Injury proved recipe for writing
Food is one of life's best tools for softening the tough things that get thrown at us, says the author of a popular book of recipes and nostalgia.
Wild Blackberries - Recipes and Memories from a New Zealand Table, by Rosie Belton, has leaped up the sales table since its launch in April, and is now sitting at number 8 in the bestseller chart among independent booksellers.
Belton, who grew up in Nelson, was back on familiar turf this week for an author talk at Page and Blackmore Booksellers on Thursday night, and to catch up with family including her mother-in-law Margaret Belton, for whom she cooked lunch yesterday from recipes out of the book.
Wild Blackberries came to fruition when Belton was forced to slow down following a life-changing head injury. A career in theatre and in teaching was let go and Belton began to write. First came a book on the head injury, and then Wild Blackberries which would have seen the light of day sooner if not for the next life-altering event - the Canterbury earthquakes, which all but destroyed Rosie and her husband Mark Belton's home Ribbonwood in Governor's Bay.
Belton said she has always been a diarist, One day she was prompted to open a tin trunk stored at home, and out flooded many dormant memories.
"One of the major themes and interests emerging over the decades was food - eating, preparing, sharing and living with passion. I made the decision to focus the writing on the events over the years, remembered because of their food associations."
The comforting effect of food was well tested during the earthquakes and their aftermath. Belton was also able to put to use skills learned growing up in Nelson with grandparents who knew how to live off the land, and during the "hippie years" at university when making-do was paramount.
"When we had tough times, we had resources. Knowing how to cook on a wood stove saved us," she said of the times when feeding shocked and dazed people amid the rubble was crucial to their wellbeing.
Belton said having vegetables in the garden and chooks that laid eggs [even through the quakes] fostered a feeling of safety.
"Much of the book celebrates a lot of the things this world has on offer.
"The big message is that our circumstances change as we move through life. Many different things happen to us and it's how we deal with what lands in our lap, and find ways to soften the tough things that happen, and food is one of those things."
The book has been described as a social history of food in New Zealand. Decade by decade, era by era, Belton looks at what we ate, and how that food defined us. She has blended the influences of family with the experiences of extensive travel to come up with a book packed with stories and recipes.
Belton describes the book as an amalgamation of much-loved recipes over the years, with her own accents added such as an Argentinian beef dish with ginger and tamarin sauce.
"New Zealand is a great big basket of a mix of flavours, which emerged after the blandness of the post-war diet."
She said her introduction to much-loved meat dishes were the long, slow roasts prepared by her grandmother Pearl Neal, and her grandfather Max Neal, who taught her the role of food as a focus of family and community life.
Her mother Eileen Roper was also a big influence.
The Nelson Mail