We are what we eat: Part I

Recipe book, possibly begun in 1782 and with later recipes added over successive generations. The recipes include instructions on making soap and medicines as well as food. The volume contains newspaper cuttings of recipes from ca 1858, sketches of buildings and copies of some correspondence, the most recent of which is dated as 1947. The cuttings are from Wanganui newspapers. Many of the pages are encrusted with mud, possibly caused by one of the many floods, which have occurred in Blenheim. ATL Manuscripts Ref: MSX-7821Recipe book, possibly begun in 1782 and with later recipes added over successive generations. The recipes include instructions on making soap and medicines as well as food. The volume contains newspaper cuttings of recipes from ca 1858, sketches of buildings and copies of some correspondence, the most recent of which is dated as 1947. The cuttings are from Wanganui newspapers. Many of the pages are encrusted with mud, possibly caused by one of the many floods, which have occurred in Blenheim. ATL Manuscripts Ref: MSX-7821 (1)

The importance of food and the preparation of family meals, particularly the New Zealand Sunday roast, provide a sense of continuity for many Kiwis. The passing on of family recipes around the holidays, preparing favourites and trying out new ideas both strengthen and re-affirm our sense of self and place. (2) Research shows that many New Zealand women express themselves with food. (3) They acquire cooking skills through watching their mothers, through trial and error, or through more formal instruction from relatives. The latter forming the foundation of many cherished memories of grandparents or aunts sharing recipes and cooking secrets. (4)

There is an entire scholarly area devoting itself to the historiography of recipe books. (5) The field of Material Culture studies these items as artefacts, touchstones of ancestry, identity, sociology, gender, power, politics and record keeping. Considered important on a number of levels, recipe journals they claim provide a window into a time and place when women’s collective domestic knowledge and authority was intrinsic to the family means of production. Research in this area suggests the re-reading of recipe journals as feminist texts exhibits the shift to patriarchal constructs through the subsequent de-valuing of domestic work over capitalist doctrines; positioning recipe journals not as artefacts of gendered stereotyped female domestic oppression, but as feminist works – a tangible record of the knowledge and power held by women over previous centuries. Kristine Kowalchuk writes:

Receipt [recipe] books do not reflect women’s oppression, nor, conversely, do they reflect the rise of modern subjectivity, because women were, until the seventeenth century… the respected authorities on food and medicine. Furthermore, they were collective keepers of this knowledge, rather than individual authors or owners. It is this culture, so very different than our own, that is preserved in receipt books.

The Turnbull Library holds many examples of recipe journals as part of the manuscripts collection, mostly handwritten, but also some examples of published works featuring annotations and inserted cuttings. Recipes in these journals cover all facets of domestic science: instructions for treating various ailments, medical emergencies, sickness, malaise, as well as recipes for preventative cures, and other health restorative tonics. Concoctions for household management such as ink, polish, cleaners, and instructions on animal husbandry also feature, as do methods for pickling, bottling, canning and all manner of food preservation.

The intertwining of food and medicine in these journals is not unsurprising. The origin of the word recipe is the Latin recipere – meaning to receive or take. Ipso facto a recipe forms a list of ingredients one takes or receives such as in the case of food or medicine. (6) In pre-modern Europe receipt (recipe) books were compiled by family members and passed down through generations, most notably by the aristocracy and upper classes. (7)

Many of the recipe journals held in the Turnbull collections contain closely guarded family secrets. There was pride in a Pavlova that didn’t sink, a sponge as light as air, a perfectly set blancmange. Recipes were bartered, traded, sold, or acquired through surreptitious means, not to mention given out inaccurately to friends and family to guarantee failure! There was a definite domestic status to be cultivated, a culinary inter-generational economy tucked secretly away in the words and annotations of every mince pie, jelly tart, beef casserole, lemonade and soufflé.

