Kay Walmsley knows her onions – and her cuts of lamb, vegetables and almost everything else off the farm.
She can also probably survive on what she has in her freezer for as long as she needs to – three weeks is the record so far.
At 82, Kay is a true-blue country cook. She is more at ease cooking for 50 than for two, probably because she has spent most of her life doing just that.
From the 240-hectare fine wool property between Gundaroo and Gunning, where she lives with her son Graeme, Kay still cooks on the combustion stove, relying on her tried and true favourites – “I just love prawn cocktails” – but brave enough to try new things too.
Grazing plates, which one of her daughters introduced her to, was the latest she was keen to try.
But it’s always going to be the old recipes she goes back to.
“You could say I keep a good freezer,” she says. “I tend to do things the old-fashioned way, but I also like trying new things.
“You look at what they call all the different sorts of pasta these days. To me, it will always be spaghetti – it all boils down to the same thing.”
Born and bred in Yass, Kay’s family has strong roots to the region. She was a member of the Nicholas family – her grandfather William was one of the district’s early builders and her mother, Evelyn Clarke, who was born on Dog Trap Road, was one of 13 children.
“We always seem to have a lot of people when we have Clarke family reunions,” she jokes.
Kay married Ian Walmsley and into another large local farming family in 1959, and they lived in Yass before moving to her current home, The Glen, just outside Gundaroo.
She remembers something of an initiation prior to her wedding.
“I remember his mother saying to me, ‘do you want a chicken?’. I thought OK, so I said yes. Then his father went out the back door, grabbed a chicken and cut its head off. They then gave it to me to pluck and take out the insides.”
She also learned quickly that on the farm, you don’t throw anything out.
“Everything has a use,” Kay says. “Like when we’d kill a sheep – you’d have one leg for baking and the other for corning. That’s just how we did things.”
Kay attributes her love of country cooking and her skills to her mother.
“Mum always cooked,” Kay says. “And I always seemed to be involved in what she was doing.
“Regardless of whether it was the garden club, the church, the ladies auxiliary, you brought a plate – preferably with something on it.
“I’ve always liked to cook. I managed the Gunning school canteen for some time, catered for weddings, events, whatever needed doing.
“My favourite dish for a crowd has always been sweet and sour chicken. It’s so easy. All you do is boil up a chicken. In those days you’d boil up the whole thing, take the bones out and then cut it all up.
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“These days you can just buy whatever bits you want. I’d cut the chicken up into small pieces and put in canned pineapple for the sweetness and tinned Edgell capsicum, then some celery – I can’t tell you the exact recipe because I always use bits of this and bits of that. But I can tell you, whatever you cook, you must taste it and keep on tasting it. To make the sweet and sour, you have to mix up brown sugar with malt vinegar and cornflour and put that in last.
“I was also known for my dips. People seemed to like them and they were really easy too. You should use cream cheese from a jar, not that Philadelphia stuff, and Tabasco sauce with pineapple juice and French onion soup – that’s the basis for every dip. Then you can just add whatever else you want.”
The one thing Kay admits she battled with until quite recently was the perfect scone.
“I was never much good at making them. One time my aunty told me I was too heavy-handed, but then I discovered this recipe with lemonade and it makes the best scones.
“You just use a small bottle of lemonade and one of those tetra packs of cream – about the size the kids use to take juice to school – and three cups of self-raising flour or maybe a little more. I use a cutter but you can just use a glass to cut them out, and make sure you have a really hot oven.”
Although Kay says her daughters do encourage her to try new recipes, she always tends to go back to the favourites – especially when she’s cooking for a crowd.
“I still don’t think you can go past prawn cocktail and curried sausages.”