From Materiality #1: Recollection from Cookery the Australian Way, by Shirley Cameron

In 1962, a sub-committee of the Victorian Home Economics and Textiles Teachers’ Association (VHETTA) published a cookbook called Approach to cookery: an elementary cookery book for Australian post-primary schools. It was quite successful, and so some of that committee decided to write a more extensive cookery book, in their own time.

Who was there? Eileen McDonnell was the co-coordinator. Most of our meetings were held at Winifred William’s home in Hawthorn and I have good memories of the Powder Puffs her mother served at supper for Win, Eileen, Eva Barrowman, Edie Baldwin, Suzanne Russell and me.

Adrienne McIntosh (VHETTA Secretary) prepared the first manuscript, using a typewriter, three pages at once with carbon paper between. I remember the time Win arrived with this magic white fluid called “White-Out”. This was really a giant leap forward, as prior to White-Out any changes to the manuscript necessitated re-typing and the tedious task of proof-reading yet again.

Despite all our hard work, mistakes sometimes occurred. One reprint of Cookery the Australian Way—I can’t recall which one—appeared without the recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings. They appeared in the index but were missing from the edition.  I know there was great outrage.

Here are some other recollections.

1966: First edition

254 pages, hard cover, 25cm. Published by Macmillan of Australia. Printed and bound in Australia by Wilke & Co Ltd, Melbourne. Reprinted 11 times.

It cost five dollars and it stayed flat when open. We told you what to buy, how to store it, how to cook it and even how to eat it. Setting the table was very important.

There was a chapter devoted to “International Cookery”; it included pizza pie and corn chowder (USA), various spaghettis (Italy), borsch (Russia), French Onion Soup and a range of recipes from Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Japan. From Sweden we had the “Smorgasbord” and something called the “Swedish Tart of a Thousand Leaves”, made from pastry, apple puree and custard.

There were ten different recipes for scones, including Bloater Scones, flavoured with cayenne pepper and fish paste, and Puftaloons—essentially scones fried in oil and served with jam, honey or bacon.

In the chapter on Quickly Prepared Meals there was a section for rechauffee (reheating) and left-overs. We discussed what sorts of “convenience foods” might be useful for the cook at home—canned fish and meat, pickled oysters, deep-frozen prawns, oysters and poultry, and vegetables: dried, canned or frozen. What good memories!

Imagine doing an index for such a book before computers. Fortunately Suzanne had a friend who owned a decorating shop, so we had access to thousands of different colored cards on which to write and organise our index words. We were quite pedantic, in that the index was cross-referenced. Custard appeared under ‘C’ on a blue card, as a sub-heading with all the different custards listed underneath, then each was listed again alphabetically on a yellow card according to its full title—eg Baked Custard was listed under ‘B’. It took the Russell children hours to sort the cards into colour and then into alphabetic order.

Half-hour Pudding only appeared in this first edition. Also Spotted Dick. (And Bloater Scones, come to mention it). I wonder why? The recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings (a variation on the Foundation Steamed Pudding recipe) contained half a cup of sugar and a tablespoon and a half of golden syrup.

1974: Second edition (aka the metric edition)

384 pages, hard cover, 25cm. Published by Macmillan of Australia. Printed by The Griffin Press, Adelaide. Reprinted five times.

Metric measures were introduced and we actually took a leadership role in determining the new cup size—would it be 200mL or 250mL? The latter was closer to the old imperial eight-ounce cup. We also believed that most people would not have accurate metric scales so we converted our recipes to cup measures and pushed for a standard 250mL cup measure. I still prefer to use cup measures even though I have a great electronic measure. The tricky bit was then how you measured a cup. If you dipped the cup in the flour and then gave it a whack you’d have too much, so we recommended spooning the dry ingredients in and leveling off the top with a knife.

We tried and re-tried all the recipes. Often our home meals were presented to family members as Exhibits A, B & C. Mark Russell came home from tea at a friend’s home and when asked ‘How was it?” his reply was “boring, they did not have Exhibit A, B let alone C and no-one talked about what they were eating”!

There was a chapter on Family Finance; I think this was the beginning of Suzanne’s extensive involvement in Consumer Affairs. Win Williams got involved with the Standards Association.

Three-milks Ice Cream only appeared in the second edition. The recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings (under its own title, now) contained half a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of golden syrup.

1980: Third edition

355 pages, eight pages of colour plates, soft cover, 24cm. Published by the Macmillan Company of Australia. Printed at Griffin Press Limited, Adelaide. Reprinted eight times.

Now we had four authors, as Eva Barrowman had moved to Coffs Harbor. I have more good memories of our working relationships and what skills each of us brought to the team. Eileen made sure we never split an infinitive. Win ensured there was continuity and Suzanne ensured correct names were used. “Fish” is a very good example for this last issue, as there were (and still are) so many names for the same fish. Suzanne was in fact elected to the Fish Board and Win & Suzanne became authorities on labeling, working for national and international labeling organizations. I think I just trotted along behind ensuring the recipes were reliable. We still met regularly for meetings; I have scary memories of the first time I drove over the ill-fated Westgate Bridge with Eileen—I wondered if my Mini-Minor would make it to the top!

