It’s hard to believe that eight years have passed since my first Free Range Cook television series went to air on TVNZ. Creating, presenting and co-producing that first series was a challenge like no other.
No one told me before we started shooting that you needed multiple takes, to get different angles. When the director asked me to do the same thing over and over, I thought it was because I was doing something wrong. Or that if the light changes in the middle of a shot, you have to start all over again. Or that a skydiver might decide to take a plane to whine its way high up into the sky right above where you are filming.
Creating a TV series felt a bit like climbing a really big mountain. You head off full of energy and excitement, armed with everything you think you might need. About half way up, when things are starting to hurt and there’s been a blizzard, your socks are wet; you think maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Three-quarters of the way up you think you might actually die. You swear you will never, ever do this again. Finally, almost impossibly, you arrive at the top and there is an incredible sense of achievement and exhilaration and joy.
After all that hard work we were rewarded with the series going on to sell into 93 territories. We became the number two property for our distributors, FremantleMedia, after Jamie Oliver.
Even though we had the guarantee of a primetime viewing slot in New Zealand, pre-sales for the accompanying cookbook, The Free Range Cook, were low. We didn’t get the buy-in that we thought we would. The book hit the shelves as the TV series went to air and for the first couple of weeks the sales looked quite good. Then the curve started to rise and rise. Every 10 days or so I had to call the printer in China to print more books.
The Free Range Cook went on to sell a staggering 170,000 copies in a year in New Zealand alone, breaking every publishing record in New Zealand history. I toured and met so many wonderful people who shared their stories as if I was a sister. It was such a privilege.
The book is out of print now, but people frequently tell me how much they still love it and use it, so I’m guessing lots of you still have it on your bookshelf. I’m really proud it has been named by New Zealand Booksellers as one of the top 20 books of the decade.
Here is one of my favourite sweet treats from The Free Range Cook.
Ready in 1½ hours + cooling Makes 6-8 individual pavlovas 6 eggs, at room temperature A pinch of salt 1½ cups caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour 1 tsp white vinegar
1 cup coarse-thread coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract 300ml chilled cream, whipped to soft peaks, to serve
Tropical fruit salad
½ pineapple, cut into small batons 3 kiwifruit, finely diced 4 Tbsp passionfruit pulp Preheat oven to 160C (don’t use the fanbake setting). Line a baking tray with baking paper. Make sure the bowl and beater of your food processor or electric mixer are clean and dry, without a skerrick of fat. Separate the eggs and place the egg whites in the processor or mixer. Add the salt and sugar and beat for about 10 minutes until shiny, glossy and very thick. Beat in the cornflour and vinegar for a few seconds, then quickly and lightly fold in the coconut and vanilla (do not beat as the oils in the coconut may deflate and soften the mixture). Drop big spoonfuls of the mixture on to the prepared tray, making 6 to 8 individual pavlovas. The thicker you make them the more marshmallowy they will be in the middle. If you make them thinner they will be more chewy. Swirl the top into a spiral pattern with a fork or spatula. Bake for 10 minutes then turn the oven down to 130C and bake for a further 1 hour, until the shell is crisp to the touch. Turn off the oven and leave the pavlovas to cool in the oven for at least 2 hours. If you’re not serving them the same day you can store them in an airtight container for up to a week. They can also be frozen for later use. To make the tropical fruit salad, combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Place spoonfuls of whipped cream on top of the pavlovas and spoon the fruit salad over the top.