18 January 2022

Where the heart is

Posted by the Cake Shop

Walking around the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy last year, one piece out of the 1400 on display hit me deeply – an instinctive resonance inside my skull. A composition in natural ochres high up in a top corner, criss-crossed by the wavy lines of rivers. Soft shapes, outlined by dotted borders, marked the location of hills. That’s home, I pointed to my companion. Land is where the heart is.

Every time I return home to Australia, I gather native botanicals and bring them back to London to bake with, or drink as tea. One of my favourites is lemon myrtle, with its sunburnt kiss aroma – I love to use it in combination with kumquat jam. Big kumquat shrubs are dotted around the older neighborhoods of Melbourne, along with passion fruit vines and persimmon trees. Eucalyptus, bay, lemon – in a blink of an eye, these flavours take me 9000 miles from Brixton back to where I grew up.

Once again, we’re approaching 26 January, a date in change and flux. For some, it’s the anniversary of the foundation of Australia, but for many others it marks the commemoration of invasion, the beginning of a history of violence and oppression which continues to this day.

The piece that spoke to me at the Royal Academy is called ‘Keep River’, after the Keep River National Park in Northern Australia, near to where the artist Peggy Griffiths lives and paints. Her work documents the traditional country of her mother and grandfather, and celebrates her Miriwoong culture. In an interview, she speaks of how her childhood was shaped by the influence of her elders, and of her memories of seeing these same elders taken away from their camp in chains.

It can be hard to reconcile a deep personal bond with a place with the tragedy of its history. My way of acknowledging this love and sadness from afar is to connect with my own memories through baking, and with the Aboriginal custodians of the land through literature and reading

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be serving lemon myrtle cookies with eucalyptus tea – a thoughtful and sombre brew, perfect for sitting and sipping while diving into the treasure trove of Aboriginal and BIPOC writing out there to discover. My current top three are Melissa Lucashenko’s darkly funny novel Mullumbimby, Tara June Winch’s award-winner The Yield, and Song Spirals by the Gay'wu Group of Women.

Books mentioned in this blog post