The Commonsense Cookery Dalek

The Commonsense Cookery Dalek

I am skipping a very late dinner to post this instalment of the Dalek Game while it is still today. This is for the classic cookbook The Commonsense Cookery Book.

Everyone I know My family likes big glossy cookbooks with detailed instructions and beautiful photos (this was edited because a number of my friends reminded me they were in fact food historians or sitting at that very moment surrounded by vintage, unillustrated cookbooks). I do not. I like useful, dense books with few pictures and lots of good information, adaptable recipes and first principles. Ones which you can go to and find out what rules of thumb to use to cook meats, how to make a basic soufflé (and adapt it), what are the bare essentials for a bread dough, how to replace apples, how to time an egg and which spices go best with alligator (basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, saffron, garlic, curry, cilantro, ginger, onion and chives).

These sorts of recipes capture aspects of society and culture beautifully. I love the assumed knowledge and lack of specificity in some (“make pastry cream, then…” “1 good sized crab”), the assumed requirements and milieu of others (“cooking for the bachelor household”, “convalescents’ and children’s cookery”, “to serve sandwiches for 200”), the variant spellings of coconut, the fascination with aspics.

The edition I have of the Commonsense Cookery Book is my grandmother’s 1964 reprint. I suspect the version linked to above has been substantially updated – mine certainly does not have risotto (or alligator – that’s from the very handy Wycliffe International Cookbook, which also has advice on keeping bats out of the pantry). It has no pictures except the advertisements: a suspiciously Betty-Crocker-like “Betty Sydney” cake mix; “look at all the marvellous things YOU can make… with DAVIS Gelatine… aspics, savouries, desserts too”; “Be a Top Class Cook with Electricity” classes; an extraordinarily young Margaret Fulton “cooking up something new and different for you each week” in Woman’s Day magazine.

The instructions are all very systematic, brief and useful (it includes several variations on how to make (brew? capture?) yeast). The staples and lack thereof I find fascinating: it is an Australia before the new staples – none of my share house standards are there. No pizza, no stir-fries, nothing recognisably a curry (beyond its name). It does, however, have: Cup of Gruel; Veal Forcemeat; “cocoanut” cake; lots of rabbit (I don’t know where to find rabbit easily now); “Economical Stock”; too many aspics; and my favourite: Brain and nut sandwiches.

In other news: I am hungry.

13 thoughts on “The Commonsense Cookery Dalek

  1. That’s a bacon-and-eggs kind of dalek.

    I must not know you, for I don’t love pretty cookbooks in particular. I love the interesting ones, and sometimes they have pictures but more often they have careful instructions on how to make roo broth. (Have you ever spent time with my cookbook collection? next time you’re in Canberra…)

    • I know this! And I was thinking of you while I was writing this (and have been told off by another friend as well :).

      And no, I have not spent time with your cookbook collection. Next time indeed!

  2. Thumper yummy. Bambi too.

    There is a gourmet butcher at Sumner Park that has both :).

    Did you trap rabbits when out west? My family caught and ate them while living in WA in the 80s.

  3. Ahhh, the Common Sense CB was my bible when I left home at eighteen. (Too long ago to say.) It saved me from starvation and instant noodles.

    • I am very glad to hear it! :) I avoided that situation by staying in college for… a very long time, but that was due to John Birmingham’s accounts of share house life.

  4. Wonder what “veal forcemeat” was? Perhaps force-fed? That Dalek, BTW, reminds me of a fry-cook in a diner somewhere. But I think I’d draw the line if he offered to prepare a “brain and nut sandwich.”

  5. I LOVE that book. I have a newer version that i was given for Christmas, but it hasnt lost any of the practical, down-to-earth – commonsense bits. Some of it is a little basic – what each cut of meat is and how to cook it and the list of pantry items but it is my go to book for when i’ve forgotten how to do something.

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