Katherine Mansfield's handwritten recipes for orange soufflé and cold water scones. Murry family: Literary and personal papers. ATL Ref: MS-Papers-11326-019Katherine Mansfield's handwritten recipes for orange soufflé and cold water scones. Murry family: Literary and personal papers. ATL Ref: MS-Papers-11326-019

In a manuscript sense we often think of journals as the predominant means of recording and capturing recipes, however this is not always the case. Peppered throughout the Turnbull collections are many examples of recipes in bound volumes, but also examples of more interesting approaches to culinary record keeping. One of these gems came to us with the acquisition of the Kirkcaldie and Stains Collection. Kirkcaldie and Stains, (not unlike many long standing businesses in New Zealand) maintained a company archive. In this archive they kept interesting snippets of material sent in by members of the public and/or previous customers. The Kirks company archive contained amongst other things: a receipt from 1890 found in a drawer belonging to a grandmother, a newspaper cutting advertising a sale from 1930, a mail order catalogue used as packing material, an old invoice from 1880, and a photograph of a company sports team. Also amongst these archives were four sheets of a Kirkcaldie and Stains company mail order catalogue from the early 1900’s. On these sheets were curiously pasted handwritten recipes. A covering letter sent with the sheets reads –

The Archivist, Kirkcaldie and Stains

When going through my aunts’ papers I found these. She used the pages to past recipes on, as you can see. I thought you might like them as the fashion pictures are wonderful. If you do not, then dump them.

Regards,
M___ Hamh

Kirkaldie Recipes1

Recipes pasted onto Kirkcaldie and Stains catalogue pages. Kirkcaldie and Stains Ltd: Papers and Records 
ATL Ref: ATL-Group-00165, FMS-Papers-12209-42Recipes pasted onto Kirkcaldie and Stains catalogue pages. Kirkcaldie and Stains Ltd: Papers and Records ATL Ref: ATL-Group-00165, FMS-Papers-12209-42

Kirks fortunately did not dump them, but kept them and passed them on to the Turnbull with the rest of their archives.

Pasted on the Kirks catalogue sheets are recipes for various puddings, some printed, but most handwritten. Cures for constipation, concoctions for cleaning linoleum and polishing furniture sit alongside recipes for macaroni soup, coconut ice, devilled beef, macaroons, cornflour and rice pudding and haricot beans. (8)

In the same way that we retain shopping bags with logos as items of remembrance, or as commercial status, it is possible that the donor’s aunt opted to use the catalogue sheets in the same way. Or perhaps it was the quality or robustness of the paper? Fit for pasting purpose. Alternatively an opportunistic re-use and recycle? It remains largely a mystery….!

The Turnbull manuscripts collection also contains many examples of journals filled with recipes that have crossed oceans with their owners to start new lives in a new country. Women’s contributions to early settler society were seen as paramount to the success of the colonies. (9) The nature of the food they prepared often changed over time and with experience of new ingredients, or more commonly, a lack of ingredients and inadequate or unfamiliar cooking facilities. Annotations and additions to existing recipes were often made, substitutes for local ingredients when provisions were in short supply, and recipes that were particular to a New Zealand situation were added to their repertoire. Often generations of handwriting can be seen in the pages, a continuity of care and sustenance, traces of ancestry, a developing sense of self and place in a new country.

In the manuscript journals, alongside recipes for alchemy, animal husbandry, all manner of food preservation and domestic tasks, can also be found heartfelt penned letters to loved ones, poetry, Bible verse, shopping lists, as well as lists of monies owed or spent. Births, marriages and deaths were often recorded, engagement notices, notable family occasions and world-wide events, and surprisingly common, the last will and testament of the holders of the journals.

In the late 19th c., along with the usual food recipes, Mrs W S Beard recorded over the course of many years the heights and weights of her children Gerald, Cyril, Eve and Pip. Also recorded between 1894 and 1898, are the list of all the jams she made and the vast quantity of fruit used! (10)

A page in the back of Mrs Beard’s journal recording the weight of her children. Beard, W S. Cookbook. 1890-1902. ATL Ref: MSX-9124A page in the back of Mrs Beard’s journal recording the weight of her children. Beard, W S. Cookbook. 1890-1902. ATL Ref: MSX-9124

The use of pasted in published recipes and household hints is also prevalent in many of the Turnbull manuscript journals with handwritten recipes. There is a clear shift across time when journals span decades or generations, moving from largely holograph (handwritten content) through to cut-out recipes as newspapers and published magazines became more prevalent.

