An officially decreed Australian Living Treasure (aka an Aussie icon) died on 24 July. Her name? Margaret Fulton.Listen to the whole conversation with Lisa and Tess on 2SER here
Now, I’m a bit of a collector of Sydney cookery books, so it won’t surprise you to learn that I have a number of Margaret Fulton’s cook books. The reason I collect cookery books is that they are a snapshot of the time, and show how people ate, what ingredients were readily available, what was novel or new, and attitudes towards nutrition. Over time cookery books chart our changing attitudes to food, as well as changing tastes and technology.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been cooking a range of recipes out of these as a tribute to Margaret. If you’ve never tried one of her recipes, you should. They are no-nonsense, easy to follow, and tasty.
Margaret Fulton hit the foodie scene in the 1960s, generations before anyone had even dreamed of Master Chef. Towards the end of the second world war, Margaret secured a job as a demonstrator for AGL – showcasing how to cook scones and sponges with effortless ease in an AGL oven. Both gas and electricity companies in the 1940s and 50s employed female demonstrators to show how easy modern appliances were for cooking up a sensation. But it was in 1960, when Margaret joined Woman’s Day as a food writer, that her career took off. Eight years later, she released her first cook book.
The Margaret Fulton Cookbook was first published in 1968.
Comprehensive and colourful, the book gave home cooks a new confidence. Margaret devised a guide for beginner cooks to indicate the simplicity (not the difficulty!) of each recipe – a one, two or three star recipe, with one being the easiest and three being “a special dish, requiring more skill and probably taking some time to prepare”. (Master Chef eat your heart out – let’s not intimidate, but encourage everyone to cook!)
The Margaret Fulton Cookbook is an absolute classic. It is held in the National Museum of Australia and has featured in the National Library of Australia’s Treasures gallery. It was so popular the cookbook was reprinted every year for the next decade, with a 50th anniversary edition published in 2018. My copy is the 1977 edition and the publishers claimed at that point that 530,000 copies had been printed. Australian had a population of just over 14 million in 1977, so that means 1 in every 26 households across Australia had a copy of Margaret’s cookbook. That means 2 to 3 people in every street in Sydney had a copy.
Margaret Fulton is credited with introducing international cuisine into many homes. In the international cookery section the home cook could find ‘hot spicy dishes from Mexico, pizzas from Italy, paella from Spain, exciting seafoods from Australia, the subtle beautifully prepared food of the Orient and smorrebrods from Scandinavia.‘
She also explained to Australians how to eat spaghetti, at the time still a novel dish in the Australian kitchen:
a) A spoon and fork can be used to mix the spaghetti, sauce and cheese
b) Spear a few strands with fork. The spoon will help you coil the spaghetti
c) Wind around fork, just enough for one mouthful, and left neatly from plate.
From what I’ve seen on Twitter, lots of people still have The Margaret Fulton Crock-pot Cookbook too. It was first published in 1976 and was later re-issued as Margaret Fulton Slow Cooking. (Again, she was ahead of the curve with her emphasis on slow cooking.) Later on she produced a microwave cookbook, and of course, volumes on particular types of cuisine, such as Chinese cooking, baking and so on.
Then in 1983 she released Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopedia of Food & Cookery.
I taught myself to cook with my Mum’s copy in the 1980s and when a new edition was released 2005 I snapped it up. Whenever there is a debate about cookery in my household, I always ask “What does Margaret say?” and reach for the Margaret Fulton Encyclopedia. (Alternatively, we might also ask “What does Stephanie say?” and reach for the rival Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander). Margaret saw her revised Encyclopedia as a compendium of her life’s work, with notes, tips and tricks.
Margaret Fulton was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1983 in recognition of service to the media as a journalist and writer in the field of cookery, and in 1997 was recognised by the National Trust as an Australian Living Treasure. Her family has accepted the NSW Government’s offer of a State Memorial Service (details are yet to be announced), acknowledging her contribution to our culture and community. She continued producing cook books and encouraging people to aspire to wholesome, simple cooking all her life, but she also encouraged people to be adventurous, and once mastered to “give it the stamp of your personality” and make each recipe your own. And she particularly empowered women to make choices and to enjoy their roles as mothers, homemakers and workers.
One of my favourite recipes is her beef stroganoff (find it here). It is simple, quick, and oh so tasty.
As Margaret says,
Vale Margaret Fulton (1924-2019)
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and the former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Lisa! You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio