Career

Nici Wickes teams up with her mum Carole for her latest cookbook

"It's a great acknowledgement of a lifetime of cooking," says Nici of the book, which is filled with her mum's great recipes.

By Nicky Pellegrino
Food has always been an important part of the close bond between Nici Wickes and her mum Carole.
The pair have been cooking and eating together for decades now, and so many of their memories revolve around delicious smells and flavours: meats roasting, velvety soups simmering and best of all, the baking.
When Nici was growing up, the kitchen was the heart of their home in the Auckland suburb of Kohimarama.
The neighbouring kids would pile back there with Nici and her siblings after school, knowing that Mrs Wickes always baked a cake and a slice each day, and was happy if the whole lot was polished off.
"Mum has always been a great baker," tells Nici.
"Even now, we can work from exactly the same recipe and Mum's version will be better."
Bake this sponge cake for Mother's Day! See Nici's step-by-step video at the top of the page.
A love of good food has been passed down through generations of women in their family.
"I remember my nana's cooking," recalls Carole.
"She was very poor, but knew how to make something from nothing. And my own mother loved to cook. We always went to her place with the five children every Sunday; we never missed it."
Memories of those feasts at Nana's house are precious to Nici and every week felt like a special occasion.
"She'd make a full afternoon tea with little butterfly cakes and spider drinks if us kids were lucky. And then a smorgasbord would roll out with sweet and sour pork, a curry, some sort of roast, and then fruit salad and probably a sponge pudding."
Nici could be a fussy eater back then and wasn't wild about vegetables. Carole still shudders as she remembers her chewing peas and refusing to swallow.
Nevertheless, of all her five daughters, Nici was the one most drawn to the kitchen.
She learnt to make everything from Crêpes Suzette to Carole's famous one-egg chocolate cake, at her mother's side.
"Food is really important to our family," Nici says.
"We've lived quite modestly in other ways – we had old cars and Mum doesn't do make-up, shoes or fashion. Buying really good food was the priority and we've always loved eating at cafés or restaurants."
Despite all the years they've cooked together, Carole and Nici say they're still learning from each other.
Neither Nici or Carole describe themselves as foodies. They are more home-cooks, with an appreciation for a great-tasting dish, but it doesn't have to follow the latest trend.
Both are passionate about passing on the skills they've learnt to future generations too, so when Nici was asked to be the Weekly's food editor, it was obvious Carole should be involved also.
They came up with the idea of a Mum's Kitchen page, sharing the secrets of Carole's family recipes.
"I remember sitting down to talk to Mum about it because I knew it was going to be a big commitment," says Nici.
"She said she'd do it, so long as it was fun."
Carole wasn't totally convinced she would enjoy it at first.
"I thought it might be hard work. But, actually, it's exciting. And to be perfectly honest, it's lovely doing it with Nici."
Working together has strengthened their bond. They catch up and chat each week about ideas (with dad Bruce often making a contribution), test out recipes and come together for shoot days.
A love of good food has been passed down through generations of women in the Wickes family.
Nici is 52 now and Carole recently turned 80, and they say they are still learning from one another in the kitchen.
"Nici is so talented and has an amazing palette," says her mum. "She can eat something and pick out all the flavours."
In many ways, mother and daughter are alike.
Both love reading recipe books and going grocery shopping. Neither enjoys sharing the kitchen with anyone else. Plus, they have similar tastes in food − loathing soft, runny eggs but loving classic tomato-based Italian dishes such as lasagne and cannelloni.
They don't always agree with each other, however.
"Nici and I aren't that good cooking the same thing together… actually, we're terrible," declares Carole.
It's not that they argue exactly, but they have very different approaches in the kitchen – perhaps because Nici has been formally trained and Carole is self-taught.
"Sometimes I do get a bit testy with Mum," admits Nici.
"I'll ask, 'Why are you doing it like that?' and make her second guess her intuition which tends to be when things go wrong."
Nici and Carol love collaborating on the Weekly's Mum's Kitchen page
In the early days of Mum's Kitchen, there was a learning curve as, for Carole, double- testing recipes and writing out exact instructions didn't come naturally.
"I used to get frustrated because I had expected perfectly formed recipes to come through," says Nici.
"But then I realised it was my job to take all Mum's knowledge and translate it for the reader."
Now Carole's favourite baking treats have been collected in a special Weekly publication called My Mum's Kitchen − with lots of classic cakes, biscuits and slices to fill tins for a new generation of Kiwi kids.
"It's a great acknowledgement of a lifetime of cooking," says Nici.
"There's Mum's famous never-fail sponge cake that I can remember her making so often, and Nana's caramel cake, and the almond crisps which are the best biscuits ever."
Having a regular slot in the Weekly has meant Carole often gets recognised while out and for a shy, private woman, that has taken some getting used to.
Still, she loves having the chance to share her recipes and there are no plans to stop any time soon.
"I've got two new knees, a new hip and a new shoulder – and I can do anything," laughs Carole.
That certainly suits Nici.
"The past few years working together have been really great. Mum's a huge help to me. I'm not letting her retire until she's 95!"

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