Time out with Geraldine Dillon

Friday 29 June, 2012

THE NAME Geraldine Dillon is well-known in many Australian households. Geraldine hosted a weekly cooking program on Channel 9 from 1960 to 1976—Fun with Food and TV Kitchen—on Fridays at lunchtime. She also wrote food articles and recipe columns for 18 years, first for The Age, and then The Herald. In between all that she wrote recipes for The Advocate, conducted international tours for gourmet food enthusiasts, operated two cookery schools in Melbourne, released The Geraldine Dillon Cookbook in 1974, which sold out, and for the last 33 years has led tours to Lourdes in France. She has achieved much in her life, but the thing that Geraldine is most grateful for is the gift of faith. Kairos Catholic Journal’s Fiona Basile—an admitted food lover—spoke to Geraldine at her home in Glen Waverley to get the inside scoop on good cooking and the gift of faith.

Where did your love of cooking come from?

To be honest, it wasn’t so much a love for cooking; it was more a practical reason. When I was choosing something to do, I felt that everybody had to eat, so I wanted to learn how to cook. And while studying I found I wanted to pass on what I’d learnt to help others. I studied domestic science at Emily McPherson College, then started working as a home service adviser in the home service section of the Gas and Fuel Corporation.

But my first love was travel—I had always wanted to go overseas. So, I worked and saved hard and wanted to see as much of the world as possible. But I also knew it would be foolish to travel all that way and not do something that would further my work opportunities and qualifications, so I enrolled at the Cordon Bleu in London.

What was it like studying at the Cordon Bleu?

Studying at the Cordon Bleu cookery school opened up all kinds of doors for me because it was back in the day when no one in this country had really done that course. While I was there, Woman’s Day contacted me. It turns out they’d been watching me when I started the course—mind you, I had no idea at the time! They were bringing Muriel Downes, the co-principal of the Cordon Bleu to Australia for a national tour and they asked me if I’d be prepared to come home to assist her. They didn’t pay for my fare home but it was worth it to cut my trip short. So I came home by ship and assisted Muriel on her national tour—we travelled to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. I was about 23 years old at that time.

Make Geraldine's Brandy Alexander Pie

Was that your big break?

Yes. I consider that my big break, because as a result of that I was offered television in South Australia, the job as women’s editor of the Woman’s Day in Sydney and then Channel 9 offered me a television job. I didn’t think I had enough experience to take on the national job at Woman’s Day and I was so grateful to be home, so I decided on the Channel 9 job. I started there in 1960 and it lasted for 16 years. At the same time I was offered a column at The Age, which I wrote for nine years, and after that I wrote for The Herald for a further nine years. In between I was writing for The Advocate here in Melbourne and The Catholic Weekly in Sydney. I also did some radio work with 3AK.

You’ve done so much. What were your highlights?

When I sat down to think of all the things I’d done, I thought, ‘heavens, I’ve covered so much!’ I must say though that my 16 years at Channel 9 were the most happy and wonderful years; we were all friends. In fact it was just like one big happy family.

We were working out of Bendigo Street in Richmond and we had a lot of live programs on at the time; they’d be all there in the day rehearsing when I’d be taping my shows. It was just fantastic. And I still regularly see the girls from the office who I worked with. One of the girls who I worked with in the olden days is still one of my good friends—she used to type up all the recipes for the various columns and she typed the whole manuscript for my cookbook.

Tell me about the role of faith in your life.

To me, the most important gift that I have ever been given is the gift of faith. I am grateful to my parents and to the Brigidine Sisters, where I went to school at Kildara College—it no longer exists. But my faith is the foundation for absolutely everything in my life. I could let everything else go—all the trips, the famous people, the amazing opportunities and everything that I’ve done. But to have been given the opportunity to have the gift of faith and to have it nurtured and sustained, is such a gift.

I am blessed to have three brothers—John is married with six children, Brendan, parish priest here at St Leonard’s in Glen Waverley and Kevin, parish priest of the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Geelong—who also helped nurture my faith. My faith has helped me to get through everything, all the ups and downs, and continues to do so. I’ve been so strengthened by my faith and the morals and the teaching that I had.

Do you have a favourite saint, quote or piece of Scripture that inspires you?

St Anthony of Padua has always been one of my favourite saints. I’ve always considered him my ‘fourth brother’! And it seems that he led me to St Francis of Assisi. For nine years I have belonged to the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO), the English group, with the Hawthorn Capuchins. We endeavour to live the Gospel life following the example of St Francis—going from ‘Gospel to life and life to the Gospel’—a daily challenge!

St Aloysius Gonzaga SJ is another favourite of mine. He died when he was 23 years old. He wrote a letter to his mother before he died and this is something that I used at mum’s funeral; I love it. He wrote:

Do not grieve for me when I die as though I was living among the dead, because I am living in the sight of God. There, I can intercede on your behalf much more effectively than if I were with you.

Now, for anyone who dies, or loses someone, despite missing them and being sad, how wonderful it is to realise and be aware that there’s somebody up there interceding on your behalf. And if we don’t bother to pray to them, or ask them or talk to them, then we’re missing an opportunity. That helps me a lot.

Photo 1 courtesy of Geraldine Dillon

Photo 2 by Fiona Basile/Kairos Catholic Journal


Brandy Alexander Pie
By Geraldine Dillon

I introduced this American recipe to Australia through my Melbourne television program. Viewer requests for this recipe set a record.


Use plain sweet biscuits, adding cocoa, instead of using chocolate biscuits. This produces a lighter crust, which is much easier to cut for serving.

If using chocolate biscuit crumbs, the amount of butter varies from 90g to 125g depending on the type of chocolate biscuits used.

When crushed, some biscuits are moister than others and therefore need less butter. I suggest you melt 90g and add it to the biscuit crumbs, adding extra melted butter if needed.

Make sure the marshmallows and milk dissolve over a very low heat and do not boil.

Serves 8-12

Oven temperature:
180C (gas), 190C (electric)


220g plain sweet biscuits

1 tbsp cocoa

90g butter


220g white marshmallows

½ cup milk

1½ tbsp creme de cacao and
3 tbsp brandy

(or 4½ tbsp very strong
black coffee)

1¼ cups cream

Chocolate for finishing


Crush the biscuits into fine crumbs, add the sifted cocoa and mix well. Add the melted butter and mix thoroughly. Butter a 20cm spring-form pan and press the biscuit crumbs evenly on the base and sides. Bake in a moderate oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.


Combine the marshmallows and milk in a saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the marshmallows melt. Cool thoroughly and add the creme de cacao and brandy (or strong black coffee).

Lightly whip the cream and fold into the marshmallow mixture. Pour into the cold crumb crust. Sprinkle with grated chocolate. Freeze for at least four hours and remove to the normal part of the fridge about half an hour before serving.

Previous Article Coronation memories
Next Article Face to Face with John Shaw