When Libby Hakim reads the handwritten pages of her great-grandmother's recipe book she feels as if she knows her.
She never met her Nana Ling but the late Buttai woman, Lydia Louisa Ling, has had a profound impact on her life.
The desire to preserve her recipe collection led Mrs Hakim to create a blog called Cooking with Nana Ling, which is connecting people across the globe with simple old world dishes.
At the time Mrs Hakim was re-evaluating her own life. As a wife, mum of two girls, and a former Sydney lawyer, she was longing for a slower pace, more meaning and a better environment for her children.
This year the Hakim's swapped their tiny backyard for acreage at Louth Park and plan to grow their own food like Nana Ling did.
"Sometimes I think we move so quickly into the future that we can forget some of the past lessons, I don't want to forget the good things from the past in the race to do things differently and better," she said.
A lot of the recipes are really wonderful and simple recipes that I knew would be equally popular today.
There are 200 to 300 handwritten recipes from the 1930s and 1940s and loads more that Nana Ling collected from newspapers, the radio and cooking books. Nana Ling's Ceylon Punch, which was published in the Mercury in November 1939, has proven to be a delightful summer refreshment in the Hakim house.
Mrs Hakim is cooking her way through them and publishing the recipes and photos of the dishes.
There was no fear of butter, or sugar, back then.
"They obviously weren't as conscious of their sugar or butter intake," she said.
"A lot of the recipes talk about putting the dish on the fire and there are quite a few eggless recipes. Someone explained to me that the chickens would not have laid over winter so the recipes are very connected to the seasons.
"I've noticed in the recipes that they would use all of the egg, so the yolk would go in the tart and there would be a meringue on top."
Recipes and looking for coal
The more Mrs Hakim delved into Nana Ling's life the more she felt connected.
An old Maitland Mercury article uncovered even more details about the woman she admired - she even had a coal exploration licence.
"Nana Ling and her husband were farmers at Buttai and they were also miners. She had a coal exploration licence granted in her name. She used to grow flowers and sell them as well," Mrs Hakim said.
Her long list of recipes includes soldier's cake - which was sent to the troops during the war, Jubilee cake, Spanish rice, mini trifle, mock chicken and Christmas pudding.
"A search of Australia’s digitised newspapers on the Trove website shows that Spanish Rice was quite popular in Australia in the early 1900’s, especially the 30’s and 40’s," Mrs Hakim said.
"One of my favourites is her traditional Scottish shortbread, it's delicious.
My girls often help me in the kitchen, that's how I learnt to cook from my mum. I want the girls to learn to cook because it's something I really enjoy and they enjoy it as well.
"It's nice to see them cooking these recipes and enjoying something she wrote all those years ago."
Some of the featured recipes have stemmed from Nana Ling's daughters. One of them is mock chicken which has become very popular with blog followers.
"When we had family barbecues there were so many stories told about how they lived out there at Buttai without electricity and no running water for a long time."
New roots in Maitland
Mrs Hakim never expected her great-grandmother's recipes would leave her craving to return to Maitland.
The longing caught her by surprise less than 12 months after the blog began.
"I came back to Maitland to visit my parents and I was sitting at a cafe on the Hunter River at Maitland when I completely broke down and couldn't stop crying," she said.
"I called my husband and said I wanted to move back to Maitland. I felt my two girls would have such a better life here."
The family chose a home with acreage in Louth Park for their new adventure.
"We back onto the flood plains and that was quite deliberate," she said.
"Our backyard in Sydney was super tiny, we were getting build out - units were going up everywhere and we were really pegged in - you couldn't see the sky anymore. We've got lots of sky now."
The right choice
The Hakim's feel at home in Louth Park and are often reminded that it was the right decision.
"We were outside and the sun was setting and my five-year-old [Yasmin] said mummy I've never seen the sun do that before. The sun was setting into the hills," she said.
"It's little things they are saying that is making me realise now different this kind of life is for them.
My eldest daughter [Zara] likes to put on her gumboots and kick the dirt - that's something she couldn't do in our Sydney backyard.
"My husband [Paul] was born and bred in Sydney and had a concrete backyard growing up. He loves the space."
Mrs Hakim said living in Sydney was becoming too stressful and simple tasks like doing the weekly shopping, and driving around the suburb, were very time consuming.
"Another thing I love about living at Louth Park is that Nana Ling would travel through Louth Park to go to Maitland, and I drive on that road to take the girls to school," she said.