An Open Letter To Margaret Fulton


Dear Mrs Fulton,

At our house, we call you Maggie. When it comes to the basics the original and the trustworthy, someone will say “Let’s check with Maggie, she’ll know.” And then out it will come – the trusted Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery.

I first laid my eyes on you in 1985, well not you, but your encyclopedia. In our final weeks of school we were asked to make our way to the library to choose a leaving gift. There are many things in life that I have got completely wrong, there were choices in my youth that showed a distinct lack of forward planning, but not that day Maggie. That day I got it right, I chose you.

My first consultation with you was tuna mornay. It was a perfect beginning, cheap, easy, and time efficient, but most of all it took me back to Thursday nights with my family. Thursday nights in my little country town meant netball practice, followed by Dallas on the telly, and Mum’s tuna mornay. Those days were now gone I was in my first apartment in the city, miles from home, but you took me back there. It was just like Mum’s mornay, just in a different dish. It was perfect.

The second consultation wasn’t so good. An orange meatloaf. Oh, I know, I know, what was I thinking? My girlfriend, who was my flatmate at the time, occasionally reminds me that the only thing worse than facing the orange meatloaf, was the uprising about an hour after dinner. Listening to your dinner guests throw up, is not the perfect end to an evening.

As the years went by my palate became more inquisitive, and a little more brave. I developed a love of asian food. I discovered a refreshing thai dish on a summers day, and the comfort of an indian curry on a cold winters night. I put you to one side while I flirted with the other “flashier” cookbooks. I hid your ripped and torn cover away in the cupboard. With my old school emblem on the front, I was literally too cool for school.

When we arrived in Indonesia I had to learn to share you. I had certain parts of you translated. I stood with Yanti, our forty five year old housekeeper, in the kitchen trying to explain the concept of a pavlova. We separated egg whites, and spooned sugar into the bowl teaspoon by teaspoon, but it was the oven that was letting us down. There were many practice runs, but eventually we perfected it. Yanti and I crouched with our faces peering through the oven door, watching the pavlova rise without burning the peaks. I suggested that maybe this time it was “bagus?” Yanti smiled back with a slow nod “bagus sekali.” It was better than good.

In Malaysia when there was talk of being hospitalized through my nauseous second pregnancy, someone suggested ginger. I swear to this day that it was your gingernut biscuits that got me through the day. I’d go to bed with one on my bedside table knowing that I would need it from the moment my eyes opened in the morning. I still can’t be sure if it was just in my head or just the comfort of something from home,  something home-made that I could trust certainly helped.

It was in Libya that you really came out to shine. On my first trip to the markets I returned to the car in tears explaining that there was NOTHING we could eat. It the heat of the middle of August, I stood sweltering while looking over the tables of carrots the size of my little finger and shriveled up versions of almost unrecognizable produce. I scanned the corner shop for curry pastes and condiments and realized we were going to have to get back to the basics. You kept us alive Maggie. I learnt how to bake that year thanks to you. I read and re-read every piece of information you wrote in that book. I shared you with friends and copied out endless requests for your scones or cakes.

I waited for you to arrive in Canada. It took months for the shipment to land at our door. I was terrified you’d be missing, that someone would take a fancy to you and your expertise. It was your chicken paprika that kept us all warm on those minus twenty days. In Houston it was cheesecake, and now in Qatar your basic tomato sauce has become a staple in our refrigerator. After a trip to the vegetable markets with their father, the children will stand on stools while they take turns at putting the tomatoes into the kitchen aid. Right next to them is you, open, and waiting with instructions.

It was a couple of weeks ago that I actually had a good look at you. After twenty seven years together, the pages most often used, now open by themselves. You are marked, creased and torn, your sleeve has disappeared. You are by far the most loyal, the most loved, the most used in the bookshelf. I look at your splotches of sauces and dobs of cream and smile. On your cover is my old school emblem with a Latin inscription.

Verae Numeresque Modesque Ediscere Vitae.
“To learn the numbers and measures of true life”.

I think back to the headmistress handing me that book. I was not a great scholar, nor a shining example to future students. I was lost, either a late developer or an immature brat – depending on our relationship. I fumbled for a long time, stumbling into each new life experience, not really understanding how the recipe would work or the necessity to follow instructions. I just threw it all in, and hoped for the best. My own concoction of blind faith and optimism.

