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Cookery lore of Australia

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Chances are you've never been served barramundi cooked by an aboriginal fisherman, with the whole fish wrapped in fleshy leaves and buried in the ashes of the campfire to cook slowly in its own juices.

But when Colleen McCullough describes it in her book about Australian cooking , it sounds unusual and fascinating, even though you know you'll probably never get to Australia to sample the food.

''For most of us,'' Ms. McCullough writes, ''the only barrramundi we will ever handle are the steaks or cutlets from the fish shops.'' The author of ''Thorn Birds'' collaborated with Jean Easthope, a longtime friend, in ''Cooking with Colleen McCullough & Jean Easthope'' (Harper & Row, $14.95).

In a sense there is no Australian cuisine as such, the authors say, for what Australians eat has many of its roots in English food that was transported across the seas and adapted to the country's native and available ingredients.

The dishes changed radically over the years to suit the environment and needs of this island continent.

The country's famous meat pies, Pavlova, the beautiful meringue dessert; potato and hot and cold puddings are among the wide range of recipes.

Although Australians have a long coast they don't eat as much fish as you would expect, the authors say.

''If a fish looked a bit familiar, our British ancestors gave it a familiar name, which causes much confusion today,'' the book explains.

''The Australian sea salmon, for example, is a member of the perch family, and no relation to its northern namesake. They are frequently thrown back because of the dark color of the flesh - a terrible waste because it is delicious when properly cooked.''

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