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Vintage Week – Australian Home Cookery

This week it’s about all things Vintage.  Once upon a time we talked about antiques, about things being old fashioned or retro.  Shabby Chic is out and Vintage is in.  Here’s a week in the life of TIFFIN’s Vintage Brisbane.

Today we visit the oldest cookbook in my collection.

A while ago my Mum gave me a cookbook that had belonged to her Dad (my Grandad), ‘Australian Home Cookery’.  Apparently he was the cook in the family and I have heard her talk about his enjoyment of cooking and teaching her tips and tricks.  For the the ‘man of the house’ to also be the ‘cook of the house’ in the mid 1940’s would have been most unusual.

Australian Home Cookery is a sizable volume of the type you might have bought from a door to door salesman or as part of an annual subscription from a book club.  It has cloth bound board covers with the image of a happy housewife pulling a roast from the oven, imprinted into the front.  There are no publishing details but the National Library of Australia dates it as being printed in the 1930’s.

The books is from a time when food produced was a necessity, not a luxury.  The introduction is by ‘Prudence’ who says ‘Extravagance is not compatible with good cooking, therefore the majority of the recipes are for dishes which may be prepared at moderate cost.’  The book then goes on to provide recipes for Crayfish in Aspic, Fried Oysters, Caper Sauce and a Gin Cocktail amongst others so it seems it wasn’t all hard living in the 1930’s.  Still there’s plenty there to remind you that this is a book of a different era.  Nothing says ‘mid 20th Century’ like some offal recipes.  Kidneys on Toast in Savoury Dishes, Brain and Ham Pie in Cooking for Two and lucky invalids have the option of Raw Beef Tea or, if they’re feeling a little better, Tripe Custard.

For a cookbook from the 1930’s, it seems surprisingly contemporary.  There are recipes for dishes I associate with the 1960’s such as Angels on Horseback, Celery Logs and Asparagus Rolls.  In the cake section, Dolly Varden makes an appearance but you are reminded straight away that this is a pre-WWII publication as the doll is made of china and not some cheap plastic model.  It is suggested that Christmas Cake is just as easy as Madeira Cake for Dolly’s skirt.

The book focuses on recipes with a few tips for setting a table, folding napkins and serving wine. There’s an unexpected section at the end on Water Economy Measures ‘For the benefit of those in dry areas, where every dipperful of water is precious in midsummer’.  This also seems very modern thinking, particularly when you read tips such as draining melons in muslin to give up their juice for use in pies and desserts or, souring milk and collecting the whey in a similar fashion to use as a base for soups and stews.  Some tips though perfectly serviceable would probably wrinkle the new millennium homemaker’s nose such as ‘Keep a large pot of earth beside the sink.  Knives, forks and spoons dug into this and wiped on paper need the merest rinsing and drying to be clean and shining. Change the earth or fork it over after each washing up’.

There’s an assumption that the reader has more than a basic understanding of cookery and this is reflected in the brief recipes.  For example:

Fish Souffles
Ingredients: 2 cups flaked salmon or tinned lobster, 1 1/2 cups white sauce, 3 eggs, pepper & salt
Method: Add the fish to the hot sauce. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Flavour with pepper and salt, and a little finely chopped parsley if liked.  Let it cool. Then fold in the stiffly beaten whites of eggs, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes in a fairly hot oven. Serve with hot tomato sauce.

No mention of separating the eggs or how to do this nor, how long to beat the whites.  Oven times are also loose and there is no suggestion of what it should be cooked in or look like when finished.  A good cook would just know. I wonder how many fish souffles fell flat?

I’m not sure when I’ll need a recipe for Cooked Cucumber or Rabbit Corks but it’s a great insight into the not too distant past and a decidedly entertaining read.  But don’t take my word for it.  ‘Expert on Cooking’, Mrs J E Read of 116 Wyman St, Broken Hill reviews it for the The Miner in this article in the National Library.  I commend it to you.

6 comments… add one
  • belleau kitchen August 6, 2013, 8:21 pm

    oh that book is adorable… I love a vintage cookbook, the one's from the 70's and 80's are particularly hysterical but every era has its own particular prevalences… lovely post x

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! August 7, 2013, 7:51 am

      I have plenty from the 60's and 70's handed over from my mum and scavenged from op shops but this has another 40 years on them. Thanks for your kind words.

  • Jan Rhoades August 7, 2013, 8:58 am

    Hmm…4/9 – that's about 50cents in 'new' money. Obviously you had to add a coupon as well. I remember this was my Dad's bible. Is there a recipe for rock cakes because they were a specialty of his. I love the crystals of sugar on top as they came out of the oven – all glistening and melted into the top but still discernable as individual granuales. Yum, I can taste them now.

    • Fiona Bris-Vegas! August 7, 2013, 6:37 pm

      There's not one but two recipes for Rock Cakes. One uses dripping but it's the one with butter that says 'Do not work too much, as the cakes are nicer if the sugar has not quite melted' so maybe he was freestyling and using both recipes.

  • angela ritter June 26, 2015, 11:51 am

    I HAVE THE SAME BOOK! how cool, it was my grandmothers. So what is the publish date on them? Mine doesnt have it 🙁

    • Fiona Ryan June 27, 2015, 2:59 pm

      No idea on the publishing date. That National Library just says ‘1930’s. Thanks for leaving a comment. cheers

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