This morning we are guests on Bhakthi's RRR segment Cook The Book, and we'll be discussing Gillian Mears' recently published novel Foal's Bread. (Here it is, archived online.) The book traces the life of Noah Nancarrow, a talented and hard-working horse show-jumper living in northern New South Wales before the Second World War. The story is romantic and tragic, told in a style that's lyrical but also calls on the Aussie vernacular.
Foal's bread isn't anything you'd want to eat. It's a piece of tissue sometimes found in the mouth of a newborn foal and that can be dried out and kept as a lucky charm. Yet among the descriptions of animal husbandry and the Australian landscape you'd expect, this book is also littered with references to the food of the time. The colour and texture and sensation of food is often interwoven with the characters' experiences. Noah's sister-in-law Ralda bakes ceaselessly - to comfort, to celebrate, and to enter into competition at the Show.
To accompany our radio interview I've baked gingernuts. Aunty Ral's gingernuts are a Nancarrow family tradition on Show day and they're said to be crunchy and crackled on top, best dipped in a cup of tea. I took my recipe from my mum's yellowed Barossa Cookery Book, which was published in the time that this novel is set. I've typed it verbatim below - recipe writers then clearly expected much prior knowledge from cooks!
One lb. 2 ozs. flour, 1/2 lb. butter, 1/2 lb. sugar, 3/4 lb. treacle, 1 oz. ground ginger. Mix all the ingredients into a stiff dough, roll out, cut into small biscuits, and bake in a moderate oven.
- Miss J.M. Bartsch, Angaston