Dr Adele Wessell, National Museum of Australia, 30 November 2008
Dr ADELE WESSELL: I wanted to start by acknowledging the past and present traditional owners on this land on which we are meeting, the Ngunnawal people. It’s a privilege to be here today and it’s a privilege to be with all of you. I hope we are going to have plenty of time later to continue this discussion and to share some of the cookbooks that people have brought in.
I feel a bit like at a dinner party where I have over-invited, because the original idea was that I thought it would be a fairly small group and we would all share each other’s insights and have a look at the cookbooks. But we are going to do it differently.
I will start off talking a little bit about my own interest in food culture and then I am going to introduce the study of cookbooks as historical evidence by looking at some of the collection that has come from the National Museum. Then we are going to break up hopefully into small groups where people will be able to share and talk about the cookbooks they have brought in. Then we are going to come back together and share some of those insights. I hope that is going to work because I think the most productive thing for us to be doing today would be to be looking at the things that you have brought in.
I will start by providing a few hints about how you can actually read them. I am here on a visiting fellowship. I am from Southern Cross University. My interest in cooking or food generally started primarily when I was doing my PhD and I was retracing Columbus’s voyage and looking at the quincentenary. It struck me how Columbus had bumped into the Americas on his way to the East looking for spices. It highlighted how central food is to culture, yet it was something that had been neglected for such a long time.
In history books we have spent a lot of time talking about visual culture and written documents, sometimes at the expense of other senses. Taste and smell would be two in particular that we haven’t paid as much attention to, although they are in fact so central to our culture. I would argue that you could probably find out almost everything about how a society functions by looking at the food that it eats: by knowing what someone eats, where it comes from, how the food is obtained, who prepares it and with whom it is consumed. I often ask myself what is more interesting than what someone had for dinner. For most of us, food is not merely about sustenance or about nutrition. We would eat more insects, for example, if we were just doing the right thing by our own health or by the environment. So in fact it is something that goes to the heart of our own culture and our own personal history.
It is also not just about cooking, because cooking itself is a form of entertainment. I was talking a bit before about Jamie Oliver and the way that we watch people now cooking on television to entertain ourselves. Food is also not just about eating. Eating itself is a kind of marker of social position, of social mobility, and so on. Knowing about certain types of ingredients in a way is a form of social capital and it provides some kind of social mobility for people as well.
Food isn’t just about ingredients, recipes and dishes, because the choices people make are also about their personal history, about style and presentation and about what’s available.
It is not just about geography. Where once people might have been limited to what was available to them locally. Now people are able to enjoy and consume ingredients that are either purchased elsewhere or grown from things that have come from somewhere else.
So food in a sense is also a really good marker of changes in communication, travel, immigration, power and money. And food is not just about nutrition. What we eat has social, cultural and moral meaning.
The project that I am doing at the Museum is looking at the relationship between agriculture and cooking. I am interested in the way that our changing tastes also have an impact on land use. I come from an area that once had a very thriving dairy community and I live on an abandoned dairy farm that collapsed in the 1950s. It is very clear to me when I look around and see the macadamia plantations, the avocado trees and so on the way our own tastes have had a big impact on how we use the land. I am inspired in this by the work of Wendell Berry and this is one of his quotes:
Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as ‘consumers’. If they think beyond that, they recognise that they are passive consumers.
Berry advocates reclaiming our responsibility for what we eat as an agricultural product and understanding that eating takes place inescapably in the world and that how we eat determines to a considerable extent how the world is actually used. Food is not merely an agricultural product in that sense, and the landscape is shaped by consumption as well as production.
Food is also historical. It tells us a lot about the historical moment that we actually live in. When the English came to Australia they left behind a land of damp forests, changing seasons and a climate that supported permanent agriculture. It was relatively cool and it was damp. Few of them were farmers. The salient features of their own time and place were rural exodus coupled with incredible urban growth. They ate a lot more meat than their neighbours, and that had a lasting impact on the way that Australians ate. Fresh fruit and vegetables supplemented a diet largely based on cereals, tubers and dried beans and the varieties of fruits and vegetables that were available to them. The kitchen garden followed the garden calendar.
The kitchen garden though expanded with colonialism. By the middle of the nineteenth century the growing needs of European food markets as a result of population growth, industrialisation and urbanisation revealed the basic incapacity of European agriculture to fulfil them. The role of colonial economies became increasingly important. One of the most significant aspects of the contemporary economy in the nineteenth century was the cultivation of new land to provide the market with food. In Australia, developments in the food industry, above all in things like preservation, refrigeration and decreased transit times, marked the nineteenth century and shaped a landscape and eating habits.
By necessity, native produce was an important part of the diet for many colonists in the nineteenth century, but few differences in food preparation show up in early Australian recipes. People tended to take their food preferences with them. When they did actually cook with native produce, they tended to use familiar herbs and spices and methods to make it something that was familiar to them.
For example, Mina Rawson recommended eating pig weed as a substitute for lettuce or using kangaroo tail instead of ox’s soup, as Isabella Beeton’s recipes did. But that didn’t necessarily transform the English into Australians. The heritage of Australian cooking has grown from those Indigenous foods and from the legacies of colonialism and multiculturalism, cultural exchange, the local region and the larger world. These resonate in our landscape and how the world is used.
Far from being bound then by geography, culinary cultures can inhabit multiple times and places, and food becomes a way of mediating those things. The culinary products of the mother country, for example, had a very different meaning in Australia. Louisa Meredith complained in the 1840s about being constantly served cured cod and salmon that was imported from England rather than native fresh fish, because it was something that it was considered important to do while she was in Australia.
Colonial tastescapes were constructed through Australia and Europe and through the consumption of food as a way of building the idea of home. So eating those foods became a way of producing that sense of home and that sense of familiarity. That is still sometimes the case. When people talk about proper meals, they talk about the sorts of meals that they had when they were children and the sorts of meals that they shared with their family. So that food becomes a way of producing both that idea of a family and the idea of home as well. Food in that sense provides a really material sight, a tangible link to the past and a record of that. So cookbooks and other sorts of food are important as an object of study in their own right and not just as a blueprint that we might use them otherwise for to make a meal.
