Food File

When I got married I could barely make toast. Why should I learn to cook, when my mother was so good at it? She took me in hand, and my early recipes came from her and my aunts. There are a few I still make, although as one of my characters in The House Within says, in a disapproving tone, ‘All that butter? And all that sugar?’ But then, when these characters cook, they are usually making treats. I was so happy when one of my readers asked for my mother’s Oriental Chocolate Chew recipe and, later, a batch of it turned up in my letterbox.

From my mother’s recipes I graduated to Mary Anne in the Auckland Herald. For the past 30 or so years, Lois Daish has been my food heroine, because she follows the same rules as my early mentors – good fresh ingredients, cooked with simplicity, plus her own stylish tilt.

I have dozens of recipe books, and hundreds of recipes clipped out of newspapers and magazines. I don’t know where some of them came from. One of my favourite books, that never fails to provide a recipe for any occasion or type of food, is the encyclopedic New York Times Cook Book, ed. by Craig Claibourne. It doesn’t have pictures, and neither does my food file. A few of these recipes appear in my books, and the rest are just things I like to make.


Oriental Chocolate Chew (cake)

200g wine biscuits
100g sugar
120g butter
1 egg
60g preserved ginger
60g raisins
1 cup walnuts
60 g glazed cherries
150g cocoa
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 dessert spoon lemon juice

Melt butter and sugar in pan, add beaten egg. Stir until it boils. Add cocoa, chopped fruit and nuts, the crushed biscuits and flavourings. Press into a buttered tin (a sponge roll size is fine). When it is set, ice with chocolate icing and cur into fingers.

(This is made by the narrator’s mother in ‘All the Way to Summer’, one of the stories in A Needle in the Heart )



Tomato Soup (for bottling)

5.5 kilos tomatoes (beefsteak are the best for this recipe)
7 onions
1 ounce celery salt
7 cloves
1 cup sugar
2 tspns pepper
1 lb butter
2 tblsp salt
8 tblsp flour
1 tblsp parsley

Quarter the tomatoes and add sliced onions, add sugar, celery salt, cloves, pepper, salt and parsley and boil for half an hour. Put through a mouli and strain. Melt butter, carefully stir in the flour, add sieved pulp and boil for 5 minutes. Bottle and seal at once.

(This recipe appears in the story ‘Soup’, also in A Needle in the Heart. The recipe came from a dear friend who was never, so far as I know, deceived in the way that my character is).




Lemon Honey

250 gms sugar (I use caster)
juice of 2 lemons
a whisper of lemon zest
50 gms butter
2 eggs

Beat the eggs and strain them (to remove the lumps from the whites), add all the other ingredients, and stir on a low heat, but don’t let it boil. You will know when it’s ready by the way it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour into heated jars. Keeps up to a week in the fridge.

(From my mother. This is made by the character Bethany Dixon in The House Within )




Fruit Honey Quickbread (loaf)

2 tablsp. Butter
1 cup of honey
1 egg
rind of 2 oranges
juice of 2 oranges
2 ½ cups of flour
2 ½ teasp. baking powder
½ teasp. of salt
½ teasp. of baking soda
¾ of a cup of sultanas

Place the sultanas in a saucepan and cover them with boiling water. Simmer them for 15 minutes to make them plump and juicy.

Cream the butter and honey well. Break the egg into this mixture and beat it until very smooth. Stir in the grated rind.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and soda onto a plate.

Measure the orange juice and bring it up to ¾ of a cup of liquid with water if necessary. Add the sifted flour ingredients alternately with the liquids to the creamed mixture.

Quickly place the mixture in a buttered loaf tin and bake at 350 F for 1 to 1 ¼ hours.

Allow the loaf to cool.

(One of Mary Anne’s. It never fails)




Potato Fritters

2 eggs
1 tblsp. grated cheese
1 despn. Flour
2 tbsp milk
3 medium-sized potatoes grated
1 tblsp. chopped parsley
pepper and salt to taste

Beat eggs, add flour and milk mixed, then potatoes and cheese, followed by the parsley. Cook in spoonfuls in hot oil with a dash of butter

(In ‘Silver Tongued’, another story in A Needle in the Heart, the character Flo makes these for the narrator. My own aunt made them too. She called them ‘Mock Whitebait Fritters’. Yes, I agree, it makes a mockery out of a true whitebait fritter, but oh we can’t have the food of the gods every day.)




Italian Spinach Omelet

3 tblsp olive oil
¾ cup thinly small white onions
8 eggs
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped raw spinach
½ teasp salt
¼ teasp. pepper
¼ teasp dried basil
2 tblsp. chopped parsley
1/3 cup freshly ground Parmesan cheese
2 firm tomatoes, thinly sliced
8 black olives, pitted and thinly sliced

Heat oil in a heavy skillet. Cook onions over medium heat until transparent. Beat eggs with a wire whip and fold in spinach, salt, pepper, basil, parsley and cheese. Pour into skillet and cook over a low heat, gently lifting edges as egg sets, allowing soft eggs to run down until partially set, about 3 minutes. Arrange tomato slices and olives on top in a circular fashion. Place under grill until set and lightly browned on top about 5 minutes. Cut into wedges.

