If you worked in a library and had to catalogue Bronwyn Gartside’s new book, you might wonder which section it belongs to. Is it a memoir? Is it a history book? Is it a recipe book? It’s a little bit of all three.

This is how Bronwyn describes her book and her chosen title, “Lemon Delicious: Life with a Tang”:

When life gives me lemons, I make lemon delicious. In a magical feat of chemistry and physics, the juice and rind of lemons combined with sugar and flour to create a light, fluffy sponge, sitting on a base of gooey lemon sauce.”

“Lemons are beautiful, fragrant, zesty, refreshing, healing, detoxifying and extremely versatile, with all parts of the tree and fruit useful skin flesh juice leaves and flowers. Lemons also have sharp and sour qualities just as in life, signifying disappointment. I have found that in the same way that sugar combines with the zest and juice in lemon delicious to create this delightful pudding. That is disappointments can be offset by the addition of sweetening moments.”

Cooking, Bronwyn says, has been a lifetime interest, hobby, comfort, and a wonderful social pastime, and so, instead of a conventional memoir, she has selected recipes that symbolise for Bronwyn their time in history, as well personal links to the people, place, and feelings of her formative years.

Along with the favourite Lemon Delicious, Bronwyn’s book is interspersed with recipes and rich with images. Readers of a similar era to Bronwyn will remember how our migrant population began to change our palates, bringing us the new culinary delights of sweet and sour pork, and curry made with bananas and sultanas, and Chicken a la King.

A chapter on dining out in downtown Brisbane, will delight and amuse.

Bronwyn is a baby boomer. She was born in 1949 at the end of the Second World War in Brisbane Women’s Hospital and places herself within the context of world events, something she does throughout the book. Her life, for example, began at the end of World War Two and the beginning of the Cold War. In the year she was born, the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb, NATO was created, and Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. All seminal moments in our global history, events that reverberate today.

“I’m very good with dates. I’ve always aligned the year of my birth with what was happening in the wider world, as it is important to how we live.”

The book is similar in approach to Annabel Crabb’s series on ABC, and Bronwyn alludes to this, where historical events are experienced at the domestic and local business levels.

But Bronwyn also talks very candidly about her early life and challenges. Most unexpectedly, especially for someone whose life has been so linked with food, is her account of her experiences with anorexia which began, she thinks, with her first diet at the age of fifteen and continued for some years. That was the point in her life, Bronwyn says, when she started collecting recipes.

“Food becomes quite an obsession, so I started collecting recipes at that time. Many people suffering extreme weight loss and for whatever reason, deliberate weight loss through an eating disorder, are obsessed by recipe books and they sit and read them because it enhances the whole experience of the little bits of food one is eating very slowly.”

Looking at recipe books is also a temptation, she said, “So, I could show my very strong will and not actually eat or just eat the portions I’d allowed myself.”

Bronwyn said cooking for others also grew from her bout with anorexia.

“I enjoyed the whole experience of preparing the food while allowing myself small amounts of vegetables to eat during the preparation and then to sit at the table with friends and having them love my food was another bonus for me.”

“I remember feeling fabulous when I first lost weight but then it didn’t stop. I could sense how concerned my family and friends were becoming, but how determined I was to get the skinny legged and wide-eyed look of the “Twiggy” models so prominent in that era.”

As an outcome of her anorexia, Bronwyn suffered from depression and malnutrition and was eventually hospitalised, and her slow recovery began.

A life-long feminist, Bronwyn also recalls her disappointments with an education system that so often precluded young women from careers.

“The late 60s was still a crossover period when it was not thought that a woman needed a career path.”

Bronwyn, whose mother was not allowed to work as a married woman, eventually settled on teaching as a career and was active in the teacher’s union, where she met Tim, her lifelong partner.

“There were a lot of female teachers and yet all the bosses were men. We only got female principals in the 80s in Queensland.”

“I was involved with our union and there was quite a groundswell and encouragement for women to start taking leadership roles in schools.”

Tim had a long career in politics, and Bronwyn began putting her love of cooking into fundraising.

‘With many helpers on board, we organised campaign dinners for local Labor Party candidates in state and local elections. It was a satisfying way to fundraise, as good profits could be made when the food was prepared by volunteers. The attendees were happy to come along to hear a rousing speech or two, buy some raffle tickets and be entertained by the marvellous Union Choir”

Preparing meals, whether for the family, friends or for funding raising, is about togetherness, Bronwyn says.

“It was teamwork and togetherness of cooking in families, and in fundraising. It brings people together. The family meals brought everyone together.”

While in her early life, Bronwyn had her challenges, she has had a long and happy family life, and now her young grandchildren give her hope and joy.

“Sharing things with them as a grandparent gives me a lot of hope and optimism for the future and seeing how well they’re going, and the beautiful people who work with them, gives me hope”.

 Ever the Labor Party stalwart, Bronwyn says the new Federal Labor government also gives her hope.

“I hope that some good things will come of this new federal government, and I hope that people who don’t have the benefit of the generous life that I have had, will have the benefits of the wealthy country in which we live in and what it has to offer.”

Cover image, Jan Bowman


To purchase Lemon Delicious, contact Bronwyn at bronwyngartside@gmail.com

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