Saturday, June 8, 2013

Book Review: The Colour of Food

When I was at school, I never understood why anyone would want to study history. Maths and science will help you get a job, art was relaxing and fun, but history?  Sure, I enjoyed reading novels, including those set in the past, but I had no interest in memorising dates and events. In my infinite wisdom, I chose to study the dead language of Latin instead.

These days, I am much more likely to read non-fiction than fiction. Information about kitchen science, for instance, or the news, or research on the web. With the prominent changes taking place in Auckland, I have suddenly become interested in how it once was here. It was fascinating to discover that some units down the road used to be the premises of a shop, dwelling and stables. We went to MOTAT to look at photos of Auckland in the 1950s, when trams still ran down Queen Street and Dominion Road. I pored over old cookbooks purchased from school fairs, and was amazed by the recipes using such unusual ingredients as brains and calves' tongues. In New Zealand the Beautiful Cookbook*, edited by Tui Flower, I even found a recipe using pukeko (pretty much identical to this one published in the Dominion Post), which I thought nobody ate!

* There was no publication date printed in the hardcover book published by Shortland/Weldon Publications, but though I would have guessed a 1970s timeframe, various websites suggest it was published in 1993. One description claims it was first published in 1984, reprinted twice in 1988.

When a representative from AWA Press sent me a review copy of a new eBook, I thought no more of it for two weeks. I had plenty enough other books waiting to be read, and I was under no obligation to give free publicity to anyone, even if it was vaguely related to food. After flicking through just a couple of pages, however, The Colour of Food: A memoir of life, love and dinner by Anne Else had me hooked.

Of course, it helped that the author grew up just up the road from me, living above a grocer's shop at the corner of Valley Road and Mount Eden Road. I loved hearing about what she ate as a child, from her grandmother's chokos, which she hated (I had always assumed it was a foreign vegetable because hardly anyone I mentioned it to seemed to know what a choko was), to her mother's homemade cape gooseberry jam, to the classic bread and Marmite. "Chicken and pork were rare treats, saved for special occasions. Mostly Mum served us hogget, or a round of chewy beef criss-crossed with wooden skewers and tied up with string." I hadn't even heard of hogget before, and had to look the word up.

We went to the same intermediate school, and as with Julia Child also, we didn't learn to cook until after leaving home (I am still learning, with a long way to go). But it was really her captivating narrative that kept me reading. Food has always been an important of Anne's life, and she skilfully weaves it in to her story.

More than anything, I am impressed by this woman. I thought I was well-travelled, but Anne has lived in Albania, which even now is not a common destination. She has had her share of challenges in her life, but nothing seems to knock her back for long. And for someone whose family didn't even have a refrigerator until she was five, I am amazed that she now runs multiple blogs, with her memoir available as an eBook only.

There are recipes at the back of the book, which link to the milestone phases of the author's life. But even without these, I would happily recommend The Colour of Food. It reads like a novel, but it is real, touching and insightful. It is an absolute gem, especially if, like me, you are interested in food, New Zealand from an earlier era, exotic faraway lands, and tales of love and sorrow.


The Colour of Food is available at:


  1. Thank you so much - this is such a great review, and from someone who grew up just near me, so knows exactly what I'm writing about - amazing! I am delighted that you enjoyed the book so much, and to read this post now, just before the official launch (i.e. good party) begins, is the best possible timing. There will be ltos of nostalgix photos, etc. going up the book's Facebook page, Anne Else Food Memoir, so I hope you like those too.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Anne! Looking forward to seeing some more details in your blog/Facebook page, and I'll have to find time to try out some of those recipes too!


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