(I have no idea where this came from, but I’ve been making it for years. My friend Lauris Edmond used to like it when she came to lunch, now, sadly, a long time ago. We met for lunch at her house or mine, at least once a month for many years.)




Zucchini Slice

1 cup wholemeal breadcrumbs
5 small zucchini
1 small onion
1 or 2 cloves garlic (depending on size)
4 eggs
300 ml jar of cream
3 tblsp grated parmesan
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 tblsp self-raising flour
salt and pepper
1 large tomato

Spread crumbs evenly in a heavy square or rectangular dish. Combine coarsely grated zucchini, chopped onion, crushed garlic, add lightly beaten eggs, cream, cheeses and flour, mix well, season.

Place the mixture on the crumbs and spread evenly. Lay thinly sliced tomato on top. Bake in a moderate oven for 45 minutes.

(Source unknown)




Pan-Fried Fish with Parsley Crumbs


1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp butter
½ small onion finely diced
1 cup fresh soft breadcrumbs
handful of freshly picked parsley, chopped
grated zest of 1 small lemon


400g fish fillets
seasoned flour
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tbsp butter
juice of 1 small onion

First prepare the crumbs. Put the oil and butter in a small frying pan and heat until the butter melts, then add the onion and fry until it starts to brown. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until the crumbs are golden and crisp. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley and lemon zest. Set aside while you cook the fish.

To cook the fish, cut it into large pieces and dust lightly in seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a frying pan and when it is hot, swirl in the butter. Place the fish pieces in the pan and fry first until golden brown, then turn and fry the second side just until the fish is opaque right through. Remove from the heat and drizzle the lemon juice over the fish in the pan. Life the fish onto a warmed serving dish and spoon the parsley crumbs over the top. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

(This is one of Lois Daish recipe’s from her Listener days, and one of my favourite ways to cook fresh fish. Reproduced with Lois’s permission.)




Fragrant Fish Curry

400g snapper or any firm fish, cut into bite size pieces
12 tiger prawns, shells removed
1 onion, finely diced
2 tbsp soy oil
½ tbsp crushed garlic
½ tbsp crushed ginger
50g red curry paste
10 button mushrooms, cut in half
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into large dice
300 ml coconut cream
12 cherry tomatoes
handful of fresh basil
salt and pepper

Put the oil into a wok or saucepan and when it is hot, add the onion, garlic, ginger and red curry paste and cook for 2 minutes

Pour in the coconut cream and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the eggplant, mushrooms and red capsicum. Cook for further 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Pour in the lemon juice and fish sauce.

Gently place in the fish pieces and prawn meat and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until cooked. Take off the heat.

Garnish with fresh basil and cherry tomatoes, perhaps a little drizzle of coconut cream and a large wedge of lemon.

Serves 4.



Bell Pepper Tart

Pie crust
3 lovely red bell peppers
1-2 tomatoes
3 eggs
1 teasp flour
¼ cup white wine
100 g (1 cup) grated cheese
salt, pepper
Peel, seed and quarter the tomatoes.

In a large bowl, mix together the seeded and diced peppers, the eggs, the flour, the white wine, the cheese and the nutmeg and salt and pepper

Line your pie tine with the pie crust dough, and pour the mixture in it. Decorate with the tomato quarters.

Place in a medium oven for 30 minutes.

(When I was living in Menton in 2006, I ate a lot of tarts made from fresh vegetables bought at the daily market in our street. My friend Sokeary Pheng who lives in Provence, guided me through some wonderful cuisine around the region. When I came back to New Zealand she sent me Recipes from Provence, gathered together by René Husson and Philippe Galmiche. I don’t expect I’ll ever try anything like Fried Dough with Acacia Flowers, but there are lots of great recipes for vegetables and simple tarts.)



Blueberry Grunt (dessert)


4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
½ tsp. Ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup water


2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp butter or shortening

In a large saucepan with cover, heat berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, lemon juice and water, boil gently until well-blended and slightly cooked down.

In a mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in butter and add enough milk to make a soft biscuit dough. Drop by spoonfuls into hot berry sauce. Cover tightly with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes. The dumplings should be puffed and well cooked. Transfer cooked dumplings to serving dish. Ladle sauce over top. Serve with whipped cream.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

(This is an old Nova Scotian recipe. I first encountered it when I was staying on Cape Breton Island, with the MacPherson family, researching The Book of Secrets. My characters make it too. It derives its name from the ‘grunting noise’ the dumplings make while they cook. I’ve never seen the recipe anywhere else except in The Taste of Nova Scotia Cook Book by Charles Lief and Heather MacKenzie. Sherry MacPherson sent me the book years ago for Christmas.)



Normandy Apple Cake

4 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 tblsp brown sugar
250g unsalted butter
1 cup caster sugar
4 eggs
2 cups elf-raising flour
1 cup milk
freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
pouring cream, to serve (or very lightly whipped)
Pre-heat oven to 180

(The recipe for this never fail cake come from At My French Table by Jane Webster, a gorgeous book that was given to me at the Rona Gallery and Bookstore after I did a reading from my book of Where your Left Hand Rests. The bookstore is in Eastbourne, heart of Katherine Mansfield’s seaside territory in New Zealand.




