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Remembering Tui Flower

The legendary Tui Flower, who played such a huge part in creating a New Zealand food culture and was the founding chair and a lifetime member of Food Writers New Zealand, passed away on 15 August. Tui influenced at least one generation of New Zealand cooks and homemakers, if not several, and led the way in food writing becoming a recognised, respectable profession. Her numerous books and recipes will continue to be well-thumbed and used for many years to come. Tui was farewelled in a quiet family ceremony on 21 August, where the following eulogy was delivered by Food Writers member and Tui’s dear friend, Robyn Martin.
Lucy Tui Hampton Flower was born on 23 November 1925 into a loving, supportive family who nurtured the feisty spirit of their third child and only daughter. The large, warm, fragrant kitchen was the centre of family life and it was here the young Tui learnt the skills of homemaking; shadowing and helping her mother. The family were producers; growing their own vegetables, making their own soap, preserving nature’s surplus for later use and cooking by instinct and tradition. Tui epitomised how a loving and supportive family with strong values and morals plays such an important part in moulding the person you become.


The legendary Tui Flower, who played such a huge part in creating a New Zealand food culture and was the founding chair and a lifetime member of Food Writers New Zealand, passed away on 15 August. Tui influenced at least one generation of New Zealand cooks and homemakers, if not several, and led the way in food writing becoming a recognised, respectable profession. Her numerous books and recipes will continue to be well-thumbed and used for many years to come. Tui was farewelled in a quiet family ceremony on 21 August, where the following eulogy was delivered by Food Writers member and Tui’s dear friend, Robyn Martin.
Lucy Tui Hampton Flower was born on 23 November 1925 into a loving, supportive family who nurtured the feisty spirit of their third child and only daughter. The large, warm, fragrant kitchen was the centre of family life and it was here the young Tui learnt the skills of homemaking; shadowing and helping her mother. The family were producers; growing their own vegetables, making their own soap, preserving nature’s surplus for later use and cooking by instinct and tradition. Tui epitomised how a loving and supportive family with strong values and morals plays such an important part in moulding the person you become.

In 1940, Tui was sent to Epsom Girls Grammar, boarding at Linton Lodge, a private hostel run with emphasis on appearance and behaviour. Boarding school food formed some of Tui’s dietary habits for life – she never wanted to eat wholemeal bread again unless she had to out of politeness, and anyone who took her shopping would know that she only ate white bread, had cream on her porridge and preferred full-cream milk!

Before Tui ever set foot in a classroom, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. Her life was also influenced by The Depression and World War II. These times reinforced her “waste not want not” approach to life, where you collected used string, paper bags – in fact anything that might have a second chance at usefulness. Tui headed to the University of Otago’s School of Home Science in February 1944, living at St Helen’s Hostel where she made lifelong friends and where she truly started to fulfil her ambition to become a home economics teacher. Hostel and class life in Dunedin, where you were always expected to be precise and accurate, helped to form Tui’s exacting standards. Tui became known as the doyenne of New Zealand cookery, but it was more than just a passion for food that made her top of her game.

Home science was not a finishing school, as some people might think. That certainly would have been the last place to send, let alone find, Tui Flower! Rather, the Home Science discipline was a science-based course, applying science to all aspects of the home. It included chemistry, physics, zoology, biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, nutrition, design, foods, food science, clothing and textiles. Not wanting to become a hospital dietitian, Tui majored in clothing and textiles, supporting her other talent as an amazing craftswoman. Newly graduated, Tui’s first job was at Pukekohe High School where she completely immersed herself in realising her ambition to teach. How lucky were those children to have such a teacher.

Another defining experience for Tui was her first trip to the USA, where she stayed for 10 months with her uncle and aunt. In the USA she met home economics graduates, and saw the range of career opportunities their qualifications gave them. She spent time in schools and universities and was also exposed to the commercial world, which interested her greatly.

Tui hadn’t heard there was a glass ceiling that was supposed to keep women from achieving their career dreams, so she applied for and was granted a New Zealand Government Cultural and Technical Bursary for study in France. She was the only woman to be granted a bursary, and after multiple rejections to study in some establishments because she was a woman, she was given the opportunity to study at the Ecole Hoteliere de Jean Dormant. Tui was in all-male company and had her own programme in cooking, table service and wine and, for a short time until they discovered she could probably teach the classes, nutrition and science. If she had not fully appreciated the importance of attention to detail before, here this message was truly reinforced. She learnt to waste nothing, including time, as well as the importance of flavour. Tui always believed the ingredients in a dish should stand on their own to enhance the overall flavour of a dish, and not be lost in a mish-mash of multiple flavours and wasted ingredients.

