The coronavirus has forced a lot of people to spend more time at home. And artists, like so many others, have been getting busy in the kitchen. In the first of Art Guide’s new series on artists cooking, Jane O’Sullivan spoke to Tai Snaith, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, and James Tylor about their edible creations and asked them to share some of their favourite recipes.
“I’m finding myself using my creativity in very different ways at the moment,” says artist and illustrator Tai Snaith about life in lockdown. It has meant finding imaginative new ways to home-school her kids, and connect with her picture book audiences. It has also meant cooking.
Snaith, who is based in Melbourne, says she’s grateful to have a studio at home and time in the evenings for her art practice. But she has also been “realising that what really matters is applying my creativity to my life and my kids.”
A bumper load of 220 quinces from her tree has also demanded her attention. “We have been cooking a lot of quince-based things! Paste, jam, jelly, tarte tatin, compote, pancakes, macadamia quince cake…”
Snaith sees connections between art and cooking, describing herself as a natural rule-breaker. “I’m quite a good cook if the food can be experimental and the recipe can be adapted,” she says. “I do love the way food changes during cooking, like clay drying and changing states through firing. It’s a similar alchemy, but you get to eat it!”
She’s not the first artist to seek originality in food. In the 1930s, the Futurists argued against pasta, believing it made Italians flabby when they needed to be featherlight. “We affirm this truth: that men think dream and act according to what they eat and drink,” Marinetti said in his Futurist Cookbook. This all slotted into a broader case around renewal, and the ways culture and politics intersect, but the pasta thing was always going to be tough to argue.
“I love the creative mind,” says Maria Fernanda Cardoso. “I went to Woolworths and there was no pasta! So I simply thought let’s make our own pasta.”
The Sydney-based artist says her creative practice has been going “better than ever” under lockdown. “I don’t feel as isolated as usual! It is delightful to have the rest of the family at home.”
She enjoys the alchemical aspect of cooking too, and the way it brings her family together. “I am a do-it-yourself kind of person and I am proud that we are a family of makers and not consumers.”
Photographer and multidisciplinary artist James Tylor has found other connections between art and cooking. “Over the past few years, I have incorporated food into my art practice more and more because I like to give people an immersive experience into art and culture through eating foods with Australian indigenous ingredients,” he says.
Tylor hasn’t been able to make his contemporary Kaurna Mai recipes during lockdown, but he has been cooking a lot of “Italian, Maltese, Spanish and Greek food because of what foods I have available in my summer vegetable patch at home, and I have been adding in wild Australian meat like wild duck, kangaroo, seafood, wild boar salami and sausages.”
Tylor’s practice engages with the Australian environment, culture and social history, and through these lenses food embodies knowledge and politics. Covid-19 has meant all his 2020 exhibitions have been postponed, but he’s staying positive. “It has meant I had extra time to make work…and experiment with new ideas for artworks and exhibitions,” he says.
These widespread losses, in the art world and beyond, are sharp reminders of the luck and privilege involved in having choices in the kitchen, and how it’s not just personal politics we’re expressing.
Still, some argue that all creative acts are full of potential. The writer Sarah Sentilles, in a conversation with Charlotte Wood, frames it hopefully. “Being creative and making something new, whether you’re making a cup or a garden or a loaf of bread or a sentence,” she says, “when you do that you’re exercising the muscles that we need to help make a better world.”
I think I’ve perfected my quince paste now, in our tree’s fourth year. It’s pretty basic, adapted from a Stephanie Alexander staple:
· Cut quinces into chunks (I used to peel but I’ve realised you don’t actually have to).
· Put as much as possible in a large pot with 1 cup of water, and boil down till mushy.
· Tip out of pot into a bowl on the scales and weigh the mush.
· Blend it till smooth with a Bamix or the like.
· Put the mush back into a pot along with 3/4 of its weight in sugar (I like to use coconut sugar, but brown or castor is fine too).
· Cook for hours! Stirring at least every 3 minutes. Basically it goes pink, then ruby red, then deep crimson; it’s like magic! If you like colour, it’s a great thing to make. At the very end, after about 5 hours of stirring, it spits and pops – it’s quite brutal, I wear goggles and gloves!
· When it’s really thick and hard to stir, pour into a tray lined in baking paper and leave to set for a day or so.
· Cut it into hearts, put it in a jar and deliver to friends who like cheese!
