Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant

The Many Mouths of Food Writing

4 May - By Martina Taeker

This decade is a great time for people who love reading about food. The large number of books being published and variety of topics results in books to suit any palate. The Taste of History event, held at the Cove Civic Centre on Wednesday May 3, celebrated South Australian food history with talks about four very different but worthy local books.

Barbara Santich was inspired to write Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage because she disagreed with the assertion held by many people that Australia did not have a cuisine until the arrival of continental Europeans after World War II. She felt certain this could not be so and research confirmed her theory.

“Many early settlers were innovative, unafraid to try new things,” Barbara said in her talk. “They improvised and substituted local ingredients for more familiar ingredients that they could not get in this country. They could not afford to be constrained by tradition.” This led naturally to the creation of new meals, new recipes, and Australian cuisine was born.

Janet Shane, deputy state president of the South Australian Country Women’s Association, spoke about the latest recipe book produced by the association, The Calendar of Cakes. Officially founded in 1929, the SACWA was created to help country women combat isolation, but from the outset it also provided information and advice to help women with their domestic duties.

The Calendar of Puddings was launched in 1948 and sold 5000 copies in two weeks. This led to the publication of more books in the calendar series, each focusing on a particular type of food or cooking. The popularity of recipe books has waxed and waned since the SACWA was formed, but it remains an important part of the association’s fund-raising activities.

Helen Bennetts includes recipes in her book Willunga Almonds: Stories + Recipes, and she is passionate about all things almond. Her book includes information about the history of almond growing in South Australia, the symbolism and mythology surrounding almonds, and information on different varieties.

In contrast, the book about Haigh’s Chocolate does not contain recipes but provides an interesting look into the history of this well-known South Australian brand. Pamela McAllistair, archivist for Haigh’s Chocolate, concedes that when Alfred Haigh began producing his own chocolate in the 1920s, he was probably not intending to create an iconic brand, but his passion and professionalism set the company on that path.

Four different books and four enthusiastic speakers made for an entertaining evening, and proved that South Australians not only love eating and cooking, but enjoy reading about food as well.

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