Book review: The Great Australian Cookbook

Editors: Helen Greenwood & Melissa Leong

Echo Publishing, 2017 TV Tie-In Hardcover

(First published 2015 by PQ Blackwell), 441pp, RRP $50

ISBN: 978-1-76040-540-3

Until Barnaby Joyce’s identity crisis, I knew who I was. At least I thought I did.

Born in Australia and adopted as an infant by New Zealand-born parents, I spent much of my childhood in rural New Zealand, and my teens in Sydney. Besides State of Origin night (an even more complicated story), my identity was clear: I am Australian with some Kiwi influences. Nothing more, nothing less.

A trip to Wellington for a gastronomy conference brought back the food of my childhood, many recipes taken from Mum’s battered Edmunds Cookery Book. It also reintroduced me to the amazing innovation of Kiwi chefs, to exceptional New Zealand seafood such as paua, tuatua and whitebait, amazing dairy products I’d never forgotten, and the best doughnuts I’ve ever tasted.

An item in my return luggage included The Great New Zealand Cookbook, its recipes comprising old and new classics from over 80 chefs, gathered in a road trip that the team later described as ‘a once-in-a-lifetime experience’. Containing such classics as Whitebait fritters, Tuatua Fritter Butties and Mum’s Ginger Crunch, it’s a recipe book I’ll refer to often. Some other recipes, such as Titi (Muttonbird) with Watercress, are purely of cultural interest.

Late in 2017, The Great Australian Cookbook was republished, a snapshot of the food that Aussies love to eat. Though it contains old favourites such as roast chicken, lamingtons and granola, it’s also thoroughly modern, reflecting the multicultural diversity of Australian culture and the amazingly fresh local produce available to our cooks. Kangaroo makes it into the ingredient list, as well as a range of bush foods.

With over 165 recipes from more than 80 great Aussie chefs, the collection is beautifully photographed, printed on matte paper in a substantial hardcover edition. The character photos and handwritten notes are a treasure in themselves, providing snapshots of Australian life. At work or at home, in the kitchen or out foraging, the luminaries of Australian cuisine (as well as a few others) are captured, along with their take on food philosophy.

From Brasserie Bread’s Michael Klausen comes a recipe for the ultimate French toast. Darren Robertson of Three Blue Ducks brings us a posh avo mash (with poached eggs, fermented cabbage and fennel ‘with some stuff from the garden’), and Cheong Liew shares an iconic Char Kway Teow and Beef Rendang. While some of the recipes are straightforward, others require commitment far beyond the reach of the beginning cook. Yet it’s both eclectic and inspirational.

What both books share is a picture of the rich history of our nations’ food, how ethnically diverse both countries are and how unique. Both are also classics for the 21st century with gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian recipes separately indexed. Both claim Pavlova, Oysters Kilpatrick and Lamb Roast as their own… What the Aussie version has over the Kiwi one is Reg Mombassa’s gorgeous cover and endpapers. Delightful!

Now, unlike Barnaby Joyce, I stand straddling the ditch, claiming both identities with open arms. I also revel in owning both cookbooks that represent my nations so beautifully.

My pigeon pair is complete.

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