Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine

  • The contribution of the CWA to Regional Cuisine is too great to calculate.
  • The time-honoured CWA recipes most accurately capture the essence of Regional Food between the 1920’s to 1970’s period.
  • When visiting Regional Australia, the influence of the CWA can still be readily identified in any country town.
  • The fundamentals underpinning the baking and preserves are still relevant today
  • Interestingly in a recent series of MasterChef, it was the CWA challenge that exposed the majority of contestant’s shortcomings, and lack of experience.

by Dane Richards

To properly quantify the influence of regional cooking on Australian Cuisine, you have to firstly acknowledge the most significant movement in that timeline, The Country Women’s Association of Australia.

Formed in 1922, primarily with a socially driven mission statement to counter both the effects of isolation, and the lack of access to similar welfare and health facilities that the bigger cities enjoyed, the depression and war years saw them provide food and clothing parcels to those forgotten and seriously disadvantaged. Cooking was also identified as one way of raising money for worthy causes, and the success of those recipes led to the publication of various Branch cookbooks, that developed a loyal following, even to this day. The consolidated CWA cookbook has been in print since 1937.

Whilst the cookbooks of modern Chefs – even from the elite within the industry – can still contain recipe and technical oversights, the CWA recipes are proudly renowned for withstanding scrutiny well over half a century later, also allowing the home cook greater flexibility in adapting those recipes to what ingredients they may have at hand. There is little doubt that it significantly influenced regional Australian Cuisine in a collaborative way, and inputted into the staples of our formative cuisine, before Immigration started to change the way we thought about, and viewed food from that point on. The humble CWA recipes were also both very nutritional and sustainable, and occasionally drew on Indigenous ingredients like muttonbird (shearwaters), which featured in their Soups and Stews edition. Secondary cuts and offal – now trendy in modern cuisine – featured prominently in their cookbooks with recipes like pig’s cheek mould, croquettes of brains, steamed liver, giblet and celery soup.

In future articles, we will look at how regional cuisine has developed its own unique sophistication, and is now influencing mainstream national cuisine through restaurants like Biota Dining, Brae, Royal Mail Hotel and Provenance. It is not too long a bow to draw, that the CWA played some part in that evolutionary journey, by laying both the cultural and culinary building blocks for that sense of maturity to develop. The baking component of their recipes has clearly influenced the development of pastry in this country at a fundamental level, with not only the standards rigidly tested at Royal Agricultural Shows annually, but providing chefs with the confidence to interpret and execute more complex desserts. Most importantly, this incredibly robust and patriotic organisation provided our Nation with support and strength throughout some incredibly difficult and challenging times.