• Borrow, donate or volunteer at Australia's first kitchen library. (Facebook)Source: Facebook
Libraries aren't just for books.
Cat Woods

22 Jan 2020 - 10:57 AM  UPDATED 21 Nov 2020 - 4:11 PM

Keen cooks on a shoestring budget have long known that their local libraries offer a treasure trove of cookbooks.

But sometimes they're short of the sophisticated suite of appliances needed to make the recipes they find - from blenders and dehydrators to slow cookers, steamers, juicers, breadmakers, yoghurt makers and spiralisers. 

Society garlic and pumpkin seed biscuits

These gluten-free biscuits are not cooked at high temperatures, but are dehydrated instead (or cooked in a low oven) to retain flavour and nutrients.

To boot, not only can appliances be costly, we often only use them once or twice a month. On a sustainability and cost-per-use basis, they can be a failure.

However, since opening in November last year, Carlton Kitchen Library, in the inner-city suburb of Carlton in Melbourne, has provided an innovative solution. Rather than borrowing books, members can borrow appliances for up to two weeks after paying an annual membership fee (between $20 and $40) to the library, known as the first to offer this type of service in the country. 

Peta Christensen manages the library on behalf of Cultivating Community, a not-for-profit organisation that also runs 20 community gardens in Melbourne's public housing estates.

"It's not just about affordability. People realise they don't need to have all this stuff that they don't use and which will end up in landfill eventually. Being able to come and borrow this stuff is the ideal solution," she says.

"We hoped that if you want to experiment with food, being able to access equipment would encourage people to cook more at home."

A City of Melbourne grant enabled the library to begin in Carlton, chosen for its diverse community demographic.

"We thought Carlton would be a good place because it's high-density, a lot of apartments where people don't have much storage space for kitchen equipment and also, there's a big public housing estate there. There's student housing, retirement villages and aged care nearby too so the target group for us is all of those people."

The library also comprises cake tins and platters of every size and description, and some that are a little bit more exotic.

"We tried to have things that people don't use all the time. We've got ice-cream makers, pasta makers, food processors, a big electric injera pan, juicers, a slow cooker, a dehydrator and more," says Christensen.

"We hoped that if you want to experiment with food, being able to access equipment would encourage people to cook more at home rather than just use Uber Eats. We want people to get excited about making recipes and making healthier choices in food."

Over the Christmas period, members borrowed Christmas-themed cookie cutters and even attend a community bake. For members who live alone, the opportunity to join fellow locals can also offer a much-needed sense of belonging and inclusiveness.

"We've got a real mix of people using the library," says Christensen. "From those who live on the public housing estate to those who come in to borrow a cookbook, bake biscuits with us or people from further afield who have heard about the library via Facebook to donate or to borrow."

Part of the funding agreement requires that four seasonal feasts are scheduled annually.

"We also run bi-monthly workshops, which reflect the popularity of various items in the kitchen library that people want to learn more about."

Christensen has already taken the doughnut maker and dehydrator home where her children have successfully made yoghurt and banana-topped doughnuts and dried mango. Her next project is to give the pasta maker a whirl.

"There's little ravioli presses as part of the kit, so I think we'll give that a go."

To find out more or to donate to the library, check out the Carlton Kitchen Library website. 

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