I am going to limit my discussion of cookbooks to some of those that are held in the National Library. In Australia and New Zealand there are now about 13,000 cookbooks that have been produced in the last 200 years. So trying to cover some of the main changes that have gone on in illustrations and changes in recipes almost defies description.
I am going to bring up some salient points that you might be able to use when you are looking at your own cookbooks.
Until the late nineteenth century Australians largely relied on cookbooks that were brought with them from England and on their own private recipe collection, and that influenced to a large extent the sort of food that they ate. In the first book of recipes that was published in Australia, The English and Australian Cookery Book that appeared in 1864, Edward Abbott evoked the ‘roast beef of old England Oh’. The use of such a potent symbol of English identity in the nineteenth century may seem inevitable to us, and colonists who could afford them tended to use their English cookbooks and the ingredients for many years, even after Abbott’s publication.
New ingredients were often adapted to fit in with familiar culinary expectations in the new setting. Abbott often drew on native and exotic ingredients to produce very familiar dishes that used English methods and principles: things like kangaroo stuffed with beef suet, breadcrumbs, parsley, shallots, marjoram, thyme, nutmeg, pepper, salt, cayenne and egg. It wasn’t until the 1890s that a much larger body of Australian cookbooks became available, but by this time the food supply was widely held to be secure and abundant and the cultivation of exotic foods in Australia like wheat and sheep and cattle had established a long and familiar food supply for English colonists.
National cuisine in that sense can be seen to be a construction that sometimes hides the legacies of colonialism and change. We could think in that sense, for example, of how English a cup of tea seems, yet tea isn’t something that was necessarily grown in Lancashire. By the time Edward Abbott was advocating rabbit curry as an Australian dish, it was the English invention of rabbit curry and curry powder that was actually being absorbed into Australia rather than necessarily Indian cooking itself. As Uma Narayan says: ‘The appropriation of Indian cultural artefacts was easier for those in England who didn’t have to distinguish themselves from their colonial subjects.’
The British in India were spending a long time trying to import the luxuries of their own British cuisine, while at the same time in England they were beginning to experiment with curries, curry powder and so on. Classics like kedgeree and mulligatawny, which became part of an established part of the British culinary repertoire, also became part of Australia’s culinary inheritance from Britain rather than necessarily from India. Curries in particular were a regular feature in Australian cookbooks but, rather than appropriating Indian food into their diets, the Australians were eating British curries.
Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book and Household Guide is a good example of the popularity of British cookbooks in Australia. Beeton’s kangaroo tail curry was included in the Australian cooking section of her household management. I have the recipe there [shows slide]. The things that are worth thinking about in terms of looking at your own cookbooks, one is that it is one of the first times, because Beeton started writing in the 1860s, that ingredients were clearly distinguished from recipes, from the method themselves. This actually still presents lots of problems for publishers. There is debate about whether that should necessarily be the case, because it takes up so much space on the page to do that.
The other thing we can see is a clear method starting to be developed where people are being quite systematic about the steps needed to be taken, but those steps aren’t clearly distinguished from one another. Within the one sentence you actually have two or three different sorts of tasks. It also requires to some extent a degree of discretion, knowledge and experience of cooking. Beeton suggests adding things to taste, cooking something until it is tender and that kind of thing. So you have to have a little bit of experience or be around the food for a little while to be able to fulfill the recipe in the first place. The meal also takes between two and three hours, which would be quite prohibitive for a lot of people now. I know in lots of new cookbooks like Delicious they have recipes that you can do in ten minutes or half an hour. You don’t see very many of those historically.
By 1900, Australian interest in native food had pretty much dissolved. Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book and Household Guide published in 1892 gave a selection of Australian recipes but they were primarily for the British public rather than the assumption that they were being cooked in Australia: kangaroo tail soup was cooked in the same way as ox tail soup; roast wallaby was compared to hare, the ingredients were wallaby, veal, milk and butter; and parrot pie was said to be not unlike one made of pigeons. They are all prepared in ways that make them fairly familiar. This conforms to what the Rozens have called the ‘flavour principle’ when you introduce new ingredients into a particular cooking. A classic example of that is potatoes. The French didn’t like potatoes for many years until they discovered that you could cook them with cream, wine and herbs, and then they loved them. So if you can introduce something new but use the same sorts of ingredients, you can often proliferate the spread of those ingredients.
The means by which ingredients were introduced to different regions reflects cultural exchanges, historical processes and the local environment. The adaptation of recipes to incorporate local ingredients likewise provides information about local traditions and conditions. So you start to see those ingredients as a bit of two-way movement between looking at what might have been familiar to people and what might have been something that they had to do make do with because of what was necessarily available to them at that time.
When you are looking at your own recipe books, the ingredients are an important source of information about what was available to cooks and also what was sufficiently known about those ingredients. But they are also a record of what people didn’t cook with and what they didn’t like to use as well. For a long time you don’t get garlic in Australian cookbooks, and it was the same really in England. Some people credit Elizabeth David - somebody has an Elizabeth David book here today - as the person who popularised garlic in English cooking.
Differences in the level of practical cooking knowledge also have a vital role to play in cookbook literature. Colin Bannerman and others have suggested that the shortage of domestic labour in Australia was the thing that supported the growth of the cookbook industry here in the late nineteenth century. The poor quality of Australian cooking was also an occasional theme in the press during the same time. The message was generally the same: bad food affected Australians’ physical, domestic, social and moral well being and impeded progress towards civilisation and higher culture. The idea was really that Australians had to learn how to cook.
People often commented on the quality of the ingredients and said they were more widely available than they were in England but much poorer in quality. So the cookbooks emerged as a way of teaching people. Among the first to teach cookery skills was Mina Rawson, author of The Antipodean Cookery Book and the Kitchen Companion in 1895. The book was a compilation of her own recipes and remedies, and it organised and simplified food preparation for the ordinary housewife. But the book also included directions and guidance on things like household tasks and how to cure diseases. So the cookbooks weren’t completely separate. They offered much more than culinary advice on how to cook a particular meal. Mrs Rawson also knew that people had to make do. She included a lot of bush foods that you still don’t get in a lot of Australian meals, things that people could substitute for the English ones they were used to like pig weed. Plain cooking though was still considered to be the standard of the day. That had a lasting impact in most cookbooks and journals for a long time in Australia.
