Delving inside most Greek Australian homes of first Greek migrants, one can find two indispensable and treasured books which have contributed in their own way and rightly gained their own special place on the mantle of Australia’s Greek migration history.
Published in 1958 in Athens, the 392-page cookbook Η Νέα Μαγειρική Ζαχαροπλαστική του Ελληνικού Σπιτιού featured Professor Sofia Skoura’s Greek recipes and became the go-to book; the ‘bible’ for all Greek housewives who migrated to Australia in the mid-1900s.
“In my 20 years of teaching at the Arsakeion School, I have realised the love and passion that my students developed for cooking and through my book I wish to encourage and inspire all young ladies to learn how to cook Greek traditional recipes,” Professor Skoura’s words tell us from the back cover of the book that achieved the status of being one of the most successful cookbooks in Greece, after the first-ever published Greek cookbook of Sifnos-born chef Nicolaos Tselementes.
Neither Professor Skoura or anyone else at the time could have foreseen the impact the book was going to have on the history of Greek migration in Australia, and its tremendous contribution to keeping culinary traditions alive by inspiring and improving the cooking skills of young Greek ‘brides’ who were subsequently seen in a positive light by their husbands and fellow Greeks.
“My mother Zmaro migrated to Australia from cosmopolitan Thessaloniki and arrived Down Under on the passenger ship Bretagne. She actually brought Skoura’s recipe book with her when she made her journey from Greece,” says Penny, the second daughter of Karatzovalis family, told Neos Kosmos.
Penny’s mother had completed primary school education and was offered a position working with a seamstress in the small town of Port Lincoln in South Australia.
“I imagine that arriving in a sleepy little country town on the other side of the world would have been a cultural shock for my mother – to say the least – but somehow she managed to adjust to her new life and found tremendous pleasure in cooking.
“She made sure that we had plenty to eat and were always clean and smartly dressed. My mother wasn’t particularly social or outgoing but loved to cook for the family. I remember she would grab her one and only recipe book to cook traditional recipes for the family such as yemista and moussaka, which to date, remain our most favourite meals,” says Penny who has fond memories of cooking with her mother.
“I was fascinated by the contents of mum’s cookbook and I loved looking through its pages often. I vividly remember asking mum to read the recipes to me and she certainly found immense pleasure in cooking for her children and family.
“Growing up we only had a few books in our house, so this one became a much-treasured item as was my father’s Greek-English dictionary.”
Penny’s dad Nicolas, who arrived in Australia in 1951 from Vrastama in the Halkidiki region on the SS Cyrenia, was classified as a rural worker and therefore was sent to Bonegilla in Victoria to work.
He was given a Greek-English/English-Greek dictionary upon his arrival.
“Unlike my mother who came to Australia a few years after my father and who didn’t engage in English conversation, make any attempts to learn to speak and write in English or even mix with non-Greeks, my father was keen to learn how to speak the new language, a skill which was also necessary for him to communicate and develop relationships with his co-workers,” says Penny.
“My dad did a variety of jobs including sewing wheat bags by hand until his hands would bleed and also worked with many English-speaking Aussies at the grain silos on the wharf, and would often consult his dictionary when he was conversing in the English language and wasn’t sure of a particular word. He also did some lumping, carrying bags of grain and ‘lumping’ them onto the back of a truck.”
Penny’s father enjoyed reading newspapers and used to always tell his children how reading helped him improve his English.
“Without a doubt, these two books tell a story, a simple, yet very important story of our parents and grandparents which will be passed on to our children’s and grandchildren’s generations and they are the two books that we all cherish now that our parents are no longer with us,” concludes Penny.