Two keen cooks – one from the country, one from the city – correspond about food.
Janice Marriott lives in a tiny inner-city Wellington cottage; Virginia Pawsey on a 2705ha sheep and cattle farm in North Canterbury. Friends from high-school days, they lost touch until a school reunion six years ago. Since then they have written regularly to each other, rekindling a friendship through their love of cooking and gardening. Their emailed letters, recording everyday happenings and challenges, words of advice and recipes, have been compiled into two books that provide a warm and witty dialogue on city and country life.
The first book, Common Ground, celebrated their gardens. The just-released sequel, Common Table, traces a journey through the seasons of their very different kitchens: Janice’s standing-room-only Thorndon kitchen, so small her old labrador Bunsen couldn’t lie down in it, and Virginia’s rambling farmhouse kitchen with Titan oven, speckled green coal range and oak table.
Janice lives five minutes from a super-market yet relies on her garden for most of her produce and prefers to eat ordinary food that doesn’t come in packets or tins – except anchovies, sardines, mackerel and chickpeas, plus tomatoes in winter.
“I don’t have much time or space here for complicated chemical experiments but I love to cook so I have a few rules. I cook simply and I clean up as I go.” She uses lots of olive oil and butter, not margarine; she buys “good” bread.
Virginia, by necessity (cursed or blessed – she’s not sure which), has a large vege patch and the need to make everything from scratch. Her favourite cooking utensil is a solid, old-fashioned, hand-held egg beater.
“Writing to Janice has been a bit like corresponding with a pen pal in a foreign country. Janice writes about the city ritual of Friday night drinks and the politics of office lunch preparation, whereas I write about coal range roasts for shearers and baking buns for the hunt afternoon tea. Our letters are a high heels versus gumboots exchange.”
The following recipes are edited extracts from Common Table (published by HarperCollins, $36.99).
Pumpkin and Coconut Cream Soup
The Samoa brand [of coconut cream] is the one to get. I say why buy Thai when you can support the islands? And it is very creamy and delicious.
- ½ big pumpkin (about 1.4kg
- 1 tablespoon oil or butter
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 green chillies, deseeded and
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1½ litres stock
- salt and pepper
- 400g can coconut cream
- Fresh coriander or mint
Dice and peel pumpkin and discard seeds etc. Cook onion, chillies, ginger and garlic in oil until translucent. Add the diced pumpkin and cover with stock. Simmer about half an hour until tender.
Blend, purée or just mash so soup is smooth. Reheat with salt, pepper and coconut cream. Serve hot with coriander or mint on top. Serves 6
Cheesy Walnut Biscuits
Walnuts should always be used straight from the shell. If you buy walnuts already opened and chopped, they will be likely to have a bitter, rancid taste. – Virginia
- 100g butter, softened
- 125g aged cheddar cheese or half
cheddar and half blue
- 125g flour
- Large pinch cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
- 100g freshly shelled walnuts, chopped
- 1 egg for glazing
Put butter, cheese, flour, cayenne and salt in a food processor and whizz until a dough forms. Remove from the processor and knead to remove any air pockets.
Shape the dough into a sausage, or a narrow rectangle if you want square biscuits, then wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.
To bake, unwrap the dough and with a sharp knife cut into thin slices. Place on oven trays covered with baking paper, brush the biscuits with beaten egg and sprinkle with a generous covering of finely chopped walnuts. Bake at 180°C. Makes 36
Red Pepper Pasta
City people never have enough time to cook. This recipe is all about sassy appearance, but it’s so quick and easy it’s like being a cheating hostess. – Janice
- 4 red capsicums
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 200g spaghetti
- 100g crumbled feta or goats’ cheese
- Balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
Grill the peppers over the gas flame. Put them in a bag for a few minutes to absorb the heat, then remove them and rub the thin burnt layer off. Slice your peppers into strips. Remove the seeds. If this all seems like too much of a hassle, you can buy prepared red peppers, all ready to go. They are on a supermarket shelf in glass jars. And another energy saver: if the barbie’s up and running one night, give the peppers to the barbecue maestro with the long-handled tongs. He’ll enjoy turning them over and over until they are nicely charred. After you’ve sliced them, you can store them in the fridge until the day you want to use them.
So, the actual moment of preparation begins. Toast the pine nuts. Don’t burn them. Cook the spaghetti.
To assemble, mix the spaghetti with the cheese, some olives, the pine nuts and peppers. Sprinkle on a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add some coriander from the garden. Make a salad too. Voilà! Serves 4-6
Christmas Cake (or Shortest Day Cake)
This is quick and so easy; I love making it mid-winter. I did hear recently that some people don’t like rubbing butter into flour and hence don’t make scones and pastry because they don’t like getting butter under their fingernails. I don’t know what to say about this other than to advise them to wash their hands. Imagine a life lived without getting your hands dirty. – Janice
- 1kg of mixed dried fruit (I always add
prunes for a rich, dark colour)
- ½ cup of liquid, either sherry, rum or tea
- 200g butter
- 2 cups flour
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ tsp baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup honey
Day 1: Soak fruit in liquid. Day 2: In a big bowl, rub butter into the flour. Add sugar, baking soda and salt then the dried fruit. In another bowl, mix the eggs with milk and honey. Add this to main mixture and stir (with hands). Put into a 23cm round or square tin. Bake at 160°C for 1½-2 hours.
Story: Janice Marriott; Virginia Pawsey
Photographs: Aaron Mclean
Stylist: Claudia Kozub; Jo Wilcox