By the end of the nineteenth century cooking had become a recognised classroom subject, providing early training in domestic service, and textbooks teaching Australians how to cook also flourished. Measurements became much more uniform, the layout of cookbooks became more standardised and the procedure was clearly spelled out. This allowed companies to be able to sell their foods because it meant that you could duplicate the recipes and they would kind of taste the same. It made them easier to use.
The audience for these cookbooks were mostly young women directed to cooking as a way of encouraging social harmony. Cooking was elevated in lots of ways at this stage as a social responsibility. The Victorian Education Department’s supervisor of cooking and the domestic arts, Flora Pell, believed that schools should provide the training for home life that was being eroded by a tendency for girls to become typists, secretaries and clerks rather than housekeepers or homemakers.
‘Public opinion,’ said Miss Pell, ‘had begun to demand that schools shall provide for children such training in citizenship and homemaking as shall rise up a strong race of well-nurtured people skilled not only in the right conduct of their own lives but impatient of the existence of any conditions unfavourable to the health of the community. Among these conditions would rank decline in household skills and a weakening of maternal instincts, traceable results of the employment of women outside the home.
Flora Pell was considered to be quite an authority on cooking during this time. Our Cookery Book, one of the most famous books she published which came out in 1916, ran into more than 30 editions. It was still coming out in the 1950s and still in lots of ways provides a really good collection of recipes that can be easily followed. There are only minor changes in the content during that time. Some cookbooks are known because of the people who wrote them and also because of their endurance which is quite important.
The Commonsense Cookery Book that was first published in 1914 has just been re-released, and it doesn’t look that much different to the one that I used when I was at school 20 years ago. I don’t know how different it is from the one that came out in 1914. Both Flora’s book and The Commonsense Cookery Book were wartime releases, but there is not a lot of difference in the cooking style and the ingredients. It is more the idea that cooking itself is a social responsibility that seems to be significant for the timing of the books. In Tested Cookery Dishes and Valuable Home Hints [published in 1925] Pell argued the service that cooking provides to the race:
The housekeeper is in a position to wield a tremendous influence on the mind and body, hence upon the family, society and the nation.
Pell thought that cooking was far more important than art or music or anything else. It was something that was really significant.
Cookbooks can also be seen as a representation of domestic life, and historically this prescribed the activities of men and women as being quite different. The dominance of women in cookbooks in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries attested to the strength of that idea of having separate spheres. The consequences of this though have been debated by historians: whether having that particular kind of market and the identification that women were making with each other also provided a forum for women’s voices and so became quite significant in women’s politics at a later date. The Home Science Cookbook advised teaching girls to cook:
She’ll be a wife some day and you can make her early married days happier by teaching her to cook now with Wade’s cornflour.
The audience for this ad is presumably other women, mothers who have a role in cooking education. A vital role of cookbooks was to teach women how to use new products, and these were often incorporated into new recipes.
Food companies also began to print recipes on their packets and to release their own cookbooks to promote their products. Davis Gelatine produced its first free booklet in 1904 and other companies followed suit. Cookbooks were a strategic marketing device for products and appliances. The largest gelatine factory was in New South Wales and according to Davis: ‘It bathed in sunshine and freshened with the light breezes of Botany all year round.’ The interesting thing about the gelatine cookbook for me is that I was quite used to using gelatine for sweets but the cookbook has a substantial number of savoury dishes as well. There were lots of pureed vegetable dishes all cut up into cubes of different colours. There was a fantastic lobster dish - I don’t know what this says about the cheapness of lobster at this particular time - containing lobster, vinegar, green food colouring, prawns, and salt and pepper. It was done in a jelly mould and was magnificent to look at. These were the first lavishly illustrated Australian cookbooks.
The miniature recipe cookbooks that were produced by Mother’s Choice flour in the 1940s provided another example of the link between advertising and food. Doreen Wilson, who donated the recipe pamphlets to the Museum, describes waiting for them in eager anticipation. She used to copy them for her own glory box while she gave her mother the originals, which her mother eventually gave to her when she got married. Five perfect recipes were presented in each pamphlet, which was about this big. They were presented by June Clyde, who was quite a well-known American actress at that time.
Such books were an attempt to promote new foods and also to sell local foods, many of which were overproduced - things like milk. The Milk Board came out with recipes for milk soup and all sorts of things to promote the consumption of milk. And dried fruits as well. The Australian Sunshine Cookery Book was used to popularise the consumption of dried fruits and promote their health benefits. In the winter it would be something that people would be able to use to continue their fruit consumption. We were talking before about pineapple in recipe books that came out. The interesting thing about those was that there was a concern amongst some food authorities at the time that what was going to happen in terms of the production index was that people wouldn’t necessarily eat more fruit or more vegetables when there was more variety but that they would cannibalise the market. So if you ate pineapple it would mean that you might not eat apple or something like that. There was a bit of a concern about whether the variety was necessarily a good thing or not.
Diet and nutrition became a concern even as food companies were entering the market promulgating new ideas, new recipes and increasing variety of foods that were readymade - things like tinned meats and vegetables. Cookbooks in some ways reflected the changing tastes of the public, their ideas, what they were doing and their own lifestyle. But they also helped to promote some of those sorts of changes too.
The nutrition issue becomes quite significant when a whole lot of new research comes out on new foods. It is clear from the number of books that were named ‘tried and tested’ the value that people put on recipes from their peers and the importance of food that worked rather than food that just looked good in a glossy magazine, which we have had a bit of discussion about today. Australian Home Cookery, published in the 1920s, provided tested recipes and practical hints on marketing, invalid cookery, preserves, pickles, beverages, parties, carving, table arrangements, preparing meals and culinary terms. The choice of foodstuffs, they suggested, was as significant as actually cooking the food. Some of their hints are really useful, like I didn’t know how you could tell a fresh apple. Does anybody know how you do that? You play with the stem and see whether it snaps or bends to tell how old it is. Some of that advice isn’t necessarily things that we have necessarily inherited.
