Some great new cookbooks – a collection recording how we actually ate, reliable recipes from the CWA and a fabulous collection of pared down French dishes.
Back in the last century, when I grew up, a constant flow of new cookbooks weren’t quite the thing they are these days, and young women (for it was mostly them to whom the task of feeding the family fell) learned their kitchen skills at the knees of their mothers and grandmothers. I hasten to add that this was not my experience and, from a startlingly young age, I was largely left to wing it in the kitchen, with little more than an ancient copy of the Green and Gold cookbook and one or two other community cookbooks produced by local churches to guide me through my culinary adventures.
It turned out that these books were some of the best teachers I could have and, as I was guided through kitchen mysteries by a range of other people’s mother’s and grandmothers, I learned the basics without the supervision of attentive adults and without any major mishaps. (Nothing short of a minor miracle as my first ever efforts were in the field of confectionary for school fundraisers, and every cook knows how risky sugar work can be.)
Adelaide author and journalist Liz Harfull’s new book, Tried, Tested and True (Allen & Unwin, $39.99 RRP) is a testament to the women behind the recipes in those community cookbooks. Generally printed in very basic form on a tight budget, these humble publications were put together by volunteers from community-based organisations to raise money for anything from local schools to international movements like the Red Cross.
Some of these titles have gone on to become icons of home cooking and editions like South Australia’s own Green and Gold Cookery Book, initially produced to raise money for a new private boys school in Adelaide, the PWMU (Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union) Cookbook from Victoria and Western Australia’s CWA (Country Women’s Association) Cookery Book are still in print and used today.
With her usual diligence Liz has tirelessly hunted down and researched 60 of these books, telling the stories of each book and the people behind them. ‘Tried, Tested and True’ is beautifully curated and illustrated, with many rare photos and vintage advertisements, and the endpapers are a riot of nostalgic 1960’s images. The recipes each come with the story behind them and tips from Liz and the cooks who made them their own and, as you’d expect, are extremely well tested.
This is a gorgeous edition and a wonderful addition to any kitchen shelf, especially those of anyone interested in recipes that honestly reflect what Australians ate and cooked at home throughout many decades.
In the spirit of the above, the modestly sized and priced Everything I know About Cooking I Learned from the Country Women’s Association of NSW (Murdoch Books $16.99 RRP) offers a deceptively large range of dishes, with recipes to suit a broad range of cooking skills.
The CWA of NSW was formed in 1922 and has been sharing their food and cooking expertise for over 70 years. These are reliable and well tested recipes and are accompanied by a range of catering tips and exhibition tips for those keen to build their skills to show stage.
From snacks and sausage rolls, through soups and stuffed chicken breasts, then on to desserts and baking, these dependable recipes will arm a cook of any skill-level with a basic repertoire to build on.
When it comes to reliable recipes, French chef Stéphane Reynaud knows a thing or two. He is owner of restaurants Villa9Trois, just outside of Paris and Tratra in London, as well as being author of eight cookbooks, including Pork & Sons which won the 2005 Grand Prix de la Gastonomie Francaise.
But it’s his latest edition, One Knife, One Pot, One Dish (Murdoch Books $39.99RRP) that really speaks to me – and that was obvious from the title. I’m all about getting maximum flavour from minimum effort, using the best produce I can find, and that’s what this book is all about.
Paring French cooking down to it’s essential ingredients, Reynaud offers 160 one-pot-recipes that even the busiest or most amateur cook will love. The recipes are formatted in a completely different way to most cookbooks, cut back as simply as possible. Many are just a list of ingredients and the name of the implement (knife, processor, etc) with which they are prepared, others list ingredients, a stripped back method, implement and cooking time/temperature.
While they do cut back on waffle and washing up, the dishes certainly don’t compromise on taste. There are many traditional dishes that are rich in flavourful ingredients, aiming to produce a memorable meal without massive effort. His Lamb with Anchovies is sublime and even the most inexperienced cook can wow with his Pork Cheeks with Dried Fruit or Eggs with Asparagus and Comté.
Get this book for anyone who can hold a knife and who has a desire to impress with only basic culinary skills.