Monday, November 24, 2014

My Mother's Cookbooks

I am a bit weird in that I enjoy reading cookbooks, as if they were novels. There's nothing I like better than to curl up with a cookbook or two and read through the recipes.  The other night, I re-read some of my mother's cookbooks and I was transported to Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s!

Mother's cookbooks are actually 4 booklets featuring about 100 recipes, each. "Book of Poultry", printed in 1958; "Cooking for Two", printed in 1959; "Good Fare", printed in 1962; and "Cold Cookery" that is undated, but most probably printed before 1962, judging from the price. The 1962 booklet was priced 2 shillings and 6 pence; the other 3 booklets all were priced 2 shillings each; so I got to play detective, as well as armchair/time traveller!

I can picture my mother as a young wife, buying these cookbooks, looking through the recipes, and perhaps trying a few of them. She gave me these booklets when I first became interested in cooking, in my teens, and I've made a few of the recipes.

But mostly, I like to read through them.  Just reading them is a treat!  Trifles and fruit cakes! Buttered eggs and crumpets! Sponge cakes and cheese straws! The recipes call for butter and cream and lard. Nothing low fat or low calorie about these recipes.

Some of the dishes are not for the faint of heart - pigeon pie, for example, the directions for which start with "Clean and prepare the pigeon, removing the head, neck and feet" and end with "The pigeon's feet may be stuck through the hole in the pastry for decoration."!!! Nowhere in the recipe does it mention if the feet should first be cooked or not.  Nor am I quite sure if I'd consider a bird's feet sticking up through the pie pastry to be "decoration"! LOL.

Most of the recipes give specific quantities of ingredients, but a few leave it up to the cook. Irish Potato Cakes, for example, state, "bake or boil some potatoes in their skins, remove the inside and beat with a little milk, plenty of salt and a little beaten egg, if liked" before being cut into rounds or triangles and baked "on a hot griddle or in a hot oven" (no temp. given for a hot oven) until brown; serve warm, they urge, "with plenty of butter."  My kind of cooking! LOL.

I've gone through and culled my cookbook collection considerably, but I'll continue to hold on to these 50+ year old cookbooks. Together, the 4 booklets take up less than 1 inch of space on the shelf, but they have a certain power to transport me to a special time and place!

In addition to the above booklets, I also have a handwritten blue cardboard bound school notes book (used to be called a Monitor's Exercise Book) of recipes Mother had copied down from various sources.  Written in faded blue ink on yellowed pages, it is something else of my mother's that I treasure. 

Does anyone else have old family cookbooks?


  1. I love looking at old cookbooks, too. Many of the meals I ate as a child started with those recipes. There definitely weren't low fat, but they weren't processed food either. BTW, no thanks to pigeon feet decoration.

  2. I have a little "BeeRo" cookbook put out by the flour company, and it is full of the kind of baking my mother did - victoria sandwich, rock cakes, eclairs, cream horns, everyday fruit cake and so on. I also have a real treasure, her very small notebook with recipes written or pasted in, some of them wartime recipes using powdered egg, many of them very economical for times of rationing.

    My other favourite from England is a small paperback called "The Archers Country Cookbook" by Martha Woodford, written by actor Mollie Harris who is Martha. It is divided into months and written as if people coming into the shop are sharing seasonal recipes with Martha, as well as including her own. It is a delight to read about all the characters and this typical English food from way back, and I have tried some recipes, in fact the simple onion soup one is a favourite. With baking I have to be careful as the flour is different in the UK and Canadian flour doesn't always give the same results.


    1. Sounds like you have some wonderful cookbooks. Cooks during times of scarcity like the war and the depression were so resourceful, weren't they?

    2. I'd still like to know how my mother and aunt found enough sugar and butter to make toffee, that night during the war when I woke up crying and was fetched downstairs. "So this is what they get up to when I am in bed!" I remember thinking. I was around 3 years old at the time.

      Joyce (Bushlady)

    3. They must have saved and combined both their rations! Or, perhaps, they were able to trade/barter? We had ration books when I was growing up; I know my mother was able to trade for rationed items from others.

  3. I have a few of my mother's recipes (not in her handwriting) and she has shown me how to make a few curries, but I keep meaning to ask for more. Then again, my sister keeps nagging and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere so maybe it would have been to no avail even if I had! I asked for the Christmas stuffing recipe recently and there has been no sign as yet! I still have my school cookbooks and use them. Handwriting hasn't changed too much but there are a few interesting spellings!

    1. You might need to call your mother and ask her to tell you the recipe while you write it down! :)


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