Monday, February 25, 2013

A fascinating hobby

Lady Hackett's Household Guide was published in 1940. This was Gwennie's copy, or maybe even her mother's?
I've mentioned it before. I collect old recipe books. Before you click away, wait. It's actually very fascinating. Cookbooks are barometers of a society's wealth, health, fashions and values. Cookbooks can become family heirlooms and a source of nostalgia. Meals can equal memories. Recreating recipes can transport us back in time to Grandma's table or our childhood birthday dinner.
I have recipe books from the late 1800s. Many of the recipes could be recreated now and look very much of our time, while other recipes include ingredients that have long fallen
 It's chock-ful-o-handwritten recipes and magazine clippings. This one is not just a recipe book, but a guide on how to run a house; how to make boots last longer, how to re-use this and that. Lady Hackett discusses treating snake bites and toothaches. She details home hygiene and arming your family with healthy habits like getting enough fresh air and taking daily exercise.
She includes recipes, although they are mostly the ones that have either become extinct or are now only available in high end restaurants under fancier names; beef tea custard, chicken custard, jellied chicken, fricassee of tripe and devilled pig's feet.
This is Best of the Bake-Off Recipes, 1969.
Let me tell you, you'd be the most popular girl in the room if you put this Bacon and Sausage Plait on the table at Sunday Brunch.
Bacon and Sausage Plait
3 cups plain flour, 1/2 teas salt, 6 oz butter, approx 1/4 cup water.
2 boiled eggs, salt, pepper, 1/2 teas powdered sage or basil, 1/2 lb bacon rashers, 1/2 lb pork sausage meat, beaten egg for glazing
Pastry: Sift flour and salt into mixing bowl, rub in butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add water, mix to firm dough. Turn on to a floured board and knead well. Roll out the pastry to 10 inch square.
Filling: Chop bacon and hard-boiled eggs, mix with remaing filling ingredients (except egg glazing), and place down the centre of pastry. Cut pastry on each side of filling into diagonal 1/2 inch strips; brush with egg. Lift alternate strips over the sausage mixture to form roll resembling a plait. Brush with egg, sprinkle with salt. Bake in hot oven 30-40 minutes.

I'm not sure if The Big Party Cookbook refers to the book itself, which is quite large, or whether it's to be used for huge gatherings?

Either way, take these Weisswurst Kebabs or Cocktail Banana Kebabs and Stuffed Sausages to your next barbecue invitation and you'll surely win yourself a husband.

Anyone who did Home Economics or 'Home Arts' as it was sold to us at my school, will be familiar with this ubiquitous little ditty. Day to Day Cookery, in all it's many revisions, was the text du jour of school kitchens - and maybe it still is? This one is from 1985.
Something I used to find hysterical as a teenager, and sady still do, is the recipe for a sandwich with....wait for it....eight steps! Step 4 is 'Cover with second slice and press together firmly'. You may be wondering how there could possibly be a further four steps after that one. I don't want to spoil it, just in case you want to read it at some stage.

Hints on Healthy Living by Dr Ulric Williams was written around 1931, I think. It has recipes with the focus being on good health. It is incredible to think of how many books have rehashed this same information in the last 82 years.
Dr Williams recommends eating as much of your food raw as possible and exercising daily. He includes recipes based on vegetables, fish, nuts and lentils. Sound familiar?
I love these little fundraising booklets published by kindergartens and schools. This one is from Mater Dei School in Ashgrove, published in 1991. Although that doesn't sound like very long ago, you'd be surprised how dated the recipes seem.
Davis Dainty Dishes was published in 1937. It has beautiful coloured illustrations of some of the recipes which seem extremely elaborate and surprisingly modern even now - orange ice cream, peach ice cream. Others are very much of their time; beetroot mould, salmon in jelly and lemon aspic.

On the other spectrum, the recipes in Square Meals for the Family (1939) are downright nauseating. First case in point, Sheep's Head and Barley Broth. Can you imagine coaxing your children to eat that?
There's also recipes for Beef Heart, Stuffed & Roasted (as if that makes it any more appealing), Tripe & Onions and Liver Paste for Sandwiches.
There's an advertisement in Square Meals for the Family from the Brisbane City Council Electricity Supply Department enticing people to have their electricity put on. It reads:
"Electricity scores. Your Matchless Servant - Electricity.
The more you use, the cheaper it becomes."
That concept has ended in tears!

 This Vogue Australia Cook Book (1969) is the height of sophistication. It includes classic French recipes like Le Coq Au Vin and Boeuf a la Bourguignonne. The book lists entire menus for specific dinner parties, many of which have also stood the test of time.
Beetroot salad with capers
Le coq au vin
Scalloped potatoes
Cheeseboard with water biscuits
Sliced preserved oranges
Other books like Cakes & Cake Decorating (1965) are demonstrative of the fashions of the day, and give us a little giggle.
Graham Kerr is a classic. The Graham Kerr Cookbook, as you can imagine with a recipe book from a man, is very meat-oriented.
And finally....are you still awake?
And finally, my favourite. The Australian Women's Weekly Original Cookbook (1977). As there have been over 800,000 sold, I'm sure you're familiar with it. This was my Mum's cookbook when I was growing up and she cooked up many a special meal from its pages.
I find old cookbooks very interesting, however, I completely understand if you don't. I hope you weren't completely and utterly bored to tears.


  1. Not bored. Still reading. My mother had the Women's Weekly Original Cookbook too. She still uses it to make chilli con carne. The 'Lucy Violet' blog occasionally has a retro cook-up, and she cooks old recipes. It's v. amusing. She did a Valentine's Day special recently.

  2. You can rest assured that Bason & Sausage Plait will be featuring on the RockWallaby menu sometime soon. Watch this space.

    1. I'm going to have to give that one a go too. Cholesterol be damned!

  3. like you I luff an old school retro cookbook. Loved this post!

  4. Fascinated by the old cookbooks too. Interesting that healthy living one written in 1939! My mum started cooking in the 50's using the Schauer cookbook, all the QLD country ladies did. I inherited a tattered copy but through it out, wish I'd kept it now.