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COLUMN: Coping in the Kitchen

Holiday cooking evokes old memories

The weather outside is frightful and the cost of Romaine is out of sight-ful, so what IS a cook to do?


Glaring at the gently falling snowflakes outside, I resort to my gravy-stained “Dirty 30s” collectible cookbooks embellished with mother’s carefully pencilled notes in the margins. Will these, I wonder, offer any menu-saving tips? Wartime ration books spring to mind.

Kitchen Fun, my first culinary sojourn, isn’t much use, but I smile and think of the joy of cooking with kids. Inscribed inside in mum’s unique scrawl is: “Ursula’s first cookbook, aged about seven, when she spelt sugar ‘shooger’.”

The Ouma Smuts Cook Book sports old South African recipes—sosaties (lamb kebabs), beef biltong (beef jerky, but better!), melttert (milk tart)—plus quotations to fill in the blank spaces.

The Benoni High School Domestic Science Cookery Book cover is history, but what remains reminds me of the importance of “scullery” work. “After washing everything in hot soapy water, remember to finish drying the pots and pans by the fire.” The author of this book is under the misapprehension that readers have arrived from Pluto. Elementary (by any standard) instruction included this advice under the Personal Hygiene section, subheading, BODY. “Wash daily all over, and have a hot bath once or twice a week.” Really? In Transvaal (now Gauteng) temperatures!

Sago Cream and Invalid Tart. Perish the thought of ever tackling those. Old cook book ads, though, are worth the purchase price alone. Women definitely ruled the kitchens. Thankfully things have changed there.

Graham Kerr. Remember The Galloping Gourmet Cookbook (and TV show)? Graham, cheerfully suave in a well-cut suit, chilled Chardonnay in hand, is flanked by an impressive selection of cheeses, breads and cured meats. No mention of Charcuterie. The term apparently hadn’t left France yet. Memories of his Veal Steak, Kidney And Mushroom Pudding recipe linger on. Could that still be affordable? Not sure about the Pork Curry.

In the Kitchen With Love. My passion for good pizza, anchovies, homemade pasta, plus undying devotion to Italy was cemented (blended?) by this Sophia Loren volume. Grazie, Sophia!

“DIGRESSION,” a brief standalone chapter, captures my attention. Sophia agrees the inclusion seems odd, but explains how memories of war-torn childhood years in Italy have a place in her kitchen.

“In spite of the horror and burdens of the period, I discovered two kinds of security upon which a child must absolutely depend: protection and food.” She briefly elaborates, “We were living under bombardment with the destruction of human lives and were hungry from morning to night.” Her reflections in this chapter are understandable, insightful, and—in our current world even more—are not as out of place in a cookbook as one might imagine. She explains this brief chapter may seem out of place in a recipe book, but she offers other comments on that time in her life, mainly that there are very understandable reasons for her that food underscores her memories of that time. Although published in 1972, her recollections echo, sadly magnified, in much of the world today.

Peg Bracken’s The I Hate to Cook Book. Her Fake Hollandaise frequently saved me from dining disaster, as did her Parmesan Potatoes (with heavy cream). How, I reflect, did my 110 pound frame survive those delicious years? Perhaps that’s what came back to haunt me in retirement!

Switzerland, India, Asia, Thailand, Israel, Scotland, Ireland, Wales—all represented in my collection. Gourmet, Julia Child, food in culture and history, including the fascinating Food In History by Reay Tannahill.

It’s the unpretentious Centennial Cook Book (1879-1979) by Cloverdale Senior Citizens which really made me smile. Laboriously typed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper and clipped together by volunteers for a community fundraiser—occasional errors are hand corrected. Supported by multiple contributors, all acknowledged under their recipes. I notice that Salmon Loaf recipes feature prominently. Inexpensive Fruit Cake and Economy Spice Cake by an old neighbour reminds me of another time, another place. Eggs, used with abandon, clearly weren’t $6 a dozen in those days.

I’ll close with a recipe. We might need it.

The Tia Maria Substitute

Boil together 2.5 cups sugar, 2 cups water. Cool. Add a 26 oz bottle of cheap vodka, 4 oz dark rum, 1 vanilla bean, and 3 tbsp Camp Coffee. Place in a closed container for 5 days. Shake daily. Strain and bottle. Makes two 26 oz bottles of liqueur.

Here’s to cheap vodka, a well-stocked kitchen, ingenuity, and humour to cope in our kitchens (plus a little extra to share with friends).

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the former owner/ managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at

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