Camping in outback Australia

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You can find my story about the camping trip to Innamincka on the Cooper Creek in South Australia that my children still talk about, by looking in the family history category. Click on Family History in the category list and go to "Food and family fun in the outback".

Prune and Marsala preserve

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Most gardeners will know what I mean when I say that fruit trees crop in cycles. Some seasons there will be an over-abundance of fruit and other seasons very little. The unpredictable nature of fruit crops causes even more difficulties for the commercial fruit grower.

A neighbour at McLaren Flat grows magnificent purple prune plums for the export market, but a few years ago in a year of abundance he had more fruit than the market could absorb and asked me whether I could make some jam. He had in mind the type of plum jam which is tradionally made in Poland and other Eastern European countries.

However, the plums were on the point of deterioration when he brought them to me, and I either had to consider discarding them or risking the other ingredients and attempting to make a saleable product.

I thought long and hard about how I could salvage the large number of trays of these beautiful purple prunes and then I remembered that I had previously been successful in soaking dried prunes in Marsala, and how delicious they had tasted.

Prune and Marsala was born as a flavour. It was a rich, dark jam but required some citric acid to balance out the sugars. For those who like prunes, here is another rich flavoured preserve.

See the recipe in the Recipe category.


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She occupied a room out the back; in Australian parlance called a sleep-out. Most homes had a sleep out, whether at the front or the back. It was often the spare room, sometimes used for a guest, frequently for the overflow of children from the main rooms. Most homes had either back or front verandah, and it was reasonably easy to partition off a section to create a useful room, either by the use of canvas blinds, or in Nanna's case her wall was a wooden lattice screen, lined with canvas to keep out the cold. Poor Nanna! At least our sleep out had solid walls between the tall stone pillars of the verandah and a proper door.
The whole family, her daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters all called her Nanna. She was a typical elderly woman of the mid 1900's, always dressed in drab black or navy, with a knitted cardigan to keep the cold from chilling her old bones, and a floral pinny to protect her clothing from splashes and spills. Her black velvet embroidered, slippered feet hurt badly whilst she carried out a few household tasks. I often saw Nanna sitting at the kitchen table peeling the potatoes, or washing a few dishes; never the focus of family activity, but always in the background.
A few of Nanna's remaining treasures made her sparse accommodation a little less foreign. The cement floor by the bed was brightened by her old hooked blue rag rug, whilst on the black iron bedstead her patchwork quilt lay in mauve and forget-me-not blue splendour; an alien beauty in a foreign landscape. It was hard to imagine those watery blue eyes had ever able to see sufficiently to make all of the minute stitches it took to create that quilt, or her twisted fingers being nimble enough to ply a needle and thread.
Beside the narrow bed was a small oak cupboard that hid the pink china receptacle of her nighttime toilet needs. On top lay a cream lace doiley, her black glasses case, a cut glass vase holding just one pink rose and a large blue comb for her long gray hair, and one or two hairpins for holding up her neat bun. Nanna's freshly washed hair fell down to her waist in a silver shower, and on a sunny day she could be seen drying it whilst sitting outside under the big old almond tree.
At the foot of her bed rested an old worn wicker chair, softened by a well-stuffed blue embroidered cushion. The chair could be dragged out onto the verandah so that Nanna could sit in the sun and watch the world go by. She would sit; face raised to the warmth of the morning sun, watching the honeyeaters darting in and out of the Morning Glory trumpets that hung over the door. Sometimes we heard the baker's boy call to her as he bounded through the squeaky gate; delivering the warm yeasty high-top loaf. His horse, out on the street, snorting and stamping his foot to be on the move. On a good day Nanna would enjoy reading the daily paper until shee nodded off, or perhaps her arthritic fingers could be persuaded to work a crochet hook and some cotton. The postman's whistle would bring her to the front gate to collect the letters from the post-box. She once showed me how to make daisies using a daisy wheel, patiently urging me to tension the wool in the right way and to stitch the centre firmly. She said this would prevent the whole thing flying apart when the daisy wheel was removed. She was right.
However, most of time she sat in the sun on her creaking wicker chair, beyond seeing well enough sew, too tired to read, her fine fingers clasped in her floral-apronned lap, waiting, just waiting.

