A full course in Plain Cookery

Fort Street Public School - [cookery class], 1 Jan 1910, State Records of NSW Digital ID: 15051_a047_005338

Fort Street Public School - [cookery class], 1 Jan 1910, State Records of NSW Digital ID: 15051_a047_005338

Thanks to the generosity of family descendants of Jenny ‘Dolly’ Youngein, who lived at Susannah Place in the early 1900s, we’ve been able to take a closer look into Dolly’s school cookery homework book, from 1912. We had previously only had a tantalising glimpse…

Dolly Youngein’s cooking homework book, Fort Street School, 1912. Courtesy John Brown. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

Young Dolly Youngein

We introduced Dolly and her homework book a few years ago, but to refresh your memory, Dolly Youngein was the eldest daughter of Clara Jane and Hugo Youngein, who ran the ‘cheap cash grocer’ shop at 64 Gloucester Street, The Rocks, now part of Susannah Place Museum. Born in 1900, Dolly was a student at the local Fort Street Public High School, and it is likely that she did her homework at the dining table in the parlour behind the shop.

Portrait of Hugo Youngein with his children, Herbert on the left and Jenny on the right.

Herbert, Hugo & Jenny Ljunggren (Youngein), c1910. Susannah Place Museum Collection © Sydney Living Museums

“Write more neatly”

Dolly’s cookery homework book is a diminutive ruled exercise book, with margins drawn neatly in red ink, containing over 60 pages of recipes, rules and techniques, handwritten by the then 12 year old Dolly. This was no simple task; Dolly’s work suffered several red-pencil corrections and lost marks for poor handwriting, with comments such as ‘write more neatly’ and ‘rule neat lines’ written in the margin by her teacher.

Ginger pudding, recorded by Jenny ‘Dolly’ Youngein, Fort Street High School, 1912. Courtesy John Brown. © Sydney Living Museums

Necessary instruction

The recipes in the the book tell us the types of dishes and techniques that were deemed necessary for a girl to know in the early 1900s, to prepare her for the role of homemaker. (Girls were also taught needlework; boys were not taught cookery, but were offered woodwork). In addition to general cooking instructions, Dolly had to learn the rules for making a perfect cup of tea, setting a table and ‘invalids cooking’.

In December 1912, despite losing marks for not writing neatly enough, Dolly received her course completion certificate from the Fort St School of Cookery, signed by J. Rowohl ‘teacher of cookery’:

‘Dolly Youngein has attended the full course in Plain Cookery and has passed the Theoretical Examination.’

The commonsense connection

Many of the recipes that Dolly hand wrote into her homework book were formally published in 1914, when the New South Wales Education Department issued The Commonsense Cookery Book  as the standard public school text. Extending its reach well beyond the classroom it is still in print today, produced by the Home Economic Institute of Australia (New South Wales branch). Miraculously, recipes such as mock cream, blancmange, steamed jam roly, seed cake and sago plum pudding, liver and bacon, Irish stew, steak and kidney pudding, and fricasseed rabbit have survived the test of time.

Dolly’s homework book indicates that the Plain cookery curriculum strongly informed The Commonsense Cookery Book content. Indeed, Dolly’s teacher, Jessie Rowohl (nee Bailey) was on the panel of senior teachers to finalise the recipe for publication [1]. 

Dolly Youngein’s cookery book, created 1912. Courtesy John Brown © Sydney Living Museums

A lasting legacy

While there is no obvious evidence in Dolly’s work book (splatter marks on pages for example) that Dolly cooked any of these recipes at home, she continued to add to it long after she finished school, indicating that the book was used for ongoing reference. Tucked in between pages are recipes written on pieces of paper and at the back of the book are numerous recipes and household hints clipped from newspapers and carefully pasted in; some date to the 1960s, demonstrating 50 years of use.. Unlike the prescribed curriculum-based content, these later additions are more indicative of personal taste and interest. Still treasured by Dolly’s family, we are grateful to her son and grandchildren who generously loaned us the book and allowed us copy all of its pages.

Over the coming months we will be researching how cooking was taught in schools at the turn of the 20th century, and testing recipes from Dolly’s homework book. This ginger pudding is a classic:

Dolly’s ginger pudding

The recipe Dolly recorded in 1912 uses suet, which I have substituted with butter; and rather than boil the pudding in a floured cloth, steaming it in a pudding basin may be a simpler option. Treacle sauce is the recommended accompaniment, but caramel or toffee sauce might be better suited to modern palates.
Ice cream or custard are also nice accompaniments.

Ingredients

  • 280 g flour
  • 110 g brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (or more, to taste)
  • 110 g cold butter, chopped into small cubes
  • 175 ml milk
  • 2 tablespoons treacle
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • treacle sauce, ice cream or custard, to serve

Lightly grease a 1.5 - 2 litre pudding basin with butter. Put a trivet into the base of a saucepan that is deep enough to accommodate the pudding basin once the lid is on. Fill the saucepan with enough water to come three-quarters up the side of the basin once it is immersed and bring the water to the boil.

Meanwhile, combine the dry ingredients and rub the butter in with your finger tips, or in a food processor, and transfer to a mixing bowl.

Mix the treacle and milk together (it helps to warm the treacle first), add bicarbonate of soda and stirring to dissolve, then add it to the dry mixture. Stir to combine and form a soft dough.

Transfer the dough into the basin, leaving at least 3cm from the top rim as the pudding will swell during cooking. Seal the basin (for step-by-step instructions see 'how to seal a pudding basin') and boil steadily for one and a half hours, topping up with boiling water as required.

Carefully remove the basin from the pan, carefully remove the covering and invert the pudding onto a plate. Alternatively you can spoon the pudding straight from the bowl.

Serve warm, with treacle sauce.

Adapted from a handwritten recipe in Jenny 'Dolly' Youngein's school cookery homework book, 1912. Dolly lived at Susannah Place in 64 Gloucestershire Street, The Rocks, now Susannah Place Museum, and attended the local Fort Street High School.

[1] Gail Clarkson, project manager centenary edition of the CSCB. ‘The Commonsense Cookery Book celebrating a century of publication’ Centenary celebration newsletter, Home Economics Institute of Australia (NSW Division) 2014.

 


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