One night on Naxos
we lost track of each other,
a missed ferry connection
that afternoon, my son already
on the island. I’m sleeping
on a rooftop, his last email said.

Cats nested in the boulders
at the terminal, a late flush
of poppies reddened the hills
above Hora, until darkness
began closing down the town
without a trace of him.

Around ten o’clock I took a table
by the sea, the hanging moon,
the whole Aegean deal, a mug
of rough white wine, a dish of olives,
set on the red and white cloth.

Other women sat at single
tables. We glanced out to sea
or at the menu, one self-consciously
reading a book, none of us meeting
each other’s or the waiter’s eye:
who says women can’t travel

alone? Then far along the beach
in a shallow of light, I saw
the yellow linen of his shirt,
the familiar tuft of beard,

as he galloped goat-like
along the sugar-white sand,
a laughing young Greek, yelling
‘shit Ma, I thought I’d lost you this time’,
his errant charge recovered.

We finished up some place else eating squid
that had hung from a beam
and a dish of green beans. I wanted to feed
him morsels, a hen sparrow with her young.
I folded my napkin, put my hands in my lap.


This is one of the poems in my collection Where your left hand rests ( pub. Godwit Random House 2010) and it reflects my love of Greece, Greek food, and of course, our son who is of Greek descent. The taverna at Naxos reflects many I’ve sat in Greece – on the waterfront at Crete, by the beach at Paros, in the Plaka in Athens, so it goes. A taverna is a restaurant that offers simple traditional Greek food, not to be confused with a tavern. The Greek word is ταβέρνα.

For all that, my efforts at Greek cooking have brought limited success. Once when I was in Greece, I bought Greek Cooking, (pub. Ekdotke Athenon) a traditional Greek recipe book. I have trouble finding the right ingredients or the correct style of cheeses.

One of the more successful Greek inspired recipes I make for my grandsons comes from Ray McVinnie’s excellent Sunday Star Times column. The boys are living near London at present and their mother is asking for the recipe, as they are missing this dish.


Boulettes Grecques (Poached Meatballs with Egg and Lemon Sauce)

(ingredients for 6)

50g butter
1 onion, grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper
500 g minced pork
1½ cups fresh breadcrumbs, made by processing fresh bread in a food processor until you have fine breadcrumbs
4 eggs
90 ml dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
4 Tbsp lemon juice
chopped parsley, for serving

Melt the butter in a frying pan over moderate heat and fry the onion for about 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Remove from the heat, season well and cool.

Put the onion in a mixing bowl with the pork and breadcrumbs. Beat 1 egg, then add to the mixing bowl along with the wine. Mix everything well (best to us your hands), then shape into about 30 walnut-sized boulettes by rolling with lightly floured hands. Place side by side on a plate.

Bring the stock to the boil in a deep-frying pan (I use my wok), then add the boulettes. Bring back to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes until cooked. Carefully remove the boulettes to a warm serving dish (leaving the stock in the pan) and keep them warm.

Separate the remaining eggs and reserve the whites for other use. Beat the yolks and the lemon juice together.

Bring the stock to the boil, then take it off the heat and whisk in the egg-yolk mixture. Don’t put back on the heat or it will curdle. Pour the sauce over the boulettes, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Ray recommends steamed rice, with a green vegetable or salad to follow. I serve it with rice, whole green beans, with a slosh of butter and lemon juice added when they are cooked.




Greek Cooking has yielded one successful recipe for me however. I use slightly less oil than shown. Here it is:

Green beans with tomato (Fasolakia freska me domata)

(the ingredients are for 6)

1 kilo fresh green beans
500 gr tomatoes finely chopped
2 onions
1 teacup oil
1 pepper
1 small bunch parsley
2-3 cloves of garlic
salt, pepper

Prepare and wash the beans. Add all the ingredients to the pan, stir and add a little water. Cook for 50 minutes, until the liquid has been reduced. Serve hot or warm.

Be sure to have some warm crusty bread on hand.




Many of my writing friends make lovely food, and the novelist Maggie Rainey Smith is no exception (see her blog ‘a curious half hour’ for some great travel writing). She brought me some gorgeous melt in your mouth Greek shortbread for Christmas. Maggie attributes her source to The Caked Crusader.

Here’s the recipe:

Greek Shortbread recipe (Kourabiedes)


250g unsalted butter
80g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy
1 egg yolk
375g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g ground almond
Sifted icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C

Use baking paper to line an oven tray.

Beat the butter and icing sugar until pale and fluffy.
 Add the vanilla, brandy and egg, and then beat until combined.
 Fold in the flour, baking powder and almonds, just until a dough forms. Don’t over-mix.
 Take tablespoons of the mix and make crescent shapes. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden.
 Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Traditionally the biscuits are dusted with icing sugar before serving – or you can roll them while still a little warm into icing sugar to coat them.




The Greek theme of last month’s recipes reminds me of a wonderful collection of short stories that appeared about 10 years ago. It’s called Little Infamies, by Panos Karnezis (pub. Jonathan Cape). A man in one of the stories says to his wife :

‘How many times do I have to tell you not to buy onions from that peddler? He grows them in an old battlefield and they’re full of tears.’