Tasty low fat Zucchini Slice



3 zucchinis Washed and grated
2 Rashers bacon Finely chopped
1cup Sweet potato grated
1 onion Peeled and chopped finely
2 Spring onions Sliced thinly
1cup Shredded cheese Low fat
5 eggs Lightly beaten
1/2cup Olive oil
1 cup Self Raising flour


In a large bowl, mix together the chopped and grated vegetable, flour, cheese, bacon and seasoning.
Lightly beat the eggs with the olive oil, and add to the vegetable mixture.
Spread the mixture into a shallow pan and sprinkle a small amount of grated cheese on the top.
Bake in preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until set and golden brown.
Serve hot or cold with a crisp salad.

An ancient city

The beautiful and ancient Moorish city of Barcelona one of my favourite places in Europe. Its gothic quarter or Barri Gotic is simply stunning, with the medieval Gothic cathedral and town hall, displaying the ornate architecture of the period; gargoyles peeping from every crevice and hanging from every crenellation. Little surprises are everywhere; such as the tiny courtyard at the rear of the cathedral containing a little fountain and garden growing pure white lilies and water plants, guarded by a gaggle of majestic white geese, which were kept in medieval times because they announced unwanted visitors to the precinct.

The modern city

Dim, narrow streets providing shelter from the hot Mediterranean sun, open out to stone spacious stone-paved plazas cooled by huge central fountains, surrounded by tall palm trees among which flocks of pigeons constantly flutter, wheeling and landing, cooing and clucking.
This is a city that does not sleep until the early hours of the morning, but is up and bustling at sunrise, then shuts down during siesta ending late afternoon when life begins again. Tapas bars open after siesta, displaying their wares in brightly coloured bowls on the tops of bars. Bowls of fresh oysters, boiled eggs, local ham rolls, and pickled anchovies are displayed, with local cheeses in colourful array to be enjoyed with a beer or glass of rich Spanish Red wine. Shops re-open their doors and very healthy commerce proceeds apace until after midnight every day of the week except on Sundays. Barcelona is its country's most happening town, and seems set to stay that way. The 1992 Olympics allowed Barcelona to once again strut its stuff on the world stage, projecting an image of cultural prosperity. It hasn't looked back since. In part, Barcelona’s topography was its destiny. The city is cradled in a great half bowl, open to the Mediterranean on one side, but contained by a brooding hill called Montjuic on which sits the Estadi Olympic and the city’s park and fair ground. The city rises gently from the sea and climbs its slopes and elevations with admirable respect for the land.

Around any corner in Barcelona there is a fresh surprise for the eyes. The architectural exploits of Gaudi are simply mind-blowing, and there are a number of them to be seen, from simple apartment buildings to the yet unfinished master work, The Sagrada Familia. One could be forgiven for thinking that The Sagrada Familia church is simply a folly. Further examination reveals a biblical story told with steel, concrete and plaster as its voice. It is unique and unforgettable, with eight towers, each shaped like a decorated Christmas tree, and topped with a different piece of fruit reaching towards the blue Catalan skies, sculptured figures of the Holy Family hovering over the main door.

Everyone who is anyone is on the Ramblas

The Ramblas, wide and beautiful and paved with patterned tiling, leads down from the Plaza Catalunya, to the magnificent memorial to Christopher Columbus dominates the huge roundabout at its end, and appropriately overlooks the port area of Barcelona. It is a place of celebration. People come to simply celebrate being alive, by taking a prada in the cool air of the evening or to enjoy a meal at any of the open air restaurants situated along its length. Couples young and old walk arm in arm among the bustling tourist throng, as they hasten to dine, or simply to stand and watch a gold or silver painted living sculpture in slow motion. Families stroll together, adults and children with dogs on leads, enjoying the atmosphere and the company of locals and back-packers alike. All make up the tapestry of life on this busy median strip, whilst on either side traffic roars up and down, tooting taxis competing for space with buzzing mopeds and small delivery trucks. Tall Plane trees line the roadside, and potted palms stand guard over the tables and chairs of each little restaurant, whose white apronned waiters carrying trays, dash between rushes of traffic to bring food and drink to their customers seated under sheltering awnings. Tourists haunt the many souvenir shops, seeking bargains in Lladro porcelain ornaments, Spanish gold jewellery, soccer uniforms, postcards and Catalan pottery. Back-packer hostels rest cheek by jowl with up-market residential buildings and smart hotels, busy internet cafes, tempting little patisseries and ice cream shops.

