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A look back at Margaret Fulton life and loves as the food writer dies age 94

Long before chefs became celebrities, Margaret Fulton was a culinary crusader who taught Aussies how to cook.

As news breaks that acclaimed Australian food writer Margaret Fulton has passed away this week at age 94, The Australian Women's Weekly looks back at her colourful life and loves with this profile of the famous star published in October last year.
Before Margaret Fulton burst into the nation's kitchens in 1969 with her burnt orange crockpots and chunky stoneware serving dishes, encouraging housewives to try their hand at Nasi goreng and apricot chicken, Australian food was bland, boring and British, or overly fussy, fancy and French.
The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, with hundreds of recipes, step-by step instructions, hints, tips and full-colour pictures, was a huge success, and taught a generation of women how to make delicious, economical dishes for family and friends.
The era of the dinner party was born and, armed with a fondue set, a pressure cooker and their new confidence, women transformed themselves from family cooks to elegant hostesses, serving chicken liver pâté, sweet and sour and Polynesian fruits with aplomb. Margaret's book sold over 1.5 million copies.
Margaret Fulton has passed away age 94. Image: Getty
"It was the first cookbook of its type. All the other cookbooks were so boring," says her daughter, Suzanne Gibbs. "People queued down [Sydney's] George Street to get their books signed."
Margaret introduced international cuisine to the suburbs, with dishes from Morocco, Italy, Spain and China. In the 1970s, gourmet tours of China with Margaret were incredibly popular.
"Margaret changed the way Australians ate," says Suzanne. "She educated us that good food didn't have to be fancy."
Although their tiny terrace home in Sydney's Balmain became a mecca for society mavens, with Lady Mary Fairfax a regular dinner guest, Margaret wasn't interested in fame or celebrity.
"She liked the ordinary person, she didn't court the wealthy and the well-to-do," says Suzanne, "She wanted to help women get out of a rut. Margaret spoke their language, she made food accessible."
Margaret changed the way Australians thought about food with her cookbooks.
Famous for her recipes, Margaret's struggles as a single mother, her bohemian life in Sydney and her brush with financial ruin are less well known. But now that life has become a musical.
Following a successful season in Melbourne, Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert is about to open in Sydney. The show's producer, David Spicer, tells The Weekly the Margaret Fulton story is perfect for the stage.
"She was so revered, a strong woman who overcame so much hardship to succeed," says David. "Margaret had to endure sexist men and useless husbands – the show is funny and has beautiful music and it's about cooking and food. It's got it all."
Born in Scotland, Margaret and her family immigrated to Australia when she was three years old. She was the youngest of six children and their upbringing, with a tailor father and stay-at-home mum, was humble and hardworking.
Margaret married twice and tragically lost the love of her life, film producer Mike McKeag, when she was in her 70s. Suzanne, an only child, says men were something of a weakness for her mother.
"She always went for good looks," says Suzanne. "My stepfather [Denis Doonan], who she married when I was 10, was a handsome ratbag."
Although the men in her life caused her problems, Margaret took all of life's difficulties and disappointments in her stride.
"I grew up never knowing if we had money or not," says Suzanne. "She never let me know her suffering or how hard she had to work."
As a reward to Suzanne, who did all the housework while her mother put together her first cookbook, Margaret sent her to London to attend the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School.
"I thought I would never have left home if she hadn't sent me away," says Suzanne, herself an accomplished food writer and cookbook author.
"She told me I needed to learn if food was going to be my thing."
Food is now the thing for three generations of the Fulton family. Granddaughter Kate Gibbs is a journalist and cookbook author, while Louise Fulton Keats is also a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, a cookbook author and qualified nutritionist.
In 1983 Margaret was awarded an Order of Australia in recognition of her services to cookery, and in 2006 was named by the National Trust as an Australian Living National Treasure.
In 2009 Margaret was named as one of the 25 Australians who has most changed the nation. She's produced more than 20 cookbooks, and sold millions of them.
Now aged 93, Margaret is living in aged care in the Southern Highlands of NSW, and even though frail, still retains her quick wit and sense of humour. Recently, David took members of the musical's cast to meet her.
"Did you bring your chequebook?" Margaret teased David when she learnt he was the producer. Asked what her favourite dish is, Margaret answered: "I like good food – there are no favourites."
"She loves oysters," Suzanne confirms, "and a whiskey in the evening."
Margaret introduced international cuisine to the suburbs, and became a culinary icon in the process. Image: Getty

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