Recipes are meant to be shared with a generous heart, if for nothing more than to encourage and inspire others to discover the wonder of food; to taste life through food and all its magic.
Awarding-winning cookbook author, chef, and Herald Sun columnist for three decades, Kate McGhie, grew up on a farm close to the sea near Warrnambool in the western district of Victoria. She could bake a cake long before she learned to ride a horse; snatch a chicken before she tasted pâté; shin up an apple tree before she'd even heard of Adam and Eve.
In her new book, Apple Blossom Pie, Kate shares the practical wisdom of country cooks, great food traditions and kitchen creativity to be cherished for years to come. These are memories collected from the time when menus were decided by what fruits and vegetables were in abundance on the family farm.
A descendant of seven generations of farmers, Kate has fond recollections of spending time with her mother and her nana - sometimes in the veggie garden, where a 'wise old hands would tug a baby carrot from the soil, pluck a sun-warm tomato, or snap off a crisp green bean' and give them to her. If not in the garden, she would be perched at the kitchen table, absorbing the daily food ritual and learning how to prepare and preserve the garden's bounty.
There were beef and dairy cattle were grown on the farm, as well as a pigs and poultry. On a large acreage, crops such as potatoes were grown. In addition to the vegetable garden and farm, there were orchards too, with mulberries, gnarled old quince trees, wild plums and blackberries.
It all sounds so idyllic, particularly in these days of commercially-produced food. That said, Kate mindfully points out that although she was fortunate to get an intimate, first-hand knowledge of growing and producing food at a time when nothing was ever wasted, she is also realistic when it comes to the difference between the yearning for a by-gone era of producing all foods ourselves. 'Nevertheless,' she writes, 'I feel a little wistful that so few future generations will experience the riches of an agrarian lifestyle'.
In Apple Blossom Pie, Kate shares memories so cherished and formative that they hover over [her] like guardian angels. 'The rolling golden hills of grain, the shimmering summer heat, the barking of the busy blue heelers, the putter of the single cylinder engine in the dairy.'
Written in delightful prose across chapters titled The Salad Bowl, The Veggie Patch, Larder and Pantry, The Potato Patch, Gathering and Foraging, The Soup Pot, The Flock, The Herd, The Piggery, Birds and Bunnies, The Orchard, Jam Time, Baking Day, A Good Tea Table, The Dairy, and Christmas - Apple Blossom Pie is a magnificent celebration of Australian country cooking.
Thanks to the generosity of the publicity team at Murdoch Books, I had the opportunity to catch up with Kate via email. Our 'conversation' follows:
Hello Kate, congratulations on your new book, Apple Blossom Pie, and thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for me.
My pleasure, Liz.
Your career as a cookery writer spans more than thirty years. How did it all begin?
I grew up in the country where from a very early age I was immersed in the daily and seasonal rhythms of farm life. Growing and preserving all our food was a normal way of life as was learning the basics of cooking and the art of turning a meal into a celebration of food.
What's your earliest food memory?
As a very small child sitting on the large kitchen table watching my Nan make meringues. All air and magic!
You mention your mother and your nana throughout the book. Who else is on your list of food heroes, and what inspires you the most when it comes to food and cooking?
Country cooks the world over are my real heroes – every day they put family meals (and often meals for shearers and other farm workers as well) on the table made often from what they grow and what is in the pantry. Their spirit, ingenuity and resourcefulness continue to inspire and influence me.
Cooking to me is a series of minor miracles and I marvel at the transformation of ingredients. I seek ripe, soil grown produce and quality ingredients. Cooking requires instinct and taste. Learn restraint - with superb key ingredients little else, other than enthusiasm, is needed. The greatest dishes are very simple.
Do you have an all-time favourite recipe? And is there one you'd like to share with Good Things readers?
Golly there is no ‘an all-time favourite’ recipe. I am always trying different recipes and constantly return to family and familiar favourites. From my childhood and country background a favourite would have to be my mother’s meatloaf. The recipe appears below, please scroll down.
