In this week’s episode of my television series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures I visit my friend Karen the lavender grower, who is always giving me snippets from her garden, and farmers Ben and Erika, who are so proud of the meat they produce and often share it with the people they care about. This got me thinking about the generosity of foodies and the way they so willingly share their bounty of produce and ideas.
As I've been traveling around New Zealand and Australia launching the TV series and its accompanying book, I’ve met so many fun and passionate cooks and learnt bunches about the different ways some people share recipes and form cooking clubs. I’m incredibly flattered that so many of these clubs and cooking get-togethers are focused around cooking with my books and recipes. How did I get to be so lucky to have all you great people enjoying cooking with me? It feels such a privilege.
There are all sorts of hilarious names for these groups. I met a fabulous group of women from Eketahuna who get together once a week to enjoy a glass or two of wine while they cook themselves dinner using my recipes. They’ve called themselves “Annabel's Arses”, which hardly sounds complimentary, but that was what their husbands apparently said they would end up with if they had too many of these dinner parties (I’m pleased to report they haven’t!) Here's a picture of them – from left: Bex Monk, Kate Armstrong, Sandy Bourke, me, Amy Monk, Maree Reddington, Pip Edmonds and Teresa Duffy.
Over in Australia I met another group who get together to cook from my books once a month. There are eight of them. Each month one person sets the theme and hosts the evening, and everyone has to bring their favourite recipe of mine that fits the given theme. The host cooks their recipe and everyone else brings seven copies of their recipe. They all talk about the recipe they have chosen and everyone goes home with seven new recipes and the mandate (a bit like a book club) that they have to try at least one of these before the next get-together. So at the next meeting they talk about this new recipe, what they liked about it, how they adapted it etc.
Another group are a family of four who have made a club around my books and recipes and get together once a month. Whoever hosts the dinner (in rotation as they all live nearby) picks the Annabel Langbein main course, and the three other members divvy up the pre-dinner nibbles, entrée and dessert. All the recipes have to come from one of my books or website or columns and they each bring a copy of their chosen recipe along for the rest of the group to share. They say they are constantly harangued by other family members who want to join, but it just won’t work with any more people and no-one is leaving!
One woman in Melbourne brought along her copy of The Free Range Cook and showed me all the notes she had made in it as she has cooked from it. Her beautiful, fine writing on the tops of the pages notes what the date was, who the guests were, what the key ingredient cost (“pork belly, $20”) and how she found the recipe. Later on she will be able to glance back through those pages and remember every one of these special dinners or lunches or afternoon teas she made. Such fun.
And a big thank-you, too, to all the people who are doing a Julie and Julia with me – cooking their way through each book. What can I say? Wow! My favourite is Australian blogger Catherine Lancaster, who writes My Journey With Annabel – here's a photo of the two of us when I was in Australia recently (as you can see we also have similar taste in clothes!) But perhaps you know of some others?
I feel very honoured by all the people have chosen me as their cooking mentor and guide, and I would love to hear of any other groups out there who have cooking clubs. How do you run them, what works and what doesn’t work, how do you choose who does what? Visit me on my Facebook page to let me know.
Cooking brings so much pleasure to my life and I find the act of cooking, whether a dish or a meal or some baking or some preserves, is very anchoring. And it’s immensely pleasing and rewarding to meet other people who have brought this simple pleasure into their own lives. Next on the sharing together agenda – let’s start seed swapping!
To see behind-the-scenes photos, recipes, video clips and the menu from this episode see the TV pages of my website.