Back in the early 1970s when Dee Bush and her team ran the Lazy Larder, they were the Yass Valley region’s ‘it girls’.
The business provided some of the best food you could buy, take home and – if you were smart – pretend you made it.
From entrees such as country pate for $1.20 a serve, to ‘beef Caldean’ – named after the family property at Bookham, outside Canberra, and consisting of yearling beef cooked with red wine, celery, walnuts and oranges, because Dee “put oranges in everything” – it was simply the best country fare.
For dessert, the Lazy Larder menu offered everything from apple pie – described as “spiced apple in crisp short pastry baked to perfection; served warm with cream or cheddar cheese; serves four for $1.20” – to the fancier poirat, “a pear tart from Normandy with fresh pears in a special walnut pastry; serves four for $2”.
Going into business with her friends, Sue O’Connor and Robyn Lawson, was something Dee had always talked about, and then one day they just decided to do it.
“We all had kids at the time so we decided to cook from home,” says Dee. “We did it mostly at Sue’s as she had a big freezer. It just got around through word of mouth, and people would come to us from Canberra wanting to buy our food.”
Business boomed and probably still would be if Sue and Robyn hadn’t pulled out because of family commitments, and it becoming too much for Dee to run herself.
The secret ingredient in cooking, she says, is to always use the best.
“This is despite the fact country cooks often have to compromise,” says Dee. “You can’t be too fussy when you run out of something and live 50km from the nearest shop. You use what you have.
“That’s probably why I cook the way I do. I have favourite things I love to make, but I usually end up putting different things in them every time because I can’t remember what I put in the first place.
“You never really cook the same meal twice.”
One of Dee’s favourites is ox tongue in raisin sauce (actually, you’ll find almost anything with raisins, oranges and soy sauce on her menus).
“I lost the recipe and couldn’t remember what I put in it, but the other day I found another recipe which I had used as a base for it so I can have it again,” she says.
“Then the other night, Ian said he felt like lamb shank soup. I didn’t have any of my usual stock so I ended up putting Promite in it and it was one of the nicest soups we’ve had.”
You can tell a lot about a cook from their pantry. Dee has the sort of one you could be happy living in. Neatly stacked jars and bowls, every one of them looking like it has had a good beating or two at some point.
There’s jars of things you’d recognise, and others not so much. And more than a little fancy stuff.
Perhaps that’s what makes a great cook – the ability to create the finest foods people want to buy and claim as their own, as well as making great food for friends and family.
Dee is self-taught, except for what she learned from her mother, and says her favourite genre is cordon bleu cuisine.
“I just love to feed people,” she says. “I love to do it with the best ingredients I can get, and I always use butter, never margarine.”
Dee is in great demand as a birthday cake maker for friends.
“They just tell me what they want and I make it for them,” she says.
One of her most memorable cakes was of the Thredbo mountain range where she used green cotton wool to make the tree-laden slopes.
Unfortunately, the trees caught fire when the birthday person lit the candles.
“But it still tasted good,” laughs Dee.
PS (perfectly sweet disclaimer): A caramel tart eaten by your author in the making of this story was the best caramel tart ever eaten in the history of caramel tarts. Dee insisted I eat it and I could hardly hurt her feelings. It was also clearly crucial for me to get the real taste of her story for you. Also, I have no willpower.