What fresh ingredients are always in your shopping basket?
Garlic, avocados, silver beet, fish, broccoli, eggplant, lemons, shallots, tomatoes, bananas, pomegranates... always lots of in-season fruit and vegies.
And finally, what's for dinner tonight?
It’s an all ‘roast’ dinner tonight – and no pots to wash! Fish roasted in horseradish-apple glaze served with tiny roasted beetroot and sweet potato chunks. Roasted rhubarb with natural set yoghurt and pomegranate seeds.
REMEMBERING MY MOTHER’S MEATLOAF - KATE McGHIE
Mum’s meatloaf stood the test of time because it is easy, deeply seasoned, juicy, full-of-flavour and is a truly wonderful thing. Like any other dish, meatloaf is as good as its ingredients. It needs quality meat and seasoning.
Adding pork mince and some veal mince if available, adds another level of flavour and moisture. Chuck steak is a good choice of beef because it is rich in flavour and has a good balance of meat and fat – and some fat is essential or your meatloaf will be dry.
During cooking fat will rise to the top and seal the loaf to keep it fresh for several days. To keep the cooked loaf tender and moist, small pieces of torn bread or large coarse fresh crumbs are added to the raw mixture. Never use dried crumbs as they soak up cooking juices and dry out the meat.
Occasionally, if she had time, Mum arranged a neat row of hard boiled eggs down the centre of the loaf – other times she chopped the eggs and they appeared as a mosaic pattern when sliced. The loaf was not always encased in overlapping bacon rashers but when they were, they were stretched thin by running the back of a study knife along each rasher firmly held at one end.
Lining the loaf pan keeps the juices in during cooking and for even browning. The mixture can be as simple as mince, onion, herbs, bread and egg but this one is her blue-ribbon mixture. It can also be made into meat loaf pie or served cold and sliced on a snack platter with crusty bread and relish or pickles.
Serves: 6 or more
Start to finish: about 13/4 hours
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup diced celery
250g pork mince
500g beef mince
1 cup day old coarse bread crumbs
1 large egg, whisked
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp EACH ground allspice, nutmeg and mace
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground white pepper
8 long thin rashers bacon
Preheat the oven to 180C (fan-forced 160C). Line a large loaf pan about 26cm x 10cm with baking paper.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic, onion and celery and gently cook until soft. Put into a bowl and cool slightly before adding the mince, breadcrumbs, egg, milk, herbs, spices, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper. Use a wet hand to gently mix all the ingredients until just combined.
Line the pan with overlapping bacon rashers leaving ends over the side. Spoon the mince mixture into the pan packing it down lightly and piling it above the top of the pan. Bring bacon rashers up over the top to cover the meat. Cover with baking paper. Cook for about one hour or until cooked when tested by inserting a fine skewer into the middle and it feels hot against your skin when the skewer is withdrawn. After the meatloaf is cooked, let it rest for 15 minutes before serving to allow the juices to redistribute, so the texture is juicy and tender. When you turn the meatloaf out make sure you capture all the luscious juices and spoon them over the slices to serve.
And a bit more: Don't handle the mince mixture too much. If you over-mix, it will compact, squeezing liquid out during cooking, resulting in a tougher, drier loaf. My variation on this recipe is to use only fresh herbs with the addition of 150g chopped haloumi or feta, 80g coarsely chopped Kalamata black olives and 1/2 cup chopped pistachios.
Apple Blossom Pie - Memories of An Australian Country Kitchen by Kate McGhie, $49.99. Thank you kindly Kate and the publicity team at Murdoch Books for giving me the opportunity to dip into this lovely title.
Dear readers, do please take the time to listen to Kate's interview with Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM. It's a great introduction to Kate and her story.
Now tell me friends, do you have fond memories of cooking with your nana and mum? And have you added this book to your Christmas wish list?
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I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.