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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

A long and chequered career in cooking

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President of the Liberation Larder, Liz Jackson. Photo Tree Faerie.

When she was just 16, Elizabeth Jackson was kicked out of a home economics class – not because she burnt a pot or had a collapsed sponge, but because she made a black wedding cake. ‘I had a bad start. There was nothing wrong with the cake. They just didn’t like my idea of a bit of goth on the cake. You know, it was 1960 something.’

So began a long and chequered career in cooking.

Jackson qualified as a metallurgist in her home town of Wollongong before heading north and landing in Upper Main Arm. ‘I have a science background. Cookery is a science, absolutely. Especially with patisserie and cakes, you have to be very exacting. There are basic formulas, and you’ve got to have the basic formula right before you can veer off in another direction and be creative.’

Planning an escape

Jackson did a degree in metallurgy and then left town. ‘I wasn’t planning on staying in Wollongong. I worked at the steel works and was waiting – planning my escape. Plotting getting out!

‘I had friends who moved here from Wollongong and it just seemed like a good idea at the time. So I sort of fell here really, by chance.’

Liz is an accomplished cook in all areas but says that cakes and pastries are her thing. ‘It’s my alchemy. That’s what I really love. It is my favourite thing, but I like experimenting with making other things. I think that’s what’s so fabulous about Mullum. It’s a melting pot of so many cultures, as is Australia in general, because we can just get anything we want here ingredient-wise.’

‘When I was growing up, it was European with an Eastern European influence. Now we’ve got all the Asian things and the Middle Eastern influence. I think we’ve learned to mix and match flavours, because we have got a melting pot of culture here.’

Liberation Larder

One of Jackson’s focuses these days is her volunteer work at Byron’s Liberation Larder where she is currently the president.

‘I’m semi-retired. I had my own business in Byron, and I’ve had two knee replacements, and I just couldn’t keep doing 100 hours a week. So, I sold my business and I was at home, just pottering around the garden for about three months, and I missed the camaraderie and team of a kitchen, and just missed being under pressure. Because, you know, I’d had 40 odd years in kitchens. So I offered to volunteer and I’ve been there ever since 2013.’

Reducing food waste

Apart from years of contributing to the community by cooking breakfasts at the Community Centre, Liz says that now the Liberation Larder predominantly reduces food waste. ‘I’ve just done a huge rescue out at Splendour in the Mud. We got vegetables, milk, cheese, butter, meat, lots of chicken and beef burgers, loads of eggs and potatoes – I haven’t added it all up yet but it’s looking like we got over three tonnes out of there – and that’s just myself and other volunteers – in our cars.

‘It’s funny because I used to do food at festivals. I used to do artists’ catering at Bluesfest, and now I’m on the other side of the fence. On the first day, I talk to all the stallholders – I’ve been doing it for quite a long time so a lot of them know me.

‘What we did, because we got so much, I have connections with other agencies and we’ve had all these agencies pop up with the flood relief – so I connected with Jamie who runs the consortium of neighbourhood centres out of Evans Head. We met her in Byron and filled up her refrigerated van. She was taking it straight to Coraki, Wardell, Woodburn – all those communities. And then I gave a whole lot away to the Uniting Church because they do the FoodBox – and I’ve still got more. I’ve got loads of fruit to give away still. We’ve got a coolroom and freezers, but we don’t have space for tonnes. And also, with stuff that’s mainly fresh, I want to get it out there straight away. I want people to be able to be eating it.’

Lunches and frozen meals

Jackson says that now the Wednesday breakfast has moved to the Fletcher Street Cottage, they do lunches on Mondays and Thursdays and they hand out frozen meals and produce.

‘We’re doing around 200 people a week and the service is really, really important. We’ve always had a homelessness problem in the Byron Shire but we’ve got an underclass now of people who have lost their houses. I mean, you’ve only got to drive down Argyle Street in Mullum to see how many empty houses there are, and everybody that’s in that situation has just sort of disappeared.’

Liz has herself been affected by the floods – she is currently having repairs done on her own house. But she loves the area; she’s been here for 50 years and doesn’t plan on leaving.

We’ve got to adapt

‘I don’t want to go. This is my home. I think we’ve just got to adapt. Climate change is a reality and even if we stop doing what we are doing today, the damage is already done. The best outcome we could have would be to slow it up a bit.’

Jackson’s will to cook hasn’t been dampened and her early home-ec expulsion hasn’t put Liz off learning – she has been studying on and off for the last ten years. ‘I’ve been doing patisserie stuff. I go to Sydney to the Australian Patisserie Academy and I’ve done a couple of things over at Wollongbar TAFE. I’ve done a chocolatier course and some other patisserie classes. I don’t have days where I don’t want to cook, but some days I might just make avocado on toast, but you know, it’ll have some zatar…’.

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