We Love Food – Family recipes from the backyard

Food with love: far more than a kid's recipe book

By Robyn Lewis
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We Love Food - Family recipes from the backyard

We Love Food - Family recipes from the backyard [©Hardie Grant Books]


2010 is certainly the year of getting back to the garden, in cookbooks, school yards and hopefully in backyards and public spaces (enlightened local councils permitting, of course) around Australia. 

The move was given a kick start at the highest level in 2009 by America’s First Lady Michelle Obama, who instructed that a corner of White House lawn be transformed into a vegie1 patch, and even planted some of it, aided by her daughters and possibly the President himself, such is the perceived importance of increasing the consumption of fresh, home-grown food in today’s American diet. Soon Prince Charles’ organics might also get to the lawns of Buckingham Palace – they’re already on its tables.

But while we wait for Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott to follow suit and launch a vote-winning home-grown campaign, around Australia – and bolstered by food luminaries such as Stephanie Alexander – kids and their parents are taking seeds and soil into their own hands and are rediscovering that vegetables are not made in supermarkets. And that they taste better (and keep longer) when you grow them yourself.

A mere ten years ago, the fact that the state of Tasmania had (and still has) the nation’s highest percentage of inhabitants growing at least some of their own fruit and vegetables at home was an implied indicator of – wait for this – its supposed poverty level. Forget quality of life, Tasmania in 2000 just wasn’t cutting it in Australia’s official standard of living stakes, where presumably all food came plastic wrapped and was ripened with ethylene.

How times have changed. Roll on a decade, and now we have TV chefs like Matthew Evans and founders of the award-winning Agrarian Kitchen, Rodney Dunn and Severine Demanet, not only moving to Tasmania but doing so to grow their own vegetables, fruit and herbs, rear their own beasts, and butcher and cure them too – and to teach those who have become disconnected from the earth. Suddenly, from Cairns to Cygnet, produce gardens are trendy again.

So what to do with nature and nurture’s bounty? We don’t all have Matt Evans’ portable career or crofting instinct, nor are we necessarily at the stage of our lives when we can simply up and move to the country, even assuming such a bucking of the global trend towards city living was feasible. Some of us quite like swimming pools and life in the semi-tropics, thanks. But many of us can grow something edible – the humble choko or passionfruit on the back fence is a starter – then learn to serve or cook it simply and well.

We Love Food is co-authored by Kirsty Manning-Wilcox and Peta Heine. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that, ­although they live close to Melbourne, they both have Tasmanian family connections, as not only do they love food and cooking, but also growing it. They share a strong desire to instil this same love and respect for food into their young children, a desire which was implanted in both by their parents.

It’s no surprise also that Peta Heine worked with Stephanie Alexander when establishing her kitchen garden pilot program and taught the first kitchen garden classes at Melbourne’s Collingwood College. She has run her own restaurant in Adelaide and a fishing lodge in Tasmania’s Central Highlands, and now takes cooking and catering classes; her culinary credentials show in the book’s recipes. Kirsty Manning-Wilcox is a writer, editor and publishing manager, with a husband involved in wine. Their skills combine brilliantly and their passion for food shines through.

They ‘believe in the principles of the Slow Food movement… but are not opposed to cheating every now and again’ (with pantry items). We Love Food is ‘written not by celebrity chefs’ (or their ghost writers) but by ‘real working mums’ who are multi-tasking their busy lives along with most of the current generation.

The book is subtitled Family recipes from the backyard, and is beautifully illustrated with bucolic scenes of their kids playing in great piles of autumn chestnut leaves, crunching on snap pea pods, and other charming vignettes of rural family life (in the Macedon Ranges), interspersed with some lovely but more standard food close-ups. The media release clearly pitches it as ‘a comprehensive guide for parents … (including) a treasure of tips from these busy mums that might also save you some time and get your kids eating their greens’.

