My gran’s old cookbook

My grandmother's cookbook - or what's left of it.

My grandmother’s cookbook – or what’s left of it.

Since I agreed to become the family archivist, my mother has been sending me photos and objects that are somehow associated with our family. Given that her flat is scheduled for re-modelling soon, I suspect her motives are more about de-cluttering her place than preserving the past, but I’m grateful that she’s not just chucking everything into a skip.

Tablet (yum). photo credit: David McKelvey via photopin cc

Tablet (yum). photo credit: David McKelvey via photopin cc

The latest parcel to arrive included a cookbook that belonged originally to my maternal grandmother. I remember it being used when I was a child – mostly by my dad for making tablet. For anyone who doesn’t know, Scottish tablet is like fudge only much, much better.

Zebo ad, from my grandmother's cook book

Zebo ad, from my grandmother’s cook book. Do the clothes and furnishings date the book to the 1940s?

I have no idea what the book is called or when it was published. For as long as I can remember, it’s been missing the cover and probably a few other pages. From the look of the illustrations, it’s probably from the 1940s.

I love old cookery books and this one is an absolute gem. I doubt I’m ever likely to make Potted Hough (a hough is the leg or shin of an animal), and I doubt the Big T would appreciate the recipe for Fried Steak which recommends cooking the meat for 15-20 minutes (until tender!), but judging by how stained the jam making pages are – these recipes are obviously really reliable.

An indication of my family's collective sweet-tooth; the jam and confectionery recipe pages look well-used.

An indication of my family’s collective sweet-tooth; the jam and confectionery recipe pages look very well-used.

Like a lot of old books of this type, it’s not just about cookery. There is a section on laundry – including care of your mangle, wringer and boiler (Chocolate Fish to anyone who can remember what a mangle even looks like), and even instructions on how to iron knickers (as if).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is that it is completely devoid of “personality.” It contains no illustrations of the food, no anecdotes about the recipe and even without a cover to tell me its origin, it feels institutional – not personal. This is not a book which celebrates food; and that more than anything places it in more utilitarian times.

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17 thoughts on “My gran’s old cookbook

    • I’ll have to make a few practice batches first! I’ve been using another recipe and wondering why it was never as good as my dad’s. Wonder if American Border Control would let tablet in? NZ Customs probably wouldn’t. We’re super-strict on food coming into the country!

    • Oh well. Another plan bites the dust! I bought the ingredients for my first test batch, but am not sure about making it yet. I had a wisdom tooth extracted a couple of days ago and am still on soft food. If I make it now, it will be gone before I get a chance to eat it. But on the other hand, I need to perfect it before Xmas as I’ve decided it’s the perfect present for friends and neighbours.

    • You’re right. I’m so used to modern recipe books with long convoluted recipes, little personal anecdotes and gorgeous photography, I’d forgotten how much practical cookery you can get into one little book. The other thing that it’s made me realise is that these old books assumed people actually knew cooking techniques, and don’t explain them. And that was a valid assumption – but not one you could probably make now.

  1. Just think, cookbooks like this, and probably mine too, could become archaeological evidence in the future – with forensic researchers analysing the pages for all the food residues left on same – to see exactly what kind of food we ate. Great post, Su.

    • Oh Tish, I just love the idea of some researcher in the future doing CSI-type testing with electrospectrometers and machines that go ping, trying to figure out what we were eating. Just by eyeballing gran’s old book, you’d get the impression that we lived on marmalade, tablet and toad in a hole!

    • Definitely! I’m thinking about making some later in the week to give a friend for Xmas. Must remember to photograph it as I go.

  2. Pingback: Tablet making #1: not a complete disaster | Shaking the tree

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