They're the grand Dames of New Zealand entertainment — the fun-loving, country music singing, yodelling twin sisters whose television, film and stage shows have warmed the hearts of Kiwis everywhere.

Now Lynda and Jools Topp are cooking up their most adventurous project yet and it's one the cultural icons never imagined biting into.

Relaxing at the Parnell headquarters of Diva Productions, the company that has managed the twins since they burst upon the scene in the 1980s, Lynda and Jools are slightly bemused but definitely excited about their next mission.

They're releasing a cookbook, Topp Country: A Culinary Journey Through New Zealand with The Topp Twins, which contains authentic NZ recipes that may eventually be served at the cafe Lynda, her "beautiful wife" Donna and Jools now own in Methven.

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The small South Island town is Lynda and Donna's home and when the chance to purchase the business came up, the trio decided "why not?" After all, in the last couple of years they've travelled the country, getting a taste of what drives boutique food producers, home cooks, farmers and growers.

They shared these stories in Topp Country, the TVNZ show that gave the sisters a chance to celebrate the land they love. With no fourth series planned, Lynda and Jools took stock and realised they had all the ingredients for their first cookbook.

Even Ken's poems feature in the Topp Twins' first cookbook.
Even Ken's poems feature in the Topp Twins' first cookbook.

"I guess what was really great was that while we were filming and getting things ready for television, there was always someone in the background taking stills pictures and we realised that there were enough of these good pictures to put a whole book together," says Jools.

"It was a lot like the cafe; it just presented itself and it seemed silly not to do it," adds Lynda.

Some 260 pages, 20 chapters and 75 recipes later, the book comes out early next month.
It's magnificently illustrated, which means it can be picked up and drooled over at leisure. They say their 90-year-old father, Peter, spent a good couple of hours looking at it while mum Jean, 88, was honoured that it contains Nana Topp's gingernut biscuit recipe.

"We're giving away all our family secrets," jokes Lynda.

It features the stories of people they meet while filming Topp Country and recipes for the food they enjoyed. Occasionally.

"Sometimes, because of the way TV runs when you're trying to put a lot of things together on the day, we'd have a little bit of it [a dish] but then we'd have to put it down and do a shot over there, so we never got to enjoy having it as a meal without being interrupted," says Jools. "I thought I've got to try some of these! The last thing I cooked was Delhi dhal …"

That's an indication of how what we eat has altered since they grew up on a Waikato dairy farm in the 1960s and 70s. The family had a vegetable garden; Peter would home kill sheep and cows but, says Lynda, there wasn't a spice, chilli or even garlic in the kitchen.

"It was very simple meat and three vege that we grew up on," she says.

"But we loved it. We absolutely loved it," Jools chips in. "Because Mum was a great cook. If she did a roast it was crispy on the outside but moist in the middle and she'd shake the potatoes in salt and flour in a bag and they were always crispy on the outside."

Jools Topp (second left) and her twin sister Lynda Topp (second right) received the Insignia of a Dame of the New Zealand Order of Merit. They're pictured with parents Peter and Jean.
Jools Topp (second left) and her twin sister Lynda Topp (second right) received the Insignia of a Dame of the New Zealand Order of Merit. They're pictured with parents Peter and Jean.

They laugh recalling Jean's attempts to spice things up now and again by making curry — a spoonful of curry powder and a handful of sultanas — and her valiant attempts to cater for them when, briefly, they went vegetarian.

"The only thing she could find to make was a carrot and sultana salad which, eventually, we had to tell her we didn't like," says Jools, "but Dad loved it and ended up eating it more often than us. We told her to just serve us the vegetables."

"So she did," say Lynda, "and there would be the piles of vegetables and a chop-shaped patch of plate where the meat would have been!"

Filming Topp Country, then writing the book, has taught them simple food is best, that Kiwis love entertaining and, increasingly, producing their own food.

"They're milking sheep, they're making cheese, they're making their own chorizo sausage because they've got Spanish heritage. They finding all those beautiful old boutique sort of things — butcheries, breweries and there's this whole sort of boutique thing happening in this country," says Jools.

"We've always been ahead of the game — we were the first country in the world to have a decent cafe. You go to London and it's pretty hard to find a good cafe," adds Lynda.
Travel has changed the way they eat, too. Would they eat a curry like Mum used to make?

"No," says Jools. "We'd have a laksa now."

She says she eats far less meat, while Lynda wants to use only free-range and sustainable animal products. All this is reflected at the Topp Country Cafe, where the big breakfast - known locally as "the whole shebang" - and eggs benedict use free-range eggs and bacon and there's a vegetarian option as well as choices for those who are gluten-free.

"It's a tricky thing putting a menu together but it's exciting and we're loving it," says Lynda.

Topp Country: A Culinary Journey Through New Zealand with The Topp Twins
(Diva Books, $50)