I made your scones, again. G was out in the garden planting perennials and the sun was shining on a beautiful winter’s day. The children were playing and we had really good music on in the background. It’s taken me all this time to realize it’s not about what I’m going to do, it’s about what I’m doing. It doesn’t have to be all about the end game, it’s the process, it’s adding the ingredients and watching it rise and develop.


Bagus Sekali.

Learning the numbers and measures of life. It’s better than good.

Thank you Maggie, for coming along for the ride. You’ve made it even better than I ever could have imagined.

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  1. Oh I can SO SO SO identify. But I cannot articulate this anywhere near as beautifully as you do. xx

  2. I love this post K! I recently saw Margaret Fulton Queen of the Dessert the Musical – it was brilliant and I have a new found appreciation for Maggie. She’s so accomplished.

  3. I LOVE this post! Your Margaret Fulton is my Good Housekeeping, 1980 edition. Consulted so many times and so often in past years that I take it in a suitcase when we move. I am on my second copy, bought from Ebay because it has to be that identical version, and the original has been retired to a safe place. It was a gift from my in-laws to the newlywed couple and that first year, it was used more by my husband than myself, since he was working offshore and would cook on his month off while I was at the office. Even book number two has splattered pages and opens automatically to the old favorites. May I suggest you start looking now for copies for your children? They will each need one to take off to university and beyond. Both of my girls were given “like new” Ebay purchases of my 1980 classic when they left home. I couldn’t send them off without our trusted friend.

  4. What a gorgeous blog post about that gorgeous woman, also my lovely grandmother. Thank you so much for sharing, I’ll make sure she sees it. I’m already pretty proud of her, but hearing stories like this and learning how everyone else feels about her and what her books did for them just makes me proud as punch. Thank you so much. xx Kate Gibbs.

  5. Ah, Margaret is Margaret in our home, when we are looking for a recipe or instructions we ie me and Al say to each other “Margaret will know” – we have a new edition of The Margaret Fulton Cookbook – which I grew up with, and her Encyclopedia. My Mum used to read her mother-in-laws copy then got her own, which is so battered and loved these days. I don’t know how anyone survives without Margaret! It is exactly your school motto to have Margaret in your life.

  6. I too have that book and it looks EXACTLY like the one in your photo. I too am hunting down extra copies along with ‘everyday cooking’ a smaller simple cookbook that started out with me and mrs Fulton. I make her butterscotch sauce every Xmas and even though I know the recipe off by heart I still open the book at that page. Thanks so much for encapsulating what I feel about my favourite cookbook

  7. Oh, this is just gorgeous writing . Captures the beautiful nuances of life perfectly

  8. Beautiful.

  9. Oh I love this post !
    Bagus sekali indeed !

  10. I love my Margaret book too. Her, or should I say MY, pavs are to die for.

  11. Groovy Grandma says

    I know exactly what you mean – I am a NZ girl and couldn’t cook as well as I do, if it wasn’t for Alison Holst, Aunt Daisy and Edmonds Cookbooks. They were very informative and did not make the mistake of presuming that you had cooked before, so gave All the instructions needed even when boiling potatoes.

  12. lovely post and great idea about finding copies for the kids 🙂 have also used abe books to find out of print books 🙂

  13. What a lovely post! Food and life memories are so beautiful. As an Aussie, I also have Maggie on my shelf and refer to her often.

  14. I also love her dearly and for Christmas received her latest book Margaret Fulton – Baking – 2 inches thick with not many photos – it is glorious.

  15. I love how you put this story into words. The week before I got married my Mum gave me the Irish equivalent. It was a book called “The complete cookery course” by Delia Smith. The first chapter starts off with “how to boil an egg”! I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have said out loud “Lets ask Delia” It’s lovely to see these books get older and more battered as the years go by when some of the newer books are still quite pristine. Happy Cooking!

  16. What a fabulous post, I love love loved it! As an Annesley Old Scholar, I loved it even more! I finished a few years after you (don’t want you to feel old!) but have Mrs Coats to thanks for my love of cooking and events. My Dad nearly had a heart attack when I decided to drop Physics in Year 11 for a subject called ‘Entertaining’! You’d cry if you saw the school now – the senior school has been demolished but Gillingham Hall is still standing there, in all its glory, but sad all the same.

    Here’s to Maggie!


  17. Just saw this on another blog I like to read and thought of this post.


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