The Slow Chef and I have been married for a wonderful 18 years. We still have many wedding gifts we were given all those years ago but I can honestly say that one of my favourite gifts was from a relative so distant that I don’t think we can really be called ‘related’. And, I had never met them. Still haven’t to this day. But I will always hold dear the present they sent us; an empty recipe book titled ‘Cook’s Favourites’. It was probably a play on words; my maiden name and their surname was Cook.
Over the first few years of our marriage I carefully clipped recipes from magazines that I considered classy, like waldorf salad. Apple and nuts in a salad! The height of sophistication. Chicken and avocado filo parcels – so stylish! Imagine taking the time to carefully wrap fine ingredients in delicate layers of thin-as-silk pastry. Remember, I grew up in a large family. Meals were big, efficient and filling. I loved them but I rarely saw anything delicate or fancy.
As we progressed through the early years of our marriage, sophisticated recipes became practical, cheap meals that could be thrown together while babies screamed and toddlers raged. They were mostly vegetarian; pumpkin, basil and goats cheese tart or salad nicoise, as meat was expensive and we were trying to juggle kids, a business and a household budget.
About 7 years into our marriage my recipes (yes – I had taken over the wedding gift and assumed ownership) became homely; strawberries and cream sponge, homemade lemonade. At the time we were renting a house in Sydney. The garden was full of rose bushes, camelias, gardenias and citrus trees. I tended that garden as though it were my own. The recipes collected during the 3 years we lived in Roseville contained the ingredients sourced from our garden; lemon meringue pie, pasta with pesto sauce. Our driveway was lined with parsley and basil plants, each plant a foot wide. We invited the neighbours to help themselves as we could never use it all.
My recipes then became hand written. They were transcribed from friends; slices I had tasted and loved at an afternoon tea like raspberry shortbread and vanilla custard slice.
About 10 years into our marriage I clearly became nostalgic for my heritage. I began collecting recipes that flavoured my childhood; my Gran’s (and therefore my Mum’s) mayonnaise (I’ve never tasted a mayonnaise as good), my cousin Trina’s simple fruit slice:
3/4 lb butter
3/4 kg dried mixed fruit
3 cups brown sugar
3 cups SR Flour
Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 mins. Slice while warm.
(You may need to halve this recipe as it is based on afternoon tea in the Cook household).
In recent years I have recorded recipes from friends in Noosa; Jenny’s choc chip cookies, Lisa’s salmon dip in a bread cob (try keeping me away from this at a party), and Jenny’s onion jam (she’s a great cook).
My most prized recipe is my Dad’s tomato relish. It was originally made by my gran but Dad made it his own. I can still remember the overwhelming smell of our kitchen when he was cooking it; a plastic laundry tub full of chopped onions, another of diced tomatoes and a massive stock pot of vinegar and spices simmering on the stove. When Dad died suddenly last September one of the first things my brother, Geoff, sobbed was “Oh God, he never told us how he read the cards.” We all groaned, our hearts breaking even further. We had Dad’s relish recipe but we had no idea how he could tell you every card in a pack that was facing away from him (towards you), by feeling the top right corner. I wish he had written it down somewhere. Perhaps he has and we just haven’t looked hard enough.
My ‘Cook’s Favourites’ recipe book is like a photo album of our marriage to date; an historical record. The most prized possession I could ever ask to inherit from my Mum is her cookbook: a black ring-binder full of the recipes and memories of my childhood.
So, today, I presented Nick, The Slow Chef, with his very own ‘Cook’s Favourites’ recipe book from Kikki.K. I hope he will record the recipes he is learning and one day perhaps Zach will be the recipient of his father’s ‘Cook’s Favourites’; recipes, memories and love.