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Sunday, January 13, 2008


I've really been enjoying looking at all the old recipe boxes over at Mason Dixon Knitting. We don't really have recipe boxes in the UK, but we do have recipe books and this weekend I came across not only two of my granny's recipe books but one inscribed (in beautiful copperplate) "Mrs Holt Recipe Book" which must have belonged to my Mum's granny.

Great granny's book

My granny's two books are small, leather covered, ring-binder style notebooks. The pages are filled with recipes written in pencil or pen in my granny's small, neat handwriting or else typed out on her typewriter.

Between them are stuffed relevant cuttings from magazines or newspapers with recipes for Royal Icing (next to the typed recipe for Christmas cake), Rhubarb and Ginger Fool, and Bury Simnel cake. The inside pocket of the brown notebook contains a cutting on how to deal with various "Cake calamities". There's also a small booklet with the title "Festival Fare" on its yellow cardboard cover which contains recipes from the congregation of "Blackburn Road United Reformed Church to commemorate the Bolton Leverhulme Festival" in 1981. There are reipes for Parkin (my gran's own recipe), Supper Ginger Cake, Pineapple Pudding and Mushroom Soup (this one from my mum). Page 36 is headed "Hints" and gives some sound advice:

Are you like me? Do you beg a recipe from a friend, try it out once, then lose it and have to search frantically for it only to be disappointed and frustrated?
More often than not they are written on pieces of note-paper, backs of envelopes* or whatever is handy at the time.
After one such day I thought, "Why not buy yourself a photo album, one with transparent cover sheets, and you can stick your scraps of recipes into that!"
In that way you would always know where they were and be able to find the right one in a trice.
The same idea could be used for knitting patterns taken from magazines.

Whilst my granny's book is packed with recipes that I remember her making and some that my mum still makes today my great-granny's book is much more exotic. Here recipes for cakes and biscuits are mixed in with home-made remedies. Here's a sample from the contents page at the back of the book which is written out in reverse to avoid running out of space.

Contents page

4. Butter Sandwich
Vanilla cream
Russian Sandwich

3. Jam
Christmas Macaroons
Rubbing bottle

2. Treacle Cake
Extract of Malt

1. Constipation
Ginger biscuits
Cocoa-nut Biscuits

I don't know whether there's any link between the recipes and the remedies, or whether one could be brought on by eating the other.

Some of the recipes contain unfamiliar ingredients. What on earth is "Patent flour"? Luckily, should I ever want to make the Russian Sandwich the recipe for Patent flour is on page six. This was back in the days before you could buy self-raising flour and baking powder ready-mixed from the supermarket.

Recipe for Patent flour

There are some very traditional sounding northern dishes - tripe & onions anyone? - and some with great names like "Railway Pudding".

Page 48 is headed "Party for 50" and page 49, the last written page in the book, is dated 7-10-40. I suspect great-granny would have found it difficult to get all the ingredients for her baking in the period of war-time rationing.

Party for 50

Later on in the book, after a few blank pages, there are more recipes cut out from newspapers and, best of all, a helpful article headed "Useful Measurements For the Sales - take this list with you" for anyone who has found themselves in Liberty at sale time wondering how much fabric it would take to make a dress or skirt.

Useful Measurements For the Sales

Finally the article reasssures you that "These quantities are fairly generous estimates, and the woman who is a really clever cutter will be able to manage with a little less".

A quick FO to round things off. Dad's socks have finally been finished and given to him.

Dad's Christmas socks

Pattern: Cast on 16 sts at toe and increase to 48 sts around. Begin gusset 4 inches short of end of foot and increase to 72sts. Knit toe-up heel flap with short-rows. Stripe pattern is 6 MC, 2 CC.**
Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed (one ball each brown and blue)
Needles: 3.25mm

* My gran's book actually does have a recipe for pickled onions written on the front of an envelope addressed to "Aunty Ruby and Uncle Harold"!
** Notes are mainly for my benefit for the next time I want to knit my Dad some socks that actually fit.


Felix said...
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Felix said...

What a beautiful post about your family's old recipe books. There is something so amazing about recipes preserved in books, as one can immediately make something of the past come alive in the present by simply following a recipe. In this way they provide direct links back to memories and ways of life that preceded us. I also think that old recipe books provide enormous insight into the private and ordinary lives of ancestors and relatives... there is something very personal about the things one chooses to note in a recipe book and it is like a privilege to read those notes.

Me and Mark organised a book for all of our recipes following Ruth's passing, as she bequeathed me a recipe. And her cornish pasties recipe, scribbled on a piece of notepaper, suddenly seemed too precious to simply leave lying around or tucked between the pages of one of our cookery books. A book suddenly seemed essential, in order to preserve and house those small notes, so offhand, and yet somehow so sustaining.

I try to write all our culinary discoveries in the recipe book now, and I am surprised by how immediately practical and useful it is to take such notes.

Thanks for this lovely post and for all it evokes.

And the socks are beautiful too.