A look at his­toric cook­books

Spot­light on his­toric com­mu­nity cook­books

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - INSIDE ABOUT YOUR RURAL WEEKLY - CAN­DYCE BRAITHWAITE Can­dyce.braithwaite@apn.com.au

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.”

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

❝A good dessert has al­ways been a good dessert, and bak­ing recipes hold up well with time too. — Liz Har­full

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 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 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.

PHOTOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

Tried, Tested and True.

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