17 OCTOBER 1998, Page 64

By Jennifer Paterson

Oz and under

I HAVE been away again in Australia and Jamaica, hence my lack of a contribution last month. I was so involved with various forms of jet-lag that I totally forgot time, dates and deadlines. Australia was amaz- ing: we visited Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, doing endless literary lunches and interviews with enormous audiences, and were treated like a mixture of the Queen Mother and the Beatles. Even the choir and servers at Sydney Cathedral bowed and grinned at us as they processed down the nave. Very heady stuff. We had to cut a vast cake in the shape of the Sydney Opera House to celebrate its 25th anniversary, for which we were escorted by 12 huge muscle- bound lifeguards.

The food, which seemed to come fresh from Tasmania, was very good: stunning crayfish, very sweet and tender, marvellous mud crab and Moreton Bay bugs in Bris- bane. The crabs were enormous, with a delicious flavour, and the bugs were like squat crayfish. The Prime Minister was introduced to us while we were dining on this succulent seafood. How about that? We were driven to a coastal resort called Noosa for a night. Everyone said we would love Noosa, but we found it rather Butlin- sish and would have preferred the wilder shores, of which there are, of course, boundless miles. But everyone was so kind and hospitable to us it would be churlish not to love Noosa.

Jamaica was stunningly beautiful but extremely hot, and although they have great ingredients, the normal cooking of them is disastrous. We were living in one of the great plantation houses, Good Hope, with a view to gasp at, surrounded by beau- tiful gardens, but working in that heat is a killer and I am very happy to return to a brisk British October.

We have a good week for saints: St Wil- fred, who helped to calculate when Easter should be; St Edward the Confessor, who created the first Westminster Abbey; the great St Teresa of Avila, whose cry was 'God deliver me from sullen saints'; and Ignatius of Antioch, who, when about to be thrown into the arena to be eaten by wild beasts, wrote, 'I shall entice them to eat me speedi- ly.' My thanks to Sir Brian Rix, who pointed out that St Helena, in addition to her many virtues, was the finder of the true Cross.

We'd better have some Australian tucker after my visit; this is not so different from our own.

Classic Australian fish cakes Serves 4

9 oz white fish (mackerel, mullet, etc.) 4 medium potatoes 1 egg 2 tablespoons egg mayonnaise 4 chopped shallots 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 2 tablespoons clarified butter

Boil the potatoes in their skins, then mash them. Remove the skin and bones from the fish. Chop finely or process briefly in a food processor. Mix with the potatoes and the rest of the ingredients except the butter. Shape the mixture into patties. Melt the clarified butter (or butter with a drop of oil) in a heavy-based frying- pan and fry the patties over a gentle heat for 3 minutes each side. Turn carefully. Serve hot with sauces of your choice or simply with lemon wedges. Also try fish cakes with smoked haddock or cod, well- drained tinned tuna or salmon. Equally good with cooked fish.

Traditional fish chowder

Serves 4 2 lbs mixed fish, cut into chunks 1 carrot, diced 1 stick of celery, diced 1 onion, diced 1 medium potato, washed and diced 10 oz (approx.) tin of corn kernels 2 tablespoons butter 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour 1 pint light chicken or vegetable stock 1 pint milk 2 fl. oz cream salt, pepper and lemon juice chopped dill or parsley to serve

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Fry the carrot, celery, onion and potato for 5 minutes. Stir frequently while frying, then add the flour, mixing well until all is com- bined. Add the corn with its juice, stirring all the time; then the stock and the milk lit- tle by little, making sure there are no floury lumps. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the fish chunks and sim- mer for a further 5 minutes, stir in the cream and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chopped dill or parsley. Seafood can be part of the mixed fish, cut into the same-sized chunks.