I have pretty much written a love letter to Maggie Beer in my new novel, The Jam Queens. My love for Maggie began so long ago I can’t remember when it started but I’d like tell you a little about me and Maggie.
I have watched Maggie’s wonderful television show The Cook and the Chef. I’ve collected and read her books, sinking into her stories about her early years on the orchard and with then pheasant farm with her kids and husband Colin. Just about the only episode I can remember of MasterChef was the one which she was a guest competitor. A friend once offered me a last-minute ticket to see Maggie at the State Library of Queensland, just before Christmas time, and I cancelled everything to get to the sold-out event to hear her speak. She was, as you’d expect, warm, funny, engaging and generous. (I bought one of her books there and stood in line for an age to ask her to sign it but as it was a sold-out event and the line snaked around the terrace I didn’t have time to lavish her with my adoration… probably to her good fortune.) Twice a year every year, my friend Kate and I go on writing retreat together and have often daydreamed and drooled about making the next one an adventure down to Maggie’s Orchard House to cook in her drool-worthy kitchen. My husband works in aged care and we enthusiastically snapped up her book Maggie’s Recipe for Life and encouraged everyone in the company to go buy it too. Maggie’s foodie values–love, family, sharing, sustainability, celebration, honouring the source of our food, and growing food–are values I share and find their way into my books as I write.
You get the drift, right? I’m a big fan.
I suppose it was inevitable that when I decided to set a book in the Barossa Valley, Maggie’s spirit would find its way into my story. One of the driving plot points of the book became the annual jam competition at the Royal Adelaide Show. As my main character Aggie’s family is full of jam queens, they have created a system where one queen may nominate herself to enter in a given year while the others stand aside. But this year, there is an extra incentive to win, with the triumphant jam queen invited to cook with Maggie on her television show. Perhaps then, the rules could be broken just for this year? After all, it is Maggie Beer they’re talking about! Who could resist the opportunity to spend time with her? While it might be Aggie’s turn to enter, her mother Valeria is torn. Maggie is her idol. How could she not enter?
I travelled to the Barossa in 2017 with my husband and then five-year-old son. (The flowers in the valley were well and truly out. Aren’t they gorgeous?) Of course, at the top of my list of things to do was to head to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop, which we did three times in less than a week. The lake, the olive trees, the grounds, the shop… it’s all gorgeous. (And she has the best gluten free bread rolls I’ve ever had! And I’ve been gluten free for 30 years, so I’ve eaten a lot of them.) I confess I was hoping to simply bump into Maggie by good fortune, but the closest I got was seeing her disappear out through the kitchen door, and it was all I could do to stop myself leaping over the counter to chase her down… which, of course, probably wouldn’t have ended too well for me, so it’s lucky I haven’t been a high jumper since primary school.
This is all just to say, ‘Thanks, Maggie, for nurturing the hearts, minds, bodies and souls of food lovers throughout the country, including mine’ and inspiring a a plot line through my new book. I hope you love it.