It is not clear though whether cookbooks were necessarily used. There are some that have lots of signs of wear and tear. When you look at your own cookbooks, sometimes you can tell the pages that they might open out to and know the recipes that were used. Sometimes there will be spillages, and I have a few of those, and the pages could be stuck together, which is quite difficult. You need to get some advice about how to get those open. And sometimes people actually wrote in the cookbooks, things about method or things that they might have wanted to change or something that they found more useful in the recipe, such as the almond essence that you were talking about that you added to cupcakes. When you are looking for signs of use, those things can sometimes be quite helpful.
Michael Symons has suggested that community cookbooks that were compiled from below rather than the cookbooks that were designed by home economics experts and so on were much more likely to be used. Things like the CWA cookbooks were often made from compilations and collections of recipes that members of the association actually sent in. He looked at recipes that had historical importance in Australia and whether they actually appeared in the recipe books, things like Afghan biscuits, Anzac biscuits and pavlovas, which he knew that people were cooking - you could look for those and see whether the book is useful or not.
Cookbooks like the CWA cookbooks which emerged in the 1930s showcased a lot of the recipes that crop up in what’s been called ‘the golden age of baking in Australia’ between 1900 and 1930. If you look at cookbooks produced in that time - and it is also a way generally of looking at books – you will see there are a lot more recipes for biscuits and cakes. Australians inherited the Victorian love of afternoon tea and often baked their own biscuits and cakes for that. They also had a lot more meat dishes than the cookbooks that we have now and a much smaller variety of vegetables that we might be used to.
So you can look at those sorts of recipes in terms of how they may have structured the day. How long did they take to make? Were people getting together for morning tea and afternoon tea? How were they eating them - did you need to sit down to eat them and so on? So the cookbooks can tell you a lot about the movements and how the day was punctuated.
Many cookbooks were readily available before World War II, but the average household didn’t have that many cookbooks. It’s worth considering now how many cookbooks people may generally have and whether they use them or not. Barry Smart has talked ‘gastronomic pornography’ because people are looking at the books really for the pictures and not necessarily using them. Up until World War II people were most likely to be cooking recipes from their own private collections, swapping recipes with friends and cutting recipes out of magazines, which I know people are still doing in doctors’ surgeries all over the country. They often shared and used those recipes to cook with.
Changes in family menus were more likely prompted by newspapers and magazines than changes in cookbooks. The Australian Women’s Weekly appeared in the 1920s and, like a lot of women’s magazines at that time, always featured recipes that people shared. The quality of those changed significantly in the 1950s when it became much easier to produce glossy, colourful magazines, so that also had an impact. By the 1950s, one in four Australian households had a copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly. It’s a very difficult thing to ignore as something that contributes to our food culture, despite the fact that it’s seen as popular, everyday and ordinary.
It is the 1950s that I am most interested in, because it is during this period on the north coast that there is a downturn in the dairy industry: the dairy farms either get bigger or they get shut down and people move into different things. It is also a time when cars, refrigeration, television and supermarkets heralded such a massive transformation in food in Australia, and cookbooks contributed largely to this. Recipes for children and teenagers start appearing, acknowledging there is different tastes according to age and according to different sorts of identity.
The almost universal nine to five working hours meant that women outside paid employment did all the shopping, that they learned to drive and that they took their cars to supermarkets. There is a lot of discussion about the design of parking spaces in supermarkets because women were assumed to be such terrible drivers. The formation of consumer groups like the Australian Consumers Association and organisations for housewives provided a forum for activism just at the same time that women’s place in the home was also considered to be venerated. Lobbying for better cheaper food, better quality food and a ministry of housekeeping showed how central food was to women’s politics in the 1950s.
‘The housewife’s day’, which was a survey that was done by a marketing organisation prepared for the Australian Sales Research Bureau at the end of the 1950s, showed that women spent an average of four and a half hours a day on meals including preparation, consumption and washing up. There is a London survey that the Australian survey was modelled on and they found pretty much the same pattern. It didn’t matter what suburb you lived in. Every woman was spending a significant amount of time on the preparation of meals. There is a change with ages and some other patterns emerge. Bread and meat were the most-frequently purchased products and people were four times more likely to buy fish on Friday than any other day of the week. I don’t know whether that is still true. Do some people here buy fish on Friday? That is interesting.
A lot has changed since the 1950s. Already, in that survey in the 1950s, younger women were said to be spending about an hour and a half less on cooking a day than women who were over 46. The suggestion was made, because they were interested in marketing, that younger women were more likely to use tinned food and prepackaged food or that they had appliances that would have made their life a little bit easier. This in a sense points to the significant paradox that is at the heart of the 1950s dream: at once they had this domestic goddess whose central life was said to be in the kitchen and that was the centre; but simultaneously that was bound up with this acquisition of appliances and technology and different sorts of food that was meant to free her from the same thing.
The cookbooks of this period largely promoted the new domesticity, including those that came as supplements to The Australian Women’s Weekly, produced through cooking competitions and used to promote the tours of overseas cooking experts. Books for Cooks is a book that was launched by Dione Lucas, who was America’s blue-ribbon cook and was on television programs in the US. She was a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu school of cooking in Paris and she also helped to open a cordon bleu school with Rosemary Hume in London in the 1950s. It’s interesting that she was such an expert but it is not really clear that the recipes were used. In that early cordon-bleu cookbook for instance there is a recipe for risotto and it says that you shouldn’t stir the rice, you just have to leave it because otherwise it would end up being gluggy. So I don’t know if they ever actually used it. What did they do with their glass of wine?
The school and its publications attempted to revive the splendours of pre-war cooking to a post-war generation. There was already a sense of nostalgia for a world that was lost. With all the labour-saving devices that were available to women Mrs Lucas believed that they would have plenty of time to be able to devote to the highly skilled art of cookery. In the same issue though, Mrs Lucas commends Kiaora tinned soups for hungry husbands who just can’t wait. There’s also a fantastic ad for Rinso during the same issue where Mrs Chapman proclaims how wonderful it is to have a work saver like Rinso. She’s the mother of four lively children and still finds time for art classes, tennis and a lot of entertaining - so definitely go out and buy some Rinso, I say.