This is my mother’s recipe for crunchy garlic and rosemary sauce for green pasta.
· Chop or crush lots of garlic.
· Get fresh rosemary from the garden, and pull leaves from twigs.
· Heat up olive oil medium-high in a small pan, add the garlic and rosemary until it starts to brown. (Pay attention, otherwise you can ruin the recipe at this point – if you overcook the garlic it will turn bitter quite quickly and you will have to start again.)
· As soon as it has a nice colour, pour into a heatproof cup or bowl and set it in a dish of cold water to lower the heat of the oil quickly.
· Serve with good quality parmesan and fresh green pasta, ideally ricotta in green raviolis.
Maramurdumurdu is a unique style of Johnnycake flatbread made from whole grain flour. The name maramurdumurdu translates as ‘hand bread.’ ‘Mara’ hand and murdumurdu ‘bread’ because the Johnnycake is the size of your hand and is held like a taco in your hand when you eat it. It’s filled with a regional selection of mai vegetable food and pardu meat.
· Boil 2 cups of water in a saucepan.
· Add 1 cup of whole wheat flour into the boiling water and stir the flour until it is mixed through well.
· When the water and the wholemeal flour are mixed together and look like a thick paste, remove from heat and let it to sit to cool down to room temperature.
· Once the mixture is cooled, transfer to a board or a bench top and knead in 1 cup of white flour until the dough is firm and stretchy.
· Take a wirri mai rolling pin and using the smooth shaft, roll out the dough until it’s about 3mm thick, then using the handle of the wirri mai emboss the flattened dough with the zigzag design.
· Use a kurruru mai in the same way as a biscuit cutter to press out the maramurdumurdu flatbread. The Johnnycake should be 12-15cm in size. You can lift the maramurdumurdu off the board using the wedge tip of the wirri mai which can also be used to flip the maramurdumurdu in the frying pan in the same way as you would use a spatula.
· Heat a frying pan on the stove without oil. Place maramurdumurdu with the design side on the hot frying pan first. Cook the maramurdumurdu until the bread zig zag design turns to a light brown colour and then flip the maramurdumurdu to cook the opposite side of the Johnnycake. If the maramurdumurdu is cooking correctly it should puff up with air when it is cooking on the second side. Using the tip of the wirri mai press the air out of the maramurdumurdu to flatten it back to the pan so that it can cook evenly.
· Once both sides of the maramurdumurdu are golden brown remove from the heat, fill with food. The maramurdumurdu should be soft and flexible not rubbery or hard. The texture should be similar to a cross between a Mexican tortilla and Middle Eastern pita bread.
12 prawns tails
4 tsp dried seaweed sea lettuce
1 tsp sea parsley
1 cup round leaved pigface
1 cup seablite
1/2 cup samphire
1/2 cup bowers spinach
2 desert lime (optional)
2 finger limes
4 tbsp egg mayo
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 river mint leaves
1 tbsp macadamia oil
4 maramurdumurdu mai
· Pre-make the maramurdumurdu before making the filling. You can make the maramurdumurdu 1 or 2 days before, but it is always nicer fresh and warm.
· If the prawns are uncooked take them and place them in a sauce pan of boiling water until they turn orange, then shell and de-vein.
· Prepare the coastal vegetables by picking the soft leaves and removing the hard woody stems from the round leafed pigface, seablite, samphire, and bowers spinach.
· Take the soft coastal vegetable leaves and blanch them in boiling hot water for 20 to 30 seconds. Remove from the boiling water with a strainer or a fork and place in ice cold water for 1 to 2 minutes. Blanching the vegetables will make them turn bright green and it will remove a slight irritant from the bower spinach and the round leafed pigface. It is okay to under blanch the vegetables but don’t over blanch them because they become soft and soggy.
· Drain the coastal vegetable leaves to remove the water.
· Dice the fresh sea parsley.
· Heat the butter in a frying pan on a low heat. Place the diced sea parsley and garlic with the butter in the frying pan, once the butter has melted and the parsley and garlic are mixed together well. But make sure not to burn the butter or the garlic. Add the prawns and a pinch of sea salt into the hot butter and fry until the prawns are golden brown. Once the prawns are golden brown and cooked remove from the heat.
· Finally to serve: take the warm maramurdumurdu and fill them with the blanched coastal vegetables and the prawns. Top the prawns with the mayonnaise and garnish with dried seaweed. Add some lime juice or some salt to taste. Enjoy!