Concerning Nell: Stains of the past


I’ve had a rummage through the recipe book drawer at the old family villa. I guess this book was my grandmother Nell’s, and Cakes was the best garnished section. I can imagine the buttery finger pressed to the open page, the quick check: ‘one flat teaspoon of soda, same of cream of tartar’, as she flew around the kitchen. If the oven was hot and ready, she wouldn’t have stopped at Ginger Biscuits (Good), but also made a Fruit Cake and some kind of slice, perhaps the Khaki Cake marked with an X.

The ads in these old recipe books read as a kind of muted horror story. I wonder how much ‘Alumiumware’ the family was persuaded to buy, and if they did use it in the kitchen, how much did they ingest over the years? Likewise the Asbestos board, lauded in another cookbook as versatile for use indoors or out, painted or bare. And then there was potential loss to be reckoned with as you flipped the pages: not of cell phone or high-tech hearing aids, but of limbs and organs. At least each one was given a value.

The cookbook has lost its cover, but I imagine it was put together by some outfit such as the Mother’s Union (which in 1926 became the League of Mothers and Homemakers of New Zealand), and no contribution was overlooked. Take Jugged Hare, below, times three. Mrs Grigg insists that the hare, once skinned, should not be washed. Mrs Adams allows that it be wiped to remove blood, and be cut into pieces each ‘about the size of an egg’. Mrs Nicholls skips the fine detail. Each recipe adds in a second kind of meat: gravy beef; veal forcemeat; bacon. Two recipes include the addition of port wine, two include lemon (rind and juice) and two suggest serving with red currant jelly. I suppose you could also give rabbit the Jugging treatment, but why would you, when it could be Shaped, French, Casseroled, Hot-Potted, Pied, or Stewed in Milk?

Familiarity with the rudiments of baking was assumed. J.D.’s Jam Pudding: The weight of two eggs in butter, sugar and flour, two tablespoons of jam, one teaspoon soda. Mix and boil for two hours. (Good luck!)