Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Did Anyone Really Make this Stuff?

Sometimes, when confronted with a colonial era newspaper recipe for a truly overwrought French dessert, which would challenge even the most accomplished modern cook equipped with a KitchenAid stand mixer, I find myself thinking "Did anyone ever make that? Ever?" It seems even more implausible that anyone whipped it up in a remote bush kitchen.

Being the sort of morose writerly type to get caught in a spiral of self-doubt, this thought then leads me to wonder if anyone was cooking any of this stuff; or if Australia in the 1860s was full of people who every week nearly killed themselves laughing at what The Australasian thought they should cook for dinner.

You'll be pleased to hear that my spirits have been buoyed by finding at least one person who, if not actually cooking the darn things, at least made the effort of snipping them out of the paper and pasting them in a personal recipe book.

From the collection of Museum Victoria is the recipe book of Eliza Duckmanton, which includes handwritten recipes and recipes she found in newspapers. You can see a sample page, complete with a rather charming doodle here:

Eliza Duckmanton (Maker) (1870). Book - Recipe & Remedy, Eliza Duckmanton, 1870. Museum Victoria

It turns out that the creation of a personal recipe book was actually a common practice among literate middle-class Colonial women, as one of the museum curators explains:

It was common for literate colonial women to create their own household management guides to suit their new country. Hand-written recipe books were sometimes even part of a bride's trousseau. This was because few cookery and household management books were available in Australia until the 1890s, and those that did exist were more suitable for English ingredients and kitchen facilities, being either imported from England or being locally produced imitations. Mrs Beeton's 1861 Book of Household Management was one of these; recipes were also published in imported magazines. Cookbooks were also usually aimed at city dwellers rather than country women, who had far less access to many ingredients. 
 Museum Victoria (2011). "Statement of Significance", Book - Recipe & Remedy, Eliza Duckmanton, 1870. http://museumvictoria.com.au/collections/items/407598/book-recipe-remedy-eliza-duckmanton-1870

Obviously women in Colonial Australia wouldn't have had access to recipes on the internet, but it was a revelation to me to realise that they also didn't have access to climate-appropriate cookbooks, or in many cases the transmitted knowledge from older female relatives. As a consequence, it seems probable that newspaper recipes were a major source of information for these early colonial cooks.

If you'd like to try one of Eliza's recipes, Museum Victoria blogger Kate C.  has given her Queen Cakes a whirl. You can read all about it and see the recipe here.

Finally, I've got a challenge for you, cookery friends. I haven't been able to locate any of Eliza's clipped recipes on Trove. If you have better luck, I'd love to hear from you!