A Life in a Cookery Book

I was just about to write my own appreciation of the Foulsham’s Universal Cookery Book when I came across this beautifully written and considerate blog. Have a look – then please return here!

My copy of Foulsham’s came from a table sale somewhere between Addingham and Skipton, Yorkshire about twenty years ago. It was on one of those summer ‘afternoons out’ where you know you need a cuppa and all ye tea shoppes were full. Suddenly, we rounded a corner and there was a Church and a kind of Womens’ Institute tea being held and proclaiming “All Welcome”. So in we trooped.

Nice tea as well; fancy cakes and cakes for cutting, sandwiches and pieces of pie to enjoy too and all served with a smile. Really very civilised.

Outside was a little wooden table and on it, some books for sale. Among them, an old Foulsham’s Cookery Book at only 20p so why not? What could possibly be any different from any other? Who would begrudge them 20p?

Home. Book on shelf. Tasks. Weekend over. Work. Book forgotten.


Years later, three further house moves and finally getting round to setting out the bookshelves. Ah yes! “Foulsham’s Universal Cookery Book – 1000 Tested and Inexpensive Recipes – Price 2/6 net. Over One Million Copies Sold”.

As with the writer of the Diary of a Country Girl blog, there were quite a few little bits of paper in there – cuttings from the Yorkshire press and others, little “messages to self” on paper and so – curiosity prodded – I stopped filling shelves and sat on the stairs to read. And suddenly, this ceased to be a mere book of recipes. Rather, it became a journey into somebody else’s past life.

No, not just the “born (here) married (there) worked (hither) died (yonder)” type of thing but a real visit into the minutiae of a real life of just-post-war England. The book seemed to lead into an organised and possibly newly-married household. As I read on, certain recipes were marked with an ‘x’ in pencil. Their number and type pointed to the workaday week. The ‘x’ in pencil was interesting too – it was very lightly made – almost tentative. This had been a book that was going to be looked after.

The book was obviously used and well-cared for with sellotape repairs to the spine. Having read the book, and seen the chosen recipes, I sat in silence feeling a little like an unforgiven trespasser. However, as the book had been for sale and I had bought it, it seemed to me that I was not a trespasser, or a nosey-parker. I was actively bringing to life again a daily routine from an anonymous past – and by doing that, recalling what is usually never preserved in eternal memory.

The closest that I can get to defining who this anonymous original book owner was can be found in two poems. The first one by John Betjeman who writes of a kind soul at Christmas with the description “…loving fingers tying strings”; the second from e e cummings who writes most movingly about us all and those with whom we share our world in “anyone lived in a pretty how town”. These diametrically opposed minds come to the same conclusion about humanity so often and thus; here are their observations made manifest in an old cook book and a few pencil crosses. The bridge from then to now, like the one in San Luis Rey as Thornton Wilder tells us in all his works so often, is Love.

The cake recipes on pieces of paper, handwritten in script by an older hand, pointing to occasional special celebrations.

So what were the recipes?

Well here they are as I found them (first of all, just listed) as marked in the book. It might even be possible to divine this weekly diet from these recipes too. I hope my reasonings are not too obscure!

The Foulsham’s Cookery Book is divided into chapters and this is the pattern that follows:

Soups – unmarked – so maybe not a soup or broth household. Maybe no outside workers then.
Sauces – similarly, unmarked – people for a long time liked only what they called “plain food” or “plain cooking”. (Bottled sauces were permitted though!)
Fish – unmarked except for a tentative mark by Salmon Pudding. The day for fish in most homes was Friday anyway and most knew how to cook white fish.
Meat –  Well, we assume that the cook knew how to roast because these are also unmarked. The commonly accepted rule for roasting meat was no less than 20 minutes per pound of meat and 20 minutes over.
Vegetables – unmarked. We assume too that the cook knew how to cook those as well. English vegetable cookery of former years has had a very bad press. (However, in defence of our forebears, it might be worth pointing out that the varieties of greens and vegetables grown in former years had a much higher calorific value than is available these days and were considerably tougher and more nutritious than some of the flaccid and diaphanous varieties available for sale nowadays. Worth a thought – that’s all….)
Game – unmarked here either, so it can be assumed that this was not a game eating household.

Entrees – ah! Marked – and with that, our first foray into the real private domestic life of a Northern English household. First: Bacon and Potato Rolls. Second: Bubble and Squeak. Third: Cornish Pasty. Fourth: Pork Balls. Fifth: Shepherd’s Pie.

Puddings and SweetsFirst: Apple Charlotte. Second: Apricot Pudding. ThirdBaroness Pudding . FourthCurrant Roly-Poly . Fifth: Hasty Pudding. Sixth: Kentish Puddings. Seventh: Snow Pudding. Eighth: Treacle Sponge.

Blancmanges, Jellies and Custards – none marked
Creams, Fools and Trifles – none marked
Pastry, Pies and SandwichesFirst: Rice Paste. Second: Steak and Kidney Pie.

Hors d’œuvres, Savoury and Vegetarian DishesFirst: Ham Balls. Second: Nouilles Au Gratin. Third: Eggs with Creamed Potatoes.

Salads, Fruit and Various – none marked
Bread, Rolls and Rusks – none marked

Biscuits Buns Cakes, Tarts and Tartlets, and TeacakesFirst: Birthday Cake. Second: Cherry Cake. Third: Currant Cakes. Fourth: Heather Cake. Fifth: Jenny Lind Cake. Sixth: Plain Pound Cake. Seventh: Queen Drops. Eighth: Rice Sandwich. Ninth: Shrewsbury or Sugar Cakes. Tenth: Sunset Cakes. Eleventh: Icing for Tarts. Twelfth: Golden Syrup Scones. Thirteenth: Rolph Cake.

The remaining chapters on Sweets and Winemaking, Jams and Jellies and Economical Cheese Dishes – all unmarked.

That gives nine savoury dishes – one for every day spread over a fortnight (if we allow for fish on Fridays) with a roast of Pork or Lamb on a Sunday; eight puddings – one for every day on a one day remove and twelve cakes, plus one pastry for general use and one icing ditto.

More later…



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