Why buy it?
Remember Merle? The down-to-earth Country Women’s Association (CWA) representative who stole our hearts (and annihilated a contestant in a cake cook-off) on MasterChef Season 3? Following her popularity on the show, the spunky nana (she’s 81) went on to pen Merle’s Kitchen. Just one year later, she’s written another solid cookbook.
In Merle’s Country Show Baking, the CWA cake champion (she’s literally won hundreds of baking competitions – and still competes) expands on her first book with even more award-winning recipes from her years on the show circuit. Among the selection are also family favourites that have been stalwarts in her country home in Cudal, New South Wales – passed down from her grandmother and mother (another competition winner) and created for her husband, children and countless grandkids.
Merle shares her life story succinctly in the book’s introduction and sets the warm, practical tone that follows with concise recipes and helpful tips and tricks. The book’s design is simple yet evocative, with bright, light images of beautifully styled country-style décor and nana-esque dollies (ostensibly Merle’s home), and is easy to navigate. Much like Merle, this cookery book is no-fuss, quaintly charming and something you’d love to keep.
Unlike many recipes you’ll come across these days, Merle’s are straightforward: ingredients are kept to what’s essential and methods aren’t over-complicated, meaning each recipe fits onto one page. While their ease of use makes them perfect for baking newbies or country-cooking enthusiasts, their simple appearance belies a rock-solid core. Almost every second cake, pie, slice or jam is a ‘Show Recipe’ and include tips for potential entrants seeking top marks.
Merle’s award-winning lumberjack cake, which she describes as an alternative to fruit cake. Lumberjacks have made a comeback in recent years and epitomise rustic country sweets, with apple in the base and a scummy coconut and brown sugar topping.
Most surprising dish
There are a few, including dried apricot jam (who knew you could make jam from dried fruit?), cornbread (isn’t that American?) and mint jelly (so that’s how it’s done!). The standout is Jatz biscuit pie, with a meringue base filled with Jatz crackers and nuts, and topped with whipped cream. Merle concedes that “it sounds a bit odd these days”, but promises the combination of sweet and salty is moreish. “Give it a go!” she urges.
“Everybody loves a home-made treat and nobody minds imperfections in appearance when the flavours and textures are so wonderful, and so much better than shop-bought.” Hear hear.
Jammers and preservers; country cookbook collectors; AWW or CWA fans; new, experienced and competition bakers; Australiana lovers; anyone who grew up with a nan baking them cakes.
Merle’s Country Show Baking: and Other Favourites by Merle Parrish (Random House Australia, $39.95, pbk).