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Olive Oil…can you eat it? Really??

After listening to a pod cast from James Valentine, memories flooded back of unsuccessfully trying to source food information in the 80’s and 90’s.

November 11, 2016

Olive Oil…can you eat it? Really??

Before Australia was even a mere twinkle-in-my-eye, olive oil in this sunburnt country could only be purchased at the pharmacy in medicinal-sized bottles.

But it wasn’t bought to cook with. Oh no. Most people didn’t even know that it was edible!

Listening to James Valentines ‘Headroom’ podcast entitled Olive Oil is Not a Food, I laughed out loud at how olive oil was used during the 50’s, 60’s and even the 70’s in Australia.

Many people said they used it to clean out their ears or remove insects that had mistakenly flown in. A spoonful of exotic olive oil was dispensed to keep one ‘regular’. One lady suppled up her new horse saddles and bridles by painting with warm olive oil. A caller to the radio program liked to keep the inside of his car looking shiny and clean. So in place of ArmorAll, he used olive oil. Imagine the smell, getting into his car on a hot day! Footballers had an olive oil and liniment mix to massage their muscles. Olive oil suffocated head lice. It was certainly a particularly useful and diverse liquid.

Some people’s stories really were not funny. For example we wouldn’t dream of using olive oil as a sunblock these days. One lady recounted her forays on the beach slathered in olive oil (sometimes mixed with vinegar as well) rotating herself like a rotisserie chicken. Blisters appeared really quite soon. So to counteract the burns, she’d place sliced raw tomatoes on her body. Sort of like a living salad really… I won’t even recount the story of a mother wanting to assist her new born, red-headed, fair-skinned, twin babies in cultivating an olive complexion.

Robert Carrier put a spanner in the works in the mid 1960’s with his book Great Dishes of the World. Where did the average Australian source an eggplant to include in recipes? Most food shops would only stock paprika, mixed spice, salt and pepper in the spice section. You could always get Keens Curry Powder though. Olive oil started appearing in the shops in large colourful tins imported from Spain Italy and Greece. Who would ever use THAT much though!



When Charmaine Solomon first published her Encyclopedia of Asian Food in 1996 (which let me tell you doesn’t seem THAT long ago), how on earth could we have shopped for lemongrass, wombok or enoki mushrooms? As a note of interest Charmaine Solomon advised never to use Keens Curry powder under any circumstances.

Since the Second World War, Australia’s opinion was that a modern country needed a diverse population. But it was only in the 1970’s we opened our borders to Asian immigrants. This added to the diversity of Brits and Europeans who had already migrated. Of course they brought along with them their special preferred ingredients and methods of cooking.

Moving to Australia from the UK in the late 80’s it was literally impossible to find ANY information about seasonal food in WA. Minimal resources were written for the Eastern States, which have quite different availability. Learning about when I could source fresh food in my new home was a constant frustration.

No internet in those days.

Even Don Hancy during a fish cooking demonstration, all those years ago was at a loss to tell me of any resource where I could learn which fish species were available to cook with in WA. I was fortunate enough to sit next to Charmaine Solomon at a food weekend held in Perth for the general public. Over lunch I asked her what her recommended method was to successfully toast spices and when to know they were ‘done’. Incredulously I look back and am a little embarrassed at not knowing this even though I had worked as a qualified chef for about 8 years by then.

This lack of resources made me aware that if I, as a chef didn’t know when and where to source foods how would the population ever learn for themselves.


I used my suppliers expertise once I started teaching people from my home in 1997 when Matters of Taste started. My tag line then was “Cooking for Four Seasons”. I sourced hard to find ingredients from The Grocer as well as European Foods. Both these companies generously assisted me with the answers I was seeking and I was then able to pass on information to my class participants. Boatshed Markets in Cottesloe and Tony Ale’s in Applecross stocked fresh herbs and more unusual fresh produce.

How many questions I asked Mr Ale and the staff stocking the shelves I shudder to think. But I learnt and my expertise grew. This is where I taught myself to research and be inventive with my recipe development.

Today we live in the luxury of just about being able to source whatever ingredient recipes tell us we need. Usually the drive is not too lengthy and hopefully it will have been grown locally. If it is not found in WA, then online is our next port of call.

So just in case you didn’t know, olive oil is fabulous to sizzle and drizzle with. Leave it in your kitchen and use factor 50 sunblock when at the beach.

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Tracey Cotterell

Tracey Cotterell
Tracey Cotterell


Tracey has been in the food industry since completing her Diploma in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management in 1982 in the UK. She worked for an outside catering company in London, then joined her parents in rural West Sussex running

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Tracey Cotterell

Tracey Cotterell


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