It’s amazing what you find when you dig a little into the background of a couple of simple recipe books. I acquired two recipe books, published by the Dunedin City Gas Department. They were not dated, merely named ‘Eleventh Edition’ and ‘Fourteenth Edition’ respectively. They were written by Miss I Finlay with the credits: “Cookery Diploma, City and Guilds Institute, London. Formerly on Home Science Staff, Dunedin Technical High School”. I made enquiries to see if I could date these books and find out a bit about them.
I haven’t yet been able to date them much more than approximately the 1950’s but they were published by the Dunedin City Gas Department from the 1920’s. Although gas was used for cooking in Dunedin as early as 1884, coal ranges were still very popular due to the easy availability of coal in the region. During the 1920’s the popularity of gas ranges grew and the use of gas for cooking was vigorously promoted via these Cookery Books and the appointment of a ‘Lady Demonstrator’ who was employed to work in a permanently established showroom promoting gas cooking. By then however, electricity would have also been starting to become available to domestic cooks, thereby increasing the competition for customers.
Onward though, a little knowledge of the background to these cookbooks enhanced my enjoyment as I looked through them. They are absolutely lovely and filled to the brim with recipes and information about gas cookers and their operation. They run to about 200 pages each! Each book has some lovely old advertisements:
In the delightfully school marmish ways of this era, the cookbooks also offer wonderful nutrition advice:
How to balance our food supply in relation to health is a subject which is of much importance. An excess of sweets and highly refined foods will naturally bring trouble of some of some kind – while the unrefined foods such as Wholemeal, Bran, Brown Rice, Raw Sugar and Oatmeal, along with plenty of vergetables and fruit, eggs, milk etc, will supply the body with the necessary mineral matter and vitamins and keep it in a condition resistant to disease.
……The soil in some districts is lacking in Iodine Content, but this lack may be overcome by using iodised Salt, also some of the sea products manufactured by Messrs. W Gregg and Co., Dunedin e.g., Sea Meal and Sea Jell, Sea Meal Dessert Custard. Not too much meat (none necessary after middle age), but other Protein Foods, sich as Fish, Eggs, Cheese, Milk with Vegetables, Fruit and coarse grained Cereals, provide a fairly safe diet.
……Raw Vegetables are finding a place in many health menus. A special Vegetable Soup recipe has been supplied in this issue, and its daily use is recommended as a Mineral Tonic and Laxative.
Much of this advice is still very relevant. Amazing though we have had the right knowledge for decades, diet related health problems still seem to be on the increase.
The other fabulous pleasure of these cookbooks are the sample dinner menus, planned to maximise use of space in your oven and the cost of cooking while providing nutritional balance. I also adore that these meal plans so well utilise ingredients for maximum flavour and minimum cost. There are also a number of vegetarian options. Here are a couple of my favourites that I would feed my family today. :
MENU 5: Time, 1 hour.
- Pork fillets – forcemeat balls
- Roast Parsnips
- Roast Potatoes
- Apple Sauce
- Date and Walnut Roll
2 lb Pork Fillets – cut into suitable sizes. Flour, dip in hot fat, place in greased roasting tin. Bring potatoes and parsnips to boiling point; drain; dip in hot fat and place in tin with meat.
- 2 Cups white breadcrumbs
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- ¼ Teaspoon pepper
- 1 Teaspoon chopped parsley
- Little grated onion or lemon rind
- 1 oz butter
- 1 egg
Method. – Mix dry ingredients; rub butter in; beat egg and add it. Make into small balls; dip in hot fat and place in tin with meat.
Apple Sauce – Peel and slice 4 apples. Arrange in casserole with 2 teaspoons sugar; 1/2 oz butter; 2 tablespoons water. Cover with lid. When cooked, beat well.
- ½ lb flour
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- ½ Teaspoon salt
- 4 oz Butter
- ¼ Br. Cup water (about)
Method.- Mix dry ingredients,; rub in butter. Mix to a firm dough with water; roll out to an oblong shape. Cover to within 1 inch of the edges with stoned daes and chopped walnts. Roll up, turning edges before giving last fold. Place in greased baking tin on 5th Grid. (My notes: The grid sustem seems to denote the oven shelf that the dish is placed on, starting from the top From all the provisos and instructions in the cook books regarding temperature, it seems that despite the introduction of thermostats, oven temperatures were still notoriously difficult to control. “Br. Cup” is a British Cup – a slightly larger measure than an American Cup.)
MENU 12. time ½ hour.
- Lima or Haricot Bean Savoury
- Escalloped Cabbage
- Baked Kumeras (sic)
- Pineapple Pudding
Lima Bean Savoury:-
- 4 ozs Lima or Haricot beans
- 6 Tablespoons cheese
- 2 Eggs
- ½ pint milk
- 1 teaspoon made mustard
- Cayenne pepper, sufficient to cover 3d.
- ½ Teaspoon salt
Wash and soak beans in cold water 8 hours. Bring to boiling point and cook 1½ hours, or until soft. Drain and mash beans. Measure 1½ Br. cups of beans and liquor. Mix all ingredients and place in pie-dish. Put on 5th top grid in oven.
- 1 Cabbage
- ½ pint white sauce
- ½ Cup white breadcrumbs
- 1 Onion grated
Wash cabbage; quarter and chop it up, removing thick stem. Cook in very little boiling, salted water 10 minutes. Drain, and press the cabbge, using water to make sauce. Place in pie-dish alternate layers of cabbage, onion and white sauce. Cover with breadcrumbs and dot with butter. Put on 3rd top oven grid.
Baked Kumeras (sic) – Wash and scrub kumeras; dry them and lay on 5th top grip at back of oven.
- 1 Cup pineapple cubes and juice
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 ozs Sugar
- 1 oz. Butter
- 1 Tablespoon cornflour
- 1 Egg
Mix together all ingredients, reserving the egg white. Cook over gentle heat until thick, stirring all the time. Remove and cool a little and add stiffly beaten egg white. Place in pie dish and cook in oven on 7th top grid.
These cookbooks contain over 700 recipes so now that I have found out a little about the background of them, I will continue to explore and share.
A final note to my elecricity provider; Rather than constantly putting power prices and charging consumers higher prices for electricity than most of the developed world in the pursuit of ever increasing profits, you could do something wonderful and make your customers feel so special and valued if you sent them a cookbook. I maybe might not even moan so much about the thousands of dollars I pay you each year!