The Moors

The Moorish influence is everywhere. France pushed back the Muslims in AD 801. At the time, the plains and mountains to the north of Barcelona were populated by the people who by then could be identified as 'Catalans'. Catalan's closest linguistic relative today is the langue d'oc, the old language of southern France. Franco, when he came to power, wasted no time in banning Catalan and flooding the region with impoverished immigrants from Andalucía in the vain hope that the pesky Catalans, with their continual movements for independence, would be swamped. But the plan soured somewhat when the migrants' children and grandchildren turned out to be more Catalan than the Catalans. Franco even banned one of the Catalans' joyful expressions of national unity, the sardana, a public circle dance. But they'd barely turned the last sods on El Supremo's grave when Catalunya burst out again in an effort to recreate itself as a nation. The Sardana is celebrated somewhere at least once every day in Barcelona.

Catalunya - a treasure trove of talent

The Catalans are a proud and happy people. Their philosophy is evident in their surroundings, and in every citizen one meets in Barcelona. They have a zest for life, not seen in colder European cities. Music is everywhere. Bands play providing entertainment for the strolling citizens and visitors. A man sits alone beside the fountain in the plaza, and plays his clarinet in the cool afternoon, around the corner modern rhythm and blues bangs out from a café obviously attracting a very young audience, whilst at the Grand Theatre further along the Ramblas such famous artists as Jose Carreras or Kathleen Battle star in grand opera. Nearby is the Central Produce Market where the most amazing array of spices, colourful fruits, vegetables, and flowers, fresh and smoked meats, glistening fish, honey and cheeses of every kind compete for space. Noises, smells and colours simply assault the senses when one steps in through the stone doorway of the main produce market. The colour and variety of the produce of the region, is in some way representative of its people, for they are a colourful, supremely talented, warm, freedom loving, proud and passionate people, who have built a city of infinite fascination and beauty that I have grown to love.

Prune and marsala preserve


fresh prune plums 6 kilo
marsala 500 ml
sugar 4.5 kg
citric acid 1 dstspn
pectin 1 dstspn

Wash and halve the fresh prune plums. Place the fruit and acid into a shallow Jam Pan over a very low heat, and stir frequently until the juice of the fruit starts to run. Continue cooking until the fruit begins to break up. Raise the heat and cook for a further 30 mins. Bring to a boil and add the sugar, into which the pectin has been mixed. Continue to boil until the setting point has been reached.

Setting Point -
This is the point at which the jam gels when placed on a cold saucer.

Place a saucer into the refrigerator. When you are ready to test the gel point, place a small amount of jam onto the cold saucer. In approx. four minutes gently tip to one side. If a skin has formed on the top of the jam and it pours in a clumped fashion rather than runs then the setting point has been reached.

Bottle into sterilized jars, and lid up immediately. Invert the jars for two minutes to allow the lids to be sterilized. Turn back the jars, using a tea towel to protect your hands and allow to cool. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