And here is a Greek tip about onions :  to avoid tears when peeling onions, clean them in cold water.

And one about lemons: to get all the juice out of lemons, put them in hot water before squeezing.

I’m not a vegetarian, but like many people these days, I eat much less meat than I once did. In the early days of my marriage, my husband used to say that if a man couldn’t afford half a pound of good steak once a week, it wasn’t worth going to work. Those days have long passed. George Bernard Shaw was a vegetarian who remained in perfect health until he was 94. He once said: “My hearse will be followed not by mourning coaches but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry and a small traveling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures.’

I own The George Bernard Shaw Vegetarian Cookbook (Angus & Robertson), which is a collection of menus and recipes by Shaw’s cook Mrs Alice Laden. I confess it makes me miserable to contemplate the vegetarian life, because most of the recipes seem singularly bland, although they are very economical. Shaw appeared to eat a lot of cheese. You could do worse than serve Mrs Ladley’s Cheese Pudding instead of macaroni cheese.

I’ve added garlic and parsley and renamed it Scarfie’s Cheese Pudd, for Shaw, and because it seems like a nourishing cheap recipe for student flatters.


Scarfie’s Cheese Pudd

(to serve 4)

4 medium floury potatoes
225 gms tasty cheese, grated
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
50 gms butter
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 Tblsp finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and steam the potatoes and then mash them very smoothly. Add the cheese, salt and pepper, the eggs and butter, and mix with the milk. Mix in the garlic and parsley. Put the mixture in a well buttered pie dish and bake in a moderate oven for half an hour.

Colourful roast vegetables go well with this e.g. kumara, red pepper, pumpkin, scattered with a quartered red onion or two.




When I’m in serious vegetarian mode, I’m more likely to turn to my battered Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Katzen. Yes, I know, it’s as ‘70s as Afro and poodle perms. All the same, it contains some enduring family favourites. This is my variation on Katzen’s ratatouille.

Mediterranean vegetable stew

Serves 4-6


1 medium size onion, chopped
2 medium bell peppers, in strips or cubes
2 small zucchini
1 small eggplant, peeled and cubed
4-5 cloves crushed garlic
2 medium tomatoes, cut in chunks
1 bay leaf
1 tsp each: basil, marjoram
½ tsp oregano
dash of ground rosemary (or a small sprig if you have it growing)
3 Tbs burgundy (or any dry red wine you have handy)
½ cup tomato juice
2 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
freshly chopped parley


Heat olive oil in large heavy cooking pot. Crush the garlic into the oil. Add bay leaf and onion; salt slightly. Sauté over medium heat until onion begins to turn transparent. Add eggplant, wine and tomato juice. Add herbs. Stir to mix well, then cover and simmer 10 minutes over low heat. When eggplant is tender enough to be easily pricked by a fork, add zucchini and peppers. Continue to stew until vegetables are tender, or transfer to a casserole dish and cook in a moderate oven for about 45 minutes (this is what I do).

Just before serving, mix in the fresh parsley.

I serve this with rice, some fresh bread AND a small bowl guacamole, a recipe that also comes from The Moosewood Cookbook.



Mix and chill 2 ripe avocados mashed with the juice of 1 lemon, 2-3 cloves crushed garlic, ½ tsp salt, chilli powder and black pepper to taste, or one finely chopped chili. The addition of the guacamole as a side dish, adds a sharp freshness to the ratatouille.




Butterscotch pie and peach halves (dessert)


Short sweet pastry to line a pie dish
100 gms butter plus another dessertspoon
½ cup of flour
¾ cup of brown sugar, well-packed
6 peach halves
¼ cup of syrup drained from the peaches
1 tblsp lemon juice.


Line the dish with the pastry, arrange the peach halves, cut side down. Rub the butter into the flour. Stir in the sugar and syrup. Lastly add the lemon juice. Cook in the top section of a double boiler until the mixture thickens and becomes shiny. Stir occasionally. Pour this sauce over the peaches. Cook at 200C for about 30 minutes.



Chocolate sauce pudding


3 Tbsp butter
½ cup of sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 Tbsp cocoa
½ cup of milk
¼ tsp vanilla essence
a big pinch of salt

Cream butter and sugar. Break the egg into the creamed mixture and beat thoroughly. Mix in the essence. Spread in a buttered pie dish.

Top sprinkling

½ cup of sugar
1 desspn cocoa

Spread this mix over the pudding, then, very gently spoon one and a half cups of hot water over this. Bake at  200C for 30 to 40 minutes – until the pudding has a cake like texture.

The water sinks through to form a thick chocolate sauce underneath the cake.

(The above 2 puddings are old favourites gleaned from Mary-Anne’s Pages in the Herald)




So, yes, it’s true that, on reflection, I didn’t cook all the food that appears in Songs from the Violet Café, my novel set in a town by a lake where a group of young women work for an autocratic restaurateur called Violet Trench in the 1960s. Violet takes one of them, Jessie Sandal, under her wing and teaches her to cook. But I have never cooked with truffles, as Violet does.

