I have just returned from an extraordinary few weeks, travelling more than 6000 kilometres to meet some of the show cooks that will feature in a national version of the Blue Ribbon Cookbook, due out in March 2014. The wonderful conversations and cooking sessions that I shared with these talented men and women reinforced yet again the importance of capturing their knowledge about this very traditional world of baking and preserving, and sharing it with others so that it is accessible to future generations. So many of their recipes were not written down, and even if they were the actual recipe is only part of what you need to know. The real gold lies in the little tips and tricks acquired over generations, absorbed in the kitchen working alongside mothers and grandmothers, but hardly ever found in books. And writing these down so they are conveyed clearly and accurately is a real art form, rarely acknowledged in the broader writing community.
I know from the many conversations that I have had over the years with readers that there are many sad stories out there about lost family recipes. I have my own version. Two days a week a bachelor uncle of mine would bake his version of a German cake and bring it to the farm for afternoon tea. Made with fresh yeast, this cake was quite different to the famous Barossa version. It had a smattering of sultanas and a delicious topping of hard-baked sugar, and was always delivered warm from the oven, wrapped in an old calico sugar bag. Uncle Ross lived just up the road and the closest neighbours would wait for the sight of his battered old Holden ute leaving the driveway and then drop in for a cuppa.
It’s more than 20 years since Uncle Ross died, but if I close my eyes I can still remember the smell of that cake and the taste of it in my mouth, running with melting butter. But I cannot tell you how to cook it. The knowledge of how to make it is long forgotten, because we failed to write it down while he was still around to tell us.
Liz Harfull is an award winning journalist and Churchill Fellow and a former publicist specialising in agriculture and environmental management. She is the author of the bestselling The Blue Ribbon Cookbook which is now in its fourth print run and was named runner-up at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris in July 2009. Liz will be holding a workshop at the Centre on perfecting the secret art of recipe writing on 29th June. Be sure to book early!