A lifetime of recipes... and lifeskills

Once the cookery books we used were more than just cookery, they were household hints, and how to bath a baby, write a condolence letter, clean silver and, organise a household.  Beautiful old books given to young brides who were leaving home, or even young men, going to a job  far from home,  who had never had to look after themselves.

They were a life saver for some, and I know many women still have a battered old cook book from their Mum, or the CWA full of thumbed pages, recipes they trusted, and food they remembered from childhood. My niece has my mothers.

But how have they changed? I once cooked sheep’s tongues in brawn, stuffed hearts, liver, and oxtails, in fact not much of any beast was wasted in those early days. Times were tough and the cook books reflected it  I would never want to do that again. I can’t cook tripe or hearts now, just makes me shudder, and although I have a great recipe for chicken liver risotto, I would find even that a bit too messy.


What about the 1970’s, when it was trendy to put everything in gelatin?, Even in the 60’s in NZ that was popular, tomato in lemon jelly, beetroot in jelly, mixed vegetables in a circle of jelly. Why?? And how about the recipe we all made for salad dressing, with vinegar and condensed milk, (I actually still like it) then of course there were the very elegant toothpicks with cheese and cocktail onions stuck in a grapefruit.  Ribbon sandwiches, and fondue. Prunes wrapped in bacon. So much fuss. There was a saying I had on my wall. “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom”. I think it was true.

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I had two precious books handed on to me, one was my bible as a young bride, as I left home Mum handed me an” Illustrated Good Housekeeping,” wonderful! It has photos and started with boiling an egg. Believe me I needed it at 19.  I had never cooked more than a few sponges and one or two roast chickens. By the time I had been married five years I was a reasonable cook. Well I never killed anyone.

In the late 70’s a special dinner was usually prawn cocktails, Beef Wellington and a cheesecake. But I cheated with the cheesecake sometimes.

The other book we bought was for a more affluent time in our lives. It was the Larouse Country Cookbook.  These recipes were for dinner parties and the high life, Here my husband helped, he had two specialties. A cold tomato soup from Spain, and a beautiful chicken liver pate with brandy. I encouraged him, and now he makes beautiful soups still.

We often entertained with a special ‘Brunch’ that was more leaning towards the way Nigella Lawson cooks, I did a sausage hot pot, quiches, salads and easy to pick at food. Always a spectacular sponge, or a fruit tart finished the meals. Friends used to arrive about 11, and stagger home,( before the drink driving laws) about 4pm.

Having moved fourteen times my cookery books have been distributed in many places, but I still have  a few I love. The one regret ? we accidently got rid of a book called “Enquire within on everything” written in 1930 or thereabouts it was an amazing book. How to light a fire, talk to a servant, starch sheets, cook for an invalid, it was advice you never knew you needed, but wish we had it now.

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Today’s cook books are like art; They have pretty pictures, and talk of ‘jus’ and truffles, the plates are highly decorated paintings. Food is put through sieves and tortured. Some of it bears no relationship to real nourishment, but is meant to be looked at not eaten. No give me an old CWA book, or even better a hand written cookbook.

Have you one of those pushed in a drawer somewhere? Treasure it if you have.

From memory,  my sausage Hot Pot…

Kilo of good pork sausages, grilled and drained. Put aside; Fry a large onion until just soft, a few cloves of garlic if liked. In a large heavy saucepan put the onion, garlic and the sausages cut into small pieces. Add a good dash of tomato sauce, (dessert spoonful?) a shake of Worcestershire sauce or BBQ sauce.  Alternative is some sweet chilli sauce. Two tins of baked beans and a tin of tomato pieces and juice. Gently heat for about 10 minutes (or longer) or put on a slow heat until ready to serve with crusty bread. It is like a thick casserole, you can also add to this a few handfuls of crispy cooked bacon broken up,, and some chopped parsley. Serve in bowls or deep plates. It is a warming dish for a winter meal. It can be thickened if needed with a cornflour mix. Or you can even add some chunky cooked potato.