Dear Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook,
I own a lot of cookbooks. As both a glutard from the days when gluten-free bread more closely resembled a soggy brick than something edible and a top-level procrastinator, I find cooking is a hobby that I can’t really be criticised for. Nothing says “I lack both a soul and a conscience” like yelling at someone for destroying the kitchen instead of doing their homework when they’ve spent four hours baking a (gluten free) lemon meringue pie.
Most of my favourite cookbooks are big, heavy tomes filled to the brim with interesting and exotic recipes. They have hard covers and are good for leaving next to your bed at night when you’re paranoid that someone has broken into your house and stolen your housemate’s yoghurt and you’re worried they might come back for seconds.
They also require six hours and an industrial sized kitchen to cook – not so great when you’re sharing a house with between two and six other people.
The Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks, however, are different.
The Australian Women’s Weekly didn’t teach me how to cook. Credit for that goes to my parents, who have dedicated their lives to making sure I leave the kitchen with as many fingers and toes as I entered with. Bonus credit goes to my grandmothers – both excellent cooks who quite happily share their secrets.
But the AWW made me love to cook.
My mum bought the AWW cookbooks back in the 1980s and 1990s- and you can tell. The images are all tastefully blurred (much like a glamour portrait, but of food) and set up just so. Forget Instagraming your hipster burger, this is real food porn.
The first AWW cookbook I ever read was the Children’s Birthday Cake book. I would sit at the kitchen bench and admire the beautifully decorated clown’s face and jewellery box cakes, whilst Mum watched on in fear. Pro tip: do not let this five year old choose her own birthday cake. She will always choose the pink one, and the pink one will always be the one that involves carving a cake into the shape of ballet shoes or similar.
As I grew up, I progressed onto Sweet Old Fashioned Favourites. No longer would a panda face or swimming pool satiate my baked-goods related urges. As I measured and sifted and folded, I imagined myself in the middle of the Women’s Weekly test kitchen, a whole world of pots and baking pans at my disposal.
Even now when I return home, I still find myself rummaging through the kitchen cupboards to find the battered old cookbook. Just looking at the recipes – over 200, count them! – and feeling the crunchy pages from accidental spillages fills me with joy.
There is something incredibly satisfying about baking -which is probably why it is the second most popular form of procrastination during exam periods, closely following proscrastibation. Whilst pulling out a box of cake mix from the cupboard, adding three ingredients and chucking in the oven might yield quick results, nothing matches the pride that comes with perfecting a recipe from scratch.
Of course, just because all the recipes are tested in the Women’s Weekly Test Kitchen and the book has been reprinted “countless” (according to their website) times, does not mean that they are completely immune from fuckups. I have proved time and time again that deviating from the recipe is a bad idea – Anzac biscuits, for example, are really just bland crunchy balls of baked porridge if you forget the sugar. Do not forget the sugar. And then do not try and feed them to people as a “new” form of Anzac biscuit. Just save us all the trauma and chuck them in the bin.
Despite the mistakes along the way, nothing convinces people quite as well as baking from scratch that you are, in fact, a fully-fledged adult who is capable of taking care of themselves. Stop worrying, mum, I’m doing fine- I can make a chocolate ripple cake, see!
So thank you, Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbooks. Thank you very, very much.