There are also many instances in these journals of recipes written down for the owner of the journal by friends and family. The entries are often dated and signed by their authors. If copied from another source, an acknowledgement such as a named newspaper, journal, woman’s magazine, neighbour or published household encyclopaedia and the date are included. Extraordinary lengths when you consider that the majority of these journals were aide memoirs, items designed largely to be viewed only by the authors and occasional contributor, possibly handed down to daughters, but never intended for wider public consumption.

One of the more interesting exercises in looking through these journals is to decipher the frequency of certain recipes by the amount of staining, discolouration and general degradation of certain pages. We have probably all dropped batter, accidently left the book too close to an element, sprinkled flour, turned pages with food covered fingers and spilt water on them while cooking. Go on, ask your mother or grandmother and see if it stacks up!

My mother’s Atlas Oven Cook Book page!My mother’s Atlas Oven Cook Book page!

My mother has a published recipe book that came with her Atlas stove she purchased in the 1970s. This recipe book, along with her copy of the Edmonds Cookery Book is filled with annotations, stains from the baking process, finger marks, cross outs and replacement ingredients; cut out recipes from magazines, scorch marks from elements, handwritten recipes from friends and family and an uncanny (although not unsurprising) tendency to always fall open to a certain page. While not wholly scientific, I asked her if the pages with the most marks were the recipes she cooked the most, “yes”, she said – “pikelets, banana cake and scones”! The same she said was true for her friends. There is undoubtedly a story in these books, traces of family favourites, evolution of ingredients, changes in family preferences; a unique and entirely individual culinary family history.

While not a manuscript, no discussion of recipes in a New Zealand context would be complete without a mention of the Edmonds Cookery Book. Iconic in New Zealand kitchens, first published in 1908, it is now is up to its 66th edition. The book started life as a small pamphlet of recipes to promote the use of Thomas Edmonds baking powder. (11) For many decades, if you announced your engagement in the newspaper you would shortly thereafter “magically” receive in the post a copy of the latest edition of the Edmonds Cookery Book. People speculated as to where they came from or who sent them – turns out Edmonds had a cunning marketing plan to entrench the book firmly in the fabric of New Zealand households, and they succeeded. Now with cult status as New Zealand’s best-selling book, it is passed down through generations, complete with its own staining, annotation, corrections, tipped in cut out recipes and torn pages.

Cover of the 3rd edition of the Sure to Rise Cookery Book (1914) published by baking manufacturer T.J. Edmonds.Cover of the 3rd edition of the Sure to Rise Cookery Book (1914) published by baking manufacturer T.J. Edmonds. (12)

Many Turnbull Library staff have favourite recipes they have come across in the course of their day-to-day work and research with the collections. We will be bringing some of those to light in future blog posts. Perhaps we will ask them to have a go at making up their favourites and report on the outcome. In the meantime, if you want to try recipe sleuthing in the manuscript collections - this is a good place to start….

Happy cooking.


Endnotes

1. Recipe book [ca 1782-1947] ATL Ref: MSX-7821. Note the volume is currently undergoing conservation treatment. ^
2. Wright-St Clair, V. Hocking, C, Bunrayong, W. et al. 2005. Older New Zealand Women Doing the Work of Christmas: A Recipe for Identity Formation. The Sociological Review. Vol 53, issue 2. ^
3. Herda, P. 1991. Ladies a Plate: Women and Food: p.144 in Ladies a Plate: Change and Continuity in the Lives of New Zealand Women. Park, J. ed. Auckland University Press. ^
4. Ibid pg. 156. ^
5. See for instance The Recipes Project. ^
6. Ibid. ^
7. Rees, J. April 13th 2017. Digititizing Material Culture: Handwritten Recipe Books, 1600-1900. Blog Post U.S National Library of Medicine. ^
8. Recipes from catalogue pages. Kirkcaldie and Stains Ltd: Papers and Records Alexander Turnbull Library ATL-Group-00165, FMS-Papers-12209-42. ^
9. Park, J. 1991. Introduction Pg. 28 in Ladies a Plate: Change and Continuity in the Lives of New Zealand Women. Park, J. ed. Auckland University Press. ^
10. Beard, W S. Cookbook. 1890-1902. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscript Collection Ref: MSX-9124. ^
11. Edmonds Cookery Book, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/edmonds-cookbook, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 4-May-2015. ^
12. Ibid. ^

By Shannon Wellington

Shannon Wellington is the Manuscripts Curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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