Every year hundreds of talented amateurs devote hours to preparing entries for cookery competitions run as part of 600 or so agricultural shows across Australia. In their quest for a prestigious blue ribbon, entrants use recipes based on generations of experience and strict judging codes that demand absolute perfection.
In this follow up to her first award-winning book, The Blue Ribbon Cookbook, Liz Harfull brings together 70 tried and true recipes from some of the country's most enthusiastic and talented show cooks. But more than that, in The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook Liz shares their heart-warming stories, and the wisdom, knowledge and generosity of spirit that brings success, even for novices.
There's the Melbourne show's youngest winner at age 13 who drew on four preceding generations of recipes to win first place, there's the 'Man Cake Competition" at the Campbell Town Show encouraging men to try their hand at baking, and even two girls who baked to raise money for breast-cancer, using the baking skills their mother taught them before she passed away.
As one entrant says 'People think I'm crazy because I get so excited about the show but I love it – It's always been an important thing in my life. As Dad used to say, some people go away for a holiday – I have the Brisbane Show"…
Whether it's traditional Scones or Anniversary Fruit Cake, mouth-watering Sausage Rolls or Pumpkin Damper, Jenny's Jam Drops or Cousin Barb's Jelly Slice, there is something delicious for everyone to try…
The end results may even win you a blue ribbon!
Liz Harfull is an award-winning journalist and Churchill Fellow who grew up on a small farm near Mt Gambier which has been in the family since the early 1860s. She worked for several newspapers before spending twelve years with a leading national public relations business specialising in agriculture and environmental management. In 2006 she walked away from being a co-owner/director of the business to focus on her writing and a passion for telling the stories of regional Australia. Much to her astonishment, her first book, the best-selling Blue Ribbon Cookbook, took her to Paris when it was named runner-up in the Gourmand World Cookbook awards in 2009 against finalists from more than 50 countries. It was followed by Women of The Land in 2012. Today Liz lives in the Adelaide Hills, occasionally finding time to bake scones and make jam, while juggling a busy writing career and volunteer work on a national council representing rural journalists and communicators.
The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook
Allen and Unwin
Author: Liz Harfull
Question: Why did you decide to include recipes from around the country for this cookbook?
Liz Harfull: My very first book was about shows and show cooking in South Australia, which is where I am from. (I grew up in a little farming district on the Limestone coast – just across the paddock from the showground. I was often woken up on show day by the sound of the loudspeakers calling the first horses into the arena.) What I thought was a fairly simple concept turned out to be a surprise best seller, which took me to Paris where it was named runner-up in the most hotly contested section of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. I am still shaking my head over how writing about country shows and the type of simple cooking I grew up with took me to the gourmet capital of the world. But it did, and the book became a national best-seller, which led to me receiving inquiries from readers in other states about whether I was going to write about their shows and show cooks too.
Question: Which of these recipes brings back the most memories, for you?
Liz Harfull: There are two particular recipes that took me straight back to my childhood and things my mother used to make. I knew as soon as I took a bite, that I had tasted them before and they are both a little unusual these days – old-fashioned recipes that are quite rare. One is Norm's hot water sponge – a sponge made with hot water that has a very distinct flavour and texture; and the other is Monica's fruited supper cake, an unusual tea cake with sultanas and a cinnamon crumble topping. My mother used to make something like this, but with currants instead of sultanas.
Question: Can you share some of the many tips from Australia's best show cooks featured in the book?
Liz Harfull: There are so many tips because it's a feature of the book, and something I have gathered up from the cooks and the judges for every single recipe. It's very hard to pick just a few, but I guess the idea of coating the bottom of your preserves pan with a little butter so the jam doesn't stick as it cooks is a good one, and I love making jam so I've already put it into practice. The tip about adding raspberry jam to the icing mixture for lamingtons to enhance the flavour and to stop the icing from soaking too much into the sponge is brilliant too. I had test cooks trying this recipe who had never really succeeded in making a decent lamington and the cook's tips and recipe worked a treat.
Question: Which recipe do you suggest I cook first to impress my family?
Liz Harfull: Well, this depends on your level of experience in baking or preserves making. For raw beginners, Shirley's Orange Cake is a good place to start or Bettina Kent's Peanut Butter Swirl Slice. The cake is a very simple, one bowl recipe, with minimal ingredients and a great result and the slice is a no-bake sweet treat whipped up in a minutes that looks great on the plate and stores well in the fridge – if you can stop people eating it! If you have had a bit more experience and want to impress friends over dinner, Bruce McDonough's Nectarine and Macadamia Frangipane Tart is hard to beat, and I am already getting feedback from readers about Vaughan Wilson's Jaffa Friands.
Interview by Brooke Hunter