Turkish prisoners.
On 1 October 1918, in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade marching through the center of Damascus to make their final conquest.
The Great Ride was described by British Chief of Staff, General Wavell, as ‘the greatest exploit in the history of horsed cavalry’.
Not surprisingly the ANZACS were welcomed as heroes by the Jewish people and the Anzacs had a great affection for the Jews and a loyalty which has lasted to this day.
So what then is the specific connection of the city of Jaffa and the Jaffa lolly?
It turns out that Australia’s first confectioner was James Stedman (1840–1913). By early 1880, the James Stedman factory in Sydney was making over five tonne of sweets each week.
James Noble Stedman (1860–1944) was the son of this confectionery maker and the records find that he found his way into the Australian Light Horse and fought in all the battles mentioned above.
Upon his return to Sydney, he invented the Jaffa lolly, the Mintie ( It’s moments like these you need MInties”, and the Fantale.All of which enjoyed worldwide success.
At its zenith the James Stedman confectionery company employed over 1,000 people in 16 acres site in Rosebery. They used to call it Sweetacres for obvious reasons!
The Stedman’s were pioneers of unique worker conditions and provided a large canteen and social hall, sports and cricket grounds, a library, band and sports clubs For their employees.This attitude toward workers would make the Stedman company quite unique in the world at that time.
The Stedman company was eventually taken over by Hoadleys, then Rowntree’s and finally by Nestlé in 1981. Over 500,000 Minties are sold worldwide. About 500 million are consumed each year.
The point here is that one of the Australian LIght Horseman named his invented lolly after one of the Israeli cities which he had fought to liberate.
James Noble Stedman chose to celebrate the Australian victory in that city and in the Palestinian campaign by naming his jaffa lolly after it.
And the soldiers of WW1 brought back with them memories of baked delights containing oranges and Arabica coffee.
So the Arab coffee and orange cake of Jaffa was implanted into both New Zealand and Australian culture after the return of veterans of WW1. Thus completing this somewhat bizarre and unlikely history.