Secret of baking success: Merle Rettke’s winning recipes will be on show tomorrow night.
Secret of baking success: Merle Rettke’s winning recipes will be on show tomorrow night.

A gloomy start to culinary success

A WOOD stove, fired by iron bark timber, and home grown oranges are the crucial ingredients for Merle Rettke’s famed orange bar cake.

The Emu Vale QCWA member has earned state glory with her winning recipe, but she has never been one to seek the spotlight.

Instead she insists, with modesty, she is simply one of many good cooks involved in the local group.

Yet the story of how she started cooking is one that sets her apart if only for its heartfelt tragedy.

“I was just 14 when my mother died, so I stopped going to school and stayed home to look after my little sisters,” Mrs Rettke remembered.

The story is tinged with sadness: her older sister was working, so Merle stayed home to help raise her 10 and four-year-old siblings.

“I don’t really like to think back to that time,” she admitted.

“I couldn’t really cook at all. I think it was trial and error for a while.”

With the good humour of the bush-borne, she owns up to some very ordinary culinary efforts.

“I’ve had flops; one night I stayed up baking and I was so tired I forgot to put the rising agent in everything I made and they were a total failure.”

But with time and perseverance she improved.

“When you genuinely love something I think you work at it until you get better,” Mrs Rettke said.

For her, even today, the critical tools in her kitchen trade remain a wood stove and home-grown ingredients.

“If you asked my husband he’d recommend orange bar cakes and apple tart,” she laughed.

Her five grown children won’t go past her bread and butter pudding, while she has won the hearts of her little grandchildren with chocolate cake.

Mrs Rettke is now encouraging fellow cooks, budding florist artists, keen photographers and crochet and knitters to participate in the annual competition night tomorrow.

Entries need to be dropped into Emu Vale Hall by 5.30pm tomorrow with the judges’ decisions served alongside dinner from 6.30pm to 7pm.

For more details about the competition telephone Jenny Whitsed on 4664 8083.



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