Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Contributor cook books

or charity cook books or multi-author cook books...or just one of those "We think it would be a good idea if we got together and did a cookbook that we can sell to raise funds for...." are on my mind.

Yesterday a good friend came to lunch and brought with her a possible contribution for a raffle project we are both involved in. We have made the blankets - look back and you might see one of them on this blog. S... however was talking to someone else and that someone else passed on a cook book. 

It is also a brief history of part of the area the raffle funds are destined for, an area my family lived in for four years. It was a "soldier settlement" - one of those areas opened up after WWII for returned servicemen to settle on and become farmers. The scheme itself has, rightly, been consigned to history. Men with no farming experience, war injuries and mental health issues from all the trauma experienced do not make the best farmers. It was not a well thought out scheme. One of the reasons the Senior Cat was sent to the school was to try and work out ways of dealing with the many issues arising from the war related issues.

It was a long time ago now and I was in my teens when we lived there but I opened the book and the names hit me with an almost physical force. Although most of the women named in the book are now long deceased I won't name them here. It will be sufficient to say I admired them when I was in my teens and I admire them even more now.

They lived in the most primitive conditions at the start. Some of them lived in tents but most of them lived in "the camp". The camp was a group of huts used as temporary accommodation while land was cleared and simple fibro-asbestos housing was put up. The school house was just the same so we always knew what to expect if we went to visit someone. The houses were better than conditions at the camp but there was company at the camp. Once on their allotted parcel of land many of those women were very, very isolated. There was no television service available and radio reception was poor. Phone calls, if you had a phone, were expensive and it was a "party line". 

Is it any wonder then that there are small paragraphs in the book reminiscing almost fondly about the camp and the companionship those women found there? 

I looked at the names. There was the mother of someone in my year at school. There was the woman who would play the piano so people could dance each Saturday night. (She never used music. All she did was keep a list of songs in a small notebook but she could play for four hours and never repeat a tune.) There was the woman who ran the Guides and taught me how to make pumpkin scones. On another page there was the mother of the girl who, even in extreme heat, always wore her coat in school. There was the woman who taught me history and also ran the farm single-handed when her husband had a serious accident. Next to her was the woman who came in and showed me how to run the school library. (There was a proper library room and yes, I dealt with borrowing, returning, shelving, preparing new books and more. There was nobody else to do it. I did my first piece of research there - so that the staff would know what my fellow students were reading.) 

I went on and, some pages over, there was the doctor. She was married to one of the farmers. On one occasion she had to be called to an accident next to the school. It took a bit of work to find out where she was and the message came back, "She says to tell you she'll be there just as soon as she has her arm out of the bloody sheep's uterus." Yes, she doubled as the vet. 

There were other familiar names, like those of the women who stood with the home economics teacher, my mother and me in the school kitchen. We made sandwiches and scones for the men fighting a fire which came close to destroying the school - and we did it at 3am in the morning. 

Those women worked incredibly hard. Their efforts were barely acknowledged if at all. I looked at the recipes they had contributed. Most of them were simple. They were a reflection of their lives, of a lack of money, a lack of other resources and much more. 

Someone will win that book as part of the raffle prize. I wonder if they will have any understanding at all of what went into the making of it?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I collect cookbooks like that. They are a wonderful glimpse into social history.