Dione Lucas felt that men were actually the best cooks rather than women. She thought that women didn’t have the stamina or imagination to be great cooks but that with practice you could actually be better than you were. So the 1950s is full of all of these sorts of contradictions. At the same time, men’s cookbooks appeared like Oh For A Man Who Cooks - there’s a copy of that in the Museum – that was compiled by the Society of Gourmets. It actually followed their first publication which is Oh for a French Wife!, so they were choosing to cover both areas. The society proclaimed that the enjoyment of good food and wine wasn’t a luxury and they said, ‘Since you had to eat you may as well extract the most enjoyment out of it as possible.’ There is also a strange thing that is happening with the idea that food is cooking and enjoyable. It wasn’t a task, it wasn’t arduous or it wasn’t something that women should be acknowledged for necessarily in the home, which provides that other kind of contradiction that is happening.
Food was becoming a popular means of elevating social position. The Society of Gourmets went so far as to claim that garlic definitely has a place in some good cooking. So actually experimenting with that gave people a sense of social capital or cultural capital as well. International cookbooks began to multiply in the 1950s, sustained by changes in society, migration and communication. Some of the Australian dishes fell back on the stereotypes that were in those early nineteenth-century books using things like kangaroos and wombats, which few Australians during the 1950s would have actually had experience of.
One of the authors, Robin Howe, said, ‘The average Australian will do his best to insist all cooking follows a pattern laid down by his forefathers usually from the British Isles.’ But Howe could see that there was some difference and there was the beginning of a kind of culinary culture that was changing and developing its own customs, especially in the country. Unlike Beeton’s recipe for kangaroo tail soup, Howe also included three cloves of garlic in the one that he produced.
Explaining the reason for cooking, Isabella Beeton put forward an historical account of the shift towards increasing enjoyment of it. She said:
In the past, only to live has been the greatest object of mankind, but by and by comforts are multiplied and accumulating riches create new wants. The object then is to not only live but to live economically, agreeably, tastefully and well. Accordingly the art of cookery commences and although the fruits of the earth, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the field and the fish of the sea are still the only food of mankind, yet these are so prepared, improved and dressed by skill and ingenuity that they are the means of immeasurably extending the boundaries of human enjoyment. Everything that is edible and passes under the hands of cooks is more or less changed and assumes new forms, hence the influence of that functionary is immense upon the happiness of the household.
I hope people think of that when they are cooking themselves.
Beeton anticipates a growing trend not just towards cooking and eating but an interest in what sustains cooking as a form of recreation. The history of cookbook publishing provides a glimpse into some of those things. The sorts of points that I have raised are the things you might look at when you are looking at an individual cookbook. But if you look at them collectively a number of themes also emerge. Increasing rates of literacy which facilitated the growth of an industry wouldn’t have necessarily been possible if people couldn’t read and use the books. There is also the dominance of particular nations, the idea of French cooking as being gourmet cooking, the prestige of imported foods and the movement in more recent cookbooks towards regional cuisines.
You can look at cookbooks in terms of what was eaten, by whom and how: who prepared the food, so to whom the books were actually directed? Really clever books like Isabella Beeton’s were directed at both domestic servants and at wives which gave them quite a big market. There are also changes in the inclusion of themes. Economy and frugality becomes quite significant, as do organisation and management at different times. Changes in the extent of detail. Changes in authorship, whether it is women, men, doctors, health professionals, home economists and so on.
There are different purposes for cookbooks as well. Many of them were used to fund raise. On the north coast of New South Wales near Nimbin where I come from there is a hemp cookbook which is used against the prohibition of cannabis. So there is a political reason for some of those cookbooks as well. Another of them is a relationship between food reform and civic life. Promotional literature produced by food and kitchen equipment companies were a form of advertising and quite significant to the history of cookbook publishing in Australia. Other themes include: the influence of cookery school and home economics movements; advice on etiquette and entertaining; the influence of immigration and travel; the creation of culinary stars and authors of which we are all fairly familiar. Apparently, Jamie Oliver’s books didn’t sell very well in Australia until the television show started to appear here. So we may be looking at cookbooks because of how they work, but it is also about who we know that makes them significant.
Further themes include changes in ingredients, changes in advice about health and domestic medicine, and the impact of social consciousness. I was talking before about the way that cooking was seen as a kind of social duty during the war. But there is now a proliferation of cookbooks about green kitchens, using things that are in your local environment, about vegetarianism and so on. All of that reflects the impact of changes in social consciousness. And the diversification of the social class of readers that has made cookbook publishing now so diverse.
It is necessary to place those changes in a more general historical context, but in fact for a long time cookbooks have been ignored as a source of information in their own right about the period in which they were published and the kinds of social and political changes that we can see coming through a lot of the cookbooks. So in that sense I think they are quite important in order to be able to read them as well.
When you look at your own cookbooks, which we are going to do for the second part of the seminar, I want you to consider some of those themes that have arisen in the discussion, but you will also have insights yourself that I haven’t necessarily got to. I am going to give you this sheet and maybe if somebody could record some things. When we come back in half an hour it would be great if some people could bring back some of the things they want to share with us about the cookbooks, because cookbooks are so diverse. I know some of you will have used the cookbooks, which in a sense is another way that you can learn about cookbooks. At this stage we are just using them as a text, but I would encourage you to do that active process of cooking with them as well, because that in itself becomes a way of imagining the past in quite different ways than historians are often used to. I will hand out some sheets. We will come back together at twenty past three. Thanks everyone.
(Break for discussion)
Dr ADELE WESSELL: We are going to come back together now. You don’t have to move because I have a microphone so I am going to walk around. I have had a little bit of time to talk to some people and I know that people have some great things to share, including some very useful tips for the sorts of things they found out about their cookbook and how they found those things out such as how you can date them, what the ingredients say and so on. If you would like to put your cookbook up on display while you are talking about it, we can also put it up here on the overhead and it will show the recipe. If you want to pass your cookbook we can do it that way.
I am going to start with these two women in front of me who haven’t known each other before but who actually brought in the same cookbook but two different editions. So they have some things to share about the differences between them.
SPEAKER 1: We brought in 14 books between our group of five, but the one we have chosen is one that two of us brought in: a 1931 edition and a 1936 edition of the Bundaberg branch CWA cookbook. The 1931 edition has 240 pages; the 1936 edition, 176 pages. The reason being the 1931 edition has several pages of advertising and none in the 1936 edition. The layout - just there above pea soup you will see four diamonds or squares in the 1931 edition, and when we looked in the 1936 edition between recipes you will see three diamonds. That was the only difference we could detect in the layout of the books. There are several other differences, but maybe someone would like to speak about another book.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: That is fantastic. Thanks for that. The people that were at the front had what was called a Coronation Cookbook, and that was quite a difficult one to date. It showed some quite interesting things about how you can actually work out the dates.