But—now our memories were in COLOUR! What excitement! Colour plates had to wrap around 30 pages, so they were never near the recipes. The most sought-after were of meat cuts. Oh, so much fatty meat. Good memories of a past era! I love the plate near page 184 of the Savories, the Whole Baked Snapper and the Cheese Straws!

The chapters on Family Finance, Invalid Cookery and Confectionery were out; Preserving, Jams, Pickles was in. Microwaves were explained but I cannot find any recipe suggesting the use of the microwave. The recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings contained half a cup or 110g of sugar and 1 tablespoon of golden syrup.

1987: Fourth Edition

458 pages, soft cover, 24cm. Published by the Macmillan Company of Australia. Typeset in Hong Kong and printed in Malaysia by Chee Leong Press. The 1990 hard cover version was printed in Hong Kong. Reprinted seven times.

There were now just three authors, myself, Suzanne and Win, with assistance from Jane Barrett. This was the era of bran. It was added to everything, from Apple Sponge to Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, White Sauce and so on. We must have been so regular.

Black and white diagrams of vegetables were added and a beautiful ‘Healthy Diet Pyramid” was included.  That was another of Suzanne’s creations.

Sugar had been reduced, only a quarter of a cup in Lemon Delicious. Muffins made their first appearance. The microwave symbol was introduced and vegetarian recipes were indexed. The recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings was once again found as a variation under “Steamed Pudding” and contained half a cup of sugar and one and a half tablespoons of golden syrup.

1993: Fifth Edition

458 pages, 8 pages of colour plates, soft cover, 25cm. Published by Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd. Typeset in Singapore and printed in Hong Kong. Reprinted four times.

This was the era of NO SALT. I think salt was cut out of many recipes, in particular those with bacon or cheese in the ingredients, and salt was significantly reduced in most others.

In this edition we also saw a change in language. “Diet” became “food intake” or “eating pattern”, “tooth decay” became “dental caries”. The housewife was eliminated, man too; now all things were gender- neutral. My favorite was changing “Ever since man ceased to be a nomad…” to “Ever since humans moved from being nomadic…”

These language changes gave me the opportunity to liven up meetings of book representatives. Picture the Grand Vue Hotel in Queenscliffe. I am the third speaker after lunch and the weather is warm.  I could see the explanation of the Improved Atlas and the excitement of the New Logarithm Tables had caused most of the audience to drop off.  I explained we had taken out all the sexual references in the cookbook. There was a slight shuffle in the audience. I then explained we could no longer stuff a chook or even prick the pastry, let alone a sausage.

More colour was added—our diagrams were now printed in sienna brown. The colour plates of meat show far less fat. The recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings, reinstated under its own heading, contained a third of a cup or 85g of golden syrup.

1998: Sixth Edition

522 pages, 16 pages of colour plates, soft cover, 25cm. Published by Macmillan Education Pty Ltd. Printed in Hong Kong. Reprinted three times.

Now there was only Suzanne and myself and the computer age was with us. Oh, how publishing has changed. There was far less actual travel across town; instead, we emailed ideas across town. I did still have to drive from Werribee to Caulfield South so that I could have Suzanne Russell AM sign my book—the first time she used her well-earned title! Olive-green tones were used in the diagrams instead of sienna. Two new colour plates featured Asian greens and bush foods. The recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings again contained a third of a cup or 85g of golden syrup.

2003: Seventh Edition

528 pages, soft cover, 25cm. Published by Macmillan Education Pty Ltd. Printed in Malaysia. Reprinted twice, plus a 40th anniversary hardback edition in 2006 dedicated to the memory of Suzanne M Russell, AM.

This edition had glorious colour all the way through. The fruit and vegetables were something to behold.  Suzanne spent hours sourcing the pictures. Useful “how to” diagrams were introduced. We did our own food photography; the photographer Mike Carter was so patient with us. Our assistants were three teenagers, Johanna, Bridget and Elise’s lovely hands.  The recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings contained a third of a cup or 100g of golden syrup.

2011: Eighth edition

455 pages, soft cover, 28cm. Published by Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd. Printed in China.

In this, the most recent edition, the recipe for Golden Syrup Dumplings contains a third of a cup or 100g of golden syrup. Cookery the Australian Way is now more than 40 years old. I never ceased to be amazed by the success of the book. In the beginning I had no particular skills, I was just passionate about teaching Home Economics and happened to be in the right place at the right time. The book has now been with me for more than half my life—no wonder I never got my golf handicap below 27.

I attribute the success of this book to the contributions made by so many: those who typed the manuscripts, the proof readers, taste-testers (of Exhibits A, B and C), photographers, editors, index sorters, recipe contributors and all those who provided inspiration and support.

A home economics teacher since the 1960s, Shirley Cameron is also a former deputy principal of Werribee Secondary College. The eighth edition of Cookery The Australian Way won the award for best secondary reference resource at the 2012 APA Australian Educational Publishing Awards.

This article appeared in Materiality #1: Book. If you enjoyed it, you might enjoy the whole shebang! Purchase a copy at the pinknantucket press shop. (Available in hardcopy and digital versions, $10/$3.95).