Past cookbooks for present times

By Dixie Elliott

We should all take a leaf out of cookbooks of yesteryear, when recipes were created using whatever ingredients, however meagre, were available, MiNDFOOD Dixie Elliott blog.

For me, one of the greatest pleasures is rummaging through a pile of old books in a junk shop or fete and finding one of those little treasures – the  cookbooks about 24cm x 14cm with a selection of recipes compiled by the mothers of a school committee or the stamp collecting club or any group of friends with family recipes. These little books seldom have photographs, but are full of wonderful recipes and ideas.

The other night, in bed, I was reading one of my finds – The Cookery Book of the New Zealand Women’s Institute published in 1934. Included in this book are recipes for sheep’s head pie, mock fish, white soup, swan, fowl tender, royal plum pudding (made for the Royal Household since the time of George I), apricot sago and blow away sponge. It also contains recipes for ointments for cracked hands, linoleum creams and cures for the common cold.

This book was written during the Great Depression and is full of recipes using whatever ingredients were available and economical to feed a family.

During the Second World War, women could still make cakes even though they were unable to get many ingredients. Cooks are very adaptable people. They are able to come up with recipes no matter what ingredients they have in the cupboard.

I have just finished reading a book called The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. It is about the inhabitants of the Bailiwick of Guernsey at the time of German occupation during World War II. Although they had very few supplies they still managed to survive on what they could grow and make from meagre ingredients.  

Cooks today continue to adapt and create with the ingredients that are available. However, today with all the technologies available – preserving, freezing, refrigeration and cyvac storage – things have become a great deal easier for us than for the cooks of 50 or 60 years ago. Really makes you wonder what recipes will be like in another 10 years.


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