Based on a North Otago sheep and beef farm, Philippa Cameron is sharing her unique brand of high country home cooking with the world via social media – and now a deliciously charming new cookbook.
Words Juliet Speedy | Photos Lottie Hedley
Philippa Cameron is already well known to many in New Zealand. She’s a farmer and a great home cook, who one day hopped on Instagram to get some culinary inspiration, and five years later has a fledgling career, burgeoning side businesses, and now two stunning cookbooks to her name.
“That part is a bit surreal,” she says. “Sometimes I make tea and the kids won’t eat it, and I’m like c’mon!” Philippa giggles when I call her up on a chilly Sunday winter’s morning to talk about, among other things, her latest book.
Philippa lives and works on a high country sheep and beef farm in Otematata, North Otago, with her husband and two girls, Flora and Evelyn. The pragmatic, lovely mainlander started out in the public arena as the high country station’s cook but she now has many other strings to her bow. She has morphed into a shrewd businesswoman who flies around the country as a coveted speaker while launching several side hustles from the farm.
Her latest book has the inviting title Winter Warmers and any South Islander will immediately relate to the cover of Philippa clutching a thermos while standing in a wide, flat, snow covered landscape.
The book has, among many other things, a focus on one of her favourite appliances, the magic pot (multicooker). Which, in reality, is a good metaphor for the book itself which is like its own magic pot. In it swirls hearty home-cooked recipes, great anecdotes from life on a high country farm, fascinating stories from past farm staff and family, alongside stunning photos.
After her first book was published many people who had worked on the vast station over the years started getting in touch.
“I got cards and phone calls and handwritten letters from gorgeous old men with beautiful handwriting.
The respect for the Cameron family was huge and I thought, well maybe I could chat to these people.” And so she did.
Philippa became the station cook rather quickly after her mother-in-law sadly passed away.
“I actually started my Instagram because I’d run out of things to cook.”
She found the growth of things after that to be unexpected. Now that her simple but clever home cooking has turned her into an author, she’s had to learn how to properly write her recipes down and make sure they work, which is a different skill.
“I even still struggle with that actually.”
She would sometimes say things like ‘add in enough water to form a dough’.
“But people would say, yeah but how much?! And I was like, I don’t know, just a dribble at a time!”
Her life has gone from busy to far busier.
“It is a wee bit mad and it is a wee bit too much some days,” she laughs. But it’s created an opportunity for her and the family. Pip and her husband don’t own the farm they live and work on, so other streams of income have opened up opportunities.
“It’s brought in an extra income that we’d never have actually thought about, so I’ve made it into a little business. We can then use the money on the family for skiing or whatever, which has actually been a game changer.”
Her life is somewhat indicative of many working women on farms in the modern age. While still serving the traditional women’s roles on-farm like cooking for the family and staff, as well as primary carer of the home and children and helping on the land, many are also finding other streams of income. You see it at farms across the country; entrepreneurial women with great business acumen and an unmatched work ethic, doing it all.
“I think people have a perception of the ’90s when the stock market crash had finished and prices were great and farmers were these wealthy people with holiday homes and flash cars, but that doesn’t exist any longer.”
Philippa points out that’s why many partners/wives have gone out and diversified.
“There was always a perception that a woman on-farm was a great shopper and always wore the best of the best, that doesn’t exist any longer actually, not in sheep and beef anyway,” she chuckles.
She’s also a big believer that there’s a time and a place for creating more work for yourself.
“Don’t try and do it when you’ve got preschool children at home because they deserve your attention, and we’re in such a great environment to offer our kids a great childhood that if you’re trying to get a business off the ground at that time, it’s not going to benefit anyone.”
But those days are now behind Pip, who is pressing forward and busier than ever. She’s recently launched a natural wool company using merino from a flock of black merino sheep they own. She’s also selling a Danish dough whisk after getting many queries about one of her favourite appliances through her social media.
“Now because everyone knows my name, it’s easy to have a couple of wee things on the side. That’s where I see the business going at the moment.”
The wonderful thing about Philippa’s recipes in this book is many are traditional, basic recipes our grandmothers cooked without the need for some modern twist or random unnecessary ingredient. They are thoroughly tested, hearty, basic but delicious winter warmers, both sweet and savoury. It’s just damn good fare that most families will enjoy. Think pork sausages, with onion and apple gravy, eighties curried mince or shepherd’s pie. Also a delicious cauliflower cheese, the ‘best-ever’ pikelet recipe and plenty of delicious baking like coffee cakes and lemon loaves.
Pip thought it would be hard coming up with so many recipes for the new book but she gets inspiration from all over the place, including her and her husband’s grandmothers’ original recipe books and new-found friends on Instagram. She also gets advice from fellow farmers that are cooking high volume meals on the farm.
“I cook for anywhere between six and 10 people each day and so the quantities are huge. And in winter they eat more while out in the hills so a lot of the food is gone at the end of the day.”
She knows the appeal of her cooking is because it’s easy and homely and in her words, “is never pretty”.
Philippa sees how home cooking took a bit of a turn at one point with the rise of shows like MasterChef and, as a result, people were putting more pressure on themselves to make restaurant quality dishes at home.
“I think people forgot that meals and cooking at home were to be enjoyed for the company, the love and the banter that goes on.”
Her recipes use ingredients that most will already have in the cupboard.
“I think simple cooking can be the best cooking.”
Winter Warmers also offers lots of tips and tricks for food waste, good ways to use cheap cuts of meat and utilise leftovers.
“At the beginning of the book there’s a little food map and so if you’ve made a big pot of mashed potatoes and have some left over, it has three recipes you can use for the leftover mashed spud.”
Her favourite dish in this cookbook is her cauliflower cheese.
“The pot roast is popular. And the homemade pastry. Everyone is scared of making their own but it’s so easy!”
And her curried mince is inspired by one of her Kiwi Insta friends who lives in Australia and works in the live animal export trade.
“She’s a big advocate for the stock’s wellbeing, she shows people behind the scenes, and that it’s not as bad as everyone thinks.”
When this woman isn’t on the live export boats, she’s cooking for farm staff, and she once reached out to Philippa from a station in Northern Queensland where she was making a big pot of eighties curried mince.
“She contacted me and said ‘I have cried so much today, the smell reminds me so much of my mum’. Her mum has Alzheimer’s disease. She said ‘I remember my dad and all his workmates sitting down after mum had been cooking away all day’.”
Philippa also says the photography is a huge part of the appeal of the book and she’s at pains to point out the talent and warmth of the photographer, Lottie Hedley. Pip says she is an inspiring and incredibly talented photographer to work with.
“We really work well together and I think part of the reason the book is such a success is because of the gorgeous photographs. People will find something in this book they love whether it’s the stories, the recipes or the photographs.”
Lottie is Raglan-based but Philippa remembers suggesting she come down to photograph the autumn muster.
“You know, to get some good shots of cooking on a coal range and the boys, the hills, the romance. She arrived and I said, ‘So, we’re going out here, there’s no cell reception, there’s no toilet and we won’t be back for five days’ and she took it like a bloody champ and said, ‘yep let’s go!’”
Philippa feels proud of what she’s achieved and she’s thoroughly enjoying it.
“If it’s able to bring a positive light to farming then that’s pretty cool. And if it’s helping bring people in a similar situation to me to be successful, then that’s also really good.”
To read this story in our digital issue of 03 click here.