Over a period of three years in the early 1930s, the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales produced three cookbooks. Each took the form of a recipe-a-day calendar and all were filled with recipes contributed by individual members. A huge commercial success, they sold in numbers that would be the envy of any modern-day food author; between October 1930 and April 1933, a staggering 35,000 of the Cakes and Afternoon Tea Delicacies volume alone were purchased for the cover price of 2 shillings. These cookbooks were designed for display on a kitchen wall, handy for everyday reference and use. Each shared the same dimensions and simple layout: narrow, rectangular pages printed on thick paper, bound along the top edge and finished with an arc of string for hanging.
In a CWA Annual Report from the period, it was noted that “The Cake and Afternoon Tea Delicacies calendar, compiled by Mrs WH Hammond of Wagga Wagga, has been an unqualified success (and)... has been circulated far and wide.” A Calendar of Puddings was the next to be produced, after which came a collection of Luncheon and Tea Dishes. The latter, it was noted at the time, “proved most successful”.
The nature of the recipes gives great insight into how women cooked during this era; their dishes are simple, honest and homey. These were Depression years, when money and resources were tight. In a time before access to high-speed information and widespread international travel, culinary influences were few. Accordingly, the various dishes mainly reflect the English, Scottish and Irish cookery traditions that defined early Australian cookery.
Despite the passage of eight decades, these recipes still hold great appeal for today’s cook, especially the tried-and-true cakes, biscuits, puddings and myriad other baking recipes that make up by far the largest category in the original material.
This is an edited extract from 365 Country Women’s Association Favourites: Inspirational recipes for every day of the year (Murdoch Books, hb, $29.99)
Cook the book
Note: The following recipes have been tested and edited by SBS Food and may differ slightly from the originals.
Scone-dough scroll with sticky syrupy sauce? Now that's an easy - and budget-friendly - dessert!
Three layers of lovely in this pie, with a buttery pastry base, butterscotch filling and fluffy meringue.
Ginger cake layers sandwiched with jam and topped with caramel - a CWA baking treasure that would be at home at any morning tea.
This little "cheesecakes" - no cheese, and not exactly what we think of as a cheesecake today, either, but with their own homey appeal - were published in a CWA calendar more than 80 years ago.
Want more CWA baking expertise? Join Paul West (July 19 and 20) on River Cottage Australia, as he learns some lessons from members of the local branch. Watch 6pm weeknights or catch up on SBS On Demand.