SPEAKER 2: When we look at the advertisements in the front of the book it’s for fuel stoves and a tin can washing machine so they had only just gone all electric. The other thing was that there was a reference to a Japanese flier who had flown from Tokyo to London, so we know it was pre war and probably about the mid-1930s, we guess - very well used – and was priced at two and six.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: You can look at the price and the advertisements. Sometimes the names of particular people will be mentioned and they may have manuscripts that are held in the National Archives or the National Library. You are quite lucky in Canberra that you have access to some of those resources. That was really interesting. Would anybody else like to share something from the books they were looking at?
SPEAKER 3: This is the Electrical Association for Women’s Cookery Book by Mrs McKenzie. It’s the third edition published in 1940. These are the ads on the inside: on the left-hand side you will see ‘an electric kitchen means freedom’. There’s a lovely lady all dressed up ready to go out because the kitchen is nice and clean. Now that is all done she can go out and enjoy the rest of her day. It’s a basic cookery book. It has section one devoted to the electrical appliances and how that can bring freedom for women in the kitchen because of the timesaving appliances. There is a couple of interesting pages with safety first. There’s a page for children and also a page for the men folk. We know there’s one for children and the men folk because it’s titled ‘page for children’ and ‘page for men folk’ around the dangers of electricity in the home. It’s certainly targeted towards basic cookery but also selling the electrical appliances.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: This woman actually has the same cookbook but it was put out by a different company.
SPEAKER 4: It was published by St George County Council in Sydney. I don’t know what date it is because there are recipes stuck all over it. It was my mother-in-law’s. So I don’t know if it’s the same edition or not.
SPEAKER 5: This is not a published cookbook, it’s a home cookbook by my grandmother who came from Yorkshire in 1911. She wrote this cookbook from 1931, so it’s a Depression era cookbook and is very delicate. I will just show you the recipe for mock brains which takes a cup of rolled oats, boiling water, parsley and onion. When it’s well cooked and thickened, put it in the basin to set, cut in slices and fry a nice golden brown in egg and breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. The other recipe that we will show you among many interesting recipes in here are two variations for making coffee: the first is from wheat with salt, sugar, brown in oven and put through mincer; and the second is two cups of bran, oatmeal, salt with black treacle, and brown well – no chicory. These cookbooks are from Toowoomba.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: Thanks for that.
SPEAKER 6: I am sorry I didn’t bring it today but I do own Oh for a French Wife! and Oh for a man that cooks. I was given them in the late 1950s and I still use them. What was unusual about them was that they were the first recipe books I ever saw which gave a story behind the food. They are very chatty and tell little anecdotes about it. Maybe we have come back to that today, because now we are discussing food and including recipes in detective novels.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: Do you still use those books?
SPEAKER 6: Yes, I still love the recipe there for chicken marengo and how to make a slobbery omelette.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: Those books are quite rare as well. They are held in museums. It is often quite difficult for museums to get access to some of the best used cookbooks because there is such a big market for them privately and people tend to keep them in their own private collections. There’s a really rich kind of resource of private collections of cookbooks that exist.
SPEAKER 7: This is a beautiful book that belongs to Christine herself, and the book was given to her by her mother-in-law who was a lady’s maid at – where was it?
SPEAKER 8: In the Falkland Islands. She was a lady’s maid in Government House in the Falkland Islands. She was born in 1918. Her brother was a gardener and her other brother was the chauffeur. The edition of the book is actually 1906, so I suspect that she may have acquired it while she was at Government House. When she left the Falkland Islands in the 1950s she took it all around the world with her and ended up in Australia. She used it to cook right up until her 80s. She died recently and she was 90. It was her favourite cookbook, and she gave it to me before she died so I do treasure it. It has some fascinating information in it, not just about recipes and cooking but also household management - who you pay, how much you pay and then even advice about how to treat sniffles and consumption. There are whole chapters on those types of things.
SPEAKER 7: There are not very many photos. There was one of nine different sorts of soups but they are all orange and green. There is Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and the main sections in it were for the mistress and servant, the hostess and guest, menu making, the home doctor, the sick nurse, home lawyer, marketing, and trussing and carving. In terms of the ingredients, there was lots and lots of meat, fish, offal and lard - butter was too expensive most of the time probably. There was also a lot of use of gelatine and lots and lots of salt, even the coffee recipe in that other little book had salt in it.
The audience was for - it looks like the whole world that spoke English but there was a section called Australian cooking that was only a couple of pages long, and one of the recipes was for Melbourne pancakes. The title of one of the recipes was ‘brown soup from tinned mutton’, which probably tasted fantastic. In terms of design, there are only about five pictures in there, but as you can see it’s a tome.
SPEAKER 8: How many pages are in it, Christine?
SPEAKER 7: Several thousand – some 2,500 and it’s quite weighty.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: The interesting thing about Isabella Beeton is that she died in the 1860s and a lot of her books came out afterwards. She died when she was really quite young at the age of 29 but she is quite well known.
SPEAKER 9: This cookery book is the first one that I remember being given that was my very own. It’s quite good because it has step-by-step illustrations. It was published in Melbourne. There is no reference to tropical fruits in it because in those days we just didn’t have them in the southern states. The only thing that is mentioned is pineapple.
The curry that is talked about on page 40, I think it was, used curry powder of course and not the individual spices that we would use these days. The range of vegetables that were used are described on page 48. There is a recipe for rabbit pie using rabbit instead of chicken because there was a rabbit plague and we used to use rabbit whenever we could. Chicken was a special treat. The vegetables that are used are very basic ones, nothing exotic at all, the things that did grow in the southern states. There is a lot of use of milk products and cheese, and on page 92 there is junket and blancmange which don’t seem to feature too much in cookery books these days. The good thing about the cookbook was the step-by-step illustrations. There was a recipe for suet pudding. I don’t know whether anybody ever uses suet to make puddings like that these days. There’s an illustration of the latest washing machine in the corner and what looks like a steam basket over on the sink but I can’t find out by looking at it what it was actually used for. I still use it occasionally because it has such clear step-by-step illustrations.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: Did your mother teach you how to cook as well or you mostly used the books?