The truffles are one of her secrets, and how she comes by them is a mystery that is part of the story. I first encountered truffles in the late 1980s, when I was researching a television series I was writing, about the history of farming in New Zealand. My research team and I went to the Invermay Agricultural Centre at Mosgiel, where experimental truffle growing was taking place. One of the scientists showed us some truffles, kept in an ice cream container in the fridge. I thought the ‘black gold’ smelled like vanilla ice cream.

I’ve tried dishes in New Zealand restaurants made with truffle oil and I haven’t enjoyed them at all.

Then when we lived in Menton, right on the edge of the French-Italian border, we became dinner guests of Madame Imbert, who lived high in the mountains above the town. She would cook dishes made with freshly picked Italian truffles; suddenly I understood what truffles were really about. Like the French writer Colette, I am now of the view that if you cannot have enough truffles, it’s not worth having them at all.

That was still to come when I wrote Songs from the Violet Café.  But Jessie does eat scrambled eggs with truffles, a recipe gleaned from The Black Truffle, by the Invermay scientists Ian R. Hall and Gordon Brown. If I haven’t tried it myself, I know that they had.



Scrambled eggs with truffles
Oeufs brouillés aux truffes

Place sliced truffle, eggs and diced butter in a mixing bowl, cover, and leave for at least 30 minutes.

Lightly beat the eggs with a fork and pour into the top compartment of a double boiler which has been greased with butter.

The water in the double boiler should be kept just below boiling point and the mixture continually stirred with a wooden spoon that has been well rubbed with garlic.

Just before the desired consistency is reached remove the mixture from the heat, stir in more butter and allow the heat from the pan to complete the thickening process.

There, just your good old every day scrambled eggs!


I had a lot of help from my friend Lois Daish while I was writing Songs from the Violet Café. I wanted to know how a chef of that period might go about instructing her disciples. She lent me Oh for a French Wife!, by Ted Moloney and Deke Coleman, two highly opinionated Australian food buffs; the book was first published in 1952. Even if Moloney’s somewhat condescending tone made me cringe now and then, I learned a lot, and Violet articulates his views as she teaches Jessie.

There are just three basic methods of cooking, the authors say. You subject the materials to be cooked either to hot air, hot oil, or hot water.

Air, Moloney insists, is the most important ingredient of cooking:

‘When a cookbook tells you not to roll out dough with one coup de force, it means that the writer is afraid you will roll the air out of it. Cold air going into an oven will chase warm air out of a soufflé and make it sink. When the book says to boil some things with the lid off, it means that air is a necessary ingredient. And if it says to boil things with the lid on, it means that it is a noxious ingredient that takes away those other essential ingredients – vitamins.’

Heat is another of his maxims. ‘Cooking,’ he says is a simple process of changing the physical and chemical character of certain foods by exposing them to the action of heat.’ I loved his take on cooking a steak: ‘Reduced to scientific language, beef is protein or albumin. It’s like the white of an egg. Expose it to heat and it coagulates, shrinks. So you sear your steak first to make the albumin coagulate. That will keep the glucose, the moisture, the fat, the minerals and the hemoglobin inside where you want them.’

I loved all of this, but though there are several recipes in the book, I’ve never made any of them. The approach gave me ammunition for Violet, and that was enough.

I noted that Lois’s copy of  Oh for a French Wife! (The Shepherd Press, 1952) was once owned by the late Dorothy McKegg. I knew her as ‘Dottie’, and she acted in my first play produced for radio, called ‘Tell about a man’. Dottie was a wonderful actress, and faithful to the text of whatever she was acting in or reading. I have never forgotten that she once read a story of mine for radio, called ‘If I Should Mourn’, told in the first person by a toothless older woman. Dottie took out her plate, so that she could read with greater authenticity. I didn’t realize how much I miss her, until I started writing this.

The last research book was A Taste of France , by Madeleine Hammond (A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1963) a Frenchwoman who married a New Zealander and taught French at Victoria University.  I was first served one of her recipes – Filets Sole À La Mistral  by my friend Maria, who told me where the recipe came from.

Later, I mentioned the book to Lois who had two copies and was generous enough to give one to me.

I make this recipe often:


Filets de Sole À la Mistral

1 filleted sole (tarakihi, John Dory or snapper) per person
1 grated onion
½ pound flesh of tomatoes without pips or skin
1 crushed garlic clove
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 cup dry white wine
2½ ounces butter
1 ounce flour
2 tablespoons white breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt

Butter a large fireproof dish liberally; grate the onion over the butter. Place it on the chopped flesh of the tomatoes and some of the parsley. Lay the fillets on top. Season well and add the wine. Place in a moderate oven and poach for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, in a small saucepan, work 2 ounces of butter with 1 ounce of flour, and add crushed garlic. Pour on to this the liquid from the poached fish. Cook a little. Pour back on to the fish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and return to hot oven for a further 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley before serving.




I have made pikelets exactly the same way for the past 50 or more years, from my mother’s recipe. I can make them almost without looking. Over the years I’ve been surprised to find how many different ways they are made. This is mine and my mother’s recipe:

Fiona’s Pikelets

1 cup of flour
2 dessertspoons sugar
a good pinch of salt
Break in 1 egg, milk to make a slightly running consistency, beat altogether, add 2
teaspoons cream of tartar and 1 of soda.

