when I first met alison

The recent announcement by Dame Alison Holst’s family that she had dementia prompted an outpouring of affection and support. Guild writers recount their formative memories of her.

I first met Alison in the 1970s, when there were only about four of us (Tui Flower, Alison, Digby Law and me) writing about food. In the food writing world of the 1970s and 1980s Alison was the go-to girl for support. Soon after I first met her I asked her to front PR campaigns for clients in the food industry. Alison had the knack of explaining things so everyone could understand, she was knowledgeable about the science of food (and could answer without hesitation such questions as ‘Why do the yolks of boiled eggs turn black around the outside?’), she was always willing to help, and her height gave her an advantage when talking to a crowd. What a treasure. Jill Brewis

The first time I met Alison Holst was at a fundraising cooking demonstration in the Auckland Grammar School theatre about 35 years ago. She used a food processor, and that was the first time I had encountered one of those new-fangled gadgets. Alison made a range of dishes, and I remember her practical tips including telling us to just rinse it well if using it again in the same cooking session. One of the things she made was a tray of spicy, orangey, sweet muffins. I always think of Alison when I see muffins as she really is the queen of the muffin. She is also the cook who told us life is too short to make sausage rolls, so she put her name on some very good sausage rolls that are still available in the frozen cabinet in most supermarkets. Alison is, and always will be, our most practical, family-minded cook! Lauraine Jacobs

My first encounter with Alison Holst was in Hyndman’s bookshop, Dunedin, in the 1980s. I’d wandered past one lunchtime and seen it full of people. Alison was signing one of her books published by Neil Hyndman. This was the Alison Holst, I realised, so I went in to meet this woman who already had a huge influence on the way we cooked and ate. Later, after I became the food writer and food editor for the Otago Daily Times, I had the pleasure of interviewing her many times and came to appreciate her charm, practical good sense and modesty.

Her early aim, to teach young mothers to cook, did not change over 40 years, although it was probably needed more now than ever, she said in a 2011 interview on the occasion of the publication of her memoir, A Home-grown Cook. Despite numerous honours, among them a Damehood and an honorary Doctor of Science from her alma mater, the University of Otago, she loved hearing from readers who enjoyed cooking her recipes. And throughout her career she held fast to her conviction that simple food was just as important and often more delicious than complicated dishes. Charmian Smith