…then when my mother-in-law died, we’d only been married a year, I found a cookbook and I kept that. And my daughter rang and she said, have you still got that recipe for Granny’s … I’ve forgotten the name. Well, I had to hunt for it but I found the nearest one I could. I went through loads of cookbooks. And she said, oh, yes, I managed, ‘cos Granny Gomer’s was half an egg, ‘cos it was a wartime one you see. (Margaret G, b. 1924)
Mother, really, she did more crocheting but she loved to write. She loved recipes. I’ve got some of her books that she wrote recipes and poems in, didn’t she? She was always doing something like that, but Father loved reading. (Jean Mercer, b. 1925)
I wasn’t planning to return to books about running a home, like the Hints and Wrinkles volume given away by the Daily Herald in 1939. But since the original post, I’ve come across more domestic volumes on Sheffield’s bookshelves. Some have been bought new or second-hand, for interest, while others were given as presents to young people leaving home, and others still have been passed down in families, as the memories from our readers show. Firmly rooted in their own time, these domestic books show better than many how everyday life changes. Attitudes, habits and aspirations are all visible through them.
Here are a few, drawn at random, from the collection of one friend.
Starting with the more recent, we find cookery books by Jamie (Penguin/Michael Joseph, 2014) and Delia (BBC, 1995), Jane Grigson (Penguin, 1974) and Rose Elliott (Fontana, 1983). Delia and Jamie are celebrity cooks who can set the fashion. Rose Elliot, who published her first book in 1967, is perhaps the first popular vegetarian cookery writer, well remembered by me at least from student days. And Jane Grigson was not only a highly respected cook but also a prose stylist:
The artichoke above all is the vegetable expression of civilised living, of the long view, of increasing delight by anticipation and crescendo. No wonder it was once regarded as an aphrodisiac. It had no place in the troll’s world of instant gratification. It makes no appeal to the meat-and-two-veg mentality.
Food and related businesses have long sponsored domestic advice as part of their marketing. Sainsbury published a handsome, apron-pocket-sized cookery series in the 1980s. This one, from in 1985, was written by Anne Willan, the English founder of the French La Varenne cookery school.
And there’s the Radiation New World Cookery Book, published by the manufacturers to teach people how to use their gas stoves. It first appeared in 1927, but had staying power. This updated edition is from 1963.
Here is New World’s recipe for Savoy Pudding. (Does anyone still eat this?)
Regulo Mark 5
Time: Pudding – 30 minutes, Meringue – 20 minutes
Short crust pastry, using 6oz flour. 2 oz butter or margarine. 2oz caster sugar. Whites of 2 eggs. Yolks of 2 eggs. 3 oz sponge cake crumbs. 1/3 pint milk. 2 oz chopped candied peel. Ratafia essence. 1 tablespoonful caster sugar.
Method: Line a greased pie-dish with the pastry and decorate the edges according to taste. Cream the fat and sugar together, beat in the egg yolks and cake crumbs and add the milk gradually with the chopped peel and ratafia essence. Put this into the prepared dish and bake for 30 minutes with the Regulo set at Mark 5. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, fold in 1 tablespoonful caster sugar and pile it onto the pudding. Put on the bottom of the oven for 20 minutes to set and brown the meringue.
This is the recipe for the same pudding from Cassell’s Shilling Cookery Book (1903 edition). (Puddings were clearly important at the turn of the 20th century. Cassell provides 74 pages of them.)
Rub six ounces of stale savoy cake to crumbs, and pour upon these a quarter of a pint of boiling milk. Let them soak for half an hour, then beat the mixture with a fork until smooth, and add four ounces of fresh butter, four ounces of finely-shred candied peel, the well-beaten yolks of four eggs, two tablespoonfuls of sugar, and two tablespoonfuls of brandy. Beat the mixture for some minutes, put it into a cool place for an hour, and beat it up again. Put it into a buttered dish and bake in a brisk oven. Whisk the whites of the eggs till firm, sweeten them and flavour them pleasantly. Put them on the pudding, and place this in the oven a few minutes longer, but do not let it get brown. When the eggs are set the pudding is ready for serving. Time to bake the pudding, half an hour. Sufficient for four or five persons.
The results must be similar, but the 1903 pudding looks much richer, and the instructions are less precise. Just how hot is a ‘brisk oven’ and how do you flavour something ‘pleasantly’?
The Shilling Cookery Book was first published in 1888, compiled by Arthur Gay Payne who, unusually, combined cookery writing and sports journalism. It was one of a modestly-priced series, aimed perhaps at the lower middle or skilled working classes. Loath to miss any opportunities, Cassell used its pages to advertise:
- their other publications such as their Home Handbooks (which, interestingly for 1903, includes Vegetarian Cookery) and the ‘Famous Sixpenny Novels’, with once popular, now largely forgotten authors like E W Hornung, Anthony Hope, Warwick Deeping and Marie Connor Leighton
- food and related products. My favourites are Bongola tea, which ‘has no equal’, and Lemco, ‘pure beef – the primest beef the world produces’.
Our next books, The Constance Spry Cookery Book (Dent & Sons, 1956) and Mrs Beeton’s Cookery and Household Management (Ward, Lock & Co, 1960 edition) are by the great authorities of their day.
Constance Spry (1886-1960), who has rather faded from notice today, was renowned for her flower arrangements (she ‘did’ the Coronation and the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor). She also ran a very successful domestic science school at Winkfield Place, Berkshire. Her cookery book is comprehensive, but am I alone in finding the illustration above too garish?
Mrs Beeton (1836-1865) died young but is still remembered. ‘I must frankly own, that if I had known, beforehand, that this book would have cost me the labour which it has, I should never have been courageous enough to commence it,’ she writes in the first edition (1861). A hundred years later, her book has been updated and includes modern colour schemes and a fish dish to make you blench.
Here, in case anyone is still wearing them, is Mrs Beeton’s advice on caring for corsets and girdles:
These should be washed as often as other ‘next the skin’ garments. Washing should be done quickly in cool suds, rubbing any very dirty parts with a soft nail brush. Several rinses should be given, and the garments should then be squeezed gently between the folds of a towel to remove surplus moisture. They should be dried in a cool airy place away from any direct heat.
Finally, there is Elizabeth Craig’s Needlecraft (Collins, 1941). Craig (1883-1980) was a Scottish home economist and journalist. Her main interest was cookery and she produced many recipe books in a career lasting over 60 years. She also wrote about housekeeping, gardening and needlework. From 1937, Collins published the various volumes of her Household Library: Cookery, Housekeeping, Gardening, 1,000 Household Hints and Needlecraft. These books were promoted as ‘An Extra Pair of hands, always ready’: and are a forerunner of the Daily Herald’s Home Library. Needlework is full of useful projects like covering a wicker storage basket for a nursery and making your own lingerie.
Nine books written and updated over about 150 years. Between them, they reflect the changing priorities and expectations of our society, particularly of course as they affect the lives of women.
 The owner of the books thinks a brisk oven is about 200° and suggests orange or lemon rind to taste for ‘pleasant’ flavouring. She also wonders if the pastry in the New World recipe is baked blind.