SPEAKER 9: She tried. She was very good.
SPEAKER 10: This cookery book is called the Canberra Cookery Book, which we think is actually in relation to the location rather than the cookery range. It is undated, unfortunately. It doesn’t even have an author but was produced by the New South Wales Bookstall Company Limited. I would say it is early century Australian. It belongs to my partner and was inherited from her grandmother. It includes things like invalid cookery, soups, savoury and breakfast but it also goes into things like medical hints and toilet recipes at the back, which I think indicates that the book wasn’t just meant for cooking but for living basically, covering a whole lifestyle. It had 20,000 issued as this first print edition so it was widely spread. It was funded by a lot of advertising throughout - right at the beginning but on each page there is a line for the sponsor of the particular page.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: It is interesting because you are in Slow Food or you are just doing a plug for Slow Food and one of the things about Slow Food is eating local food. But in those early cookbooks there wasn’t a lot of variation for the region necessarily. Did you find any?
SPEAKER 10: There is a special section devoted to jams, preserves, pickles, sauces and bottling so it is obviously for people who have the capacity to grow their own fruit and vegies etc. What we did do with the Slow food thing was earlier in the year with the Canberra Museum and Gallery we put on a winter warmers exhibition if you like and cooked various recipes, and some of them came out of this book. One of them was a rabbit pie with suet crust pastry which was quite nice. An interesting part of that was that you used boiled eggs sliced up to thicken the sauce within the pie itself.
SPEAKER 11: I have an even older copy of Mrs Beeton. Mine is 1898. It belonged to my grandmother and now I have it and I shall pass it on. It has been rebound, but from the first page onwards, saying it is printed by Ward Lock, it’s the original pages within. It has lots of quite delightful, beautifully done little illustrations such as how you could decorate your desserts. There is a whole lot of things at the back, very useful household management stuff like how to goffer the frills on your blouses or pillowcases with a goffering iron, which I no longer have unfortunately. It tells you how to look after the sick in the sick room, how to be your own doctor as well. It’s a lovely book. I am very lucky to have it.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: Thanks for sharing that. Even up until the 1950s, according to that household survey, one in 10 women were looking after sick people at home so you can understand why they had separate sections for invalid cookery, which they don’t any more.
SPEAKER 12: I have here The Goulburn Cookery Book, eleventh edition, which I brought along today in the hope that someone might tell me when it was published. It is obviously a very long time ago. I thought it was interesting looking at the preface, when we were talking about why cookbooks came about, in this one the compiler/author has said:
Although there hardly seems any necessity for another cookery book, yet I cannot but think that this collection of recipes will meet a want, especially among the women in the bush who have often to teach inexperienced maids and would be glad of accurate recipes that anyone with fair intelligence could carry out. I have tried to leave nothing to chance, and the vague counsels ‘to make a nice light crust for a pie’ or ‘a butter as thick as cream’ find no place here. However, any dish to be successful must be mixed with brains and want of care and patience will often spoil the best materials.
Our little group has been wandering through the books having fun reading them. We thought the cure for diarrhoea in here was rather amusing: 40 drops of oil of peppermint, 80 drops of laudanum and half a pint of brandy - mix. Take one tablespoon and the same quantity of water, repeat the dose in 10 minutes. If the symptoms are not relieved, continue taking the medicine at intervals of half an hour. For adults only.
There is a book here which will be familiar to the ex-South Australians, particularly ex-Adelaide.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: There is a woman here who has the same cookbook as you. I am just going to pass the microphone to her.
SPEAKER 13: This is the eighth edition and it says ‘1910’ for the Golden Cookery Book. Could I just mention an idea that I was going to turn into a cookbook and my brother turned it down because he thought it was going to invade my mother’s privacy but I am going to go back to it again. I was thinking of doing a family cookbook in which I got all the members of the family to talk about their memories of when they made the food, when they ate it and how they felt about the food. So we would have all these little essays about not just the recipes but the actual experience of eating it and making it.
SPEAKER 14: Libby and I compared notes on our two different cookbooks because mine was post-World War I and hers is immediately post-World War II and they are vastly different. Can I just say about your diarrhoea one that it’s the exact same one in my book. This book is early 1920s but it did add that it was effective for the English cholera, so you might be able to find out the age of your book from that. Did it mention the English cholera? It did, okay, so maybe it is similar. Mine is the Methodist edition. But I would also like to add for the nurses in the room that they were using egg white for the bed sores in this book.
SPEAKER 15: This is the New Australian Cookery Illustrated. We have lost the cover so I can’t give an exact date. My husband gave it to me to bring along today. It was the first cookbook that his parents had when they got married just after the war in 1946 or 1947 so it is pre the 1950s, but I guess it is one of the first post-World War II cookbooks. It was published by the Herald and Weekly Times in Melbourne. They lived in Carlton. That picture is really interesting [shows image] because there are recipes in here for Halloween food. As a mother of a young child, every year around the end of October I have this argument that Halloween is not an Australian tradition, it’s this American importation, cultural imperialism and what have you. But in 1947 they were obviously recommending a whole range of Halloween treats, so perhaps it’s an ongoing argument.
The difference between the two books was the diversity of ingredients that was used. There is no bread baking section in this book. It contains a lot of basic family domestic cookery, preserving, jam making but there is also a lot of recipes for very smart buffets and drinks based on champagne and canapés. Clearly the intention is that you shouldn’t just be a good household manager, as I think you were expected to be in 1920, but also a glamorous post-war life awaits you when you have left your job and gone back to the home. That was quite interesting. The range and diversity of ingredients in 20-odd years struck us as most amazing because Marilyn’s book seems to be mainly based on flour, eggs, milk and sugar - and lots and lots of dripping.
SPEAKER 16: The first book I would like to share with you is Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book of 1891, beautifully illustrated, and it even has French and German cookery in it as well. It’s beautifully illustrated as you will see. The lady had it in 1893 so it is quite an early one. We might switch to my country women’s association hat. I brought along one of the very early calendars that the CWA of New South Wales published. This was first published in 1930 and there’s a whole collection of them. They did cake and afternoon teas, puddings, meat and fish recipes, and a dessert for every day in the year. You can see it starts off with January.
