Seasonal Fare

Author: Susan Johnston
Publisher: Wakefield Press ($45.00)

I suspect the author sees herself as the Australian Mrs Beeton of the new millennium. It is a curious book, full of recipes that I am unlikely to use but nevertheless an interesting read. It certainly has its roots in the slow food, wild food, Farmers’ Market and organics schools of thought but not vegetarian. Not at all.

It is a recipe book – there are 200 recipes organised by seasons – but also a lifestyle book. The Australian whanau home for Christmas were a bit stunned by the recipe for cockatoo – it does not feature on Aussie dinner plates and step one must be to get a licence to shoot them. Nor will we be killing the resident quail in our garden to eat them, let alone any pheasants or guinea fowl that pass by. It is possibly the first book I have seen to give a recipe for Bird in Bird. Henry VIII’s version started with a swan and went down in concentric layers to a lark. Mrs Johnston’s version which I suspect she made once only in 1993, was a turkey stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a partridge which contained a snipe – all except the snipe were boned out in case you are wondering. A snipe, we are told, has a good gamey taste of rotten liver. Charming.

The author has a walnut farm so there are a reasonable number of recipes for walnuts though I can’t imagine peeling the fresh nuts (she does say it takes an unbelievably long time and is rather tedious) to make the pasta with green walnut sauce. Chemistry daughter was horrified at the recipe for Nocino (walnut liqueur) which instructs one to go the chemist and procure 90% alcohol. She told me I must point out that pharmaceutical alcohol is made in a laboratory and, as far as she understands, is not deemed as fit for human consumption. Use vodka, not pure alcohol.

But there is a charm to this book, based on the principles of using local, seasonal produce and many of the recipes are easily managed. It has both an international and an historical flavour (she is a classics graduate who has travelled and lived overseas). It is a personal journey and if you relate to the author, you may love the book and the recipes though you will likely find the inadequate index irritating.

The illustrations are charming contemporary lithographs which add to the olde worlde slow food ambience and the publishers are to be commended on the nicely bound, hard back presentation which is often sadly lacking in books published in this country these days.