Go on…think back to the recipe shelves of your childhood kitchen and mentally search for that book that took pride of place in the collection. Rivalling an encyclopedia in size and introducing all new flavours to the 1970s household, it was the Margaret Fulton Cookbook.
Long before Masterchef took over our TV screens and Donna Hay became a household name, Margaret Fulton was the name everyone turned to in Australia for cooking inspiration. She was one-woman smorgasbord of timeless advice, exciting flavours and shortcuts to assist the busy modern mum.
This week Ms Fulton passed away at the age of 94, after serving up a generous helping of a life well-lived. And far beyond writing a seminal cookbook that sold more than 1.5 million copies, Ms Fulton was a progressive woman and a fascinating individual who changed the Australian culinary landscape in a host of inspirational ways.
Over a lengthy career writing for the likes of Women’s Day, Margaret Fulton published over 20 cookbooks that would transform Australia’s appetite for flavours from foreign shores. Italian, French, Greek, Spanish and Chinese recipes are just some of the concepts she introduced to a hungry Australian nation starved of culture.
Her influence is so renowned, she is credited as a contributor to the development of Sydney’s Chinatown – a place few ‘non-Chinese’ ventured in the conservative Menzies era.
"I think Australians responded to this enormous excitement that I was feeling about food and they were feeling it too," Fulton said in a 1997 interview.
Born in Scotland in 1924 before immigrating to Australia aged three, Fulton was initially offered a scholarship to the University of Sydney to study food nutrition. WWII sidelined the endeavor, but after a brief stint X-raying the nuts and bolts used on wartime aircraft, she transferred to a gas company where she hosted cooking classes.
Fulton became the first teacher to teach cooking to the blind before being approached to join a pressure cooker company as a salesperson after the war – a move that saw her labelled as "partially responsible for the introduction of the pressure cooker to Australia".
Jobs as an advertising account executive and food journalist followed as the single mother navigated a wide-ranging career. Ultimately, Fulton became food editor of Women’s Day which made her a household name and she began writing her own cookbooks.
First published in 1968, the Margaret Fulton Cookbook was an overnight success. In its first year it sold 200,000 copies. Within a decade it had sold 750,000 and to date more than 1.5 million made their way into Australian, with an updated version published only last year to celebrate the book’s 50th anniversary.
In 1983, Margaret Fulton was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her contribution as a journalist and writer in the field of cookery.
In 1998 she was added to the list of 100 Australian Living Treasures by the National Trust of Australia, and in 2006 was named among The 100 most influential Australians by The Bulletin.
But perhaps more important is the influence Fulton had on our everyday culinary skills in ways we may not even consider. She changed Australian cooking and our palate for flavours beyond our shores.
As you effortlessly whip up a nasi goreng tonight, throw together a spag bol or ponder the prospect of a paella, spare a thought for Margaret Fulton and how she brought multiculturalism to our kitchens, introducing Australia to so much more than meat and three veg.