On the Shelf: The Kookaburra Cookery Book

The Kookaburra Cookery BookThe Kookaburra Cookery Book was the project of Lady Victoria Buxton, wife of the Governor of South Australia (1895 – 1899).  Coming from a family focused on evangelical and community works she began the Lady Victoria Buxton Girls’ Club in 1898 under the guidance of the Anglican church.  The purpose of the Club was to provide an alternative for young working women of Adelaide instead of the beach or street. Namely a club to provide rooms where girls might ‘meet for amusement and instruction’. It then developed into a hostel for 25 girls until 1955. Lady Buxton had undertaken similar projects in London and involving the YWCA before moving to Australia.

One of the main means of fundraising for the Girls’ Club was the sale of The Kookaburra Cookery Book.  The profits from the cookery book were mostly used to purchase buildings for the Club’s use.

First published in 1911, The Kookaburra Cookery Book was reprinted a number of times both in Adelaide and by E W Cole in Melbourne.  It was continuously in print until 1930. Later editions had additional recipes, and were occasionally bound in green cloth. The focus of the book was, despite 70 categories of recipt (over 1200 in all), predominantly baking and sweets (almost 1/3 of the book).  Lady Buxton once famously described Adelaide in 1896 as a “Land of Cakes”.

Most of the recipes in The Kookaburra Cookery Book were attributed to their original contributor.  Some recipes came from far afield including NSW, Victora, Western Australia and the United Kingdom – even America. Mrs P Stow (actually the whole Stow family) seems to have contributed a lot! And we can thank Mrs Robertson of Melbourne for her dish of Savoury Oysters –

Season some oysters with lemon juice and cayenne. Roll each in thin pieces of fat bacon, have ready some beaten egg into which dip each oyster and bacon, then put into pan of boiling fat and fry till brown, drain on paper and serve very hot on pieces of fried bread.

The Kookaburra Cookery Book contains mostly English or French recipes.  There are a smattering of recipes from the Indian Raj including kabobs, chutneys, curries etc with the odd helpful hint such as”never serve a curry as an entree, always after the piece or the joint”

Sadly, despite its name, there is almost no reference to native produce apart from a Kangaroo Tail soup and a Parrot Pie (which includes the useful advice to substitute quail!); definitely no Kookaburra dishes!

Not rare, but rarely not well used, The Kookaburra Cookery Book was an important early Federation cookbook.  We usually have one or two in store. Anyone interested in early Federation cookery in Australia, will find this a useful source.

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