For years Mullumbimby-based author Belinda Jeffery has been contributing to Delicious magazine a monthly segment entitled Country Cook. It is a role into which she has, in a sense, unwittingly evolved, having moved from Sydney in 2003 with husband Clive in order to embrace a slower simpler life in the small country town. And her latest creation, The Country Cookbook, is the logical outcome of all those magazine articles.
It is that and so much more. With several titles to her credit already – the latest
being a mouth-watering compendium of largely sweet baking recipes entitled Mix & Bake – she has with her new book taken the genre to a level which is simultaneously more personal and more professional. What she describes as ‘seasonal jottings’ constitute musings in a diary format as she takes the reader through each month of the year, with astute observations on the natural environment which surrounds her. These, and the glorious recipes, are studded throughout by the positively lyrical, almost three dimensional photography of long- time collaborator Rodney Weidland – a longevity measurable by the extraordinary degree of sympathy with which his images match Belinda’s words.
Anyone who has had the privilege of meeting the author will attest to her sweetness and generosity and quite unjustified modesty. Here is a woman who was cooking on television screens decades before the era of celebrity chefs; who worked in a high-profile Sydney restaurant and ran her own cafe; who reviews and judges restaurants regularly; who is always working on her next book. Those best aware we had such a person in our midst are the regulars at farmers markets, which Belinda champions and where she possibly has her highest public profile. A true proponent of Slow Food philosophies, she may be found there every week, burdened with calico bags and a trolley, stocking up on raw materials she will transform into the sort of beautiful dishes offered in The Country Cookbook.
If some of the recipes appear lengthy it is largely due to Belinda’s emphatically helpful guiding you through each step of the way. She will tell you things to look out for, possible failures and potential disasters, and reassure you soothingly with solutions. Should you lack a certain ingredient she will provide substitutes. ‘For those of you who don’t like marzipan, please don’t be put off by its inclusion in this recipe – it really provides more of a background note and gives a lovely, delicate almond flavour to this quick and simple cake,’ is her introduction to almond and lemon syrup cake. Regarding the custard required as a preliminary to her honey and pecan ice-cream, she urges you to ‘stay focused and be a bit brave’; for her herb-crusted racks of lamb she comforts you with the fact that ‘if you haven’t cooked rack of lamb before the idea might seem a bit intimidating, but if you just think of it as a whole lot of lamb cutlets joined together it becomes much less worrisome!’
From cosy, anti- gourmet items like blueberry pikelets, split pea and ham soup with sippets and Cooee’s famous smoked fish and mash pie to fancier entries such as warm squid, celery and chilli salad, sauteed cavolo nero with crisp polenta and spiced coconut and cardamon chicken with glazed pumpkin (‘it is sooo delicious,’ she swoons) – The Country Cookbook is bursting with food you will want to eat and photography you will want to eat, all packed into a hefty, heavy, hearty, hard-covered tome itself a pleasure to simply hold.