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Self preservation

September 23, 2010

Now that I’m a officially a country dweller, I have been immersing myself in country life and traditions. It has taken a decade away from the the town I grew up in to finally appreciate the uniquely rural things which I once took for granted, or perhaps never noticed. I have found myself gawking at day-old-chicks in rural co-ops, attending cattle dog trials and visiting livestock sales, things which make me feel like a tourist in my own town.

The highlight so far has been my inaugural Country Women’s Association meeting. For almost eighty years, the CWA has worked to improve the lives of women and children Australia-wide, their proud motto stating their cause:

Honour to God
Loyalty to the Throne
Service to the Country
Through Country Women
For Country Women
By Country Women

While ‘Honour to God’ and ‘Loyalty to the Throne’ seem outdated and irrelevant to someone of my generation, the sentiment behind this simple statement is really something that I can come at. Sisters doin’ it for themselves! The CWA works tirelessly towards fundraising and advocacy at the local, state and even international levels, as well as providing a forum for women to socialise, provide mutual support, swap stories and recipes, and hold crafternoons. This realm of country women is classically viewed as more tea-and-scones than militant feminist, but I struggle to think of another organisation which has done more for the advancement of Australian women than the CWA.

I approached my first meeting with trepidation, not knowing what to expect. I had heard vague stories about younger women being frozen out by suspicious old biddies in some chapters and, knowing that I am not the most conventional of country women, I was hoping that my Converse All Stars and asymmetrical haircut wouldn’t make a bad impression. Thankfully a friend planned to join with me, so I wasn’t the only new kid.

Once we finally found our destination, the local CWA rooms next to the local Baby Health Clinic (most likely founded by the CWA), we were in fact greeted with warmth and excitement by all of the ladies, who seemed delighted to have some ‘young ones’ in the group. I was quietly awe-struck by my surroundings as I realised that I had finally found ‘my people’. In fact, it struck me that my decoration style is really just a second-rate imitation of CWA chic as I took in the walls decorated with embroided mottoes and anthems, a portrait of QEII c1970s, dolls and drawings donated by members past, and cushions for us to sit on made with all manner of ‘retro’ fabrics.

Excluding my friend and I, the average age of the attendees was, I would guess, about seventy. I admired a delightful lady sitting in front of me, immaculately groomed, with a classic purple rinse, manicured lavender nails and matching make-up; it was later noted that she would be celebrating her 90th birthday in January. It soon became apparent that these nannas were no soft touch though. The boisterous chair of our meeting, the chapter President, had a shock of vivid red hair and a personality to match; my companion and I hooted with laughter as she regularly inserted cheeky jokes into the proceedings. I was reminded of the first time I heard Margaret Fulton address an audience, and how startled I was by her colourful turn of phrase and, well, her kick-arse ‘tude.

Of course, upon further reflection, it stands to reason that kick-arse ‘tude is what has allowed these women, and so many others of their generation, to help build a nation; forging careers, bringing up families and coming together to improve their own lives, and those of others. As a member of a younger generation, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from them and hear their stories. I hope to take their traditions and make them my own, to be a custodian of the great legacies of the CWA.

Naturally one of the greatest legacies of all is the famous collection of no-nonsense recipes, and following our meeting we nibbled on date cake cut into rounds and served with a smear of butter and a cup of tea. Chatting to the baker, I learned that the delicate shape was the result of cooking the cake in a baked-bean tin. My first CWA cooking tip!

Inspired by the traditions of the CWA, I have been trying my hand at preserving. Some twittering about what to do with a bottle of rosewater languishing in the pantry yielded the suggestion of a rhubarb, strawberry and rose preserve which I could use to flavour a luscious Eton mess. I searched in vain for a recipe combining these ingredients, but not finding anything satisfactory, I decided to make one up. This being my inaugural attempt at making jam, I was only too conscious of the fact that coming up with my own recipe was a foolhardy tactic, but surprisingly, the result was spectacular. While this can mainly be credited to the superior local produce, I am led to believe that it has a lower sugar content than most jams, leaving it beautifully tart and not too sweet. Just how I like it! I hope my new friends at the CWA would be proud!


Strawberry, Rhubarb and Rose Preserve

750g strawberries, hulled and quartered
500g rhubarb, sliced into 1 x 4cm batons
2 cups sugar
juice of half a lemon, seeds tied into a square of muslin
1/2 tbsp rosewater, or to taste
handful dried rose petals (optional)

Combine rhubarb in a bowl with half the sugar and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine strawberries with the rest of the sugar and lemon juice. Macerate for half an hour (refrain from masticating). In a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, cook the rhubarb mixture, adding the lemon seeds, for about ten minutes, or until it completely breaks down. Stir vigorously, using a whisk if necessary, to really break up the stems for a smooth texture. Add the strawberries and cook for another ten minutes or so, until the fruit is cooked and the mixture bubbly and sticky. Add half the rosewater, mix well, then taste. If you prefer a stronger rose flavour, add more. Be careful: a little bit goes a long way! Pour into sterilised jars (don’t forget to remove the muslin) and store in the pantry. Serve with thick, buttered white bread, on ice cream, or as part of an Eton mess!

Country style

Made for you with love

Strawberry, rhubarb and rose Eton mess (serves 6 gluttons)

1 punnet strawberries
Strawberry, rhubarb and rose preserve (see above)
1 1/2tbsp caster sugar
500ml whipping cream
2 tbsp white sugar

Meringues (makes more than you need)

250g egg whites
450g caster sugar
40g pure icing sugar
finely grated rind of one lemon

For meringues, preheat oven to 120C. Whisk eggwhites and caster sugar in an electric mixer on medium speed until firm peaks form. Fold in icing sugar and lemon rind, then spoon into grapefruit-sized mounds on baking trays lined with baking paper. Bake until hard on the outside and soft on the inside (30-40 minutes), then cool.

