Bloomsbury Jam

Bloomsbury Jam

The Bloomsbury cookbook: Recipes for life, love and art

by Jans Ondaatje Rolls

Thames & Hudson, $49.95 hb, 384 pp, 9780500517307

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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Gay Bilson

Gay Bilson

Gay Bilson was, for twenty-five years (1973–1998), a restaurateur and cook in Sydney. She has created and directed several events centred on food and community, often for the Adelaide Festival, and was an associate director under Peter Sellars for the 2002 festival, producing programs such as Nourish (feeding patients in a large public hospital) and The Edible Library. In 2004 she directed Eating the City, a large community project created by the Spanish food artist and psychologist Alicia Rios, for the City of Melbourne. As an extension of this project, she recorded oral histories with the communities who took part.

In 2003 Bilson was the recipient of an Asialink residency, spending three months in Sri Lanka studying its food culture. She is the author of Plenty: Digressions on Food (Penguin, 2004). Plenty won the Nita B. Kibble Prize for Women’s Life Writing and was named The Age Book of the Year in 2005. Her most recent book is On Digestion (MUP, 2008), one of a series of essays in MUP’s ‘Little Books on Big Themes’ series. In this extended essay she questions many of the assumptions we make about agriculture, produce, and dining in Australia.

Bilson lives in rural South Australia, believing, with Cicero, that ‘If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need,’ except that, 2000 years later, she would add water and the Internet to these requirements.