These are the books that have shaped the way we cook in Australian kitchens over the past 50 years, as well as our suggestions for books that might shape the way we eat in the future.
You can tell a good cookbook by the way it stands the test of time. The best ones are always in use. They are certainly never clean, and usually have folded down pages, multiple bookmarks and recipes cut from other places held in their pages. From timeless classics to foods of the future, make sure you include these Australian cookbooks on your shelf.
Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book
In 1980, Australian Women’s Weekly published a book that had an entire generation of children studying its pages furtively in the lead up to their birthday each year. Although the Australian Woman’s Weekly has been inspiring Australians in the kitchen since 1933, the Children’s Birthday Cake Book was the brainchild of Food Editor Elaine Sinclair. Sinclair was renowned for her down to earth approach to cookery, insisting that recipes feature ingredients that the whole country could access (not just city-dwellers) and that they be triple-tested to ensure they worked for everyone. The book was out of print for a period between its original publication and the launch of a ‘vintage’ edition in 2011 – but it held such a treasured place on the kitchen shelf that many families passed theirs down as an heirloom. Its appeal never seems to die. Sales of the 2011 edition increased by 30% during the recent 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns.
CWA Country Classics by the Country Women’s Association
This book compiles over 400 recipes from the nation’s home-cooking experts: members of the Country Women’s Association. They have been at the heart of life in rural Australia for over 100 years and no one knows the nation’s kitchens better. The only true authority on things like puddings, cakes, biscuits and slices, this book also contains recipes for salads and soups, casseroles, pies and hearty bakes, pickles and chutneys.
The Margaret Fulton Cookbook
Margaret Fulton was a celebrity chef before that term even existed. Fulton was an expert home economist and cookery teacher before she became an editor at Woman’s Day (rival to the Australian Woman’s Weekly) where she took Australian cookery beyond meat and three vegetables and encouraged cooks to be creative. Fulton published the original Margaret Fulton Cookbook in 1968 (a fiftieth anniversary edition is now available). Many of the recipes are still weekly fare in Australian households.
The Cooks’ Companion by Stephanie Alexander.
Originally published in 1996 and updated in 2014 with extra chapters, this bestselling book wasn’t Stephanie Alexander’s first book but it was the one that seemed to make it onto everyone’s book shelf. Containing no flashy photos, the huge tome is organised by ingredient and includes an encyclopedic level of detail about each item from anchovies through to zucchini. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book that taught a generation of people the basics of cookery, is not the main text itself. It’s the notes in the margins that provide helpful hints, new variations or serving suggestions. These side notes ensure the longevity of this book, as it always seems to have something else to give.
The New Classics by Donna Hay
Donna Hay was the food editor of Marie Claire and Marie Claire Lifestyle, before stepping out on her own and publishing a magazine in her own name in 2001. Since then she has published an endless stream of titles that capture the zeitgeist of how we live and eat in the early 21st century. All her books feature exquisite photography and food styling that prove you eat with your eyes well before you even choose what you are going to eat for dinner. All Hay’s recipes are reliable, but her 2013 book The New Classics is her food manifesto, representing her own reinventions of classic recipes.
Maggie’s Harvest by Maggie Beer
This 2007 book by cook, television chef and Australian food icon Maggie Beer is an ode to South Australia’s Barossa Valley. Arranged by season, the book takes readers through the rhythms and variations of that region, including descriptions of ingredients and accounts of memorable meals. Like the Cook’s Companion, this book contains very few photos. Instead it relies on the strength of Beer’s signature recipes that celebrate fresh, local, Australian produce – over 350 of them, in fact.
The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Soloman
First published in 1976, the first edition of this classic cookbook was in print for thirty years before a new edition was published in 2016. The new book contains over 800 easy to follow recipes from 16 countries, giving the home-cook a culinary tour of the startlingly different styles of cuisine from the Asian continent. The book was a revelation for Australians in the 1970s but is just as relevant and delicious today.
Ones to watch in the future
Warndu Mai by Rebecca Sullivan and Damien Coulthard
Restaurants and food manufacturers have been aware of the benefits of Australian native ingredients for several years, and now it’s time for home cooks to learn about the amazing flavours of our truly local foods. This informative book showcases the flavour and versatility of Australian native ingredients to help home cooks create delicious, sustainable food and drinks using ingredients such as Kakadu plum, native currants, finger lime and pepperberry. There are some macadamia recipes in this collection that are simply to die for!
Community by Hettie McKinnon
Hetty Mckinnon is a salad-maker. In 2011, her enterprise Arthur Street Kitchen saw her making salads for the residents of Surry Hills in Sydney and delivering them herself by bicycle. Her first book Community encapsulates her fun approach to good food and the wonderful fresh produce available in Australia. However, its sequel, Neighbourhood, features a sublime, vegan Rhubarb Crusted Tart with Macadamia Nut Crust and Raspberry Ice that is utterly scrumptious. Both books are notable for their all-vegetarian approach and include delicious plant-based recipes that everyone can enjoy.
The Global Vegan by Ellie Bullen
Environmental and ethical considerations around eating meat aren’t going to disappear any time soon which makes this book such an interesting one. It is a collection of vegan recipes inspired by travels across the globe by dietitian, blogger and influencer Ellie Bullen. The flavours of Indonesia, India, Korea and Japan are represented in delicious, beautiful-looking and texture-filled plant-based meals. The book includes inspirational travel and food photography as well as delicious vegan versions of things like Pad Thai, Aloo Jeera and Spicy Ramen Soup.
What’s your favourite Australian cookbook?