Despite this being an almost irresistible call to any parent or grand-parent who has reached the end of their patience tether trying to encourage their offspring to down a tomato or spoonful of peas (or to quote Charlie and Lola: ‘moon-squirter’ and ‘green drops’2), We Love Food is actually far more than recipes for youthful fussy eaters.

In fact, there are some good recipes for grown ups too, some of which don’t require immediate access to your own garden. Really the collection is as much a ‘best of’ the two families’ recent culinary traditions, a treasure trove of recipes that you wished your mother might have passed on to you, if only she had cooked this well.

So for those who are recent immigrants, or for some other reason don’t have grandparents (or parents) on hand, or missed out on the basics of modern Australian cooking at home, this is a great book, if you can look past the family-album photos that are cute to those of us with children, but possibly a little off-putting to those without. The recipes are relatively easy and most would suit an inexperienced cook.

Spices feature more prominently than they do on my six-year-old’s repertoire, however – or perhaps the authors have been more successful than I in convincing their children of the merits of Szechuan pepper, cumin and the dreaded chilli. However, the melding of Asian and Australian cuisines is now so complete that many Aussie kids regard it as the norm, along with computers and mobile phones. The Asian influence in We Love Food is therefore high.

Most recipes are of a standard that I would be more than happy to serve to weekday (adult) guests, unexpected or otherwise, or for casual weekend entertaining. Some have as few as four ingredients, others are more complex, but we’re assured they are all simple and quick to prepare.

Indeed, We Love Food might become the Australian equivalent of Apples for Jam, based in Tuscany and written by Tessa Kiros. The latter has become something of a bible for cooking for children since its publication in 2006, with recipes distinctively grouped by colour, an innovation more practical than twee than might be imagined. We Love Food is just as much fun, with a more conventional layout to suit the time-pressed cook.

There are gardening tips for tomatoes, garlic, herbs, strawberries and more, but it’s not (and does not claim to be) a complete gardening guide – turn to Grow It Cook It by Sally Cameron, Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion or Harvest by Meredith Kirton if further cultivation advice is required (see related reviews below). But you’ll find out why silver beet was recently called ‘the blue jeans of vegetables’ and a whole lot more about doing new and enticing things with your vegies.

No matter how hard you try, it is undoubtedly very difficult to get your kids or yourselves back to food basics in an urban environment, especially if you live in an apartment block (even with a communal roof garden). However many of us now have access to farmers’ or other weekend markets, where food shopping is no longer a chore but a sensory and social pleasure, and We Love Food is a good introductory handbook for its produce, especially if you aren’t ready for Matthew Evans’ whole hog or don’t live in a temperate climate that most books seem to feature.

It is the authors’ desire that the upcoming generation come to feel the same about growing their own food and eating it – in whatever culinary style – as their parents did about Vegemite3. When you see the sheer pride and pleasure that children have when they cook and serve something they have grown themselves, and the difference with their peers who know only takeaways and frozen food, you know it’s worth it.

As the old Chinese proverb goes: ‘teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’ – assuming of course that he is also taught to cook it! To me, not to teach a child (of either sex) to cook borders on parental negligence; such is good food’s fundamental importance to life, and one of its greatest pleasures. We Love Food provides a good foundation.


We Love Food – Family recipes from the backyard by Kirsty Manning-Wilcox and Peta Heine is published by Hardie Grant, Melbourne (2010, sc, 224 pp) and sells for RRP A$39.95. Winepros Archive and VisitVineyards.com subscribers and Members can purchase We Love Food at a 12.5% discount from our book partners Seekbooks (postage extra). 



1. Australian for vegetable.

2. The children’s book character Lola is a very fussy eater, and is perhaps more likely to put your child off his or her vegetables than persuade them to eat them. Instead, if you have an iPhone get the app Munchie Monkey, subtitled ‘for picky eaters’. Works a treat in turning 40 minute meal torture sessions into whatever time limit you select.

3. Marmite to the English; a salty brown vegetable-derived spread to others, reputed to ‘put a rose in every cheek’ of Australia’s baby-boomer generation.


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