Cook in spoonfuls in a hot flat pan, turning when they bubble.

Recently, I went to the funeral of a Chinese friend. In the order of service was tucked an envelope and inside the envelope was a note to say that in Chinese tradition, at a funeral guests receive:

A coin to spend today – for good luck
A hankie for you to dry your tears
A lolly to sweeten your sorrow

All of those were in the envelope, but as well there was a recipe for Jenny’s pikelets, another delicious variation.



Jenny’s Pikelets

1½ c flour
½ cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 teasp. cream of tartar
1 teasp. baking soda
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 teaspoon golden syrup
1 Tablespoon butter

Mix the dry ingredients together. In another bowl mix the egg and milk together. Mix the dry and wet ingredients and after it’s all mixed together add the golden syrup and melted butter and let it rest awhile until you see the bubbles coming up. Now go ahead and cook them until they are golden brown.


An Alison and Simon Holst recipe. See News story.

Tuscan-Style Chicken Baked with Tomato and Olives

1 Tbsp olive or other oil
6-8 chicken thighs or assorted portions
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 medium red pepper
2 x 400 cans diced tomatoes in juice
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried basil
½ tsp salt
Pepper to taste
½ cup Kalamata olives
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Fry chicken in batches until golden brown on all sides.
Arrange the browned chicken skin-side up in a single layer in a large greased casserole dish.
Return frypan to the heat, stir in onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion has softened. Add the red pepper to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 or 3 more minutes, then add the next 6 ingredients.
Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.
Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with grated parmesan if using (I prefer it without. I also prefer a little less balsamic vinegar than the recipe gives).
Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve over pasta, accompanied with a salad or vegetable, some crusty bread and a glass of wine!



With summer just around the corner, it’s time to think about picnics, and cold meatloaves, though this recipe works just as well hot. I’ve been making it for more years than I can remember, and have no idea who gave me the recipe. The secret is to use well-strained home-cooked apple puree, not tinned. The texture is brilliant.

Summer-time Meat Loaf

(serves 10 people)

1 onion peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 slice ham, finely chopped
1 T butter
1 –35g pkt mushroom soup powder
1 cup sweetened apple puree
500 gm steak mince
450 gm sausage meat
1½ c. dry breadcrumbs
1 size 7 egg
1 c grated tasty cheese
1 T mild prepared mustard (Dijon works well)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T tomato chutney
¼ c tomato sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 T spiced vinegar
1 t horseradish sauce

Grease a 7-cup loaf tin (preferably lined with baking paper). Saute the first three ingredients in butter, then cool. Mix the soup powder and apple together then stand for five minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the next eight ingredients together then blend the sautéed mixture and apple mixture through them. (Use clean hands for the best mixing results). Pack this firm-textured loaf mixture into the tin; it will completely fill it.

Place the loaf in a cold oven then turn to 170 C. Bake the loaf for 1½ hours from this cold start.

Pour off the fat then turn the loaf onto an ovenproof dish.

Beat all the ingredients together then spoon this glaze over the loaf.

Turn the oven to 150C then bake the loaf 15 to 30 minutes longer
(Note: children might prefer less horseradish, half t. might be enough)




Crayfish Mornay

Many years ago I spent a week in the Chatham Islands, on assignment to the Listener. The hotel where I stayed, and the only one on the Islands then, used to serve crayfish stew for breakfast, something I recorded in a sequence of poems called Going to the Chathams, later the title of a collection of the same name.

The sequence begins:

The land is dark & flat
trees bend towards the earth
this indeed a bitter beloved
place set in a squall-swept sea

The phrase bitter beloved is a phrase filched from the American poet Galway Kinnell, whose work I’ve always liked, when he describes ‘ a bitter beloved sea’
We have had a family reunion this past month and crayfish were on the menu, a rare treat. Really, there is only one way to eat crayfish, the meat slightly chilled, with a dash of Italian white wine vinegar or a squeeze or two of lemon (or both). That’s how we ate them the day the family gathered, having appeared from various parts of the world. Heavy sauces are anathema.

All the same, because they are a luxury, I make a Mornay sauce sometimes, so Ian and I can share a cray’s tail. This is my recipe:

1 crayfish tail, cut into small pieces.
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
¾ cup of light milk
a pinch of salt
¾ (or slightly less) Lindauer sparkling wine
a little freshly grated Parmesan (twice)

Using a heavy bottomed pan, make a roux with the butter and flour, add the milk and stir until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Take off the heat, allow to cool slightly, add the salt and a dash of Parmesan, then the wine. Return to the heat for a minute or two until the mixture thickens again.

Pour the sauce over the crayfish, sprinkle lightly with Parmesan, put the dish under the grill and leave it until the sauce begins to bubble. Serve at once.




When I wrote my memoir At the end of Darwin Road, I complained about how few surviving relatives I have. A lovely letter arrived one day from someone who said that, having read the book, it was clear to her that we had the same forebears, and we must be related. We met, and it was marvelous, and now I have so many relatives on the Sutherland side of my ancestry that I am overwhelmed by the number of people who look just a little bit like me – enough to feel that the bloodlines are real. Cousin Pip and I meet now and then for lunch. One evening, she suggested I come and talk to her Book Club about writing memoir.

