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Fowlers - what's old is new again

What goes around, comes around, is the old saying, and nothing could be truer than the use of glass bottles for preserving food. All our grandmothers had them and many had shining rows filled with fruits in their pantries, ready for the next dessert or breakfast.

In Stephanie Alexander's foreword to this fascinating book she says: 'At many of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program schools the crop from the trees in the orchard happens just as the school year finishes. It is the perfect moment to get out the preserving kit to bottle fruit, and make sauces and chutneys to get the year off to a flying start.'

Even if you only want to know the history of an era of food preparation in Australia, this is an interesting book. It takes you from the very earliest years when young Joseph Fowler arrived in Australia from the UK in 1912, with a Fowlers preserving unit in his luggage. Not at all what most emigrants would bring! The timing was right. Within twenty years, Australia was in Depression and any way to save money and preserve food was welcomed. Thriftiness was praised, and as many homes had fruit trees in the back yard or on their property, it was an ideal way to make use of the fruit which would otherwise go to waste.

It is now that the book gets really interesting. Rather than rolling out recipes from the old Fowler's books, the remainder of this volume is filled with today's recipes from today's chefs and food authorities. Stephanie Alexander shares her method of making pickled watermelon rind using the bottling unit, as well as a useful tomato passata. Rita Erlich supplies a garden marmalade, and George Francisco gives readers both a banana teacake and rosella jam. Alla Wolf Tasker from Lake House in Daylesford shares dill pickles, and  Maggie Beer gives us her recipe for mustard apricots and mango chutney.

There are directions for fruit leathers, cordials, pickled onions, jellies and jams galore. Perhaps best of all are the treasured recipes from rural women, CWA members and those who annually place their prized product in the local agricultural show - and win!

Of course this is a cookbook, but it is much more. It's a slice of food history in Australia. It's a vigorous nod of thanks to the women on the land in early Australia. But most of all, it is a challenge to this generation to renew the skill of preserving food safely and tastily.

As Ann-Marie, a prizewinning cook at country shows, says: 'You know exactly what you have put in...if you are into healthy food, you should be looking at doing your own preserving too.'

Fowlers - what's old is new again, published by Fowlers Vacola Australia, 2015, hardcover, rrp A$ 39.95. ISBN 978-0-9943455-0-9.

- reviewed by Sally Hammond


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