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On Cookbooks

The other day, I was chatting with friends  and the topic of  the Womens’ Weekly cookbooks came up. Australians reading this post will know exactly what I’m talking about.

The Australian Womens’ Weekly was an institution in Australia from the 1930’s onwards. During the 1950s and ’60s it had the highest circulation (per capita) of any women’s magazine in the world. And cooking and recipes and diets and fashion and all sort were a feature.  

But the cookbooks I’m talking about began in the 1970’s. They were a new kind of cookbook, cheap, but with masses of colored photos on glossy paper. I’m sure those WW recipe books had a huge impact on cooking here — they certainly did on me.

Every single recipe had a photo of the final result, and often a series of photos of the steps to make them. And this was at a time when most cookbooks were mainly text, perhaps with an occasional drawing. Those photos made me try all kinds of things I might not have, and the recipes were really reliable. And the books were so cheap everyone could afford them.

The Dinner Party Cookbook, which was I think was one of the early ones, came out when I was in a student share house, and we had loads of fun cooking up fancy dinner parties for us and our friends. Each dish was illustrated with colored photos and the final spread covered a page and a half. Three courses every time — entree (which is what we call the starter), main course and dessert. And also what to have with coffee afterwards. It’s quite dated now—it’s funny how cooking styles change and evolve, but it was fun at the time. And the recipes are still good.

My favourite one was the Italian Cooking Class cookbook. I’ve had my copy for decades and I still refer to it occasionally, to remind myself of quantities, etc.

The recipe for spinach gnocchi (see above) is still one I’ll pull out for a quick, light lunch or an entree. I’ve also cooked the semolina gnocchi, but only if I have guests, as it’s a few steps. There are 17 different sauces for pasta, and so much more, not skimping on the vegetable dishes either. And I often make their osso buco recipe (see above), which is so yummy and warming on a cold winter’s night. It’s a treasure.

I also liked the Chinese Cooking Class cookbook. There was a more basic  Cooking Class cookbook for beginners that I gave to my nephew when he moved out of home—and I know a lot of others did the same when their kids moved out. It taught everything, from making porridge and boiling eggs to the kind of dinners they might miss from home — how to make a full roast dinner, for instance, and spaghetti dishes, and pizza from scratch, and what to do with vegies and fish, and lots of yummy easy home-style desserts.

One a lot of people remember was the Children’s Birthday Party cookbook, which showed people how to make fun cakes for children’s parties. They were brilliant. I had one, and made quite a few of the cakes, and then I passed it on to a friend with little kids.
But there were dozens of different cookbooks, each with a specialist subject, and many of them are still available.

I still have a stack of those cookbooks. I culled some of them when I moved but I’ve still got a pile, and many of them are still available to buy, which is a testament to their usefulness. And I’m betting any Australians (or NZers) reading this will have at least one of the WW cookbooks in their pantry. They were a huge influence on us as a cooking (and eating) nation.

Do you have a favorite cookbook? And if you’re an Aussie, do you have any of the WW ones? Which is your favorite?

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