Noeleen Merle MackIntosh is my oldest sister and there is just a little over 16 years between us. My sisters and I have always called her Nonny. There are distinct advantages to having a very bright and clever older sister. There was always somewhere to go for a holiday, for example, and I have definitely benefited many times from Noeleen’s ability to design and sew the most beautiful dresses, and create one of a kind hats. Today though, I wanted to highlight something that many people will not know about Nonny, and my hope is that you will find this aspect of her life as interesting as I do.
Noeleen was asked to demonstrate vegetarian cooking on the beautiful Norfolk Island, and I was lucky enough to interview her recently about her experiences.
What has driven your interest in Vegetarian Cooking?
As long as I can remember I have enjoyed vegetarian food. Growing up we enjoyed several vegetarian meals each week along with some meat, fish or poultry on the other days. We were members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a church that has a great interest in health and a healthy lifestyle. The Seventh-day Adventist church teaches that a vegetarian diet has many health benefits, though it is not compulsory for members to be a vegetarian. My Dad worked for the Sanitarium Health Food Company, a company that produces a range of breakfast cereals and vegetarian foods, Nutmeat and Nutolene being the most common vegetarian protein foods at that time (and yes, they are still on the supermarket shelf in 2015). I think my interest slowly increased as I investigated different “diets” and eating patterns – it seemed that vegetarian principles came up near the top most of the time.
How did the opportunity to do Vegetarian Cooking Demonstrations on Norfolk Island present itself?
The Seventh-day Adventist church offers classes in healthy plant based (vegetarian) cooking as a community service, and training courses are conducted periodically so that members who wish to volunteer for this service are equipped to do so. I completed my first training in 1988, and we are encouraged to update every three years.
Early in 2011 the Health Director of the Greater Sydney Conference asked me if I would be willing to go to Norfolk Island in June to run a workshop and at the same time train some of the local people to be able to run programs on their own. The SDA church there is small and members are mostly elderly, the younger generations having gravitated to the mainlands of Australia or New Zealand in search of work. I agreed to this proposal having no idea of the difficulties I was to face.
What were the challenges of demonstrating Vegetarian Cooking on a small Island?
Just to put you in the picture, Norfolk Island is a small island in the South Pacific Ocean located 1,412 km due east of Evans Head, NSW. The island has a population of around 2,300 and covers an area of about 35 square kilometres. It’s a beautiful and very interesting place. Cows graze along the roadside and have right of way at all times – no exceptions! Shops rely on the infrequent arrival of ships with supplies from Australia or New Zealand, and these cannot unload if the sea is rough. The importation of fresh produce is prohibited or strictly controlled due to the island’s strict quarantine regulations that aim to preserve the island’s ‘disease free’ status.
The biggest challenge, then, was the limited availability of ingredients, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. I selected a variety of recipes for the four evenings of the workshop and emailed a list of ingredients to the pastor’s wife, asking whether these grocery items and fresh vegetables and fruit would be available. My list came back with words like ‘no,’ ‘infrequently,’ ‘possibly,’ ‘occasionally,’ or ‘rarely’ written beside most of the fresh produce items, so I spent a lot of time testing substitutes and the use of canned or frozen alternatives. It became necessary to eliminate one or two of the recipes that I had chosen and to find recipes with more readily available ingredients.
I arrived on the Island with all of my recipes prepared, and then it was time to go shopping…. After the ease of shopping for fresh produce in Sydney, shopping on Norfolk Island is an interesting experience. We shopped each day to take advantage of anything new that might become available. There’s the supermarket, of course, with potatoes & onions and maybe four, five or even six other vegies that vary according to whatever is available. Then there’s the odd table of home-grown produce near someone’s front gate (you just drop the money in the honesty box). Our final stop one day was at the local butcher to see what fresh vegetables he had in his shop that day.
Would you please outline your fondest memory of your trip to Norfolk Island?
I have a number of fond memories of the trip:
I had been concerned about the availability of carrots, because the recipe called for grated carrot, and I was hoping that chopped frozen carrot was going to work instead. Then we were given a few small carrots from someone’s garden. When I mentioned the fresh carrot during the demonstration a voice from the back of the group exclaimed “You’ve got carrots?!?” How kind it was of someone to give me those three small carrots – apparently they don’t grow well on the island at all. It made me appreciate our beautiful long, brightly coloured carrots that we can buy here so much more than I had done before.
The cook from the small island hospital attended the workshop. She introduced some of my recipes on the hospital menu and was thrilled to have some new, healthy dishes to make for the patients.
More than 30 people from the community attended the workshop. I demonstrated three or four recipes on each of the four nights, followed by a talk and question time on good nutrition and the vegetarian perspective. Some of the church folk came each afternoon to cut vegetables and otherwise help to prepare for the evening session. They assisted in any way they could, even to the point of agreeing to cook a second quantity alongside me so that we would have enough for everyone to have a good “taste” afterwards. I really appreciated this because it would have been very difficult to do it all myself.
Would you please share some of your demonstrated recipes with us?
Recipes to 14 of the dishes that Nonny demonstrated can be found here
A photographic account of Nonny’s cooking demonstrations and her trip to Norfolk Island