Winter has settled in. It has crept up on our houses while we slept and swirled its way through our gardens while we looked longingly out our windows into our shadow swept yards. The ground is cold and damp and a heavenly trio of rain, mist and fog dance and twirl their way across the pewter sky.
I mostly long to sit with a book and a cup of tea by my fire, but today I was off on an adventure to learn how to decorate a birthday cake. My destination was my tante Dina’s house in the Yarra Valley. Thirty something years ago she gave me my first school girl lesson in the art of rolling, pressing and shaping sugar into flowers. How enchanting for a young girl to discover adults also enjoy playing with clay, with the added privilege of eating cake at the end of it all.
Today I took my own daughter with me so the skills that I learnt at my Aunty’s knee are now being passed down to my own children. My Aunty has also mastered the art of sewing, knitting, crocheting, bottling, preserving, bread making ($3 for her sourdough loaf back before it was fashionable) and all round hospitality par excellence. Her traditional skill set is proudly matched by those of her husband who is a legendary gardener with seemingly infinite knowledge of the mystical art of getting things to grow. They basically know all the stuff that I do not.
It got me thinking about knowledge and craft and learning to cook. I learnt some of what I know about cooking from my Aunty (no jam is as good as a home-made jam) and some from my Mum and my Mother-in-law. I learnt a little more from Gabriel Gate and Ian “Huey” Hewitson and then a whole lot more from the internet.
My latest obsession is trawling through books on food and produce, as inspired by Mark Kurlansky, Annie Smithers and Charlotte Wood.
There is something fundamentally enriching about bringing something new into existence. Charlotte Wood, Love & Hunger.
I think we can really learn to cook anywhere, from anyone and that we don’t all need to have parents or family members who sat with us and patiently taught us their skills. It is however, an enormous privilege when someone does share their knowledge, a little precious parcel of wisdom gently passed from one generation to another.
Did you have a perfect pair of elders who were able to teach you to cook or did you work it out yourself?
In other news, I will keep you posted on how the cake turns out. So far, so good. Please cross your fingers and everything else for me though.
Here are a few more photos from the Yarra Valley because I just love them and can’t help sharing.
Fuchsias, so many beautiful fuchsias in the most amazing colours. I wish I was so well dressed.
A luscious array of succulents with varying textures, tones, shapes and sizes.
Perfect broccoli. I am told the the trick here is a lot of time, care and attention and an excellent composting system.
So, who taught you to cook and did you ever learn the traditional skills of making, baking and bottling?