Central's city on a plate

20:10, Oct 28 2012
Food central
HOMEMADE: Contributors to the Nelson Central School book Food Central from left, Leanne Murray, Robbie Burton, Grant Smithies, Chris Chisnall, Lucy Halsey, Maurice Gee, Sue McNulty and Pete Rainey.

Most of us will have a school or kindy cookbook kicking around on the recipe book shelf, but the newest local incarnation of this classic fundraiser is worthy of a bit more respect.

Launched on Thursday, Food Central contains recipes from those with connections to Nelson Central School through proximity or parenthood. But it also tells the stories of those with long-time connections to the central city, through family, business, and food.

It's not the first local school to produce an upmarket fundraising cookbook - St Joseph's School released the lovely Savour earlier this year, for example. But the group of parents behind Central School's effort has tried very hard to make Food Central tell the story of Nelson through photographs, stories, and some of its local identities, as well as food. Though Nelson Central School is now the oldest school in New Zealand still functioning on its original site, the cookbook is fresh and modern.

In its opening pages it pays homage to a 1948 version of itself, the Nelson Central Home and School Association Cookery Book, which had the distinction of featuring several photographs in colour and dishes such as fruit salad in jelly and marshmallow pudding.

Times have changed - the first recipe in the 2012 book is gluten-free cheese crackers. Editor Lucy Halsey, who has had children at Central School for nine years, explains that it all began with "what used to be called the PTA". Now dubbed the School Community Group, she says it was "lucky" to contain Craig Potton Publishing co-owner, and school board of trustees rep Robbie Burton, who acted as a volunteer publisher.

Book designer Chris Chisnall's wife was also in the group. "It takes a village," Mr Burton says, adding that the book team tried very hard to stay away from the idea of a fundraiser.


"It's a serious attempt to do something that doesn't look like a school fundraiser; it's actually a book that speaks about what Nelson's like," he says. It's something that a tourist might take home as a souvenir of their visit to what the book calls our "charmed" city.

He is thrilled with the result.

"We're getting a fantastic reaction and it's doing what I absolutely hoped for it, which is people that I'm showing it to see it as something coming out of their community. They really appreciate that."

A year ago, when the book team first started on the concept, they drew inspiration from one of the parents, who had worked on a similar book for a Lyttelton school. Full of pictures of their community, it was compiled pre-earthquake and is now a valuable memory of their harbour town preserved whole.

"That was really a community cookbook rather than a school cookbook," Mrs Halsey says. "It's now obviously a fantastic keepsake from that community. They've got these amazing photos, and it had really well-known identities in it. It really did inspire us because we kind of knew it could be done."

She says it was a full-on 12 months gathering recipes, testing them, sourcing photographs, commissioning new ones and editing the text, aiming for an eclectic mix between its covers to show the diversity of people and histories in Nelson. They've deliberately kept it to just the central city.

"As much as we would have liked to make it outside that, we decided to keep it central because the school is part of the CBD and that's what's so special about it," she says. "But we were very aware that we were trying to create a book that was going to appeal to everyone. It wasn't going to be enough to put photos of the kids in it."

Mrs Halsey, a first-time editor, says it was a slow start coaxing people to take part in the project and gathering their copy, but things got more intense toward the end - although the arrival of her mother Annie during the school holidays offered welcome relief. "I'd managed to screw up the first recipe which had four ingredients in it," she laughs. "So my mother arrived and bought me scales and proper measuring spoons and then she sat and edited, and went off and bought ingredients for things. She and the kids got me moving."

Everyone involved donated their time and skill, and the book is rich in colourful pictures of Nelson fun, including the trolley derby, fishing, cultural festivals and performances, markets, fish and chips, cute shots of school life, swimming in rivers, and Nelson's hills dusted with snow.

Recipes include lots of kid-friendly food - breads and dips, mini quiches, rice bubble chicken nuggets, chilli sweet potato and eggplant crisps, potato foccacia bread, nasi goreng - as well as the more adventurous. Local business contributions include Broccoli Row's seafood chowder; Lambretta's pizza sauce, chilli jam and aioli; Melrose House Cafe's strawberry tiramisu; Morrison Street Cafe's chocolate and berry brownie; the Suter Cafe's orange almond cake; and Ka-Pie's bacon and egg pie.

Along with delicious offerings from parents, music writer Grant Smithies has written down his recipe for goat curry and his artist wife, Josephine Cachemaille, offers her broad bean salad; Pete Rainey writes about his Griffin & Sons biscuit and sweet heritage alongside a recipe for his grandmother's chinese chew; Boat Shed chef Daniel Monopoli provides his take on Westhaven cockles; Samuel Kirkpatrick's grandson Dene Gornall gives a recipe for strawberry jam; and Annette Milligan has written an interesting treatise on Japanese food and gorgeous Nelson pottery.

There are also recipes from Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology's Elizabeth Latham, writer Maurice Gee, writer Gerard Hindmarsh, prominent food writer David Burton, Purple Cake Day founder Emily Sanson-Rejouis, radio presenter Sylvia Monk and New Zealand House and Garden food editor Sally Butters.

Photographers Virginia Woolf, Kirsten Revell and David Chadwick provided images, and the food was shot in a special day at Broccoli Row, which owner Sue McNulty organised. "We had so much fun. We just giggled our way through the day," Mrs Halsey says.

With a print run of 3000 copies, available for $39.99 at Page & Blackmore and Paper Plus and $35 from the school itself, they're hoping it turns into a money spinner for the school.

Principal Paul Potaka, who has several recipes in the book including smoked chilli chicken, says: "The concept was way above the usual school-type cookery book. That gave me a lot of heart, because if there's something worth doing, it's worth doing well."