So that’s what I did. The gathering was at Pip’s house, so she had provided the supper. I liked especially her delicious flourless Orange Cake, and asked for the recipe. I call it Pip’s Orange Cake, and here it is:

Pip’s Orange Cake

2 oranges – tops removed and scored with a cross
6 good-sized eggs
Juice of ½ a lemon
250 gms castor sugar
300 gms almond meal (ground almonds)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp poppy seeds (optional)

Place oranges in boiling water and simmer for 50 minutes.
Remove and puree the entire oranges until smooth, with lemon juice
Heat the oven to 160 C. Line a 22cm tin with greased baking paper

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the almond meal and baking powder and mix till combined.
Stir in the orange puree and poppy seeds, pour mixture into the tin.

Bake for 40 minutes or until firm but still moist (up to 50 mins)
Leave to cool in the tin for about 5 mins then turn out onto a rack.

Pip’s notes to this recipe:

Cook extra oranges and freeze them until next time. Reduces the time and trouble I think opening the tops of the oranges too much makes them watery I usually have a bit of extra almond meal on hand, sometimes the mixture is wetter than others I mix the BP into the almond meal first I usually leave the cake in the oven until I think it is set, even if turn the oven down or off. It is sort of custardy and collapses if it is not cooked enough.



So – it’s summer, and what am I cooking? Lots of light simple seasonal food, especially salads designed as main meals. I give thanks to Alison Holst, once again, for her and son Simon’s Sensational Salads, a book I’ve used for years. The recipe below comes from it, and I make it often. I love scallops, almost any way they are presented, although sometimes they can be touch bland. This recipe is the perfect foil:

Seared Scallop Salad

For 4 servings

About 6 cups mixed salad greens
1 avocado
about 1 Tblsp lime or lemon juice
about 10cm cucumber
½ cup chopped coriander
about 20 cherry tomatoes
about 500 gms scallops (I use a few more)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
freshly ground pepper
oil for cooking


½ tsp minced chilli (or slightly less depending on taste)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp finely grated ginger (optional)
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp wine vinegar or rice vinegar
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice

Make the dressing, measuring dressing ingredients into a screw-topped jar and shaking well to mix. Refrigerate for up to a week.

Prepare the salad greens, putting them into a large plastic bag or covered bowl to chill. Just before you start to cook the scallops, slice the avocado, turn slices in the lemon or lime juice, slice the cucumber into chunky pieces and chop the coriander leaves.

Prepare the scallops, patting them dry and tossing in the sesame oil and soya sauce.

Heat a film of oil in a large non-stick pan, on a high heat until very hot. Add the scallops in batches and toss for 2 –3 minutes, letting surfaces brown lightly. Take care not to overcook. Remove from pan and reheat pan before cooking more. When all the scallops are cooked, add pepper to taste, then spoon a little dressing over them and leave to cool.

Just before serving, arrange the salad greens and the other salad ingredients on individual plates. Arrange the scallops on the greens and sprinkle the remaining dressing over everything. Serve immediately, with warm crusty bread rolls.



Smoked Salmon and Broad Bean Loaf

This is another favourite of mine, no idea where the recipe came from (happy to acknowledge it if I hear from anyone)

200gm broad beans
200 gm plain flour
2t baking powder
½ t smoked paprika
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
100 gms melted butter
100 ml milk
300 gm smoked salmon, roughly chopped
150 gm Gruyère cheese
4T chopped chives

Heat oven to 180C Grease one 20cm by 11 cm loaf tin. Blanch the broad beans in salted boiling water for five minutes then drain and refresh under cold water. Shell them. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs with the melted butter and milk. Pour into the flour mixture. Stir well. Add smoked salmon, broad beans, Gruyère cheese and chives (Keep a little of the cheese and chives for sprinkling on top of the loaf.)

Place mixture into loaf tin. Sprinkle remaining cheese and chives on top. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Leave to cool then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into slices and serve.

I serve this sometimes as an entrée dish. I slice the cooled loaf, and place slices on individual plates, on a small bed of mixed salad, very lightly dressed, and top the loaf with red caviar (or lumpfish roe, as you will).



And now for a summer dessert made with fresh peaches. It’s one I’ve used since the early days of my married life, when we had a peach tree in the back garden of our house in Rotorua. Like several of my characters, I find the fur of peaches uncomfortable to touch. I love the taste of a ripe peach but I can’t bear to bite it with the skin on, and I don’t like the feel of it under my fingernails either. It’s not a case of ‘peel me a grape, Claudius,’ it’s ‘peel me a peach’. My grandmother couldn’t peel a peach either. So..once I’ve donned some rubber gloves and got that part over, it’s easy.

Fresh Peach Dessert


4 cups of sliced fresh peaches
⅔ cup of sugar
¼ teasp salt
½ ground cinnamon
2 Tblsp of butter

Combine the peaches, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Turn into a large ovenproof dish and dot with butter.

