I grew up in suburban Sydney in the 50’s and 60’s. My mother was a country girl whose parents carved out a property in the wilds of the New England area of NSW. Grandad was a sheep farmer and Nanny had grown up in Mosman and gone to Art School before meeting and marrying this boy from the bush. I am in awe of how she survived going from the fairly bohemian lifestyle of a student studying under Julian Ashton to living in the bush miles from the nearest town.
When Mum was 8 she was sent to live with her grandparents in Gunnedah so she could go to school and from then on she mainly lived firstly with them and then with a maiden aunt until she married Dad. Coming from her background she was a frugal and good country cook. We always had homemade biscuits and cake and good plain meals. Dad grew vegetables in the back yard and we had a lemon tree that Mum made great lemon curd from. The only time we had lollies was on surprise night ( Dad’s pay-day) once a fortnight when he would bring home a family packet of something like chocolate covered honeycomb which would be shared out piece by piece around the table at the end of the meal that night. On the years that we had a birthday party Mum would make the party food including things like honeycomb, caramels and toffees. When apples,pears, peaches, apricots and tomatoes were in season we would have an early morning trip into the Sydney markets to buy boxes of fruit and then we would all assist her to preserve them in the good old Vacola perserving jars. She was also an excellent and prolific jam and chutney maker. Needless to say I learnt to cook at a young age too.
When I got to high school and went to Teacher’s college I was surprised to learn that quite a few of my contemporaries didn’t have a clue how to bake. I learnt to spin wool into yarn on my first prac teaching block at Berridale at the base of the Snowy Mountains and enjoyed spinning and knitting as I still do – along with dying the wool, weaving and felt making.
My wedding present from my husband was a Vacola Preserving Kit much to the horror of some of the guys from his work…until he told them that I had requested it.In the early days of my marriage I became interested in baking bread as well as making jam and chutney etc.
We never had much money so the fruit and vegetables I preserved and the jams etc were an economical and welcome addition to our menu. If you’re a vegetarian or squeamish skip this next sentence….. I even remember making some brawn from the head of a pig that arrived with the rest of the meat when we ordered a half a pig from the butcher. Mind you I couldn’t bear to eat it myself but my husband loved it.
Over the years our interest in the so-called ‘alternative lifestyle’ grew and we even had 2 milking goats along with chooks (hens) in our largish suburban backyard in Goulburn when we found that Luke was allergic to cow’s milk. We then bought 500 acres of bush a few miles out-of-town and built a mud brick shed that we moved into and lived in for a couple of years. I was mixing mud whilst pregnant with my youngest son. I loved using the slow combustion cooking stove that we had there- in fact I still wish I could have one again all these years later. Over that time we had a petrol generator that we used at night for lighting and to run my trusty Kenwood chef with the grain mill attachment and the mincer and sausage maker attachment. I made all our bread and we had our own chickens and goats for eggs, milk and meat. I also made my own soap and attempted some goat cheese (not very successfully).
Those years were my most productive in terms of home-made produce but I always maintained the interest and desire to produce things. When we established the Chamomile Bed and Breakfast in Hervey Bay our guests always loved the homemade jam and chocolate mud cake etc that I provided.
Over the last 6 months or so I’ve got right back into making things. Even though I live on my own and so don’t use much myself I decided that I could share my excess with friends. I am gaining such a sense of groundedness and satisfaction from producing jam, chutney, cordial, sparkling fruit drinks, bread and now cheese- and I think from their comments that those I’ve been sharing with are enjoying it too! Although there were a few doubters about the elderflower cordial…. until they tried it :)
As I’m typing this I have a cheddar cheese and some camembert air drying before the next stage in their production is due, I’ve got some kumquat cordial steeping until it’s ready to strain and bottle and I have the recipe for some biscuits sitting on the table ready to go.
There are many kinds of creative…. some create art works or music, some invent things or some like me create more homely things. Whatever you create though I am positive that it is much harder to be depressed when you are doing something creative.
I truly believe that happiness is home-made.