Other branches of the CWA put out cookery books. One of them is called the Buffalo cook book which is put out by the CWA of Northern Territory and has some wonderful recipes in it. There is another one by the Willala (sp?) branch of the CWA that has recipes as well. There is also a CWA Hints and Recipes for Microwave Cooking book from Western Australia. Another one I brought along is Australian Dried Fruits which are wartime recipes. There is also a Kookaburra Cookery Book which is very similar to Mrs Beeton’s issue. There is also a book put out by the Department of Agriculture in Victoria called Preserving Fruits and Vegetables. Another one is the Goulburn Cookery Book, which my friend behind me had a copy of as well. But this one has a photograph of Mrs Rutledge from Gidley near Bungendore whom you may know. So there we are.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: Is that your own collection? Have you purchased them or been given them?
SPEAKER 16: I have purchased them. There was mention of the Coronation Cookery Book. I am delighted to tell you that Murdoch Press are in the process of publishing the latest issue, and it should be out any day now. Thank you.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: This is Flora Pell’s Our Cookery Book that I have referred to before. Flora Pell was quite an authority on cooking from the First World War period right through to the 1950s and 1960s.
SPEAKER 17: This is the recipe book of my grandmother from the late 1890s through to the early nineteenth century. Her father owned hotels up and down the north coast and she helped him. It lists several of the hotels they were living at. She wrote all these recipes out because she helped him with the catering. His hotels were always known for – ‘he kept a good table,’ my mother said. So I think grandma was helping. Most of the recipes are for cakes, puddings, chutneys and things like that. When they finally settled in Woolgoolga, which is between Coffs Harbour and Grafton, next door to the Seaview Hotel my grandfather ran a billiard hall. Once a week they used to run a picture show and grandma used to make all these cakes and things for supper at the picture show.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: The other thing about biscuits and cakes is that you need to be quite precise with the measurements, which is why you would need so many recipes for them as well. Alison has a cookbook from her mother.
SPEAKER 18: This is not an Australian cookbook; it’s a Ceylon cookbook - and I say Ceylon because it was published in 1956. It is a wonderful snapshot of a country that is moving from European to Ceylonese ingredients. As you look down the luncheon menus, the first page is all English, Dutch, Portuguese. But then as you turn the page you will see things like biryani, plantum, string hoppers, mulligatawny, lambs fry and all of those things. Then you go to the more formal menus for dinner. So you can see that it’s a nation in change. There you can see some of the utensils that were used in a Ceylon kitchen (shows image). Number eight is for making pitu which was a steamed combination of semolina, coconut, flour and so on. There you can see some of the Dutch and Portuguese sweets that were common to a Sri Lankan tiffin. But a bit further on, you will see all these handwritten recipes. These were my mother’s attempts to find the perfect love cake recipe, which is a cake that is made with semolina and 25 yolks of eggs. Each one had to be put into the mixture and the mixture was then stirred for 20 minutes. So it took a long time to make, as you can see.
SPEAKER 19: There is one thing that our group came up with. Although our books were simply written, they assumed that you already had some basic techniques or knowledge.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: They certainly didn’t go into as much detail about what it meant to knead or any of those things.
SPEAKER 20: The book that is coming up now [shows image] is a reproduction of a book published in 1758. It was the first cookbook published in America and it was also very popular in England at the time. It shows how isolated the early colonial wives were because they had to cope with such a huge range of dealing with accidents and sickness as well as the recipes. They used huge quantities of cream, eggs and sack, which I think is sherry. Brandy was also very popular. Their cure for diarrhoea sounded pretty good to me. It was cutting circles of bread about the size of a crown and toasting it, soaking it in French brandy and then just before bedtime eating the toast and sucking the brandy. That all sounded quite good.
This one is such a nice chatty book [shows image] and I love her name. The book is called Traditional South African Cookery by Hildagonda Duckitt who lived in South Africa. It is just like what was available on the farm during the different seasons. She had published a previous book and very often referred you to that so you had to go and buy that one. There are lots of recipes and also dealing with problems about dogs getting into the grapes. The dog would eat these bunches of grapes when they were ripe, and I wouldn’t have thought of having to keep the dogs out. They are both very lovely books to browse through and they give you a look into that period in history.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: It is interesting the way that people do talk about how to kill things. [Auguste] Escoffier, for instance, would talk about how you should use shellfish while it was still alive and how you could stop it from biting you while you were trying to pull the shells off. They are quite different from what we would do now.
SPEAKER 21: My grandmother prepared this book for her daughter, my mother, and dated it 1929 and, as you can see, it’s been very well used. My mother was a nurse so when it started to fall to pieces she stuck it together with elastoplast. There are heaps of recipes for cakes and pastries, and some meat recipes in the front. But if you turn it around, at the back she wrote a number of recipes and hints for curing things. Although there is not one there for diarrhoea, there is one for toothache where you mixed up mustard and put it behind your ear. Then following that there are instructions on how to turn the heel of a sock and how to make soap and various types of cleaning agents. It was quite a useful book. Other people have also written in it, various aunts, and another also added some recipes. My children are now fighting over who is going to get it when I die. I think I will try to have it conserved in some way so that it doesn’t continue to deteriorate.
Dr ADELE WESSELL: That is quite a nice one to finish on because it is now 4 o’clock. It’s been wonderful the books that people have brought in to share and also to hear their experiences of those cookbooks. Handwritten cookbooks in some ways remind us of how cookbooks are one of those things that you need to also interact with, so either writing them yourself or changing the recipe is really important. In that sense for me it was an important thing I learned about study as well. It was about the doing; it was about the idea of reading as being something that was really active that cookbooks gave me that other books didn’t necessarily give me when I was younger.
I am going to put my email address up there [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] and I would really like to continue the conversation with some people. Some of the books that you have brought in are gems, but it is also in the reading of them that is the most valuable. When they are sitting on their own you really can’t tell the stories that are behind them. Thanks everybody for sharing those, and I hope you continue to enjoy cooking and reading. Thanks very much.
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Date published: 01 January 2018