The topping:

¾ cup of flour
¼ cup of cornflour
½ cup of sugar
¼ teasp salt
2 teasp baking powder
50 gms of butter (plus a small knob)
1 egg
1 cup of milk

Sift the flour, cornflour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in the sugar. Melt the butter in a saucepan.

Beat the egg in a second bowl with a fork until the yolk and white are just combined. Stir in the milk and melted butter.

Combine the batter ingredients and mix swiftly until they are smooth. Pour the batter over the peaches, spreading with a spatula to cover the surface evenly. Cook at 200C until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked, about 45 minutes. Serve 6.



This is the recipe Mary McCallum sent me, with her own take on it. (See News:  The Tenderness of Light)

Here is Lois Daish’s cake recipe – for apricots or plums. I’ve had it for years – 12 perhaps? – they’re even nicer with orange zest in, and these ones I made with buttermilk. I also estimated the butter as my scales weren’t working, and I think had slightly over 120g. These ones were more buttery. The yoghurt to die for is Zany Zeus’. Mary xxx

Apricot (Plum) Cakes

120 g soft butter
1 tab brown sugar
1/2 c. caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 c buttermilk or orange juice
6 apricots or plums

Lightly butter muffin tins. Over: 180 deg C.

Cream butter and sugar. beat in eggs, zest and vanilla. Sieve flour and soda and mix into the batter with buttermilk, mixing as little as possible (like muffins). Divide batter into the tins, place fruit cut side up onto batter, press gently down. Sprinkle brown sugar over the plums and bake for 20 mins approx (until the cake springs up when pressed.)

Eat as cupcakes or as little puddings with cream or Greek yoghurt. Delicious!!


Pot au feu

(Served  in honour of  The Trouble with Fire (Pot-au-feu or Pot on the Fire) at a dinner in Paris)

1 veal bone
raw chicken bones and giblets minus liver
2½ pounds rolled ribs of beef and bones
6 pints water
1 tablespoon salt
water or ice for skimming
6 ounces carrots
3 ounces baby turnips
2 or 3 leeks
1 small stick of celery or celery salt
1 ounce parsnip
2 onions stuck with cloves
1 large onion prepared as described
a bouquet garni

(I figure anyone brave enough to try this will figure out the metrics too)

Put one large peeled onion straight on to the open flame of your gas cooker or open element of your electric stove. Turn until it is black all over.

Wash bones, giblets etc, and put them into the bottom of the soup saucepan; lay on top the meat and black onion; pour on water and salt. Set uncovered on a gentle heat, and bring to the boil, taking no less than half an hour.

Remove the scum as it rises with a metal spoon, and when at boiling point throw in a third cup of iced water or a cube or two of ice. Bring slowly to the boil again, skimming well, and continue to add small quantities of iced water or cubes, which will help the skimming take away any strong taste of bone or meat, and clear the bouillon. Add the vegetables whole and the leeks tied together, the onions, and cloves. Bring to the boil gently, skim again and wipe off any black scum which may have gathered inside the saucepan. Put in the bouquet garni. Put the lid on, just leaving a little crack open for the steam to escape.

If the meat is to be served for a meal, it should be taken out after an hour and a half and served as boiled beef with the vegetables in the pot and others cooked separately. The bouillon is then left to simmer with the bones for a further one and a half hours before straining and using for soups.




(As made at Des Manades Baumelles in the Camargue)

Marinate a whole orange in two bottles of wine, a cup of sugar, the juice of a lemon, 3 or 4 cloves, and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Let the mixture stand for one week in a cool place. Strain the mixture and chill lightly.

Good luck!


Rhondda Grieg is a renowned artist and her home in the country reflects her extraordinary sense of colour, the walls vibrant with her paintings. She cooks with an artist’s eye as well, and when she gave Fiona Farrell and me lunch before our poetry reading in Carterton, she served us the best pea and ham soup I’ve ever tasted. It looked too pretty to eat, decorated with herbs and orange calendula petals. I asked her for the recipe.

Rhondda’s pea and ham soup


* 1 bacon hock skinned (I use a manuka-smoked hock from the artisan butcher in Greytown – he skins it for me)
* approx 500g dried green peas (sometimes a mixture of yellow and green peas)
* 4-5 bay leaves
* 1 onion, red or brown, chopped
* handful of herbs from the garden – rosemary, thyme etc
* about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper
* dash of cumin curry
* juice of 1-2 yellow lemons
* bunch of green parsley
* several orange calendula flowers

Place the bacon hock in a large saucepan, cover with cold water – approx 12 cups, or a combination of water and any vegetable juices you might have available; add peas, bay leaves, herbs, onions. Simmer slowly for 3-4 hours until bacon drops easily from the bone. Remove the bone. This is where I have fun. Add juice of 1 or 2 lemons, a dash of cumin, curry, more herbs finely chopped, salt and pepper and cayenne pepper. Adjust liquid level as it cooks. Too thick, add more liquid. Too thin, add more peas. They quickly cook to a mush. Simmer for a further half-hour, regularly stirring to prevent everything sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. Serve each bowl with a sprinkle of small orange calendula petals and finely-chopped green parsley.


This is an occasional column, added to from time to time

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