Red Poppies for remberance


The bus chugged up the dusty mountain road, loaded with local passengers, one or two tourists and a few back-packers. Our destination was a little village in the Tuscan hills, a sought-after tourist spot recognized for its spectacular scenery that had featured in many tourism magazines and scenic calendars. On either side of the road were fields of grapevines in their autumn foliage, dusty olive groves heavy with green and purple fruit and wheat fields sprinkled with red poppies. I mentally pictured the illustrations that I could include in my next book; wonderful scenes of the olive groves, wheat fields and road-side splashes of red poppies. Wonderful! I thought. Should make for great reading, and my agent would be simply thrilled with the tourism angle.
The bus made the final ascent to the gates of the village and passengers alighted. I picked up my baggage and walked in the direction of the main gate to find the bed and breakfast accommodation that had been booked by my travel agent. The view of the village from the gate was a step back in time, with cobbled roadways, narrow lanes and charming little shop-fronts displaying local wares. Following her directions I soon found the big wooden door at Via Romano No. 36 and pressed the bell. The door was flung wide by a small lady dressed in a floral wrap-around apron and black dress, black stockings and with a head-scarf over her hair.
“Buon giorno Signorita,” she said, reaching to take my biggest bag, and bustled before me, leading the way into a cool hallway, and then on to a large tiled room with dark wooden furniture; the establishment’s dining-room. She put my bag down and pointed to chair at the nearest table, then shuffled off to call the owner. Having checked in with my hostess, Signora Pucci, who was very pleasant and helpful with information about the village, I was taken to my room, a very plain but comfortable little one with its own tiny bathroom facilities attached. A warm shower in the ceramic tiled bathroom was the most relaxing thing, and when I was dry the bed welcomed my tired body. I woke at dusk and looked out of my window to see the rooves of the village turned to gold in the early evening light as the sunset poured over the hills in the distance.
Dinner was eaten by candlelight, a fine meal of braised rabbit and spinach with pine-nuts, accompanied by a glass of good red wine. My fellow guests, two couples, one of whom were obviously honeymooners and the other middle-aged, as well as a lone male seemed to be pleasant companions. At breakfast, Signor Trevigno told me that he was familiar with the village and offered his services as my guide. His enthusiasm for the task wouldn’t allow me to refuse.
Armed with a village map, my camera, water and fruit we strode out onto the cobbled street after breakfast. Strolling through the narrow, shaded streets I was struck by the thought that these buildings were medieval, and had seen more history than I could even begin to absorb. High windows overlooked the narrow twisting lanes and stone steps, sometimes three and four stories above our laboured footsteps. Along the way Signor Trevigno told me about the first time he had come here, as a foot soldier in Mussolini’s army, and how he had fallen in love with a local girl, the daughter of the town’s butcher.
“She was beautiful,” he said wistfully, “I can still remember how she looked when we said goodbye on the steps of the church, as we were loaded onto open trucks and driven off to fight. I had picked her a bunch of the red poppies from the roadside, and she was holding them close to her heart as we drove away.”
“Did you ever see her again,” I asked, hoping that he would give me some material that I could use in my book.
“Yes,” of course, he said, “I married her. My Maria was the loveliest girl in the village. She said she would wait for me until the war was over, and she did. We married in 1946, and had two children, a boy and a girl; we were so happy.”
I began to get a sense that perhaps Maria was no longer alive, but didn’t like to ask.
“Come,” he said, “I will show you the Collegiata, which once was a cathedral, where we were married.”
We stood at the bottom of two huge flights of stone steps leading from the large open piazza to the heavy studded doors of the church, and I could visualise that the young couple, even dressed in post-war outfits, would have looked as they stood triumphant at the door, looking happily down over their family and friends whilst rose petals were thrown onto the flag-stones beneath their feet. Inside, the church was simple and yet magnificent. Our footsteps echoed as we made our way across the flagged floor to the front with its glorious marble altar, gold candlesticks and hosts of angels flying from the ceiling frescoes.
“What a beautiful place for a marriage,” I whispered, “I think that it would have been quite extraordinary.”
“Si,” he replied. “It was magnifico.”
“Now we go to the Piazza of the punishment.”
“I don’t see that on my map,” I said curiously.
“You won’t see it, because the village would rather forget that it happened,” he replied and led me onward.
The narrow lanes opened out on a large cobble-stoned square with wide streets leading from it, and unlike many of the other streets in this village, wide enough to take a vehicle. Then he pointed to the twelve heavy wooden posts, set into the cobble stones and the wall behind them, chipped and pock-marked by what could only have been bullets. At the base of each post sat a small red flower.
“You see this,” he said sadly, “this is where the Nazis executed many of my country-men who did not wish to fight for them. The villagers secretly tried to undermine the German war effort, helped by us where we could, and when the tide of the war turned against them they took twelve of our men at a time, lashed them to these wooden blocks and shot them.”
“I am sorry,” I said, “It must have been a dreadful experience.”
“It was truly awful,” he said. “I come back every year to place a bunch of poppies here in memory of my friends who did not live to see the end of the war. They were young men, with their lives to be lived, but they did not get the chance. I am one of the few lucky ones.”
Sitting in the shaded Collegiata square that afternoon, and enjoying a truly delicious Italian coffee, Martino Trevigno was able to paint a picture for me of the village as it had been in war-time; the roar of the machines, terrified villagers, frightened Italian farm boys from poor towns and cities, who in most cases, were forced join the army and fight a war that was not of their making, one they didn’t even believe in.
Then he told me about Maria, their happy life with their children and grandchildren, and finally of her death five years ago. He painted a tragic picture of a village, destroyed by war and poverty, but I could hear the pride in his voice when he spoke about the re-building of the village, how tourism had helped with the rebuilding of the regional economy including the success of its olive industry and the superb world class wine made in the surrounding hills.
“Martino, I cannot thank you enough for sharing your experiences and your village with me. I feel that hearing your stories has made me a part of it too. I shall go home with some wonderful memories from my stay here.”
“It was my pleasure,” he replied in his gentle manner.
Several days later I made my way to the village gate to catch the bus for Pisa and the International Airport, my note-books full of wonderful stories, my camera having worked overtime on terrific photographs, some beautiful, some very sad. My short visit had been life-changing, and although I had come with the intention of writing a tourist guide, I now had material for a wonderful love story as well.
As I left, I saw Martino, a bunch of red poppies in his hand, walking up the steep little path to the back wall of the village. I knew where he was going, because poppies are for remembrance.

