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Merle's Country Show Baking

If you grew up in rural Australia, as I did, you would have certainly attended the country show. For many people it was the high point of the year. Even more so was the opportunity to put in an entry and perhaps find your cake or scones or knitting or embroidery on display for all to see with a coveted blue ribbon or a prize certificate beside it.

Most revered of all the cooks in country areas, then, were the 'CWA ladies'. The Country Women's Association prided itself on fostering the highest standards in its competitions, and you could be sure their sponges stood higher, their cream puffs were puffier, and their scones were - well, you just had to be there to know what I am talking about.

Fortunately the CWA has kept up with the times without letting their high ideals slip a notch, and Merle Parrish, from Cudal, in the Central West of NSW, is an excellent example of this. She has been baking competitively since she was seven years old, and is now a CWA judge. You can imagine how much in demand she is with her family for birthday cakes! But for her own 81st birthday late last year, Merle whipped up a little something for herself - this book, full of her prize-winning recipes, tips and hints.

The book begins, sensibly, with cakes, and Merle's no-nonsense country-style approach to the business, is evident in her Tips on page 2. It begins: 'The 'secret' to good baking is really just common sense and organisation - nothing too hard about that!' But there are some real 'insider' hints, too, such as when Merle is baking a cake for showing, she turns it out onto newspaper covered with a tea towel, as a wire rack wouuld mark the delicate top.

Using this book is like having your very own judge at your elbow. Cakes, bread, scones, pies, biscuits (iced honey jumbles, anyone?) and slices - they're all here with Merle's clear, concise directions and full page colour pictures. She's rounded her selection out with jams, marmalades, confectionary, more than enough to keep even the most industrious cook, or eager wannabe show entrant, happy.

Merle's Country Show Baking and other favourites, Merle Parrish, published by Ebury Press, 2013, paperback, A$39.95, ISBN 978 85798 109 7


-  reviewed by Sally Hammond


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