Poetry Shelf review: The RNZ Cookbook

RNZ Cookbook, eds David Cohen and Kathy Paterson, Massey University Press, 2022

oven baked salmon

I like my fat cooking pot
I like my fat wild heart

Paula Green from Cookhouse (AUP, 1997)

When my debut poetry collection came out, I was flicking through the NZ Listener and spotted a recipe for oven baked salmon on the food page. I earmarked it as I love salmon, but when I went back to cook it – I realised it was my poem from Cookhouse. (AUP, 1997). The page included a photo of my book and one by Marcella Hazan, one of my favourite Italian food writers. It was a sign that food and poetry go well together. I have often thought it would be great if NZ food magazines including a poem each month!

A couple of early reviewers criticised Cookhouse for its reliance on the domestic and the presence of food, but I decided the domestic and food will never be redundant in poetry or fiction! One of my favourite poets in Aotearoa, Ian Wedde, elevates his writing with a salt and pepper food presence. The sensory layers are so satisfying.

Celebration time! The sumptuous RNZ Cookbook, edited by David Cohen and Kathy Paterson, gets me musing about writing and reading poems and making food.

Lauraine Jacob’s Potato, fennel, feta, olive and lemon tart

I love listening to cooks, chefs and cookbook writers share recipes on RNZ. Food is body nourishment but it also becomes a cultural anchor, an inheritance, a way of bringing friends and family together, a way of healing, a portal to memory. Perhaps I could argue no ideas but in food, no feelings but in food, no epiphanies but in food.

Jesse Mulligan, in the book’s foreword, said he listed ‘eating’ as one of his hobbies on a dating site. I get that – after five weeks in hospital and then not being able to manage domestic tasks until the last few weeks – I couldn’t believe how much I missed cooking (and even eating with normal tastebuds). To be cooking again, and making daily bread, along with reading and writing, is happiness.

Nicola Galloway’s ‘Oven roasted ratatouille with basil oil’

The RNZ Cookbook, as it states on the cover, is “a treasury of 180 recipes from New Zealand’s best-known chefs and food writers”. The recipes are structured like the day runs on RNZ National. You begin with Morning Report, tune into Nine to Noon, Midday Report, Afternoons, World Watch, Checkpoint, Nights, Saturday Morning and Sunday Morning. The recipes move from breakfast through to morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, desserts, weekend treats, essentials. RNZ has around 3000 recipes on their website – the editors, David Cohen and Kathy Paterson chose 180. Each recipe has been test and loved by the food writers and chefs.

There is also a timeline of the history of RNZ and one of the history of NZ food. Fascinating!

Allyson Grofton’s Ginger crispies

A portion of the royalties from the book go to Everybody Eats, a food charity founded by Nick Loosley in 2017. Everybody Eats is an award winning dining idea that aims to solve three problems : food wastage, food poverty and social isolation. Food to be thrown out is transformed into three course meals and diners pay a koha / what they can afford.

Each recipe mentions the recipe writer and the radio airing. The terrific design – I am talking layout and font – make this an easy and delightful recipe book to follow. I tend to use recipes as starting points and then add my own twists and biases. But to have a clear and accessible set of ingredients and instructions matter. Once I enter the cookbook zone I become a test kitchen, and cooking becomes discovery, a bit like poetry writing does!

peanut butter sandwiches

how we hold our babies close buttonholed for hours
the sound of laughter that is a simmering horizon
defines memory invention delight the plump toes
were a stone’s throw from rhyme and song
the lungs flung wild open I simmer alphabet soup
simply floating a message

Paula Green from Cookhouse

I now have a list of recipes I want to make, and a list of ingredients to add to my click n collect order. I have tried ‘Simply the best banana cake’ (Annabelle White) and it is excellent. Next time I will add chunks of dark chocolate. I have tried Allyson Grofton’s ‘Ginger crispies’, equally good. Sometimes I swap the ginger for Central Otago apricots and always include chunks of dark chocolate. Lauraine Jacob’s ‘Whole orange and date muffins’ are sublime. Next up to try is Dame Alison Holst’s ‘Spicy fruit loaf’. I loved Nicola Galloway’s ‘Oven roasted ratatouille with basil oil’, and am keen to try Melissa Hemsley’s ‘Chickpea wraps’, Niki Bezzant’s ‘Pea, mint and halloumi fritters with tomato and capsicum sauce’ and, for the first time in years, to make a quiche again, (Rosie Belton’s ‘Zucchini quiche’). Plus I think I will have Al Brown, Lucie Corry, Julie Buiso, Nadia Lim and Peter Gordon seasons. Big fan of their recipe books.

This is a book to cover in the floury stains of living. It is a treasury indeed! And it’s bravo Massey University Press, and Kathy and David.

pasta primavera

summer peaks interpret the time of our lives
when zucchinis eggplants red peppers

stew a flurry of kiss and tell
or simmer rivers stones mountains coastlines

Paula Green from Cookhouse

Lauraine Jacobs’ Whole orange and date muffins

Massey University Press page

David Cohen is a Wellington journalist whose work appears frequently in New Zealand media. Overseas, he has been published in The Spectator, the Daily Telegraph and the New York Times, among others. He has reviewed restaurants in Ireland and Italy, attended cooking schools in South Africa, and written widely about the food scene in Aotearoa. A writer by day, fledgling chef by night, he has a longstanding personal passion for Persian cuisine. In addition to his own previously published titles — there have been six — he has co-authored a cookbook, Ima Cuisine, with Auckland restaurateur Yael Shochat. He moonlights as a senior producer on Morning Report.

Kathy Paterson is a writer, recipe developer, food stylist and photographer. A plentiful herb garden and a trial-and-error vegetable garden give her the starting place for her recipes, along with her love of the classics with a modern twist. Her latest projects include the successful cookbook Meat & Three, a book showcasing New Zealand food and encouraging readers to cook with premium meat and seasonal vegetables, along with taking the lead on Cosy, a Food Writers New Zealand digital publication produced during the first lockdown in New Zealand, with all the proceeds going to city missions and food banks through the organisation Meat the Need.

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