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Margaret Fulton Christmas

fultonThis morning a book arrived in the post, which is not unusual in my work. I am very lucky to often receive ‘review’ copies of food and travel books.

However, this one, a big hefty book with evocative illustrations, immediately sent me off on a trip down memory lane. It is Margaret Fulton’s latest book, Margaret Fulton Christmas just released by Hardie Grant Books, and no doubt it will solve a Christmas present dilemma for many people this year.

Absolutely packed with everything for the Christmas table, as well as gifts to make, there are little notes in her inimitable style throughout, and the best thing is that you can be sure everything is going to work! It’s almost like having her at your elbow the whole way – and we all need a bit of support when it comes to Christmas cooking, don’t we?

These days I am privileged to occasionally attend dinners and other functions at which Margaret Fulton is a guest or speaker. On occasions I have sat beside her at a meal. She is great company and it is an honour to be in the presence of someone who has shaped the cooking habits and ideas of several generations of Australian cooks. Born in Scotland in 1924, this amazing lady is still going strong and remains an inspiration to us all.

In my first years of marriage I subscribed to her weekly cooking class booklets. They cost 75c each and I could barely afford them, but the sacrifice was well worth it as I learned to cook from them. Like many of us from that era I still feel a special link with Margaret Fulton, but for me it goes even deeper than this.

Years ago, before I was married, I was a young schoolteacher at a Rudolf Steiner school in Pymble, a Sydney suburb. At the time I was single-handedly masterminding my year-end wedding, toting around a notebook bulging with ‘things to do’, cuttings of ideas and a budget so tight it would make the current economic crisis look like payday.

After school one day, one of the mothers asked me what I was doing for my wedding cake. Cake! I hadn’t got around to thinking about what I was going to do about it. It’s possible I may even have forgotten it altogether amongst my masses of detailed lists.

“Because my aunt might do it for you,” she persisted when I didn’t reply.

wedding_cakeEven as cash-strapped as I was, the idea of somebody’s aunt, for goodness sake, making my special cake did not thrill me. I was non-committal.

However when she added “My aunt is Margaret Fulton,” she certainly had my full attention.

It turned out that her aunt, then working as Food Editor for Woman’s Day regularly decorated cakes for the magazine’s special food supplements. These intricate snow-white confections were pored over by brides-to-be, and the step-by-step pictures and instructions would later be copied slavishly by doting and talented mothers or aunts in preparation for the Big Day.

Not me, though. My culinary skills were embryonic, and doting relatives non-existent.

What all of her readers didn’t realise, though, was that mostly Ms Fulton merely iced and decorated upturned cake tins for the magazine’s pages. You can see the publisher’s bean-counters rationalising: what reader could pick the difference, and why waste the time and money making a cake that would never be seen?

“But, if you pay her for the ingredients,” my new ‘best friend’ went on, “she will make the cake as well.”

Deal done. In due course my perfectly decorated cake was delivered in time for the great day. It was two tiers tall and somewhere I still have the royal icing floral posy that crowned the cake. Naturally, in keeping with tradition we saved the top layer to eat on our first anniversary.

The cake was delicious, of course – rich and fruity, perfect in every way. But what else could I expect? It had been made by Australia’s top cook and was the bargain of my life as it cost me just $4.

So, maybe for old times sake this year I should use her recipe for Rich Christmas Cake from this latest book. It’s on page 213 and if it is anything like my wedding cake it will be sensational.

Margaret Fulton Christmas, Margaret Fulton, OAM, Hardie Grant Books, October 2008, rrp $59.95. Hardcover, richly illustrated, 340 pages.


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