As you may or may not be aware, I am a blue ribbon champ of the Noosa Show for my Rosella Jam, not to mention 'three turnips, any variety'.
I love those country shows - heavy horses, baby animals, the woodchop comp, but best of all, the pavillion - chock full of hand crafts and cookery, cake decoration and a bounty of home grown produce. You'll never see the stuff in these pavillions in a shop, and certainly not in a supermarket, though you may find a taste of it at a farmer's market if you're lucky. It is all hand made - everything is original, made by the hand of amateurs (that's 'lovers' in French). In fact, if you think about it, the show itself is hand made by amateurs. Millions of volunteers meet in dusty schools of arts halls in small towns all over the country to put together these once a year social events.
Every year I plant my Rosella crop in anticipation of entering the competition for 'jam, any variety'. Last year, not only did I pick up that coveted blue prize card, but a spiffy ribbon to add to my haul, in commemoration of 100 years of the show. Now that's history. The country show is time capsule, but is at the same time contemporary. These shows, though seemingly anachronistic, continue to be a focus for small towns. Even the big shows in the capitals still persist in drawing crowds and still, in spite of all the warnings to the contrary, the same sugar filled categories of cookery endure. And I hope they never change, because the very practice of making these recipes makes you think about our not too distant social history of scarce ingredients, the need to preserve produce, and the possibility that such circumstances might arise in the future as the climate changes, or that we may have to face another global recession.
So you can imagine how delighted I was to receive a copy of The Blue Ribbon Cookbook in the mail, courtesy of Wakefield press. It is bliss! Both a pictorial journey through all the country shows of South Australia, including the biggie in Adelaide and a collection of stories about the blue ribbon cooks and their recipes, though I can't imagine how the author managed to get thems to part with such top secret intellectual property.
I've never had the courage to enter any of the deadly serious categories, like 'rich fruit cake' - that is the seat of the gods. Likewise, I've never quite understood the organic chemistry of chutney and pickles, but armed with this book, and am going to venture into the lemon butter category this year - I have the eggs and the lemons, and now a set of idiot proof instructions thanks to Bob, the Wilmington show champion, and maybe I'll have a crack at Renmark men's only cake competition champ, Paul's Orange cake, decorated it by torch light on the bonnet of his ute.
Anyway, the Blue Ribbon Cook Book is a beautiful piece of book producton that takes a loving look at the strange ephemeral creative expression of the ordinary people who, year after year, preserve the living cultural heritage of the agricultural show. Gorgeous.