Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Grace and Flavour: Old New Zealand recipes for modern cooks by Barbara Keen (Hodder Moa) is published on April 10.

From the ODT 14 April 2012

The idea that New Zealand food was terrible until we were rescued by Asian, Italian and French flavours, is something Barbara Keen has no truck with. She talks to Charmian Smith about Grace and Flavour, her book celebrating traditional Anglo-Kiwi food of the early 20th century.
Some years ago Barbara Keen kept hearing how terrible Kiwi food used to be and it irritated her.
"There seemed to be an assumption that we all thought that earlier New Zealand food was complete rubbish and it was all overcooked mutton and boiled cabbage and there wasn't anything else. The attitude was so dismissive," the Port Chalmers food writer says.
"I bridled at that and once you get a bee in your bonnet, you see evidence of this attitude everywhere. I thought that's just not how I remembered food being when I was a kid in the 1950s."
A few years later her aunt gave her her grandmother's recipe book, and she found recipes for a lot of the things she remembered eating as a child. Then, through Wellington food writer and restaurateur Lois Daish, she came across The Golden Bay Cookery Book, a fundraiser her grandmother, Mrs T. Baignet, had edited.
"I'd never heard of the book, which is kind of spooky in a family that recounted a lot of its history. Then Mum gave me a whole lot of other old cookbooks and my aunt lent me another one of a great-aunt's."
That's when the idea to do something with old recipes began to crystallise. A freelance food writer at the time, she could not persuade magazine food editors to publish a story.
"They said 'nobody's interested in that', and 'we like to concentrate on healthy food' - there's a strong negative implication there."
In 2003 she helped curate "Lost Food", an exhibition at the Otago Settlers Museum celebrating food of the past, and now her book, Grace and Flavour: Old New Zealand recipes for modern cooks (Hodder Moa) will be published next week. She has selected recipes from some of the old books and rewritten them for today's conditions while remaining faithful to the originals.
Since she first got a bee in her bonnet about it, the cultural cringe about traditional food has begun to change and other books, particularly by Alexa Johnston, have celebrated traditional New Zealand baking and puddings, which pleases her.
The things we admire in foreign cuisines, such as French or Italian, such as eating with the seasons, simple country food that makes good use of what is available, and using up leftovers, are all in our old recipes, she says.
"I was quite stunned by the variety of things I found. There wasn't much garlic but anchovies were very popular as a flavour. It's essentially British food and British food has always had a bad rap."
However, writers such as Jane Grigson, Michael Smith and most recently Jamie Oliver have rehabilitated good British food.
Keen points out dishes such as Scotch broth, a hearty soup made from a cheap cut of meat, a grain and a few vegetables are similar to Italian or French peasant soups, and boiled mutton with vegetables is the equivalent of the celebrated French pot au feu.
Ham and chicken loaf made with jellied stock is basically a terrine.
Blancmange is essentially the same as the fashionable Italian dessert panna cotta, but those who remember the packet blancmange mixes of their childhood, still think of it as a bit like wallpaper paste.
Some dishes used to take a long time to cook, such as boiled mutton - essentially a poached joint cooked in the same way as corned beef, but now, with slow cookers these are no longer a problem. Steamed puddings, which took hours to cook, used to be common, but they can now be cooked in a microwave in a few minutes.
Many old recipes were designed to use up leftovers, a big feature of almost all cuisines in the past.
Fish pudding, despite its unappetising name, is subtle and delicious, using leftover fish and rice, herbs, seasonings and white sauce, Keen says.
White sauce, also known by the French name b├ęchamel, was used widely and was what she calls "a stretcher" that helped make a little food go further.
Leftover bread was another stretcher, used as breadcrumbs, and in sweet and savoury bread puddings and as a thickener for bread sauce.
"People in the country always had to be ready for visitors arriving unexpectedly - you couldn't just text and say I'm outside your house! People might arrive quite unexpectedly after quite a long journey and needed to be fed."
They also ate a lot more offal, using up all the parts of the animal, especially when it was farm-killed.
"One of my favourites, a recipe in one of the books is called "to re-serve stewed tripe". I love that. No marketing department has ever been near that! You don't get tripe much any more. I put it in anyway and called it "baked tripe" as it's quite a nice dish, a gratin type of thing," she says.
Spanish cream was a favourite in her family, and always served at Christmas. It was fluffy on the top, mousse-like in the middle and jelly on the bottom.
Although some people say the jelly is a flaw, she thinks it is one of its chief attractions.
In searching through the recipe books and trying out recipes, she came across some unusual ones.
"There was a pea and strawberry salad which I thought was incredibly advanced, from the Women's Division of Federated Farmers book. It had shredded lettuce, silverbeet tips, also shredded and raw which is somewhat unusual, and shelled peas - everyone had a garden and peas, which is a whole different thing from frozen - and a tablespoon of shredded nasturtium leaves.
Then you made a dressing by mashing up some strawberries and some lemon juice and you also added some cut-up strawberries too. It seemed to me terribly nouvelle cuisine. It was from the 1950s so it was probably part of a health movement. It's a very nice salad I must say."
Another unusual recipe that caught her imagination was a fig recipe contributed by Mrs E.M. Arthur, of Timaru.
"I'd like to know more about the woman who put it in. I've done a bit of a search. I thought she might be related to Basil Arthur but it turns out she wasn't, and I've drawn a blank."
The fig cake is simply finely chopped, dried figs soaked in wine, and split almonds. The figs are pressed into an oiled tin, layered with almonds and then topped with the rest of the figs. It is not cooked but pressed then iced with a vienna icing - a vanilla icing with a lot of butter and wine or brandy, Keen says.
"It's quite lovely and not like anything else I've come across in any of the books I've looked through. It would have been quite pricey because everything in 1914 or whenever would have been imported."
There were other luxurious dishes, such as port wine jelly, which has an Edwardian feel about it, she says.
An unusual but refreshing summer drink was lemon whey from the Rangimarie Croquet Club's Cookery Book.
"It's lemon juice, lemon rind and milk. You combine them and it separates into curds and whey. You drink the whey - they say it's excellent when feverish, and the curds are good on toast or biscuits," she says.
"Cakes were the jewel in the crown. New Zealanders were great bakers. You didn't have a caterer down the road so you got the 'ladies, a plate' thing. And my memory of that is that it was somewhat competitive in a nice way. So that's why people got used to taking food to public events. So baking is the public face, you might say, of traditional New Zealand cooking, whereas the other stuff was family food."

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