Food

‘The past only comes into being from the vantage point of the future,’ the novelist Michelle de Kretser told an interviewer recently. History is written in a present that is inexorably moving forward, while historians explore as far back as their interests take them. All the while they are backstitching, a step forward, a half step back. Post hoc ergo propter hoc?

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It is a colourful and turbulent life Alice Waters leads. Thankfully, it is turbulent in the fruitful sense, a process of regeneration and creation so nimbly edited into her autobiography ...

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The Oxford Companion to Cheese is an impressive undertaking with masses of fascinating and informed writing, and many illustrations on a delicious subject. It takes us from the origins of cheese – seventh millennium BCE – to the most recent technological developments. The scope is broad: as Catherine Donnelly notes in her introduction, there are 325 con ...

The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals book edited by Marcia Reed & Food in Art: From Prehistory to the Renaissance by Gillian Riley

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April 2016, no. 380

Food in history is a tantalising thing. Although we may have recipes, firsthand descriptions, and images, we can never be sure how things really looked or tasted. Much of the work of food historians has been focused on creative use of available sources, not to provide facsimile meals, but to gain insight into the cultural role of food of the past. Two recent books e ...

The Essence of French Cooking by Michel Roux & The Best of Gretta Anna with Martin Teplitzky by Gretta Anna Teplitzky and Martin Teplitzky

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November 2015, no. 376

Why is it that some recipe books fill you with enthusiasm to fire up the stove the instant you open them while others remain on the shelf, consulted rather than cooked from? Is it the text, the photographs, the design, or because they come from the pen of a trusted cook? In the case of The Essence of French Cooking and The Best of Gretta Anna with Marti ...

The English and Australian Cookery Book by Edward Abbott & The English and Australian Cookery Book Companion: 1864–2014 Sesquicentenary Edition edited by Edward Abbott

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January-February 2015, no. 368

Given the deluge of cookery books and unrelenting television programs, it is hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a single Australian cookery book. This year marks the sesquicentenary of the first: The English and Australian Cookery Book, a volume published anonymously in London, and compiled by ‘An Australian Aristologist’, Edward Abbott. Abbott (1801–69) was born in Sydney and by 1818 was working in Hobart. He became a newspaper proprietor, establishing the Hobart Town Advertiser in 1839, and a member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly (1864–65) and the Legislative Council (1864–86). It was during his political career that he prepared and published this volume.

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The Australian sweet tooth and ongoing love of cakes and desserts is evident in two recent publications. Both cover the basics as well as offering more ambitious fare; they are good places to start if this is your thing.

Phillippa Grogan’s eponymous pâtisserie in Melbourne, established in 1994, offers the type of baked goods presented in this publication: breads, cakes and biscuits, quiches and tarts, superbly made and flavoured and stylishly presented. Novel at the time, the business rapidly became a success and has since expanded considerably. As is de rigueur nowadays for cooks, the book of the shop has followed: Phillippa’s Home Baking (Lantern, $49.95 hb, 313 pp, 9781921383311), co-written with Richard Cornish. Baking, more than any other type of cookery except confectionery, requires precision and accuracy, and this is reflected in the succinct, no-nonsense style of the clearly set out recipes and introductions.

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In the first volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary (1915–19), an entry in June 1919 mentions England’s possibly ruined strawberry crop. ‘This is a serious matter for us as we have just bought 60 lbs. of sugar, & had arranged a great jam making. Strawberries are 2/ a lb. at this moment. Asparagus 6d & 7d, & yesterday at Ray’s I ate my first green peas.’

I have always wondered who made the jam. In 1916 Nellie Boxall began cooking in the Woolf household and stayed there for eighteen fraught years (Alison’s Light’s book Mrs Woolf and the Servants [2009] is illuminating). Woolf’s diary entry does not make it clear whether the ‘great jam making’ was undertaken by the servants alone or whether she put down her pen to help.

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The Agrarian Kitchen by Rodney Dunn & New Classics by Philippa Sibley

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March 2014, no. 359

Two quite different books from two very different chefs illustrate some major trends in cookery writing and publishing in Australia. One is by a city chef who runs a restaurant, and the other by a country chef who runs a cookery school.

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Not everyone’s father sends his daughter a brace of pheasants while she is studying economics at Cambridge. With a choice of two gas rings on which to cook them, Anne Willan eviscerated and plucked the birds, then used one gas ring to cook a pheasant casserole and the other to make a caramel custard that she ‘steamed over a galvanised tin laundry bucket’. She was, I’d guess, nineteen.

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