Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What's Cooking Down Under? Rare Cookbooks From Monash University

By Nancy Mattoon

Noble, Emily. Rabbit recipes.
(Melbourne : Victorian Rabbit Packers
and Exporters Association, [193-?]).
(All Images Courtesy of Sir Louis Matheson Library.)

Everyday life inside the average home is one of the hardest things for historians to document. Unlike business or political life, the inner workings of the domestic realm are essentially private and go largely unrecorded. A new exhibit at Australia's Monash University Library consists of a stellar collection of rare books which provide access to an essential aspect of the homemaker's secret world: food preparation. As Alexandra Michell's introduction to the show notes, "Because we must eat to live, food is therefore an absolute daily necessity, as well as the way in which we celebrate friendships, gatherings, and all sorts of special events...cookbooks document the history of food, giving us an insight into its availability and popularity at different times and in different cultures. Collections such as this one are helping to preserve the history of food and cooking."

The Australian women's weekly presents-
the teenagers' cook book :
from our Leila Howard test kitchen.
(Sydney : Australian Consolidated Press, 1969).

The collections of Monash's Sir Louis Matheson Library consist of "a large range of books from mainly France, England and Australia, dating from 1654 to the present day." The most unique titles in the Melbourne university's exhibition are those which cover the cooking culture of the Land Down Under. The show is so rich in material, that this brief Booktryst overview will be limited to only a sampling of those unusual and fascinating books concerning the history of Australian cookery.

The art of living in Australia / by Philip E. Muskett ;
together with three hundred Australian cookery recipes
and accessory kitchen information by Mrs. H. Wicken.
(London ; Melbourne : Eyre and Spottiswoode, [1892?]).

Author Philip Muskett was the Surgeon Superintendent to the New South Wales Government. Born in the Collingwood section of Melbourne, he despaired of "the fact that our people live in direct opposition to their semi-tropical environment." Muskett believed that his fellow Aussie's, "consumption of butcher's meat and of tea is enormously in excess of any common sense requirements, and is paralleled nowhere else in the world... " The doctor advocated greater consumption of local fish, oysters, fruits and vegetables, washed down with Australian wines rather than water or tea. Co-author Mrs. Wicken, a "Diplomee of the National Training School for Cookery, London; Lecturer on Cookery to the Technical College, Sydney," supplied the recipes and advice on setting up a proper kitchen, including the all important "ice chest," essential in Australia's tropical climate.

The Kingswood cookery book / by H. F. Wicken.
6th ed., rev. and enl.
(Melbourne : Whitcombe & Tombs, [1913]).

Harriet Frances Wicken published the first edition of her Kingswood cookery book in London in 1885. A revised, Australian edition of her book appeared in 1889 and went through six editions to 1913. In the introduction to the first edition, Mrs. Wicken stressed the importance of culinary skills to women: "The art of good cooking (if I may call it so) is so absolutely necessary to the comfort and well-being of all classes of the community, that I think its value cannot be over-estimated. A dinner well cooked promotes digestion, and conduces to contentment and happiness. I hope that the day is not far distant when cookery will form an important item in the education of our girls."

Cookery recipes for the people / by Miss Pearson.
2nd ed.
(Melbourne : Australasian American Trading Co., 1889)

[Cover title: Australian cookery : recipes for the people]

Margaret J. Pearson was the cooking instructor at the Melbourne Workingmen’s College. The recipes in this book are from classes she gave for the Metropolitan Gas Co. at the 1888 Centennial Exhibition in Melbourne, held to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of European settlement in Australia. According to a newspaper account of the event, these classes were attended by "maids and matrons of every degree in the social scale from the general servant who wishes to qualify for the more important office of cook, to the lady of fashion, who, for the moment, has 'taken up' cookery as her latest and most engrossing fad."

Mrs. Lance Rawson's cookery book
and household hints
3rd ed., enl. and rev.
(Rockhampton, [Qld.] : William Hopkins, 1890).

[Cover title: The Queensland
cookery and poultry book

Wilhelmina Frances Rawson was born in Sydney and lived in North Queensland. Her Queensland cookery and poultry book was first published in 1878. Her purpose in writing the book was to provide a useful cookbook to the homemaker living in the bush having, "scant material to work with." She encouraged the inventive use of local food sources, to wit: "When I tell my friends that we often eat Bandicoots, Kangaroo Rats, Wallaby, and Paddymelon, they look astonished, and yet there is no reason they should not be good for human food, as they all live on grass or roots. Often a young bush housekeeper is at her wits' end when killing-day is postponed, and the beef has run out, little knowing that she has materials for a sumptuous repast not far from her kitchen."

Australian economic cookery book
and housewife's companion
by F. Fawcett Story.
(Sydney : Kealy & Philip, 1900).

Mrs. Story taught cooking at Sydney Technical College and at Hurlstone Teachers Training College in the 1880s and 1890s. The frontispiece shows one of her cooking classes. In her preface she emphasizes the need for girls to learn basic, everyday cooking, "As it is, when girls do attend cookery classes for a term or two, it is generally only with the idea of learning to make scones and cakes, nice little supper dishes for company, etc., and very rarely indeed with the object of making themselves so thoroughly acquainted with the art and science of cookery as to fit them to take charge of households."

Kimberley cook book.
Some old recipes and some new ones
[Recipes by Marianne Yambo ... [et al. ;
lino prints by Marianne Yambo ... [et al.] ;
printed and edited by Jan Palethorpe]
[Western Australia] : Jan Palethorpe, [1997?]

The Matheson Library's copy of this collection of aboriginal recipes from the Kimberley region of North-Western Australia is Number One of only 20 copies printed. It contains traditional recipes from native peoples, and is illustrated with linoleum cuts of ancient symbols created by aboriginal artists. It is written in a conversational style, emphasizing the oral tradition of the Australian Aboriginals. These natives of the continent did not have written languages when first encountered by Europeans. Their songs, stories, legends, chants, and recipes made up a rich oral literature with incredible diversity among various tribes. When British colonists arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, there were over 250 spoken Aboriginal languages with 600 dialects. Their subtle and complex culture has only been carefully studied, and appreciated, since the mid-20th century.

87 Kitchen Inspirations.
(Brisbane : Simpson Bros. Pty. Ltd., 1938).

This is only a tiny selection of the over 100 rare books on display at the Sir Louis Matheson Library, and in the excellent virtual exhibition created for online visitors. The show celebrates the gift of valuable seventeenth to nineteenth century French and English cookbooks made to the Library by Alexandra (Sandy) Michell, beginning in 1988. Ms. Michell has also made generous financial donations to the Matheson Library, allowing the collection to be enriched and expanded to include a fine collection of early Australian cookbooks, and a selection of twentieth century material. Additionally, Ms. Michell has written an insightful introduction to the exhibition, which has been made available on the Library's website.


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