When a cup is a mug


For goodness sake! She’s picked the black mug again.
I wish she wouldn’t do that.
You’d think that I wasn’t to her liking, the way she does that.
I can assure you that I am a very elegant looking cup,
tall and slim in pristine white china,
with a pretty English garden scene on the side
and tiny blue flowers on my neat little handle with its gold trim.
Anyone can see that I’m a cup with class.
If I just wiggle, sorry, I mean slide over a little bit on the shelf,
then perhaps she’ll choose me for her morning coffee.
There are quite a few cups around me on the shelf.
There’s the white one with the chip,
she uses it to measure the flour whilst cooking,
and the pink one with the spout the baby has for her milk.
Then there’s the fine china one with the gold band around the top,
roses on the side and pink inside,
and the two blue ones with cornflowers.
Last Christmas, someone gave her two ugly purple mugs
with gold hearts on them.
They are so vulgar, if you ask me.
I am sure that if I move just a little bit she will see me here waiting.
I’ll just nudge over into the space left by the black mug and
– Oops!

Recipe search

Whilst searching for a recipe on the Internet I came upon a most remarkable website, viewed the recipes, read some of the stories and had the strongest urge to tell my own story of my involvement with kitchens, both personal and professional.

Diana Serbe

My email to Diana Serbe, asking whether she might like to hear my story was answered in the affirmative, and I sat down to recount my story about making pasties with my grandma. My story-telling skills being rather basic didn't manage to produce a literary masterpiece, but I did feel a sense of pride that I had some family history on paper at last (not to mention on the screen). Thus began a wonderful journey of story writing, friendship and sharing with Diana. I invite you to visit her website by clicking on the heading below. Enter Diana's Kitchen and enjoy her company as I have.
In Mama's Kitchen

As my sons have left home they have all requested recipes for such things as Tuna Mournay and Golden Syrup dumplings. In fact recently my youngest son was telling a friend that he wanted her to make golden syrup dumplings. She asked him for the recipe, so he went as usual to the internet, and found, much to his surprise, that the recipe was one which I had submitted to In Mama's Kitchen. So here it is the family's favourite and very easy dessert.

• 1 cup self-raising flour
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon butter
• 1-2 tablespoon milk
• 1 cup water
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons Golden syrup or honey
• 1 tablespoon butter

Sift flour into a bowl. and rub in the butter until it is like breadcrumbs. Beat the egg and milk together, and carefully mix with the flour to make a soft dough. Do not over-mix as this will make the dumplings tough.

Place the water, sugar, butter and golden syrup into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

Drop in teaspoonfuls of the dough, cover with a lid and simmer over a moderate heat for about 12 minutes or so until cooked. Serve on a shallow plate and drizzle the golden sauce over the top, accompanied by custard, cream or icecream. My husband's favourite is hot, runny custard.
Serves 4-6 people

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