In 1957, a position as home economist for Unilever became available, which appealed to Tui’s interest in the commercial world of home economics. Dealing with consumer enquiries gave her an insight into consumer needs brought about by lack of knowledge or experience, incorrect or unsuitable use of product or failure to follow instructions. Again, Tui made a crack in the glass ceiling of female careers. She was made a junior manager at Unilever, though she wasn’t allowed to eat in the all-male management dining room until some years later, when a change of management cleared her to do so. Tui graciously declined, preferring to continue to enjoy lunch with factory, technical, maintenance and office staff. In the eight years Tui worked for Unilever, her role evolved and eventually included giving cooking classes to consumers as well as colleagues. This experience taught her much about people’s food habits, cooking skills and food prejudices, which was to prepare her for the next stage of her career.

In April 1965, Tui joined the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, and not long after also had the Auckland Star added to her mixing bowl. Tui was in a new teaching role, adding unfamiliar ingredients such as olive oil and garlic into her recipes and the food sections of both publications. She was chastised for including “foreign muck” in her recipes, and her use of wine in cooking was considered a bad influence on the young! Her success brought about what she graciously said was editorial foresight in extending and developing the food sections in both publications. The so-called editorial foresight knew Tui’s pull and loved the advertising revenues it brought in! And so the demands on the Test Kitchen grew. The New Zealand Home Journal was added to the burgeoning work load and the Test Kitchen morphed from one room to two, then the whole of the ninth floor in the Auckland Star building and later to Dominion Road where she was able to open her much-dreamed-of cooking school.

Tui was the author of many cookbooks, a member of the Food and Consumer Goods Committee of the Metric Advisory Board and the first President of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers (now Food Writers New Zealand). She was also a member of the Association of Food Journalists in America, enjoying many food writers trips to North America, Russia and China.

In those halcyon days, Tui was a formidable character around the corridors of the Auckland Star offices. What she lacked in height, she made up for in feist. She did not take prisoners and she did not suffer fools. In 1980, Tui married the editor of the Auckland Star, Keith Aitken. Despite bearing the brunt of many a Tui tirade over the years, he managed to tame the terrier in her, realising under that formidable front was a tender, kind, generous and loving woman. This “old maid” (her words) who did an excellent impression of a fire dragon, astonished friends and workmates by getting married without so much of a whisper of what was considered an unlikely alliance. Apparently, dates were taken at Georgie Pie, based on the assumption none of their friends, staff or readers would recognise them enjoying such culinary delights. Needless to say, Georgie Pie had a special place in Tui’s heart.

Tui had a special magnetism… if there was a bone in a fish pie, a piece of core in an apple pie, a stone in a date or anything else that shouldn’t be there, including the flavour of onions in something sweet because the onion chopping board had been used, it would always appear in Tui’s food. There was no escape, not even for those serving her a banquet at a French Champagne house. Tui was served tarte aux pommes and bingo, there it was, a plastic bottle top!

Tui was a great listener and her life experiences outside her career gave her wisdom to counsel on many of the challenges her staff and friends faced in their lives. She supported many of those who worked with her through boyfriends, fiancés, marriages and break-ups; through both sad and happy times.

We can also thank Tui for launching a number of careers in food. Rosemary Thurston worked for Tui before leaving to have a family, and was later given the opportunity to write her own column for the Auckland Star. At Home with Rosemary continued for many years. Mary Pat Fergus, who wrote and illustrated Junior Cook, was also launched into a successful career by Tui. Allyson Gofton, now a household name, was employed by Tui sight unseen: such was her ability to suss out a good character. Robyn Martin, Tui’s prodigy and successor at the Test Kitchen, held the position for 22 years and became one of New Zealand’s most successful cookbook authors. All those who Tui guided into successful careers have the Tui principles ingrained in everything they do: high standards, good organisation, flexibility and, most of all, attention to detail. In 1983, Tui was awarded the Queens Service Medal for public service.

After 19 years of loyal service to New Zealand newspapers and her readers, Tui hung up her apron to spend more time with her husband. Sadly, that was short-lived. Keith Aitken died in 1985, five years after the pair had married.

In her death, Tui would want reflection on some of the things that upset her professional ethics, particularly for those who continue to write and influence the food habits of New Zealanders. Tui was saddened by the removal of the anticipation and pleasure that seasons bring to the table. The expectation that everything is available all the time was a sad development for her. She was also disappointed by the loss of significance of traditional festival foods; items that were once a treat on feast days are now widely available, which she didn’t approve of. She was hot under her apron about the loss of the value of dining together. Tui knew this was a civilising activity; a time to talk, treat food with respect and appreciate those who had prepared it. She was angered when anyone dared call anyone who writes or cooks well a chef. A chef had trained as a chef, and she felt it belittled their qualification for anyone to claim the name.

Tui was a cooking teacher whose career allowed her to enrich the lives of her readers, her staff and her family. She never wanted to have her “name in lights” and when asked recently by Robyn Martin what she would like to be remembered for, the understated Tui said it would be that she helped a few people. Tui had her own way to love, care and support and under her sometimes tough exterior was a warm and loving heart.

Tui was farewelled in a private celebration of a life well taught.

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