Last year at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival the programmers had the inspired idea of hosting a three course lunch with each course chosen by a food writer. David Veart got to choose the dessert, an easy task given his collection of over 600 cook books, which he began when he was researching his M.A. thesis on Maori market gardening in Auckland.
He’s observed a few changes in attitudes to food himself, having once worked in a restaurant where the customers were given plastic corks to sniff and where the mixing of the dressing for the Prawn Cocktails was a matter of sticking your arm into a huge drum. Those were the days.
At a session hosted by Marie-Chantal of Greece lookalike Victoria Wells (only prettier), the editor of dish, Veart and Alexa Johnston, author of Ladies a plate, were simultaneously heartening and dispiriting to me as the world’s worst cook. I’ve always been in agreement with Lady Barker’s statement that cookbooks are only useful if you already know how to cook so I was heartened by the trend to numbered steps, exact ingredients and, Halleluyah, bold dark type with none of this pale blue on pale grey nonsense.
Dispiriting was the observation that some funerals feature the deceased’s cookbook. I have recently noted references to signature dishes in eulogies and worried that there could be none at mine. Now I have to worry that this cookbook tomfoolery will take off and the lack of a cookbook will be noted post mortem. As if it’s not bad enough to be a culinary inadequate in life but further humilation awaits in death.
Anyway they were a very engaging duo, Peta Mathias was in the audience and she is as gorgeous and opinionated as ever, and I might just get a cookbook out of the library and work on a signature dish. Historical cookbooks are fascinating and we’re lucky in Christchurch to have a great collection in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre, ready for perusal if not for borrowing, which in a way is even better because then you don’t have to even try to cook from them.