My Nanna loved living and working on the land, some of my fondest childhood memories are ones that involve feeding all the ducks and chooks, collecting eggs, making butter and horse riding. Nanna met my Grandfather after the war when she was working on a farm, my Grandfather was a man of the land and spent much of his life on the back of a horse and they would often do cattle drives together. For a long time, Nanna was believed to be the only female drover in Northland, she rode horses for work and pleasure up until a serious health problem slowed her down in her seventies.
My Grandparents didn’t always live on a farm, they had a house in town and oversaw my uncle’s property while he was living overseas. The thing I remember most about Nanna’s house in town is the garden filled with fabulous fruit trees, in summer we would eat the plums straight from the tree and my Nanna would spend hours making jam, filling jars with stewed fruit and preparing fruit pies or crumble. Visiting the farm was a real treat, we would help with shearing by cleaning up the wool, explore the paddocks and feed the chooks and occasionally we would visit neighbouring properties on horseback. The only dog we were allowed to play with was an old English Sheepdog called Muff, the working dogs were off limits unless my Grandfather wanted to send them with us to move sheep or cattle, they were generally Border Collies or Huntaways and they knew more than us when it came to mustering.
I have very little information about the photos below although I remember seeing the first image framed and hanging in Nanna’s house, as a horse crazy child it seemed like a fun and exciting way to live.
A friend of mine suggested I read Isabel Coe’s La Dolce Vita: Sweet Dreams and Chocolate Memories, a fascinating story about a woman and her family in Italy and Switzerland and the fond memories she has about cooking, especially with chocolate. My friend and I had been discussing our favourite desserts that our grandmothers once made and knowing how much I love all things Italy and chocolate, she kindly let me borrow her copy of the book.
The recipes featured in this book sound heavenly, I have not dared to test them myself because I don’t know whether the end result would be successful and if it was, then how do I stop myself from eating the entire dessert? Isabel Coe talks of her Omama’s Chocolate Mousse, Nonna’s chestnut truffles and her Mother’s chocolate sandwiches, Isabel learned to cook at a young age and finds comfort in these recipes handed down through generations now that she lives in Australia and lives with the feeling of being homesick. One of the first recipes to grab my attention with its simplicity is Omama’s Creme Chocolat, described as a dessert that ‘tastes rich yet is somehow light to eat’ and is best served with chocolate madeleines.
Omama’s Creme Chocolat (Isabel Coe)
300ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
1 1/2 tablespoons boiling water
150g dark chocolate
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Place the cream in a bowl with the vanilla pod and leave to infuse.
Pour the boiling water over the chocolate and stir until dissolved. Stir in the sugar and leave to cool.
Lightly whip the cream and fold into the chocolate mixture.
Eat slowly and savour every mouthful.
I particularly love the last step in the instructions for preparation 🙂
If you have read the book and made any of the recipes contained within I would love to hear about it and if you haven’t read the book but love a good story about family and food, I recommend reading ‘La Dolce Vita’. Reading this book brings back many food memories of my own: shelling peas into a bucket for my Nanna as she prepares Christmas lunch for 20-30 people; beating sugar and butter by hand while sitting in the sun hoping that the warmth would speed the process; and eating the blackest, juiciest plums straight from the tree in my Grandmother’s backyard. It makes me wish that I had captured more of my family stories while my Grandparents were alive.