Whip it

Hull and halve strawberries, and macerate in caster sugar in the fridge for an hour or so before serving. Whisk cream and white sugar in a bowl until soft peaks form (4-5 minutes; do not overbeat). Add a couple of drops of rosewater for flavour and fragrance. Chill.

To serve, in a large bowl, spoon layers of cream, crumbled meringue, strawberries and preserve, finishing with some strawberries on top.


17 Comments leave one →
  1. Melanie Young permalink
    September 23, 2010 19:52

    Great post Felix. I really enjoyed it. Your photos are so beautiful. I’m with you about the CWA. After one of the Masterchef challenges involved feeding a CWA group I looked up their page and had a look at their constitution. Everyone thinks they’re tea-and-scones-ladies but their influence must be so significant – including through excellent cooking and craft (these are good skills). I reckon many decisions are made about community politics and the operation of many Aussie farms, schools and hospitals, with a few words and a nod or 2, at the CWA stitch-and-bitch sessions. I wonder if anyone has researched their effect during the war? And since farming has been harder than ever? Good work.

    • felixexplody permalink*
      September 23, 2010 20:12

      Thanks Mel! I completely agree. Lots of local issues were debated at the meeting I went to, and I was amazed at how much time and energy they devote to raising funds for local and global causes. I fear that the median age of members is rising though, and I wonder new generations of women are joining the organisation. I look forward to getting more involved and finding out more, anyway.

  2. September 23, 2010 21:15

    I love the stamp you’ve used! the tags, the jam, the membership!!

    • felixexplody permalink*
      September 23, 2010 21:19

      Thanks baby! I will send you some from my next batch šŸ™‚ I thought of starting a cottage industry, but when I did the sums I realised that small-scale preserving isn’t too lucrative. Who would have thought!

  3. Ant permalink
    September 23, 2010 21:33

    Love love love this post. Well done Felix. The jam looks amazing and I’m a teensy bit jealous I don’t meet the “woman” criteria. You need to watch Jam for Jerusalem for extra inspiration x

    • felixexplody permalink*
      September 23, 2010 21:38

      You have all the mad CWA skillz, it’s so unfair! The ladies would love you! Surely in this day and age that counts as discrimination… Didn’t a guy run for Jacaranda Queen once? x

  4. September 24, 2010 08:51

    Nice post Felicity! The CWA ladies are quite often misunderstood as to what they actually do. If there was a branch in Sydney I would join. They do so much and get very little acknowledgement. My Nan lives a block from the one in Singleton but I don’t think she was a member.
    Love the look of your jam, I bet it tastes delish! Would you be inclined to drink bubbly with the Eton Mess? Looking for a dessert that would go down well with some bubbles.

  5. Hawcroft permalink
    September 24, 2010 10:27

    How nice Flick. Reminds me of the GML knitting circle a bit. I would love to be in a CWA. But special mention goes to you lovely jam labels- how are you doing those??? xx

    • felixexplody permalink*
      September 24, 2010 12:29

      The labels are pretty lo-fi, born of necessity really šŸ™‚ Tags from the newsagent typed up on my Olympia portable typewriter and tied with kitchen string. The special touch however is the hand-carved wooden name stamp that Cec procured for me in Vietnam. I miss our GML stitch and bitch sessions!

  6. My Fair Lizzy permalink
    September 24, 2010 10:57

    I remember some years ago myself and a group of girlfriends went along to our local View Club dinner. Members of the local View Club sound of very similiar demographic to your CWA friends. We came to really enjoyed our monthly dinners, quaility time together and respite from our husbands and young children…..but the best part was the pet name the View ladies started to call us…..”The Brides”!

  7. Cath permalink
    September 25, 2010 19:06

    Another corker of a post Flick … pertinent and poignant, as always. I was going to say please send me a pot of that jam no matter what it costs – I will pay. But I suspect it has all gawn by now. Never had eaton mess except last christmas when we had just the right left overs …mmmmm

    • felixexplody permalink*
      September 25, 2010 20:35

      I will send you a jar Cath! I’m going to make some more next week. I can’t get enough of it! xoxox

  8. kristinmoore2 permalink
    November 24, 2010 09:30

    What a lovely post – sorry its taken so long to look, first day of post term/marking unemployment so I’m browsing my favourite blogs.

    We lived in the bush,in the middle of nowhere, until I was 12 or so, and Mum – a city girl gone country dutifully joined the CWA and baked for the local show. Her forte was preserves though, I remember huge cupboards in the back area of our house, which was the old pantries and kitchens, full of glowing jars of preserves, pickles and jams – all manner of fruit and veg arranged in beautiful patterns.

    Eventually drought and so on drove them to the city where she went back to teaching and Dad learnt to be a city person. We moved house a couple of times, and at some point Mum put her entire Fowlers Vacola bottling set, pressure cooker, jars – the works – in a garage sale, along with loads of other bits and pieces that she’d had in storage for a few years! Gone – and very probably irreplaceable.

    Harking back to your post ages ago about keeping all your books. Perhaps the imperative to constantly clean your life out and ‘clear out the garbage’ and move on isn’t always the right way? I also lug around boxes and boxes of books – but now my son is reading his way through my library, and I’m glad I’ve kept them!

  9. Nicki Holmes (eklektika) permalink
    January 13, 2011 10:44

    I can’t get to meetings, but I’m a CWA member too. They do some amazing things, and advocate for women on a huge range of issues.

    As you say: sistas!

  10. September 18, 2012 13:48

    LOVE IT!!!!

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