A collection of community cookbooks handed down from her grandmother has inspired Adelaide Hills-based author Liz Harfull’s new book Tried, Tested and True.
In it she has unearthed untold stories and treasured recipes from books produced as fundraisers for worthy causes such as churches or schools, the disabled and war efforts, across many decades.
Liz, who is the best-selling author of The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook, says writing about community cookbooks was a logical progression from her two previous books on country show cooks.
“When I asked them to show me their collections of recipes, most show cooks either brought out community cookbooks full of donated recipes, with notes written all over them, or handwritten recipes given to them by family, friends and neighbours, which is essentially driven by the same generosity of spirit,” she said.
In an Australia-wide search of library archives, primary collections and op shops, Liz found close to 1000 community cookbooks published between the late 1800s and 1980s.
From there she narrowed it to about 60 books to select recipes from and highlight their interesting history.
“They drew my attention if they had an unusual theme or they were so covered in butter stains or cocoa or ticks that I knew they had been well used, or the compiler was mentioned by name, which was actually quite rare,” she said.
Some of the books have remained household favourites, including SA’s most famous, the Green and Gold Cookery Book, first produced as a major fundraiser for Kings College (now Pembroke) in Adelaide in the 1920s.
Then there is the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union cookery book – the oldest continuously published cookbook, which has sold well in excess of 500,000 copies since release in 1904.
Others featured are hidden gems, only known within their small communities, including a mutton cookbook, Once A Jolly Jumbuck, produced by station women from central western Qld in the 1960s.
Liz says equally important to the recipes used in Tried, Tested and True has been telling the stories of the volunteers and community groups who put them together.
A classic example was Annie Sharman, the driving force behind the Green and Gold Cookery Book, who was one of the state’s first graduates in domestic science.
“It bothered me that hardly anyone knew the woman who created this much loved cookbook, which is actually an official State Heritage icon – we should know her name,” she said.
“My writing is always about trying to tell the stories of people who have been overlooked, stories that might otherwise never be told, and this is a classic example.”
Another of Liz’s favourites is the tiny Eclipse Cookery Book of Good and Tried Recipes from Orroroo, produced in 1922 to raise funds for the newly-built Anglican church.
The book’s title was drawn from a solar eclipse that attracted international astronomers to Australia to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity, with a camel train taking special observation equipment up to Cordillo Downs Station, north of Innamincka.
“Even Orroroo had forgotten it existed but when I contacted the history group they discovered that they had three copies in their collection,” she said.
Recipes featured from SA include an apricot slice from The Angorichina Cookery Book, produced to raise money for a hostel set up in the Flinders Ranges for returned soldiers recovering from tuberculosis.
Another example has a strong personal connection for Liz – The Suttontown Recipe Book, which was first compiled for the district’s ‘back to’ celebrations in 1933.
Liz’s copy, which has been on her recipe shelf for years, belonged to her grandmother Amy Harfull and had other recipes stapled into it and notes written from both her and Liz’s uncle, Ross Harfull.
“It became more than the original book and I have seen that a lot,” she said.
“People tuck other recipes into these books, even in libraries I would open them and have things fall out.”
Liz admits it was a challenge with many of the recipes lacking a detailed method and ingredients needing conversion from imperial units to metric.
“I would often write during the day and cook a couple of recipes at night so I could rework them,” she said.
“In the past books I had show cooks come to me with their favourite recipes and their tips on how to cook them, but this time it was often down to me and my knowledge and feedback from testing it with volunteers.”
The 320-page book takes readers on a culinary journey through time, from nose to tail dining of the olden days to the canned ingredient cooking of the 1960s.
“It is clear that while savoury things often go in and out of fashion the cake, biscuits and pudding recipes have held true across the decades, and they make up the majority of the recipes in the majority of the books,” Liz said.
She hopes the recipes in the book will appeal to those looking for simple, delicious meals.
Liz has several regional events planned to celebrate the release of Tried, Tested and True, including at Alexandrina Cheese Company, Mount Compass, on May 2.
- Details: lizharfull.com