COVER STORY Mar­garet Ful­ton cel­e­brates Mother’s Day with three gen­er­a­tions of women.

How does Aus­tralia's first family of food spend Mother's Day? With lots of nour­ish­ment, of course. KATE GIBBS ex­plains how cook­ing has de­fined three gen­er­a­tions of the Gibbs-Ful­ton clan

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Cook for your mum this Mother’s Day. For recipes go to de­li­cious.com.au

Food has al­ways played a piv­otal role in my family. The ap­ple, you might say, doesn’t fall far from the tree. And, in our case, we can all sug­gest end­less ways to cook the prover­bial ap­ple, baking it in a crum­ble, roast­ing it with pork or fer­ment­ing it in a coleslaw.

My grand­mother, Mar­garet Ful­ton, is a doyenne of cook­ery, a pro­lific au­thor and an Aus­tralian liv­ing trea­sure for her pi­o­neer­ing ac­com­plish­ments. My mother, Suzanne Gibbs, is a long­time cook­book au­thor and was food editor at New Idea for two decades. My sis­ter, Louise Keats, is a nu­tri­tion writer and cook­book au­thor. And I, too, am a food writer, editor and au­thor.

None of this was planned. I in­tended to be a pho­tog­ra­pher, then steered into teach­ing be­fore study­ing jour­nal­ism. My sis­ter was a lawyer in an­other life. My mother only be­came a cook be­cause she was des­per­ate for an ad­ven­ture at 19, and so my grand­mother put her on a ship and en­rolled her at Lon­don’s Le Cor­don Bleu. But, ul­ti­mately, we would all make food our life work.

Grow­ing up in ru­ral Glen Innes in NSW, the youngest of six chil­dren, Mar­garet never set out to be a cook ei­ther. Her mother, Is­abella, said it was “not the sort of thing a nice young woman does”. She wanted to be a con­cert pi­anist, or she might have “danced across the stage” in Paris had her legs been longer.

But in Syd­ney, Mar­garet found work ini­tially as a home econ­o­mist, then later as a food editor, pub­lish­ing her first book in 1968. She fol­lowed with more than 20 vol­umes, and count­less col­umns at Woman’s Day. By cham­pi­oning eth­nic fare like curry, she dared us to go fur­ther than meat-and-three-veg and ef­fec­tively changed the way we eat. And, re­mark­ably, she forged this ca­reer alone: no other woman in Aus­tralian his­tory had done any­thing like this be­fore her.

Our food was global thanks to my mother’s and Mar­garet’s es­capades. In our school lunch boxes, my sis­ter and I had home­made dol­mades, poached chicken sand­wiches or banh mi stuffed with herbs. Other chil­dren would sneer, but they soon learned that we had it good.

Mar­garet of­ten spoke about the im­por­tance of meal­times as a child, join­ing her sib­lings and Scot­tish par­ents to de­brief on the day. They didn’t have much, but there was al­ways good food, and they had each other. Mar­garet’s mother was an al­chemist in the kitchen, who could turn a hum­ble shoul­der of lamb or an unlovely strip of stom­ach into com­plex broths or stews.

Sim­i­larly, pro­duce is pre­cious in my house­hold. Noth­ing is ever wasted. Grow­ing up, we never or­dered take­away. Ev­ery meal was cooked at home, some­times us­ing leftovers from my mother’s recipe test­ing or from her pho­tog­ra­phy shoots.

When it seemed as though there was noth­ing in the fridge, my mother would mag­i­cally fash­ion egg foo yung with a few eggs, or strac­ciatella us­ing chicken stock from the freezer and greens from the gar­den.

The vi­tal role of in­gre­di­ents in­spired my mother and I to write The Thrifty Kitchen in 2009, and in­formed our var­i­ous ca­reer choices. In 2015 year, I re­leased Mar­garet and Me, an ode to my re­source­ful grand­mother and the recipes that we both grew up with.

My sis­ter and I agree that we be­came food writ­ers be­cause we love to eat. But, more than that, we cook be­cause we adore the process, rel­ish­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of pro­duce into sus­tain­ing meals. To me, cook­ing at home is a culi­nary carpe diem – a tan­ta­lis­ing way to seize the day.

When four gen­er­a­tions con­vene on Mother’s Day, we nat­u­rally come to­gether over food. Like many fam­i­lies, we’ll divide up the var­i­ous cour­ses. I might pre­pare a crunchy, Asian-style salad. My mother will whip up six dishes no­body ex­pected but which will be­come the main topic of con­ver­sa­tion. My sis­ter might bring a pavlova, gilded with whipped cream and fruit, or per­haps berries with cashew cream. And it’s not just the women who con­trib­ute. My hus­band will do his lob­ster rolls to start, and my fa­ther offers his gravlax spe­cialty.

Mar­garet, now 92, will sit back to en­joy the spec­ta­cle, with her one-a-day glass of whisky. She has been cook­ing for Aus­tralia so long and now it’s our turn to cook for her.

My grand­mother be­lieves in stick­ing to the recipe, at least un­til you perfect it. Tastes change though, and I do tweak her recipes. I halve the sugar in her lemon de­li­cious pud­ding, for one, since I don’t have a sweet tooth.

I made her some por­ridge once, and she scrunched up her face. “Kate, dar­ling, there are three in­gre­di­ents in por­ridge – oats, wa­ter, salt. Use them all.” I had tried to save her ar­ter­ies, but I learned my les­son.

Food has the power to make us well, it gives us plea­sure and con­nects us. The women in my family have shared our culi­nary reper­toires in a bid to lead our best lives – healthily, hap­pily, de­li­ciously. As my nine-month-old son, Jack, now de­mands a sec­ond bowl of vichys­soise, I won­der whether he too will turn out this way.

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