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A Wartime Wife's Best Friend

16306.jpgA little short on whipped cream? Try slicing a banana into the white of an egg and beating until stiff. Need the butter to go further? Mix 1 tbsp with 1tbsp of warm milk before spreading on sammies.

The pages of the Self Help Wartime Cookbook reflect the recipes they hold - nothing fancy, a little on the plain side, but they’ll do. Some pictures would have been nice but the neither the book nor the recipes are about extravagance - they’re about making do. Published during World War Two, the book was donated to the Museum in 1990, and shows “how to get the most out of your rations”.

The book is divided into eight sections - but they’re not titled puddings or mains as you might expect. Rather these sections are headed things like “no butter, no eggs”, “eggs but no butter”, “1 oz butter, 1 egg”, or “dripping and eggs”. If anyone could invent a cake with no eggs and no butter, it was our wartime women, who had ‘make do’ as their mantra.

Yet despite the lack of ingredients, flicking through the pages still sparks some hunger pains - recipes for boston buns and nutty crisps fill the pages, as well as more austere titles like “economy cake” and “war cake” which promised to “keep for months”.

The wartime cookbook is one of a dozen recipe books held in the collection of the Waikato Museum which each give a unique insight to the eras they hail from. From the famous favourites like Edmond’s, to “simple meals for busy people” by the Country Women’s Institute, the cookbooks create a unique niche in the museum’s collection.

The Dunedin City Gas Department Cookery Book may well win the prize for the oddest title, and is one of several cookbooks donated by Mr and Mrs Brook of Hamilton in 1987. The book was 2 and 6, and was written by Miss I. Finlay who had a cookery diploma from the City and Guilds Institute of London. Pages upon pages detail batters and biscuits, drop cakes and sauces, pastries and gems. Some of the recipes seem old fashioned, but there would be many a dad out there who wouldn’t mind a good Sago Plum Pudding. Tucked away in its pages is a hand written recipe for ‘Sydney Specials’. At the bottom of the script is penned, “This recipe comes from Paeroa. Write to me when you get home, Pam”.

Another donation from Mr and Mrs Brook is the book “Let’s dine without coupons”. It was distributed by Collins book depot in Melbourne, and had section on how to use cold meat, how to cook fish (fish custard anyone?), kidney and tripe dishes (a dying art??) and ways with vegetables.

Another book, published in 1923 was the St. George cookery book “containing 150 unique recipes”. Almost every recipe calls for St. George jam or fruit, and an ad on the inside cover is titled “Spare the jam and spoil the child”. It encourages one to “spread jam liberally on the kiddies bread”, as St. George jam is full of natural cane sugar and fruit.

The vested interest of the New Zealand Dry Cleaning Company in cookbooks is a little hard to equate, but nonetheless in June of 1934 they issued a ‘Tenth Anniverary Souvenir Book of Cookery Recipes’ with their compliments. Indian Coffee Creams, Almond fingers, Peanut Brownies and Ginger Cake are among the sweet treats, and the book looks as if it was used for many years.

Yearbooks and statistics have their place in painting a picture of society, but the lesser looked to cookbook provides unique insights into days gone by.