For years my friends have been asking me for my recipes. The main reason I have very seldom given any away in the past is because I could rarely remember what I put in them in the way of quantities. Remembering the ingredients hasn’t been too hard, but I have really had to work on the quantity side of things. So do what I do…taste…taste…taste! Having been raised and lived in the more remote areas, in the days when supplies were few and far between (due to both logistic and family circumstances), we turned to what we could grow and to local foods. Many are the times I remember going out on a ‘search and find’ for food; a circumstance that I have been thankful for all my life. I don’t really know if it was because of this that I developed both an inventive and imaginative turn of mind, or whether it was always there. I have often wondered.
Very rarely did I use a recipe. Due to the non-availability of half the ingredients, I would finish up throwing the book aside in frustration and disgust! But I just adored cookbooks and was a voracious reader; so, I learned to substitute, improvise and develop my own style and recipes. My only regret is that I never wrote anything down. Being young and usually in a hurry, I just never thought of it.People say I’m a good cook…not true! Take me away from the land of coconuts and it’s ‘game over’! True, I like trying and inventing, but real western cookery I have to work at. Never for a moment imagine that everything I have invented or made has been a roaring success; there have been a few ‘creations’ I could gladly forget about!
I remember as a young bride, I tried to make an omelette. The result caused my husband to roll around the floor in hysterical laughter…well almost! The omelette was pretty bad, came out as some strange sort of scrambled eggs. The incredibly stupid part of the whole thing was that I was so mortified, that for the next 25 years I refused to attempt an omelette. If I could reach back in time I would box my own ears! It wasn’t until more recently, while chasing up un-financial members for a Health Club in Sydney, that I did a ‘contra deal’ with a brilliant young chef, and can now make an omelette that can knock your eye out!On another occasion, I was assured that my ‘creation’ would have made splendid shanghai missiles … quite right too! The dogs had many a secret feed.
The main requisites for an outback or bush cook are…
- A good sense of humour.
- A lively imagination.
- A basic ‘no frills’ cook book.
The rest will follow naturally.
Without No. 3 you could possibly survive. Without No. 2 it would be hard work. Without No. 1 you will never make it.
The rules are few … three words … simple, tasty, good-looking.
Local foods need very few spices. My favourite flavourings are as follows: Salt, freshly ground black pepper, sugar, curry, spices, Fiji sage, parsley, mint, bay leaves, mixed herbs, oregano, nutmeg, cinnamon … best till last … garlic, ginger and onions.My mother says that my one week’s supply of onions would last her for a year.
Don’t get carried away with the temptation to overstock with spices when it’s possible to get to a town or city. Spices don’t keep all that well and so are wasted. We learned to accept and take advantage of intending guests’ and friends’ offers to shop for us and bring…Ah! Those jalapeno chillies and salami!
Keep your mind open for new ideas at all times as they can appear from anywhere. Learning is made all the more interesting when it comes from an unexpected quarter.
For example: While in the garden one day I heard my husband say loudly to the occupants of the hen house, “Girls…this is NOT good enough!” I repeated the essence of the ensuring lecture to one of our guests who knew all about laying (or non-laying hens). He spent the rest of his vacation happily demonstrating how to ‘feel’ which ones were laying (as they slept on their perches at night) and which ones could be safely put in the ‘lovo’ for the next cruise ship.
Many of my ideas have come from memories of my mother’s cooking during my childhood. She claimed that she hated cooking but be that as it may, she had some great ideas. It was no mean feat to produce what she did over those lean years; the 1940’s and 50’s in the Mission field.
The Girl Guide Cook Book and a publication called ‘The South Pacific Cookery Book’ (which I think was a government effort printed in about 1961) and a very dear lady by the name of Margaret Fulton, also played a major part in my ‘getting started’ years. Now-a-days, of course, there are some absolutely beautiful tropical cook books around. I think I have them all.
Many a time when I have said to my mother, “you used to cook this or that, this way,” she had great difficulty remembering and would sometimes be quite disbelieving. So when a friend I met in Suva the other day told me that if I didn’t get those recipes written down soon…I would forget. I was reminded of a remark made by my Aunt on seeing me again after a long time, “My goodness…Edna will never be dead while you’re alive!” Perchance the same memory lapses!?
So here I am putting pen to paper to write down all those things people have been asking me for, and about over the years…
This is therefore not a recipe book as such…or maybe one illustrated by stories instead of pictures…well I don’t know…I’ll leave it to you to figure out.
I just hope it provides as much amusement as it did for me, putting it all together……
Vinaka, Lynette Mercer
Nukubati Island. Fiji