Delicious and insightful
Spotlight on historic community cookbooks
IN THE 1960s, a small group of western Queensland station women formed a cultural club.
The Wangi Club helped them combat their isolation in the Outback and get through a prolonged drought.
They ended up producing a recipe book, Once a Jolly Jumbuck, to raise funds for charity – full of ways to cook mutton.
The story of these women and their cookbook is one of many highlighted in Australian author Liz Harfull’s book Tried, Tested and True, which features treasured recipes and untold stories from Australian community cookbooks.
Liz caught up with Rural Weekly while on a book tour in Brisbane.
WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR WRITING TRIED, TESTED AND TRUE?
“THEY are the kind of books I grew up with,” Liz said.
“I was raised on a farm in South Australia and most of Mum’s recipes came from community cookbooks.
“I’ve written two books on show cooking traditions and when I visited show cooks to research those books they brought out recipes with the same influence.”
Liz said she began to grow curious about the cookbooks themselves.
“I wanted to know about the people behind them,” she said.
“And the kind of recipes you’d see in different decades and periods.
“I started exploring and looked at close to 1000 community cookbooks from across Australia, up to the 1980s.
“The oldest known community cookbook in Australia, The WMU Cookery Book, was compiled in the 1890s by the Queensland Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, so that is where this wonderful tradition most likely started.”
HOW DID YOU DETERMINE WHAT COOKBOOKS AND RECIPES TO FEATURE?
“THE stories came out of months of research,” Liz said.
“Some organisations and people were long gone, but sometimes I was able to track down the people involved, or their descendants.
“One of my favourite books is Once a Jolly Jumbuck. I first saw it while visiting relatives near Roma, who cooked a meal from it for me.
“After some persistent investigation, I found out that it was created by about 10 women from around Longreach and Muttaburra, who formed the Wangi Club.
“Alice Crombie from Marita Downs Station had the idea to invite over women from neighbouring stations for regular gatherings. They had lunches, discussed everything from the arts to politics, invited guest speakers and even put on plays. Then they decided to create a cookbook.
“I actually managed to track down the last surviving member, Judith Henderson, who lives in Brisbane now, and she told me all about it.
“When you live on a station you eat your own meat. Not the lambs, because they are the highest valued stock and go to market, but the mutton. In a drought, the meat develops an even stronger flavour than usual when the muscles of the sheep start to break down and the women were all struggling to find different and tasty ways to cook it.
“Their book was a huge success. It has some fabulous recipes – a signature recipe in the book is the Wangi casserole, which reminded me of something my mum made.
“Of course it’s hard to buy mutton now – but the casserole is made with layers of meat, onion, potato and tomatoes with this very simple sauce made with station store room staples like Worcestershire sauce and mustard powder.”
Many of the recipes featured in the cookbook had to be extensively rewritten to suit modern cooks.
Liz said she had about 50 test cooks who then tried the recipes to make sure they were easy to follow and really worked.
“There was a 150-year-old trifle recipe and of course there were no fridges back then, so to make a cream-type layer, it said to beat the mixture and then store it overnight in a cool place to set. Other recipes talked about putting a pot over the fire to heat,” she said.
“But a surprising number of the recipes take less than half an hour to make. These cookbooks were all about dishes that were economical and easy to make, and above all, tasty.
“In some books I found recipes that had several names under them.
“You know they were popular at the time because five or six people submitted the same recipe to be included.
“In one farming district there were six names under a Boston bun recipe – a fruit bun, made using mashed potato instead of yeast. I could see why when I made it. It took less than 30 minutes to prepare and cook, and it uses leftover potato.”
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY CHANGES IN COOKING THROUGHOUT THE GENERATIONS?
“WELL, a good dessert has always been a good dessert, and baking recipes hold up well with time too,” Liz said.
“But I cannot say the same thing about the main courses.
“Tripe, brains, kidney and even boiled sheep’s head – they used every bit of an animal – things people don’t eat today.
“My dad used to feed lamb shanks to the dogs, now they are a delicacy. Times have changed.”
Liz said she noticed almost every cookbook from the ’60s had a meatloaf recipe.
“They were really economical, appealed to families, but people don’t make them much now,” she said.
“Given the financial pressure people are under today and the rising cost of meat, I think they deserve to be rediscovered.
“I included a meatloaf recipe in my book that has a simple topping made with cheese, eggs and flour, which is a bit different and stretches the dish even further.”
❝A good dessert has always been a good dessert, and baking recipes hold up well with time too. — Liz Harfull
WAS THERE A STAND-OUT GROUP OR PUBLICATION YOU STUMBLED ACROSS?
“QUEENSLAND has two classics. The Red Cross Recipe Book from Longreach was first produced during World War II and was still in print in the 1990s.
“The first edition included a section with American recipes, because it was produced when the United States Air Force had bomber crews based at Longreach,” Liz said.
“But the stand-out, by far, is the Country Women’s Association Cookbook from Bundaberg.
“It’s sold more than 128,000 copies, and they are still receiving orders almost every time they check their mailbox.
“It’s celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
“The most famous recipe out of the book is the Hinkler cake.
“Funnily enough the recipe is missing lots of important information, so there’s been no way to know you’re making it the right away.
“No one in the CWA at Bundaberg could help, so I did some research around similar cakes and revised it, then I sent it to one of their members to see what she thought, and it got the thumbs up.”
The cake was created to celebrate aviation pioneer Bert Hinkler, a Bundaberg boy who was the first person to fly solo from England to Australia. Liz discovered that his mother, Frances, and his wife, Nancy, were made honorary members of the CWA during celebrations when he returned home, with the organisation acknowledging the anxious moments they had endured during Bert’s be found in all good bookstores, or you can purchase signed copies direct from the author at www.lizharfull.com.
Tried, Tested and True author Liz Harfull.
LOOKING BACK: Alice Crombie with the Wangi Club’s community cookbook.intrepid adventures.Liz described the cake as unusual today, but of a popular form in the 1920s and ’30s.“It’s got a shortcake base, then a thin layer of dried fruit and on top is a butter cake type mixture, topped with lemon icing,” she said.“It’s not very high. Some people talk about it as a slice.”Tried, Tested and True can
Tried, Tested and True.