May 2006

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Margaret Fulton & Elizabeth David

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

The combination was untried but promising. To a well-pickled English favourite add a hearty Australian staple. Mix together in a selection of French cookware, season with mutual respect, sit with a glass of wine and let the flavours mingle.

Elizabeth David was the closest thing to culinary royalty that Britain had ever produced. Her Mediterranean Cooking and French Country Cookbook were credited with introducing the courgette to a rationed and ravenous population, and shining a garlic-infused blaze of southern sunlight into the cabbage-reeking corners of the postwar English kitchen. No matter that most of her compatriots stuck with their cod-and-chips, Elizabeth David had brought an aura of peasant chic to a job for which middle-class women could no longer find the servants.

Notoriously crabby, David shunned publicity, preferring to let her books speak for themselves. In 1965 she put writing on the backburner to open a cookware shop in London’s fashionable Belgravia.

In 1970, Margaret Fulton paid her a visit.

Ten years younger, Fulton was a household name in Australia. Beginning her gastronomic career at 18 as a gas-company oven demonstrator, she’d qualified in vegetable chopping at East Sydney Tech, sold pressure cookers and Rice Bubbles, and eventually garnered a vast readership through the pages of Woman’s Day. For the housewives of a burgeoning and affluent suburbia, she made food a means of self-expression and a road to adventure. She also made her recipes foolproof, partly by the simple but radical innovation of listing all the required ingredients first. The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, published in 1968, sold more than a million copies.

Fulton had read that David radiated an inner elegance. “I thought it was a load of tripe,” she recalled. But she was immediately won over. David “had soup stains down her very English twin-set and her teeth were stained from drinking red wine” but her face “declared her passion for living life to the full”.

David knew of Fulton and acknowledged her as part of a shared tradition. They retired to the backroom and ate lunch with the staff, each equally sure of herself. Margaret was thinking of opening a shop. Did Elizabeth have any advice? Be true to yourself, she suggested. Stock only things you’d use yourself.

Fulton decided to stick to recipe books. Three years later, an acrimonious David severed ties with her cookware shop.

Despite their best intentions the two never met again. Elizabeth David died in 1992. In 2004, Margaret Fulton celebrated her eightieth birthday, campaigned with Greenpeace against GM food, and published a revised and updated version of her eponymous classic.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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